Preparedness blog

How to Clean Untreated Water

By Ready Expert
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While it is difficult to determine which item is most essential in a survival situation, you could certainly make a strong case for clean water. Water is used for numerous activities that can quickly become your top priority in survival situations like cooking, cleaning, sanitation and drinking. Because water seems so easy to get before a disaster, you don't fully understand how much you rely on it until you find yourself without water or rationing your supply.

In the past we've written about how to store water correctly and the need for rotating stored water frequently. Today, we want to take it a step back and discuss in detail the threat of untreated water and what you can do to make sure you and your family will have plenty of clean, treated water in a survival situation.

What Is In Untreated Water?
To get a good idea of what might be inside your untreated water, trace the origin of the water back to its source.

Rainwater picks up whatever is in the air as it falls, including dirt and acid. Surface water, like rivers and lakes, can contain algae, sediment and silt. If your water comes from a public supply like a well, it is possible that water could contain micro pests that thrive in areas with little sunlight and lack aeration. Water found near agriculture or urban developments can contain pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants that negatively affect water. And even water that is improperly stored directly on cement can attract toxins found in the cement.

The real threat hiding inside untreated water are these micro-organisms: Bacteria, protozoa and viruses.

Examples of bacteria strains found in water include E. coli, salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni and many others. Some of the more harmful protozoa that thrive in water include Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium paravum, parasites that can survive for weeks in cold water. And viruses like Hepatitis A and rotavirus sometimes take up to 4 hours in a chemical treatment to be eradicated.
Water that comes out of your tap has been treated, and thoroughly. Unless you hear otherwise from your local community water system, it is safe to assume your tap water is safe to use for drinking, cooking and any other activity. For more information on your tap water, consult this booklet “Water On Tap: What You Need To Know,” from the EPA.

What Happens If I Drink Untreated Water?
The impact of ingesting untreated water at the less intense end of the spectrum starts with diarrhea or other prolonged intestinal discomfort. From there it can progress to vomiting, rashes, muscles aches, fever, chills and more serious impacts like neurological symptoms and jaundice. Depending on what kind of microorganism was in your water, the worst case scenarios result in contracting illnesses like botulism, cholera, dysentery and in rare cases death. We strongly advise you not to drink untreated water.

What Water Treatment Options Do I Have?
There are three main options for treating water: filters, chemicals and boiling. In this section we'll discuss the pros and cons of each option.

Filters. This option is considered by many to be the easiest and safest way to treat water for drinking. Portable filters work by separating the microscopic critters that live in water from the actual water. Filters don't kill these creatures, but instead trap them and keep you from ingesting them. A water filter's effectiveness in catching these pathogens is determined by its pore-size efficiency. This is the measurement that describes the size of the microscopic openings in the water filter. The standard measurement of pore-size efficiency is called a micron, which to give you a reference point is 1/1,000 of a millimeter. As you look for a water filter for your emergency kit, make sure the micron size is at least less than 0.4 microns, as this is the threshold for removing bacteria from water. Protozoa and and parasites are much larger than bacteria, and can be removed from water with a filter of nearly any size.

Chemicals Of the three main water treatment options, this option is used most often by those storing large amounts of water. These chemical treatments kill the bacteria and viruses living in the water. These treatments have been approved and certified by the EPA for human consumption, as opposed to chemical solutions made for cleaning. Two popular chemical treatments are iodine and chlorinate. Iodine, while lightweight and easily transportable, leaves a trace taste of iodine in the water, which affects the flavor of the water in a way that many find unpleasant. Because a small amount of chlorinate can purify a large amount of water, it is the treatment of choice for large stores of water.

Boiling This option is an old standby, but tends to have more drawbacks than advantages. For starters it requires a good deal of fuel to heat water to its boiling point, which can be a precious resource in a survival situation. Secondly, boiled water can have a flat taste, which comes from the loss of oxygen in the water while it is boiling. And finally, the temperature of boiled water can present a problem if you need it right away, but can't use hot water. If you are boiling your water to purify it, boil it continuously for at least 5 minutes and then transfer it back and forth from one container to another to aerate the water.

Need for Water
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has long suggested that storing one gallon of water per day per person is the minimum recommendation in an emergency supply kit. While you calculate how much water you should be storing, it is important to take into account your local climate, pets and the health of those who will rely on your water. And finally, you should know how much water you'll need to prepare the food in your emergency supplies, as different types of food require varying amounts of water. If you are still unsure of how much water you'll need, consult our ultimate water storage guide.

