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Water Filtration: A Necessity or a Luxury?

Water Filter Straws

Apart from food and shelter, water is one of the most essential necessities in life. During a survival or emergency situation such as a natural disaster, clean and potable water is a primary requirement. More often than not, private and public water systems have pumps that are electricity-powered. However, if the electricity is cut in an emergency situation, there would be no other power source for these types of water systems. Thus, in a critical situation, one may find a dire need for a source of clean and potable water.

During survival or emergency situations, an individual may find various sources of water. However, these water sources may be full of debris, mud, animal matter, rotten plant, and other dirt and bacteria. Thus, water from available sources in emergency situations could not be drinkable. In this light, an individual would need a quick way to eliminate the dirt and bacteria from the water in order to make it drinkable and usable.

One of the safest water sources is a camping water filter, which can be purchased commercially. Camp water filters or filter straws are designed for the purpose of removing many types of chemicals and bacteria from water especially for hikers who drink water from ponds and streams that they come across during their hikes.

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On the other hand, during survival or emergency situations, one may not simply have access to commercial water filters. Fortunately, there are several ways that an individual may carry out for building homemade or emergency water filtration systems even when stuck in a disaster or survival situation.

How to Assess Water Purity

Let’s continue the survival situation scenario where a camp water filter or a filter straw is not available.

Once you are able to find water, the first thing that comes to mind is its pureness. You may be doubtful on whether you can drink or use it.

These days, the issue of water purity has become more complicated than it was 20 years ago. For instance, in 1993, water from natural resources such as rivers, lakes, and streams are still drinkable even if unfiltered. However, in recent years, the spread of a non-native cyst or organism known as Giardia has increased the risk of obtaining water and drinking it straight from these natural sources.

Giardia can debilitate a person once it is acquired. It targets the digestive tract primarily. It has been determined that Giardia spreads through beaver droppings although recent studies claim that other animals can spread this organism as well.

In addition, chemical as well as industrial pollutants are more prevalent today than they were in the past years. In spite of the dangers of these pollutants, they have still become widespread, affecting various bodies of water. Some of the most common water pollutants include modern-day pollutants such as heavy metals and chemicals, bacterial agents, and suspended and silt materials.

In any case, it is important for you to segregate your containers that you use for storing water. For instance, you should make use of a different container for impure water from the one in which you store purified water.

In order to assess the purity of water, you should make sure to follow some general rules applicable for different situations. Some of the guidelines for assessing water purity include the following:

  • Always look for clear water
  • Avoid discolored water
  • Avoid water from swamps and marshes
  • Avoid water with algae growth

Water from the ground such as in springs is purer in general as compared to water running over the ground.

Running water is much better as compared to still water.

You should also bear in mind that pollutants can be human-made. Regardless if there is no possibility of human-made or manufactured pollutants in a specific area, human activities can also affect water purity. One of the most prominent human activities that affect water purity is mining. Mining releases various elements that are harmful. These include cyanide, heavy metals, arsenic, and mercury among others.

If you are in an area prone to human-made pollutants, the guidelines to follow are as follows:

  •  Do not drink water near mining sites, cities and towns, industries, human habitation, and factories
  •  Do not drink water near roads as engines of automobiles release toxic pollutants that do not go up into the air.
  •  Do not drink water that has already passed through agricultural areas since they may contain pesticides, fertilizers, and other elements.

This is a good practise to follow even when a camp water filter or a filter straw is available.

Proper Storage and Water Purity

Let’s assume that you have managed to collect drinkable water either from a natural source or by filtering/purification. The next question is how to store it.

It may sound simple to store water as long as you have a container with a lid or a water drum with cover. On the other hand, water storage should be done properly in order to maintain the purity and quality of water. Different materials of water containers are available in the market. However, it is best to know which one is appropriate to use for different water storage purposes.

For instance, if you are storing water supplies, the most suitable containers are those made of glass, fiberglass, plastic, and enamel-lined metal containers. Experts claim that the best water containers are those made of durable plastic such as soft drink bottles and mineral water bottles. It is also best to make use of larger containers or food-grade plastic buckets. On the other hand, if you purchase plastic containers, make sure that they are solely for food and water use. This is because some plastic containers contain chemicals that can affect the purity of water.

If you are buying water containers for personal use, it is advisable to purchase one that is no bigger than 2 gallons. This is because if there is leak in the container, you are likely to lose more of your water supply as compared to smaller containers. You can also make use of 2-liter soft drink bottles that are made of plastic.

