You’ve heard it before: when disaster strikes, you need access to clean water.
But where do you find it and what do you do if all the clean drinking water around you has become, cloudy, muddy, or turbid?
Unless you’ve been thrust into a survival situation before, you probably don’t know just how crucial clean drinking water can be, and how rare it is to have it at your disposal after a disaster.
Even if you keep plenty of bottled water in your emergency stash, when a natural disaster strikes you could be on the move, which means you won’t be able to tote around more than you can carry.
Combine this with the fact that during natural disasters, water treatment can shut down and clean water often becomes contaminated. This means even if you are in the comfort of your home, simply turning on the tap doesn’t guarantee the water coming out of it is safe for drinking.
Plus, natural disasters all affect water differently. An earthquake can break water supply lines contaminating a whole city’s safe water source. Floods can destroy household plumbing and water storage tanks. Even rivers and streams—known for being clean due to their moving nature—often become contaminated or at the very least dirty and turbid.
All of this is to say… you can last weeks without food, but without water? You’re at risk of dying in days.
Which is why you need to know how to clean water, no matter where you are and what type of emergency situation you find yourself in.
Unfortunately, using any standard water purifier or filter doesn't work with turbid water. In fact, you'll simply clog up your filter and ruin it if you don't start with practically clear water before trying to run it through your filter.
So whether you’re dealing with dirty or muddy water contaminants, you need a method to clear the water before drinking it or passing it through your filter.
Lucky for you, I’ve got four incredibly simple methods for how to clean water ridden with unwanted contaminants. Each one uses different supplies so you can figure out which one is easiest for you given the materials you have and the situation you're facing.
Let’s get started.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:I love survival hacks that don’t require obscure equipment. The best thing about this water purification method is it uses only three items, and these are things you can find almost anywhere: in your pantry, in the dumpster, at a gas station, etc...
All you need are two jars and a piece of cloth (such as a strip of tee-shirt) and you’ll be well on your way to purifying turbid water in no time.
While your jars don’t necessarily need to be transparent, it can only help. The goal here is to filter the water from one glass to another while using the cloth to absorb the dirt and mud, so a clear glass helps you see how much of the mud your cloth absorbed.
To start, place the muddy/turbid water in one jar, and set the empty jar next to it.
Don’t get hung up on “cloth”. You can use something as simple as a strip of a tee-shirt for this method. However, do know the cloth should be narrow and long enough to run from one jar into the other.
Take your piece of cloth and insert one end into the jar with the muddy water. Then, take the other end and put it into the empty glass.
After you insert the cloth, the water will begin to move from the muddy jar to the empty jar. The cloth will absorb the mud and dirt and filter the clean water into your empty glass. It should only take a short while (depending on your jar size) before you have clear, muck-free water!
Even though the seemingly safe water looks clear and has gone through one stage of filtration, boil or filter the water to kill and remove any remaining germs and parasites.
This method requires a few more inputs than the first, but they're simple to get your hands on plus it purifies the water so you get more bang for your buck.
Soldiers use this method to purify water in emergencies because almost anywhere you are, you can get your hands on a bottle, rocks, sand, cloth, and charcoal.
And like I mentioned, the great thing about this method is it removes harmful elements such as copper and chlorine without having to boil it or use a special water purifier.
The bottle acts as your main filter. You’ll be stuffing it with other materials, so whether you use scissors or the knife from your bug out bag, it’s important to make sure you cut the bottom of the bottle off so you can put the sand, cloth, and charcoal inside.
After cutting off the bottom of the bottle, you’ll want to punch four or five holes in the bottle cap. Use a sharp edge, jagged rock, or even a pen to punch smalls holes. The key is to create an opening large enough to let the water drain through without letting dirt or particles through. So be sure to keep your holes on the smaller side.
Once your bottle is prepped, it’s time to place cloth inside to act as a particle filter.
Since you’re using additional material to filter the water, you can also use tissues or napkins in this step. But make sure you use enough to thoroughly pad the bottom of the bottle near the bottle cap.
The point is for the cloth/tissue to servie as the final particle filter for the water, so it needs to be strong enough to not break or allow dirt particles through once the water hits it.
Next, you’ll want to add a small amount of sand/gravel to the bottle. When you put the sand and gravel mixture into the bottle, make sure it stays below the tissue/cloth filter. You don’t want it to overflow, or get underneath the filter and leak into your clean water.
Charcoal is great for helping to purify water. In fact, many water filters are packed with charcoal, since active charcoal absorbs turbid substances from gases and liquids (like water).
For this filter, you’ll need smaller pieces of carbon. If you have large pieces, break them against concrete to make them smaller and wash it to remove black residue, so it doesn’t leak into your water. Then, place the smaller pieces of charcoal on top of the sand/gravel mixture.
You’re aiming for about 150-200 grams, so don’t be worried if the charcoal rises above your tissue filter.
Once you’ve got your charcoal in the bottle, you’ll want to add a bit more sand/gravel to the mix. Then, add more tissue/cloth to top off your filter. These two layers will act as a pre-filter for the water you pass through the bottle.
The goal is to catch dirt/mud right off the bat, then treat it with charcoal, then catch any remaining substances in the sand/gravel and tissues layers at the bottom of your bottle.