10 years ago
Lauralee Hensley
10 years ago at 3:04 PM
I think FEMA estimates too low on water needs. That's maybe enough to stay hydrated, but what if there is no air conditioning and the weather is very hot. You'll need more than one gallon to stay properly hydrated. Then if no air conditioning wouldn't you like to hang up damp sheets over a curtain rod with a breeze blowing into your home? The evaporation from the curtains can help to cool down a bit dry hot air, yet kind of useless unless there is a breeze blowing in toward the direction of the damp sheets. Then what is you want to sponge off or wash your hair? Then what if you want to wash a cooking pot and utensils? Then you need water to hydrate emergency prepardedness foods if freeze dried or dehydrated.
Brennen Munro
7 years ago at 6:12 PM
I think FEMA is just trying to keep you alive, and comfortable really has no part in it. We need to remember that these are just guide lines to provide a baseline... Your mileage may vary! Munro
10 years ago at 4:38 AM
It's also wise to lok into making a Solar water purifier. Using 2 liter soda bottles and slanted rauck with reflective backing to keep them oriented toward the most direct sunlight. Also having your own well is great insurance. you can Drill your own . Look at Deep Rock manufacturing for DIY well drilling outfit . Throw in with several friends , buy one outfit and everybody gets a well. A drilled well is a easier safer way to supply water. How people used to dig a well is beyond me . it's really hard dangerous work and since a hand dug well is usually in the realm of 25-30 ft deep it is easier for them to become contaminated and then again there's that back breaking dangerous work .
10 years ago at 5:07 AM
look at the Shur-flo in-hole solar well pump, 24v, 4.6 amp. 4", 230Ft head, 82 gallon / per hour, Item # 9325-043-101, Northern Tool, Norther tool(dot)Com
10 years ago at 8:24 AM
Incas grew and still tribal areas in that area main stable is yam or sweet. White we're around for around a lot longer. Vikings and celts would grow them in bushels of hay bc you can grow them year around. That is a fact. I never said they used it for alcohol just made a joke that you can. Viking more used honey to make a mead. Potatoes were around a lot longer then that you should look you medieval recipes.
10 years ago at 8:33 AM
2nd. People would much safer buying a supply for a large gathering of plastic n plates before a storm. Not only does it insure the objects are clean but they don't take up much space and are good for which ever area you live in. I live near a swamp near coastal. Not using that dirt to be clean. Don't forget how many different insect species live in the ground. If your land is covered in four feet of snow you don't want to exert the energy to digging up the area to get dirt to clean. So before you knock some1 down maybe just make a helpful comment. The Romans have recipes with potatoes.
9 years ago at 2:42 AM
Jason, I wasn't trying to put down your advice, just correct an historical error and add some other options. Sorry, but neither the Romans nor the Vikings ate potatoes. Really, they didn't. The things were completely unknown in Europe until the 1500s. As to sweet versus white potatoes, both were and are grown and used in the Americas. The high mountains in Peru, however, are distinctly unsuited to the tropical sweet potato. There it was white (and even yellow and purple) potatoes. Peruvians still eat a lot of potatoes, and some of the best in the world (try a Peruvian criolla potato sometime if you can find one), and they also still eat their traditional "freeze-dried" potatoes made outdoors in the high cold and dry air of the Andes. Those can be a bit of an acquired taste due to both the potato variety and the production method, but are a remarkable example of "primitive" food storage technologies.
9 years ago at 8:06 PM
After the BIG floods in Colorado these past weeks it really got me thinking about storing in place. Eek. Having a bag you can grab & carry is all that might work & the weight of it on your head might keep you from floating away in the water. Hmm
9 years ago at 8:12 AM
There is no way to guarantee against everything, and it's always possible food storage could end up either being destroyed or having to be left behind in a disaster. That's why being prepared involves being prepared both to shelter in place for several weeks and to evacuate quickly with the necessities to cover you for 3 days. For those involved in the floods in Colorado, some did need to evacuate their homes quickly. OTOH, many others were stranded in place without any incoming food, water, or other aid for several days to more than a week. Many were told either not to try to evacuate because roads/bridges were gone, or that is was on their heads if they decided to try to do so because roads/bridges were unsafe. The residents of at least one whole county were specifically told they should shelter in place rather than try to reach alternate shelter on their own. I'm sure those towns that were completely cut off for days were grateful for anything and everything anyone in town had stored for an emergency. Even if some of it was washed away, whatever was left would have made a big difference. Also, anything in long-storage cans that didn't wash all the way down the mountain could likely be rescued from the mud and still used after the can was rinsed off. What just happened in Colorado is overall a much better example of why you would want to be able to shelter in place than the contrary.
Fred Perez
9 years ago at 7:26 PM
Sorry but the potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BC. The Spanish brought the potato to Europe. This can be easily verified online.