The Truth About Water Purification

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The Truth About Water Purification

There are many myths and inaccuracies about water purification tactics techniques and procedures! Hopefully this post will clear up any misconceptions for you and be useful as a guide for many different ways to purify water in the back country.  In the first video below Dr. Anja Whittington of Radford University outlines some of the basic facts about water purification in the back country.

Click Here To Watch On Youtube! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyJIu6O9bsI

Boiling Water and Pasteurizing Water To Make It Safe To Drink

Boiling your water is the best method to ensure that it is safe to drink.  All you need to do is bring the water to a good hard rolling boil at any altitude normally inhabited by humans (under 10,000 feet above sea level) and it will be safe to drink. However, you can also pasteurize water to make it safe as well.  Here is what the CDC has to say about boiling and pasteurizing water in the back country:

Common intestinal pathogens are readily inactivated by heat. Microorganisms are killed in a shorter time at higher temperatures, whereas temperatures as low as 140°F (60°C) are effective with a longer contact time. Pasteurization uses this principle to kill foodborne enteric pathogens and spoilage-causing organisms at temperatures between 140°F (60°C) and 158°F (70°C), well below the boiling point of water (212°F [100°C]).

Although boiling is not necessary to kill common intestinal pathogens, it is the only easily recognizable end point that does not require a thermometer. All organisms except bacterial spores, which are rarely waterborne enteric pathogens, are killed in seconds at boiling temperature. In addition, the time required to heat the water from 60°C to boiling works toward heat disinfection. Although any water that is brought to a boil should be adequately disinfected, to allow for a margin of safety, boil for 1 minute. Although the boiling point decreases with altitude, at common terrestrial travel elevations it is still above temperatures required to inactivate enteric pathogens. To conserve fuel, the same results can be obtained by bringing water to a boil and then turning off the stove but keeping the container covered for several minutes.

If no other means of water treatment is available, a potential alternative to boiling is to use tap water that is too hot to touch, which is probably at a temperature between 131°F (55°C) and 140°F (60°C). This temperature may be adequate to kill pathogens if the water has been kept hot in the tank for some time. Travelers with access to electricity can bring a small electric heating coil or a lightweight beverage warmer to boil water.

If you are inclined to pasteurize instead of boil you can use a Water Pasteurization Indicator to let you know that the water has been disinfected and is safe to drink.  This is essentially a small piece of wax that will melt at the right temperature to show you that the water has gotten hot enough to kill off all of the nasty stuff.  

Using Liquid Chlorine Bleach For Water Purification

One of the more common household items that can easily be used for purifying water is unscented household chlorine bleach. The CDC has this to say about using liquid Chlorine Bleach:

If you can’t boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water (Chlorine and iodine may not be effective in controlling more resistant organisms like Cryptosporidium). If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.

Bleach Dosage Table: 

Treating water with household bleach containing 5.25-8.25 percent chlorine
Volume of Water to be Treated Bleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter 5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters 10 drops
1 gallon 1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons 1 teaspoon
10 gallons 2 teaspoons

Using Povidone-Iodine (Betadine®)For Water Purification

There are many forms of Iodine that can be used for water purification.  Of course you can use the common sold iodine water purification tablets that are sold in the camping section of all big box stores and outdoors and sporting goods stores. One other commonly found household item that is typically in a first aid kit is called Povidone-Iodine (Betadine®).  There are some additional caveats with using Iodine as well. High Altitude Medicine says the following about using Povidone-Iodine:

It appears safe for short and intermediate length use (3-6 months), but questions remain about its safety in long-term usage. It should not be used by persons with allergy to iodine, persons with active thyroid disease, or pregnant women.

You should use 4 drops per liter if the solution is 10% iodine. You should mix the solution well and allow 60 minutes before drinking it.

Using The Sun’s Ultraviolet Rays To Purify Water

Solar Disinfection or (SODIS) is another great alternative for purifying water in the backcountry.  This method if done properly and in a PET container will kill all bacteria, viruses and cryptosporidum and protozoa cysts. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology developed the SODIS method and has this to say about it:

The SODIS method is ideal for treating water for drinking in developing countries. All it requires is sunlight and PET bottles. How does it work? Clear PET bottles are filled with the water and set out in the sun for 6 hours. The UV-A rays in sunlight kill germs such as viruses, bacteria and parasites (giardia and cryptosporidia). The method also works when air and water temperatures are low.

People can use the SODIS method to treat their drinking water themselves. The method is very simple and its application is safe. It is particularly suitable for treating relatively small quantities of drinking water.

Furthermore, here is a video explaining this method as well:

Click Here To Watch On Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kd1aUrQxgIE

Using Water Filters To Purify Water

Here is a look at what I consider to be the best portable water filters currently made today.

Click Here To Watch On Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s34UW-5DvM

Contrary to popular belief there is currently no commercially available water filter that will filter out all water borne viruses. However many water filters do advertise that they will filter 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses.  Unfortunately water borne viruses are too small to be filtered out. There is a catch and some good news. They way they get around this essentially false advertising is that  in the continental United States there are very very few water borne viruses in open ground water. So as long as the filter is a .2 micron or smaller it will filter out 99.9% of bacteria cysts and protozoa. So they are essentially safe to use in most anyplace in the lower 48 United States.  Additionally if you are traveling aboard or are still worried about getting a virus then there are a couple of other ways to help get rid of viruses as well. You can filter the water and then add a water purification tablet like the Katadyn MicroPur Water purification tablets seen below.  Or you can filter it and then use the Steri-Pen as seen below as well. The Steri-Pen is a small compact and strong ultraviolet light that if used properly will also kill off all viruses, bacteria, cysts and protozoa.  Many backpackers will commonly use a good water filter and Steri-Pen as a combination just to make sure all is well to ensure no chances of getting sick.  Although either one will likely work just fine on there own here in the USA.



Hopefully this post has been useful and has provided some insight into useful water purification tactics techniques and procedures.  Let us know in the comment below what your favorite water filters and purification methods are when you are in the back country!

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3 thoughts on “The Truth About Water Purification

  1. Well I really liked reading it. This information offered by you is very helpful for good planning.
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