What does water purification remove?
When it comes to water purification, the “what is removed” really depends on the method you use. However, the ultimate goal is to avoid getting sick. There are plenty of protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and parasites that will really ruin a trip. Some can even end your life. There are also some nasty chemicals and other pollutants you’ll want to avoid. Plus things like tannins can make water taste horrible.
For chemicals, smells, and taste your best bet is a filter with activated carbon. However, chemicals and pesticides are some of the most difficult contaminants to remove. Fortunately, most filtration and purification methods easily remove the more common things you’ll encounter (like Giardia). When traveling to less developed areas where you might encounter viruses; we recommend an actual purifier. Viruses are small and most filters will do little to stop things like hepatitis A.
Ultimately our opinion, and that of the experts, is better safe than sorry. Don’t assume water is safe to drink just because you’re in a pristine setting. Fish poop isn’t the only thing in that mountain stream.
There aren’t many things that can survive a minute in boiling water (3 minutes above 6500′ above sea level). Bust out your backpacking stove and a pot and you’re on the road to safe water. The only downsides; time to heat and cool, fuel consumption, and inability to remove chemicals. However, the good news is that boiling is a reliable source and a great backup to your primary water purification method. And you can drink that boiled murky puddle water without thinking twice about getting diarrhea.
We highly recommend water filters. Pushing or pulling dirty water through something to separate good from bad is easy for us to wrap our heads around. On one side dirty water the other side clean water. And barring any malfunction, water on the clean side is good to go.
There are two things to know before you begin your search. First, things marketed as a “filter” are not as effective at removing everything as similar looking “purifiers.” So read the label. The other thing to know is that, for the most part, a filter is sufficient in the United States. But, if you want to keep viruses out of the mix look for filters with small pores. For most purifiers .02 microns is standard (viruses typically range in size from .004 to .1 microns).
Ultraviolet Water Purification
It’s effective but we still have a hard time downing UV treated water. Call us naive, but a stir with a little wand doesn’t inspire confidence. Plus you will need to filter out light blocking sediment to ensure nothing is hiding in the shadows.
Aside from our prejudices UV light is a proven method in clear water. But that’s in a controlled environment. Outside of the laboratory many companies recommend using a filter like those mentioned above before giving the water the UV treatment. To us that means we now have to bring along three water purification tools. A filter, the light, and a backup. Because if the filter breaks we just aren’t comfortable relying on the light wand.
A cool camping gadget in principal, but for most of us they miss the mark.
Chemicals are a time tested water purification method. The most common you will encounter are iodine and chlorine. Available in a tablet or a liquid these products are affordable, easy to carry, and very reliable. Despite their benefits, they are rarely a first choice for most people.
Smell and taste are the major reasons people turn to other water purification methods. But since the alternative is illness or death, we’re happy to endure a bit of chemicals in our drinking water. Since the taste is a little difficult to endure, make sure you do things right. It would be a shame to get sick and drink iodine treated water in the same day.
Carefully follow the product’s instructions. Amounts and ratios are dependant on water clarity temperature. Also the duration of treatment may vary.
Purifying Water with Household Bleach
Clorox Regular Bleach is probably the most affordable and widely-available water purification tool. Boiling excluded. Is it safe to drink a highly diluted bleach cocktail? According to Clorox and myriad experts it is safe to use regular bleach for emergency disinfection of drinking water.
They do insist that you avoid scented, high efficiency, and splash-less products. So, regular bleach only no fancy stuff. Use eight drops per gallon (double that if you cannot remove sediment and suspended material). After adding bleach, let the water stand for 30 minutes. After that give it a smell; the water should have a slight chlorine odor. If it doesn’t add another eight drops per gallon and let it stand for 15 more minutes. Check for the chlorine smell again, and enjoy your bleach scented bug-free H20.
Is it our first choice? Nope. However, using bleach is better than getting sick.
Tips to Ensure Safe Drinking Water
- Use a prefilter. No matter what method you use to purify water; a pre filter will remove the “big stuff” and increase performance. We like paper coffee filters or fabric.
- If you can, try not to get water from the surface or close to the bottom. Bacteria grows better in the mud and sunlight can help some nasty things thrive near the surface.
- Avoid cross contamination. Do not let untreated water come into contact with clean water.
- Read the instructions. It’s your health. Don’t be the person that gets your friends sick because you made a careless assumption.
- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Especially when handling drinking water.
- Don’t rely on a single water purification method. Build in a bit of redundancy. (e.g. boiling and tablets)
- Keep your toilet, food and used water 200 feet from streams or other water sources. Nobody downstream wants to drink your nasty wastewater.
- The CDC recommends boiling water for the best results. If boiling isn’t an option they recommend filtration and chemical treatment.