The Ugly Part of Water Purification: Top 5 Mistakes You Make

Water is part of the survival triad – water, food, shelter.

You can only live for about three days without it and even after twenty-four hours, you start experiencing physical and cognitive decline.

Right now, it’s easy to turn on the tap and get fresh, clean water, but even without a SHTF situation, many of us are doing what we can to live off the grid. I’ve written several articles on collecting rain water and purifying water, and now I’d like to discuss how to make sure that your water is safe to drink.

Water purification is a primary skill that you need to have even if you don’t know much about other facets of survival because if you don’t have clean water, you’ll die. It’s that simple.

The EPA warns that as much as 90 percent of all of the water on the planet is contaminated in some way, so this is becoming a bigger issue for many of us who are trying to go off the grid. Even rainwater can be contaminated, and it’s best to assume that all ground water needs purified.

Even though being able to purify water during daily life and in an emergency situation is critical, you need to do it right. Improperly purified water can be just as fatal – but much more miserable – than having no water at all, so be sure not to make these mistakes.

Mistaking Water Filtering and Water Purification

There are many water filters out there; there’s a good chance that you have one in your fridge right now. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that filtered water is the same as purified water. Most water filters do exactly what they say: they filter out physical impurities such as debris, minerals, and pollutants such as insecticides. Most of them don’t purify the water, though, because illness-causing microbes are too small to be caught in the filter, nor are the filters designed to kill them.

This Device Easily Turns Air Into Water!

Your water may look clean and clear and delicious, but it may also be deadly. There are only two ways to ensure that your water is pure – heat and chemicals.

Not Getting Water Hot Enough

Though pathogens start to die as the water heats, at 160 degrees F to be exact, there are many disease-causing bacteria and viruses that won’t die until the water reaches the boiling point of 212 degrees F. Keeping that in mind, you need to maintain a rolling boil for at least one minute, and three is better, especially at higher elevations.

If you’re short on water and worry about losing it to evaporation, putting a lid on the pot will help with that. Then just leave it covered until it cools.

Using Chemical Purification Incorrectly

There are a few ways that you can mess up chemical purification. First, you can use too much. This is most definitely not a case of more being better because whether you’re using iodine, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or calcium hypochlorite (pool shock), too much of it can make you sick or even kill you.

  • If you’re using iodine, use 5 drops/quart for clear water and 10 drops/quart if cloudy
  • If you’re using bleach, use 5 drops/quart for clear water and 10 drops/quart if cloudy
  • If you’re using calcium hypochlorite, dilute a teaspoon of the powder in a gallon of water, then add 2/3 ounce of that to a gallon of water. A small shot glass is useful because it usually holds one ounce.

There are also a few things to keep in mind when choosing your water purification method. Liquid bleach has a shelf-life of six to twelve months, so it expires and loses its strength. Pool shock keeps forever and a one-pound bag will treat 10,000 gallons. Iodine makes the water taste weird, but if you let it sit for an hour, you can add vitamin C (Tang drink mix or something similar) to eliminate most of the bad taste after the purification period is up.

Make sure that if you’re using bleach or pool shock that the product is pure without any additional additives such as perfumes. Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking.

Cross Contamination

This one seems like it may be simple, but it’s easy to re-contaminate purified water. Make sure that you don’t use the same containers or utensils for the clean water that you used before it was purified. In other words, don’t gather the water from a stream in your water bottle, boil it, then put it back in your bottle. You just re-contaminated your water and wasted time and fuel.

If you’re purifying in your bottle, make sure to pour some of the chemical into the lid and around the threads/ mouth of the container.

Failing to Purify AND Filter

This is another reason that you need to understand that filtering and purifying are two different processes. You need to filter your water to rid it of illness-causing pathogens, but you need to purify it to remove chemical toxins such as fertilizers and insecticides.

Of course, it also removes any other debris such as sand, rocks, and minerals. It doesn’t really matter what order you do it in, but I’d recommend filtering first then purifying just because it’s cleaner and there’s less risk of cross-contamination.

Either way, strain water that has visible debris in it before you purify it or filter it. Run it through a coffee filter or a densely woven cloth such as a bandana. Just a note: chemical purification is most effective if the water is at least 60 degrees F.

Studies show that at 50 degrees, only 90 percent of Giardia cysts were inactivated after thirty minutes. Warm up the water in the sun (or after it cools a bit from purifying), or let the water sit for an hour.

Failing to purify your water can cause such diseases as cholera, E.coli, rotavirus, hepatitis, staphylococcus, cryptosporidium and Giardia. These cause everything from upset stomach and cramps to severe vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. In other words, it’s nothing to mess around with, unless you want to die a slow miserable death.

Don’t put your life at risk! You need only clear water to stay safe!