Whether you’re filling a water bottle, hydration sack, or just a plain old jar, you need something to catch the clean water. You can place this directly under your bottle filter, like this:
Then, pour turbid water into the top of your filter. The water will pass through the various layers and trickle out the holes you punched in the bottle cap.
You’re almost in the clear at this point. To make sure it’s safe, run it through your water filter, boil it, or leave it in sunlight for 2-3 hours. The UV rays will act as yet another filtration device.
After that, it’s ready to drink!
This method takes minimal supplies and a short amount of time, making it one of the easiest ways to treat and disinfect water... if you’ve got the right equipment in your bug out bag or emergency kit. All you need is a container to hold water and a P&G water packet.
The great thing about this water purification method is a single P&G water packet treats 2.5 gallons of water. This makes this method excellent for those who need to treat a large amount of contaminated water in a short amount of time.
As you may have guessed, the first step here is to fill a large container with water. If you’re using just one packet, shoot for 2.5 gallons or less. Many buckets will mark how many liters or gallons they hold, but if you find yourself without one, you can think of this in terms of a small fish tank or a couple of milk jugs.
Once you’ve got your container filled, empty one P&G packet into the container for every 2.5 gallons of water. Then, use a clean device (such as a spoon, knife, or even a rinsed stick), to stir the water for five minutes.
The P&G water packet takes 25 minutes to fully purify the water, so you’ll need to let it rest for this duration of time. During this time period, the floc will settle to the bottom of the water container.
Once the 25 minutes are up, carefully transfer the water to a clean container (without floc) by pouring it into a separate container. If you can use a cloth to strain the water and ensure none of the floc gets into the clean container that's best, but so long as you pour carefully the floc that settled at the bottom will stay put.
A lot of survival tricks use gear that goes hand in hand. This is one of those tricks. This method uses the same P&G water packets from the purification method above, but with a different container for your water: the DayOne waterbag.
This kit comes with an integrated filtration system and 60 P&G water packets to treat even the most turbid water without ruining filters. If you’re looking for the absolute best purification system for any emergency, this is the combination for you.
The great thing about using the DayOne Waterbag is you can collect water directly in the pack itself. No containers, bottles, or jars needed. Before you start filling the bag, make sure the clamp on the tube, which serves as the filtration device, is closed. It should look something like this:
Scoop water into directly into the bag and fill it to the 10L (or 2.5 gallon) mark.
Once you’ve filled your bag to the 10L mark, it’s time to add the P&G packet. Again, I can’t emphasize how great this method is for including everything you need. The DayOne Waterbag even comes with a shoulder strap cutting tool that you can use to slice open the P&G water packet — way better than using your teeth, right?
Once you’ve got the packet open, go ahead and add it to the bag. Just like the previous method, you’ll want to mix the water and the packet for five minutes. To do this with the bag, close it by folding down the top closure three times, releasing excess air, and buckling the clasp. Then, twist the bag back and forth to mix the contents.
You can hang the bag on a tree branch so you can mix it with both hands, or you can hold it with one hand while twisting it with the other if you’re not near a tree, or can’t find a sturdy branch.
As you’re mixing, the water will become colored. Don’t be alarmed — this means the packet is working!
This method also requires you to let the water sit for 25 minutes before it’s ready to drink. If you don’t have a place to hang the bag, you can wear it as a backpack during the rest period.
However, you’ll want to make sure you don’t move around too much. The whole point here is to give the dirt particles time to settle at the bottom of the pack.
Toward the end of the 25 minutes, you’ll notice the water becomes clear above the outlet of the bag. The dirt will settle below it. If the dirt gets caught on the walls of the bag, feel free to tap it to help it settle at the bottom.
Now for the fun part! After waiting those 25 minutes, your water is finally ready to drink. It’s time to release the shut-off clamp and dispense the water into a clean container or water bottle.
You’ll notice that the water is clean only above the outlet port. This means you should not dispense the water below that port. The P&G packet helps the floc settle at the bottom, leaving the clean water above that point. Dirt has settled below it, so only drain the bag up until that point.
It’s also worth noting that if after this process the water remains colored, yellow, or cloudy, you shouldn’t drink it. Instead, mix it again and wait another 25 minutes. If the water is still colored or dirty after a second attempt, discard it.
You’ll also want to drink the water within 24 hours of treating it. Water not drunk within that time may run the risk of being too dirty for human consumption, but can be used for cooking, washing, or even watering your animals.
And last, but certainly not least, clean the bag after each use! You can use the remaining water below to port to gather any sediment in the bag and discard it, preferably in a latrine or below ground. Then, wipe the bag with a cloth to get rid of any remaining sediment. One of the greatest things about this method is your container can be used over and over again — you just have to make sure it’s fit to do so.
Water is crucial to survival in emergencies, which is why I outlined these four simple ways to purify dirty or muddy water no matter the situation you find yourself in.The goal with these methods is to find an easy purifying solution that works for you and the materials you have on hand.
Each of these solutions works on the fly and will ultimately help you stay safe and hydrated when the odds are stacked against you.
Take some time and practice these methods. Whichever solution works best for you, make sure you keep the materials for it in your emergency supplies so you’re ready to go.
If you have any questions on the methods I listed above, or have a favorite way to purify water, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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