If you have larger supply of water to store, the most preferable size is five- or ten-gallon drums that are intended for food or water usage.

In addition, there are different types of water bottles with built-in filtration units. These water bottles are great for situations that only necessitate small quantities of water. These water bottles are mostly used by first-time campers.

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Prior to filling your container with filtered, purified, or treated water, make sure that you wash it thoroughly along with the lid or cover. You can wash the container with hot water and detergent. You can also sanitize the container by using a cup of bleach to a gallon of water. Another very effective way is to use a UV light sterilizer, ONLY IF the container is made of glass!

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When choosing water containers, you not only consider the container itself. You should also take note of its lid. Make sure the lid does not contain any paper material. However, if the lid has a paper component, you can insert polyester plastic or polyethylene.

To ensure the purity of water, make sure you do not store it in empty milk cartons or juice jugs. This is because the milk containers leave milk proteins that result to growth of bacteria. In addition, you should take note if the container is designed for food and water storage. Otherwise, do not use it.

Finally, make sure that you do not store water in a container that held poisonous or toxic substances. This is because even tiny amounts of these substances could remain in the pores of the container.

Water Contaminants

There are various types of contaminants that can affect the quality of water. It would be advantageous for most people to know the type of contaminants that may be present in water especially during a disaster or an emergency situation. Some of these contaminants and their sizes in microns include:

  • Giardia lamblia 8-12 microns
  • Bacteria 0.2-4 microns
  • Cryptosporidium parvum 4-6 microns
  • Viruses 0.004-0.1 microns

Water Filtration and Purification Methods for Different Situations

Primitive Filtering Methods: Old but Effective

Building a Water Filter – If the situation is primitive, you can make use of a birch bark, shaping it like a cone for your water filter. You need to fill the cone with layers of charcoal, sand, grasses, and/or other suitable materials. Sand and grasses can help in trapping small particles in contaminated or soiled water. Charcoal can help in eliminating chemical impurities although it still could not remove bacteria based on several tests and studies. You need to pass the water through the cone at least three times based on the make and size of the filter. In general, if the filter is big, more layers should fill it. As in a typical cone, the birch bark should have a small hole in its bottom. It needs to be tied with a vine or anything that would prevent it from scattering the contents inside. It is best to place an appropriate number of stones in the bottom of the cone to hold the materials inside. Once you put water through the filter, you need to have another container, which you will use to collect the filtered water.

Using the Earth for Water Filtration – The very concept of this is the water well, which people have been using even years ago to obtain water. Wells are usually 4 feet above a source of water such as a river or lake. A hole is dug up to be filled with water from the natural source. Although most water from natural sources is believed to be pure, there is no way to tell for sure.

Distilling by Using a Solar Still – One of the best methods to filter water is building a solar still. All you need is sunshine and suitable materials. The impure water is poured into the solar still, which looks like a pit. The water is allowed to evaporate with the help of sun. It is advisable to use any absorbent material to saturate the impure water. This material will be placed in the solar still while the water evaporates. Water is then collected from the underside of the still cover and would drip to a collecting container.

Boiling – This is the safest and most common method of purifying water from microbes and bacteria. On the other hand, it has not yet been determined as to how long it needs to take to eliminate harmful microbes when boiling water. Conversely, studies claim that water should be boiled at least 5 minutes although just to be sure, the ideal length of time is 20 minutes. When boiling water, you need a source of heat and a fire-proof container. Water is poured into the container prior to placing the container on the fire. In other circumstances, you can also make use of rock-boiling wherein stones are placed in fire. You need to wait for the stones to heat up. Remove the stones from the fire and place them in the container filled with water. Since the stones are still hot, they would transfer heat to the water. You need to make use of as many stones or rocks as possible and keep adding them to the water container. This way, the water would boil and stays heated until you reach the required time of 5 to 20 minutes.

Modern and Emerging Drinking Water Treatment Technologies

Of course, all the above methods can be used in a household to clean your water. If you do not have the technical knowledge or time to do it in that scale, water filtration by using commercially available water filtration system is your best choice. There are many good and efficient water filters available in the market today that can eliminate various types of bacteria and pathogens from water including giardia. Commercially-bought water filters are perfect to use for normal situations rather than in non-primitive survival circumstances. Nowadays, the technology has taken big leaps on water purification systems and there are numerous advanced ways to filter and purify water. These include Membrane Filtration Technology (Low-Pressure and High-Pressure Membranes), Multi-Stage Membrane Filtration Systems, Nanofiltration Technology, Ultraviolet (UV) Irradiation Technology, Ion Exchange Technology, Osmosis and reverse Osmosis Technology and many others. All of them have their differences but a detailed analysis for each technology is beyond the scope of this article. Overall though, all the aforementioned technologies are very effective in purifying water; in fact, to a much greater extend than what humans can have as a drinkable water. To save you time and effort, we have made the research for you and identified most of the best filtration systems currently in the market.

