How to Treat Water in a Survival Situation

How to Treat Water in a Survival Situation

by Christine Brockman

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Water is essential to our survival, and obviously the best course of action is having some stored in case of emergency.

If you do happen to get caught in a survival situation with no available drinking water, here are a few simple tips to help strain and treat the water you have access to. If you are in doubt of the quality of ANY water source, it is best to treat it first using these methods.

Straining and Aeration

A recommended first step would be to run the water through a clean cotton cloth, such as a handkerchief. This filters out some of the larger particles (like dirt and tiny organisms). Microfibre cloths also work quite well for straining.

Aeration simply adds air to the water and reduces substances that affect the taste and smell of water. Partly fill a container with water and shake it vigorously.

Three Container System

According to the WELL Resource Center for Water Sanitation and Environmental Health, simply letting water sit in a container will also improve its quality. They recommend a three-container system. Container one stores newly collected water. After one day (24 hours), pour the water from container one into container two. Be careful to leave the particles or cloudy layers behind, which are at the bottom of the container one by now. Discard the rest of the water from container one, and then fill it again so that you are constantly repeating this cycle. The next day, pour the water from container two into container three. Once stored for two days, the water in container three can be used for drinking.


After straining the water, the most common way to disinfect the water is to boil it. There is some speculation about how long exactly to boil water in order to kill all the pathogens. The U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends boiling water for several minutes.

Another common method to disinfect water is to chemically treat it by adding chlorine or bleach to it. This method is a bit trickier as there are many different kinds of bleach. Household bleach has been known to lose its strength over time, whereas powdered chlorine can last 10 years without losing its strength. Ensure you use pure bleach, and not anything that has other additives (like laundry chemicals). For bleach that has 6-10% chlorine, you can use 3 to 4 drops per gallon of water. Let it sit for about thirty minutes, and then smell the water. You should faintly smell the chlorine. If you don’t smell it at all, repeat the procedure and then let it sit for another half hour. After a few hours, aerate the water by shaking the bottle vigorously, which helps reduce the smell and taste of chlorine.

For some extra resources, go to the Well Resource Center for Water Sanitation and Environmental Health’s website. Using the above methods will assist greatly in getting safe water for you and your family in any emergency situation.

About the Author: Christine Brockman is a web writer, publisher and a survival fanatic. She enjoys the great outdoors; checking out the latest survival gear and camping with her family.   

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