Written by

Theresa Crouse is a full-time writer currently living in central Florida. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, where she learned to farm, hunt, fish, and live off the land from an early age. She prefers to live off the grid as much as possible and does her best to follow the “leave nothing behind but footprints” philosophy. For fun, she enjoys shooting, kayaking, tinkering on her car and motorcycle, and just about anything else that involves water, going fast, or the outdoors.

Latest comments
  • Excellent information!

  • This is not specific to your article, but it would be nice to print these articles for a bug-out library, but all that prints is headers and pictures. Am unable to figure out how to format it to print. Any advice would be nice. Ben Simpson Lenoir, NC Got years of survival posts and no way to prep print!!!

    • You need to highlight the article and copy and paste to a program like word. Then delete all of the unnecessary content and save.

      • Thanks for the help. My wife will help me do this.

        • Ben, If you hit F9 on your keyboard, the text will be formatted nice for printing. Select F9, then from your menu, FILE, PRINT PREVIEW, then select your printer.

          • Don’t forget to hold the Function (fn) key when pressing f9

    • You can highlight the text and copy and then paste to notepad and then print

    • Copy and paste it into your own paper. Then print it.

    • Hi not sure if you sorted this but at the end of the article is a PDF Icon, open as PDF and print.

      Regards Duncan

    • Use Firefox browser on an older computer or some of its newer iterations for a newer machine. Install the “Print Friendly” app from Mozilla’s app list. It will allow conversion to PDF and printing.

    • You can also just hit the download as pdf buttong under the Watch Video (about Get your Device that turns air to water) the pdf is actuall the article not the “Ad” info wi
      thin the article

    • Bill, highlight the text with your cursor, and copy the text. Paste the text into some type of text processor. I don’t know what kind of system you are using, so these are general instructions.

  • I cannot find anything but concentrated bleach. The only regular strength liquids I can locate are generic store brands. Do the same rules apply for concentrated Clorox?

    • It used to be that Clorox was 8% sodium hypochlotite. Now, it is 6% with the lie on the label, “concentrated”. Some generics are still 8%. READ THE LABELS. Do not use “no splash” bleach or perfumed for water purificaion. Use EPA recommended bleach dosages, for 6% or 8%. Filtering the water first reduces chlorine chemical reaction with debris, that produces chloramines & carcinogens. Filters can become a cesspool of biological contamination, as there is plenty of debris to live off of. Change filers highlly contaminated water areas. Boiling is truly excellent to kill bacteria & ameba, at low altitudes.

  • Good infor in all but not complete. You must talk about the actual size of viruses in order to measure if a particular water purifyer meathod would protect you against said virus. My Methos states purifucation down to 0.01 mincrons. That is more than enough to eliminate all human viruses and bac I would find in post disaster water.

    • The main concern with filters is that you never know when they fail. Did it work? Is the water safe?

    Reminds me of growing up dirt poor in connecticut. we lived in a barn, my sister and i slept in the hayloft. one of my chores was to gather a bucket of water from the river that crossed our property in back of the barn. the river water was well populated by all sorts of swimming critters, including the occasional frog. my grandmother would boil the water for 20 minutes to use for cooking and drinking – boiled critters of every size and imagination and all. if it was in the water bucket, it got boiled. i have no recollection of any of us becoming ill after drinking grandma’s boiled water. she boiled everything – potable water, clothing, chickens, hamburger – you name it. as a widow, she raised her 13 kids during the great depression and knew a thing-or-two about getting the most use out of anything.

  • Hello, Theresa C – I Always enjoy your articles and I Always Learn something from them. Everyone ALWAYS makes the creation of pure (Safe) Water to be Much More Complicated than it needs to be. OK, I opened my big mouth – Here it is . . . FIRST – ALWAYS run your water (Slowly) through an “Activated Carbon” Filter (Pure Charcoal OK) – NO SHORTCUTS here ! NEXT – Boil the water into STEAM and (Use Tubing) and thusly Condense the Steam. Thats it ! If you Boil the water, but Do Not Use an Activated Carbon filter, Then you have just permanently Activated and Energised ALL of the Organic Metallic compounds, and MOST of the Inorganic Metallic compounds ! You Cannot change them Back ! About 70 – 80 % of these are Seriously TOXIC. Of Course, Steam (200 Deg.+ F.) Will Kill ALL Living Organisms. Be Careful when Handling Steam..

  • Thank you

  • Ben Simpson, try out the CleanPrint extension if using the Chrome browser.

  • Thanks for a Great article! Sorry, I tried to take out the caps but the box seems formatted for caps. I do have a question about water taken out of the air. Just how much purification will it need? Water taken from the air is obviously already as clean as the air; after all you’re breathing it as you remove it. If you can breath it without harm, isn’t it ok to drinK?

  • I’ve heard warnings about simply boiling water sometimes resulting in turning water impurities into a more concentrated form of the same making the water worse if anything. This is rarely ever addressed. Why not?