You can also check our review guide, produced by our artificial intelligence platforms, on the Best Water Filtration Systems.

If you are the type of consumer who always wants to know a bit more on what he/she is buying, then continue reading and learn more about the basics of water filtration and purification processes that are generally used in the majority of water filtration/purification systems.

Basics of Water Filtration and Purification Process


Filtration is a process that can make water more attractive to drink even after a proper purification process. It is a fact that most people could not drink water with dirt, leaves, and algae among others; thus, filtration is very much recommended.

The simplest form of filtration is using a cloth in which water can run through. The cloth should have a very tight weave in order to filter finer particles. On the other hand, if a cloth with a tighter weave is unavailable, any cloth will do as long as it is folded in multiple layers to help filter smaller particles.

In a commercial filtration system, this part is taken care with activated carbon granules (sometimes called active carbon or AC) based on charcoal (a very porous form of carbon, made by burning something like wood in a reduced supply of oxygen).


In a survival situation, it can be more helpful if people have knowledge in simple water purification techniques such as boiling and chemical treatment.


Boiling is considered as the simplest technique when it comes to eliminating viruses and bacteria from water. It is said that boiling can destroy organisms in water by pushing it to a heat range of 212 °F or 100 °C. This heat range can eliminate most types of organisms apart from bacteria.

In a survival situation in which an individual can obtain fire and has a water container, he/she can fill the container that can be placed over the fire. Once the container is already on fire, bring the water to a boil and afterwards, allow it to cool. Boiling can eliminate almost all types of harmful bacteria present in water because most bacteria cannot survive in hot temperatures. In addition, boiling is better than any other method of purification since no chemicals are added to the water. On the other hand, an individual should have a source of heat that can produce fire so that the water can be brought to a boiling point.

In a commercial filtration system, boiling is considered a slow process and therefore it is inefficient to use. Usually, in a commercial filtration system this part is taken care by more sophisticated methods such as UV irradiation technology, reverse osmosis technology and chlorination.

Chemical Treatment

Some of the most common chemicals used for treating water include iodine, sodium chlorite/chlorine dioxide, potassium permanganate, and chlor-floc. However, water chemical treatment may not eliminate some parasites due to several factors such as expiration date of the chemicals and the temperature and clarity of water.

Iodine crystals – When treating water with iodine crystals, bacteria can be eliminated through affecting the ion balance in the bacteria’s cell and replacing the elements that the bacteria use for survival with iodide ions. On the other hand, iodine can be harmful and poisonous to people especially young children as well as pregnant women. Thus, there should only be a certain amount when purifying water with iodine. Most health experts would suggest avoiding the use of iodine for water purification for longer time periods

The advantage of using iodine crystals is that it can treat large volumes of water (i.e. 10,000 gallons). However, it cannot be used for extended periods.

Sodium Chlorite/Chlorine Dioxide – These tablets make use of chlorination to purify water. Sodium chlorite produces chlorine dioxide that enables it to treat water. More often than not, chlorination is a technique used to disinfect water in municipalities across the globe. This is because chlorine is able to destroy the cell walls of bacteria or viruses; thus, eliminating the organism. The possibility of causing damage to one’s health is low when drinking chlorinated water. An individual’s digestive system can neutralize chlorine quickly, making it safe for the gastrointestinal tract to stand chlorine concentrations.

Potassium Permanganate – This chemical can be purchased commercially often in hardware stores. It is being sold as a softener for water and is available in powder and pill forms. There are various uses of this chemical compound. Apart from being able to purify water, it can also be a component for fire-starting.

Chemicals that are Safe to Use for Water Filtration and Purification

In normal circumstances, water filtration is usually done by using high-quality water filters. Hand-pump filters are often used in homes. These commercially-manufactured filters are efficient in separating clear, clean water from its source water, which may be tainted with microorganisms. On the other hand, these filters cannot eliminate toxic-dissolved substances or chemicals. As such, you need to take note of the source from which you acquire water.

