There are three primary ways to purify your drinking water. These are boiling, using bleach, and a portable filter. These three methods endorsed by FEMA and present the best and most effective ways to get drinkable water. To go along with those three methods, there are three tools will help you extract drinkable water from your environment in a survival situation. Purifying tablets, UV pen, and LifeStraw. All of these items also extremely portable and lightweight, making them excellent options for your bug-out bag.

Let’s look at each option and help keep your drinking water clean!


Boiling water is an effective way to kill bacteria and other organic matter. It will not generally affect chemicals in the water, so choose your source carefully. If the only water you have is slightly cloudy, then strain it though two bandanas or T-shirts to lessen the particulates. Water should be boiled for a minimum of three to five minutes. It is recommended that you cover the water as you boil it to reduce water loss through evaporation. If you plan on cooking with the water, be sure to follow the same process prior to putting any food in it.

Bleach in Drinking Water

Treating drinking water with bleach is a very effective method of killing germs. While it may seem to be a bit extreme, it is similar to the processes most cities use in preparing the drinking water that flows through their taps. The safest way to do this is with a dropper and plain chlorine bleach. Avoid scented brands or anything other than standard bleach. General bleach is either a 5.25- or 6-percent solution. You will need 16 drops of bleach for every gallon of water.

The method used to test the effectiveness of bleach treatment is by smelling. After you treat the water, let it sit for 30 minutes and then smell the water. If it does not have a bleach aroma, then treat it again. Let it sit for another 15 minutes. If after this treatment the water does not have a slight bleach smell to it, it should be disposed of. Water that does not give off a bleach smell is too contaminated for consumption. The water/bleach ratios for purification should be 1 quart/4 drops; 2 liters/10 drops; 1 gallon/16 drops; and 2 gallons/32 drops.

Portable Water Pump

The portable water pump/filter has evolved in a very short period of time. These purifiers are generally handheld and contain a synthetic or ceramic internal cartridge. They are generally designed with two hoses: an intake hose and an output hose. On the better-designed models, the intake line will have a foam flotation device designed to keep it off of the silty bottom. The pump is operated by pulling up and then pushing down the plunger of the device.

Water will be drawn through the filter system and forced out the “clean” hose. One of the best options is the Katadyn Expedition ( It is designed for larger water production than its smaller cousins, and it has the capacity to clean up to 26,000 gallons of water. It is still small and easy to carry, making it one of the best on the market. Katadyn also makes a manual, handheld desalinator for those near salt water sources.

Purification Tablets

These are generally iodine-based tablets that work to kill bacteria in fresh water. While not 100-percent effective every time, they are lightweight and easy to keep in an emergency kit. Iodine tablets should be dropped into the cleanest water you can get and then left to sit for at least 30 minutes. Follow the specific instructions on the tablets you choose to carry. One of the most popular is Potable Aqua. The company makes a variety of water-treatment options beyond the standard iodine-based tablets.

UV Pen

Another item seen in some emergency kits is a portable UV water purifying pen. These devices treat relatively small amounts of water just prior to consumption. A company that has led the way in this technology is SteriPEN. With versions to meet your various requirements, their effectiveness is impressive. According to SteriPEN, the device “uses ultraviolet light to destroys germs’ ability to reproduce and make you sick. It destroys over 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa in just 48 seconds and can purify up to 8,000 liters.” This makes it a pretty solid item to have on hand for emergencies or even when you travel overseas.


Weighing only 2 ounces, the LifeStraw allows its user to drink directly from water sources or through a supplied water bottle, filtering out 99.9999 percent of bacteria and 99.99% of protozoa through its unique, compact filtration system. The LifeStraw will filter up to 264 gallons of water over its lifetime and can be stored and used periodically over a five-year period without any deterioration in water quality. Unlike chemical-based purification methods, the LifeStraw offers its user no aftertaste in the water it purifies.

For More Information

This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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