Safe Drinking Water

Having water that is safe to drink is essential to your health and survival during a long emergency. Knowing how to purify water can help you if your regular water supply becomes contaminated or if you are in a place where clean water is not available. Even if you have stored clean water to use in an emergency, you may run out before the emergency situation has ended.

Water purification can greatly reduce your chance of getting sick from bacteria, viruses, and other living organisms in the water. You can disinfect water using one of the following methods:

  • Boil the water for 3 to 5 minutes. This is the most effective purification method but may be impractical if you need large quantities of water. It also requires a heat source, which may not be available in some emergency situations.
  • Use an eyedropper to add 4 drops of household liquid bleach per litre of water. Stir, and let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not smell slightly like bleach after 30 minutes, add 4 more drops of bleach and let it stand for another 15 minutes. You should notice a bleach smell.
  • Use iodine or chlorine purification tablets or drops. These are available at stores that sell camping equipment and at some drugstores. Follow the instructions on the package. Purification tablets are not as effective as boiling or disinfecting with bleach, but they do eliminate some types of organisms.
  • Water filters can get rid of some micro-organisms and improve the taste of water. There are many different types of filters, so be sure you know which organisms your filter can remove.

None of the purification methods described above eliminates heavy metals, salts, chemicals, or radioactive dust or dirt (fallout) from water. Many of these substances can be removed by distilling water, a more complicated method of purifying water. Radioactive fallout can also be minimized using a homemade filter:

  1. Punch holes in the bottom of a bucket, and cover the bottom with 4 cm of gravel. Cover the gravel with a towel.
  2. Place the bucket over a larger container, and pour the water into the bucket so that it filters through the towel and gravel and drains into the container below.
  3. Disinfect the water by boiling, adding chlorine bleach, or using purification tablets as described above.
  4. Replace the gravel after every 50 litres of water.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Thomas M. Bailey, MD, CCFP - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofMarch 29, 2018

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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