When used alone, commercially-manufactured filters are efficient in removing almost all particulates except some types of viruses. However, to obtain best results, it is advisable to pre-purify the source water before using it with the filter. Combining mechanical and chemical filtering often results in water that is free from sediment and biological contaminants. For instance, iodine crystal solution or saturated iodine is efficient in eliminating microbes apart from being more potent as compared to chlorine. Saturated iodine is stable, inexpensive, and portable. However, it should not be consumed by people with thyroid problems, pregnant women, or anyone for over 14 days.

The safest chemicals that can be used to filter and purify water include the following:

Iodine Tincture – This is the liquid, which is normally available and sold in pharmacies. Iodine tincture is placed in small opaque or brown bottles and used for treating cuts or bruises. According to experts, iodine tincture can be an efficient killer of microorganisms although some health advisers strongly oppose to its use. This is because it contains isopropyl alcohol. On the other hand, when using iodine tincture, make sure it is the product intended for purifying water and not for some other purposes.

Household Clorox Bleach – In general, bleach is a very efficient disinfectant, which is most likely available in your home. Apart from being inexpensive, with just a gallon, it can treat 4,000 gallons of water. It is safe to drink as long as it is consumed in small quantities. Bleach can degrade to salt over time. However, its strength also weakens over time; as such, it should be replaced for no longer than 6 months. When using bleach for water filtration and purification, choose the product that is unscented and having no additives. The chlorine bleach should only have sodium hypochlorite in its solution, which is no more than 6%. Thus, make sure you check the label first. You can add bleach to the clear source water depending on your desired quantity of resulting water. For a quart of water, add 2 drops; for a gallon of water, add 8 drops; and for 5 gallons of water, add a teaspoon. For cloudy source water, double the dosage. You may notice a slight odor of the bleach. You can mask the taste and odor by mixing the resulting water with powdered drinks.

Germicidal Tablets – Also known as hyperiodide tablets, they are available in many wilderness supply shops or camping stores. It is an inexpensive alternative to high-priced water purifying tablets. Germicidal tablets are usually available in 50-table bottles that are able to treat 25 quarts of source water. Some products come with iodine taste neutralizer. Two tablets are added into a quart of source water. Once you have shaken your container, wait for 30 minutes. If it comes with neutralizing tablets, add 2 tablets to a quart of water after it has been purified. Shake well and wait for 3 minutes prior to drinking it. It is still has odor and taste of iodine, you can mix it with powdered drinks.

Non-scented Chlorine Bleach – This type of bleach can make water potable by adding 16 drops or 1/8 teaspoon to a gallon of water. Shake well and leave for about 30 minutes. If the water has slight chlorine smell, it means the water can already be used. If a faint smell of chlorine is not obvious, then you have to repeat the entire process. On the other hand, if the water is cloudy or excessively cold, you should double the dosage. Once you open the bottle of bleach, its full potency will only last up to six months. Although bleach is inexpensive, it has a limited shelf life; thus, its potency degrades.

Water Purification Tablets – There is a wide range of water purification tablets available in the market and wilderness supply shops. Although these tablets are capable of purifying water, you can only purify small amounts at a time. If you choose it as your only purification method, it may take a few tablets and more than two days to have enough supply of water. Therefore, these methods are not widely used for household purification systems.

Tips on Knowing if Water is Drinkable and Usable

There are several ways to know if the water you are about to drink is potable and usable. First, you need to know your water. This means that you need to test the source water prior to determining what types of microorganisms, microbes, or contaminants it contains. This way, you would know what type of filter is best to use for the water.

Second, if we are talking about camping or an emergency situation, master the art of boiling. It has been said time and again that boiling is the safest and most efficient way to treat water. In fact, even the Federal Emergency Management Agency attests to this. You simply need a kettle or pot in which you can bring the water to a boil. Once the kettle heats up, you would notice bubbles and steam coming out of the vessel. Let it stand for a minute. Also, you need to consider that some of the water will evaporate and would lessen your supply if it boils for long periods. Let the water cool to your preferred temperature. You may notice that boiled water tastes better if it is re-oxygenated. This is done by pouring the water back and forth between 2 uncontaminated containers. You can also treat water with bleach to eliminate persistent bacteria or critters. There are unscented varieties of bleach that contains 6% sodium hypochlorite. Purchase only small bottles of bleach since once a bottle is opened, its potency decreases. More often than not, the potency of bleach is only up to six months. You may treat water with bleach by adding 16 drops to 1 gallon of water. Stir and leave for 30 minutes. It is advisable to use ceramic filters because they are said to provide protection from bacteria. In addition, ceramic filters do not require too much energy. In fact, it only makes use of gravity. As water is poured in the top of a ceramic filter, the bacteria can no longer go back to the top.