  • So you need to filterall water before purifying it with bleach or pool shock, even if there isn’t noticeable debris in the water?

  • We have a pool, 35,000 gallons, give or take. Obviously with no electricity, the filter won’t work and would soon become green with algae and God knows what else from flying birds dropping little treats into the water or pack rats slipping in and dying.

    *First, allow collected water to warm up to 70 degrees if you are just treating with chemicals only–not recommended.
    *Strain water thru a kitchen strainer to get out the larger debris, slime or algae.
    *Then filter thru a coffee filter.
    *Rapid boil for a min. of 5 mins.,
    *Strain again thru coffee filter then add per ratio amount of POOL SHOCK (way better than Clorox because it lasts forever where as Bleach’s effectiveness lapses after 6 months).
    *Let treated water stand for 30 mins. You will want to be able to detect a mild “bleach” smell after the 30 mins. Lets you know it’s working.
    *Lastly, if you have a Brita Water filter system or something comparable, you can do a final filtering to remove any residual smell or taste.

    If you are looking for a good rocket stove, there are plenty on the market. I bought the SilverFire.

  • For me, there are two contexts for bugging out: the travel context and the camping context. The camping context allows time for feeding the fire that purifies water and allows cool down. The travel context requires traveling with minimal weight, and avoiding every possible obstacle that might get in your way. Even if you were traveling by car trying to reach your preferred destination you will not build a fire in your car, and you may not reach your destination if you are stopping all the time for one thing or another.
    Though bleach purification certainly works, so does IODINE, which is a needed body nutrient needed by every cell in one’s body. Iodine is a disinfectant, a nutrient, andan antibiotic commonly used in the 1950s as the “goto” medicine for every kids cuts and scrapes and whether a bandaid was added or not. Chlorine is not a needed body nutrient, but is a toxic to the body. .
    There are whole states that have low levels of iodine in their soils. These states are often called “The Goiter Belt”. A goiter is a pair of glands in the front neck area, near the collar bone that swell up and cause discomfort and more. As best as I recall, the Goiter Belt runs parallel to the Tornado Belt. It has been said that if the body has no iodine in it, it is already a dead body because iodine is an essential nutrient (but in tiny amounts). It has been suggested by doctors that having sufficient iodine in one’s body has an anti-cancer effect, but I have not done the research to confirm this. One can research this on PUBMED,, the Governments 100,000 worldwide medical, chemical and microbiological research site free to the public.
    What I can say is that “iodized salt” is salt with iodine added to it to reduce goiters. Again it is an essential nutrient. I can add that decades ago iodine was added to Baker’s (50-lb) bags of flour as a leavening preservative agent, until it was replaced with a toxic ingredient also used in rubber-like flour mats that prevent slipping. But that ingredient was outlawed a couple of years ago.
    Unfortunately, I have not reviewed my research on iodine, so I cannot accurately say more than what I have suggested. Using iodine as a nutrient, disinfectant, antibiotic and for water purification deserves its own article as much confusion has existed for many years about it. And here is one aspect of the confusion.
    The USA recommended levels of any nutrient is based upon a large group of Americans “as they are”, and what level of nutrients they need. In other words nutrients are not based upon “optimal health requriements”, but are based upon what might be called “minimum survival levels”. Since it is common knowledge that most Americans are overweight, with diabetes growing, etc. etc. should that group really be the basis for determine allowable nutrient levels? My opinion is that nutrient levels ought to be based upon the nutrient needs of Olympians, active military, professional sports team players, etc. And iodine advocates and researchers approach levels of iodine needs on that basis.

    • I have to jump in here, radarphos. There’s no such thing as a “goiter gland”. Goiter (or goitre) is a swelling in the neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland associated with a thyroid not functioning properly. And we only have one thyroid gland. Which is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck below the Adam’s apple. And just to be more correct regarding iodine, it IS an essential mineral nutrient, being very important in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency affects about 2 billion people and is the leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities. Hope this helps. We all have to try and do our best to disseminate correct information for the sake of our fellow preppers. 🙂

  • Calcium Hypochlorite (pool shock) that I have seen comes with a lot of other ingredients. First, which of those chemicals are safe or harmful? It is one thing to swim in it. It is entirely different to ingest it. Second is there a source to purchase pure CH without the extra stuff? There are purification tables made primarily of CH. But they are expensive. long term they are not as practical.
    A water distiller is the best by far since, it removes pharmaceuticals and chemicals that even the best filter will not, and boiling concentrates. There are some that claim to do so. But I don’t have a lab to verify their marketing claims. But They are not practical for a bug out bag or get home bag.
    Grandma’s boiling everything was probably not getting water downstream from an industrial area or a farm using tons of chemicals. IMHO.