So you’ve found a water source, and you’ve boiled it…or maybe you filtered it instead. Great! But wait, is your new “clean” water really all that clean??
While a rather simplistic thing to say, clean water is the most important item in your survival preps.
You may be saying to yourself, “yeah, I know that”, and I’ll say “good!”. But, wait…
What exactly is “clean” water? Usually by definition it means to make it drinkable, to make it potable.
So how exactly do we do that from scratch, and what is the best way? How can you remove everything? Or at least enough of “everything” to make it potable.
How much is “enough”?
How To Purify Water
The most popular way to clean up dirty water is to boil it. Properly boiling your water works great, on uncontaminated water (i.e. water that may be full of nasty bacteria and protozoa, but otherwise is clean). It can remove harmful microscopic critters, but it can’t remove heavy metals and other chemicals, or even all viruses. In fact, boiling your water merely concentrates these bad chemicals and heavy metals hiding in your water.
Now some people may then think the “best” filtering process possible, reverse osmosis, is the answer. But in reality it is not the cure all it claims to be and actually concentrates many heavy metals into the water, including mercury and aluminum. Plus, to make things worse, the lab reports you read are not indicative of real world usage because the tiny holes in the filter elements fill up after only a few uses. In reality, essentially all RO systems perform nothing like the lab tests. Good luck getting anything above 80% filtration AT BEST from a RO system more than a couple weeks old.
DIY Desalinization setups (not to be confused with actual distillation) are said to remove almost everything, including bacteria and viruses, although the jury is still out to their effectiveness in real world settings. There’s just not enough scientific literature and lab tests out there. If there were even a few nasties in your water after desalinization, they will multiply quickly, and you have no way of knowing how many made it through and how many are now in your “clean” water 30 minutes to an hour later.
How To REALLY Purify Water
There’s only one way your average person has to remove nearly E V E R Y T H I N G, and that’s to fully distill your water.
BUT…. even this is not foolproof!
Some chemicals that could be found in water sources are close to or below the evaporation temperature of water and might travel along and contaminate your distilled water!
In short, distillation is turning the water into steam, then capturing that steam on a cold surface and turning it back into water (the same way cloud formation works). This will remove nearly all chemicals, heavy metals, and salt (except as mentioned above).
Some Honest Truth
The truth is the quest for 100% pure water mostly depends on your definition of “clean” and how “clean” your source is to begin with. Trying to purify ditch water tainted by chemical runoff is like trying to win a race with no wheels. Starting off with the purest source you can find is like letting nature do 90% of the work for you.
If you’re out in the woods or have an offgrid homestead using a natural water source, your best bet is to filter your water using any of the most common methods. You could also then boil your water if you choose. If you have clean water to begin with, this is all you need.
If you truly want the purest water possible, your best bet is to distill your water, but note again that some chemicals will travel with your water if their evaporation points are lower than water or close to it.
A good rule of thumb is that distillation is extremely effective in removing contaminants that have a higher boiling point than water, which luckily is the vast vast majority of common contaminants. There are some inorganic and organic chemicals that have a lower boiling point than water however, such as chlorine and fertilizers.
If you want to get serious about your water quality you should distill it, and if you want the purest water possible, filter it after distilling with a high quality filter such as a Sawyer PointZeroTwo.
But, unless you’ve set up camp close to and downstream from a city or farm, in a real world situation you can use a regular water filter or simply boil your water and you’ll be just fine in the vast majority of cases.
And if you’re looking for a home pitcher filter that actually removes most if not all heavy metals, Zero Water is the best according to lab tests. The only drawback of Zero Water filters is that they can quickly be “used up” if you try to filter high mineral content water through them, such as well water. For those situations try a WaterMan Mini water filter (but at quite a higher filter cost).