Distilling water can also get rid of microorganisms, which may still survive even after boiling, bleaching, or employing other filtration and purification methods. Distilling water can eliminate salts, metals, and other pollutants that can be harmful to one’s health. In general, the process also involves boiling the water to remove anything that is left behind. Once boiling is done, the vapor is collected and the water is allowed to condense back into liquid water. You can also build your own distilling system. This may be done by suspending a cup, attaching it to a large lid from a pot. Put the layer of water in the pot’s bottom and boil for about 20 minutes. Once the pot cools down, the water which drips to the cup has already been purified. If you do not have a heat source, you can also purchase an ultraviolet light for use in your home or when you are out in the wilderness. An ultraviolet purifying unit is available in the market. It is basically a bottle that has a small light source, which is inserted into the water. The radiation eliminates most microbes from the water in just 30 to 80 seconds. Although ultraviolet purifying units cannot eliminate impurities like metals, dirt, or chemicals, you can combine this method with another one to obtain clean water.

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Water is considered as the most important substance ever existed given that all plants, animals, and human beings need it in order to survive. Apart from drinking it as part of the body’s sustenance, water is used for other purposes such as washing our bodies, cooking, washing clothes, keeping houses and communities clean, recreation such as swimming pools, and keeping plants and animals alive. Water is very important for the growth of farm stock and crops as well. In addition, water is used to manufacture many products that human beings use.

Three quarters of the Earth is believed to be water. There are various sources of water include brooks, rivers, springs, waterfalls, oceans, and seas. Man-made water sources include water dams, artesian wells and deep wells. Thus, water is everywhere; however, not for long. This is because of global warming as well as the improper use of most water sources. For instance, most people misuse water and waste it by allowing it to continuously flow in faucets even when not in use.

It is very important that the water that we drink as well as use for our daily activities is clean. Clean water means being free from chemicals and germs. More so, clean water should be clear instead of cloudy. Potable water is the term used to describe water that is safe to drink. Based on history, there may have been hundreds, if not, thousands of people who may have died due to contaminated or polluted water.

Clean water is very important when it comes to survival. Although storing water in large quantities may be one of the primary steps included in a contingency plan, you still need to have knowledge on how to make water potable and usable. In today’s modern world, only a few people have the initiative to store water before, during, and after a disaster or survival situation.

In almost all circumstances, it is always best to be prepared and knowledgeable. Given that it can be difficult to find pure water due to the advent of different technologies that make use of harmful chemicals and substances, affecting natural water sources, it is advisable to know how to make water potable and usable.

Prior to going through a survival or emergency situation, it is recommended to prepare everything you need for water supply. For instance, it would be nice to have a basic ceramic filter in handy. Although it is a simple way to eliminate bacteria, it can be very efficient.

It is also good to stock up on bleach. As mentioned in previous sections, bleach is efficient in filling many types of microorganisms that are harmful to your health.

Boiling water, as repeatedly discussed in most sections, is the safest and most efficient method to purify water. As such, you need to have knowledge on how to boil water the proper way. In addition, you also prepare the things that you might need for boiling water in case of emergency or survival situations. Naturally, you need a pot of water to boil for at least a minute. Let the water cool until the temperature is ready for drinking.

Most third world countries are already using five-gallon buckets for their water filtration systems. Making use of five-gallon buckets is the cheapest and simplest filtration system yet can be very efficient specifically when combined with local materials such as bio-sand filter. Based on studies, this filter has proven to eliminate 90-99.9% of harmful contaminants and disease-spreading agents. More often than not, this type of filter can eliminate a large amount of heavy metals from water. In other countries, the most common filtration systems that are being used include solar disinfection and chlorination. These systems are considered less effective yet cost more than other filtration systems.

To get you motivated, you should always bear in mind that your life and the lives of your loved ones are at stake if you drink and use contaminated water. It is best never to take chances. Know your water source and the type of contaminants that may be present in it. Learn the proper ways to build even a simple water filtration system that you could use in any given situation, normal circumstances or emergency situations. Keeping in mind that contaminants and pathogens in water can be very fatal to your health. As such, you need to know the best filtration methods that may be available under any circumstance.


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