Five Ways to Purify Contaminated Water

Five Ways to Purify Contaminated Water

When a disaster strikes, safe drinking water is often one of the most urgent needs. You can’t just flip a switch or turn on a faucet to get it, and there may not be bottled water available for purchase somewhere in the area.

For these reasons, having an emergency plan for securing clean drinking water is crucial after any natural disaster. There are many different contaminants that could make drinking water unsafe, from bacteria and viruses, to chemical toxins and even arsenic.

In some situations, contaminated water may not be poisonous but instead, have an unpleasant taste or smell. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to purify contaminated water and make it safe to drink again. Many of these methods require very little equipment, as long as you have access to of heat (such as a fire) or sunlight (ideally direct sunlight).

is one of the simplest and most effective ways to purify water. The process of bringing water to a rolling boil will kill many types of bacteria and viruses, and also remove other chemicals and toxins that may be present. But keep in mind that doesn’t actually remove arsenic from water, so only use this method when you know the water is free of arsenic.

The main problem with boiling water as a purification method is that you’ll need a source of heat to actually bring the water to a boil. This could be a fire, or if you’re lucky, a gas stove. In a pinch, you can use the heat from the sun by placing water in a black container and placing it in the sun. The sunlight will act like a magnifying glass, and the black container will absorb the heat and help the water boil.

UV Light Purification

Ultraviolet light has long been used to disinfect and sterilize water. A water filter that uses ultraviolet light is called a “disinfection system” or “sterilization system”. UV lights are often used in water treatment plants for this purpose, but you can also use them in the field.

In a post-disaster situation, you can use a UV lamp to disinfect water by simply placing a water container under the light for several minutes. UV lamps come in a variety of sizes, but you’ll need a lamp that can be placed inside a container to hold water. For sterilization, make sure you place the water container under the light for at least 20 minutes.

For disinfection, you can reduce the amount of time if you want, but remember that it will not kill bacteria and viruses as thoroughly as sterilization. UV lamps are inexpensive and can be purchased at many hardware stores.


Distillation is another effective way to purify water. During distillation, you heat the water until it turns into steam, then capture the steam and turn it back into liquid water. The steam will contain all of the impurities, and you can simply discard the steam. This leaves you with clean water.

The main advantage of distillation is that it can also remove chemical toxins in the water. You may have to experiment a bit to figure out the best way to set up a distillation device using whatever materials you have available. A solar still is one great way to accomplish distillation.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is a way to purify water that requires some specialized equipment. This is usually seen as either a big device used in water treatment plants or in smaller pocket-sized filters. If you have one of these devices, you can use it to filter contaminated water, and it will remove nearly everything, including arsenic. You may be able to find some commercial water filters that use reverse osmosis, or you can make your own.

You’ll need to have a natural source of water pressure to power the device, but after that, the process is simple. Simply place the contaminated water in a container, and connect that to the reverse osmosis device. You can use a pressurized tank or a pump to power the device if you don’t have water pressure. The water will then pass through a membrane, removing all contaminants. This method is best for larger-scale water purification, but it is possible to use a smaller device to purify enough water for one person.

Bleach (Chlorine) Purification

Bleach is most commonly used as a cleaner in the home, but it can also be used to purify water. There are two ways to do this: adding bleach to water, or treating water with a mixture of bleach and water. The latter method is called “activating” the bleach and is more effective, as the bleach will kill more bacteria and viruses. Activated chlorine is also effective at removing other contaminants.

When using bleach to purify water, make sure you use the amount recommended by the CDC. If you add too much, the water will be too clean, and the taste will be unpleasant. Once the water is treated, let it sit for 30 minutes before drinking. This will allow the chlorine to settle to the bottom of the container so you don’t ingest any of it.


When it comes to purifying contaminated water, you have plenty of options. While boiling and UV light purification are effective, they require a heat source, so they may not be possible or practical in all situations. If you have a water filter, you can also use it to purify water.

The best filter is the one you have on hand, so make sure to keep an emergency filter on hand in case of emergencies. If you don’t have a filter, you can use the water purification methods above, as long as you have access to chlorine.

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About the Author: Brenda Blue