Survival School – Emergency Water Treatments

© Photographer: David Coleman | Agency:

Whether zombies are knocking on your door, or a natural disaster forces you to evacuate, there are a few vital skills everyone should know in order to keep your family safe.

Water, in any disaster or even while camping, is a precious commodity. Honestly, the best method to ensure you have enough is to keep store-bought gallons of water on-hand just in case. Store a three-day supply of water—one gallon of water per person per day. That does not include water for washing dishes—which must also be purified—washing your face, brushing teeth, and tending to any possible medical emergencies. At the very least, a three-day supply will give you guaranteed clean water long enough to allow you to find a safe water source to pull and purify.

In a pinch, FEMA and the Red Cross recommends the following methods for cleaning and purifying water for drinking.

Option 1: Boiling

Boiling water kills water-born pathogens that can make one ill. Boil a pot of water at 160*F (a rolling boil, not a simmer) for at least 1 minute (you may boil longer if you wish). While, yes, it will kill anything in the water, it will not filter out any debris or make the water taste better. Pack some cheesecloth in your go bag and pour the water through of few layers of that before boiling to filter out debris.

Option 2: Chlorine Treatment

Using an eyedropper, add 8-10 drops of non-scented, regular liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water to purify (up to 16 drops if the water is cloudy). Stir and let the water stand for 30 minutes.

Tip: The water should smell a little like bleach (or tap water in a large city). If it does not, repeat the process and let stand for 15 minutes. If after the second dose of bleach, it doesn’t smell like chlorine, the water is too dirty to purify.

Option 3: Distillation

Distillation will not only kill most microbes that will make you ill, it will also make sure you do not drink heavy metals, salt, and other chemicals (such as those used in other purification methods). This is the ideal method to use if you have children, infants, or anyone with serious health conditions in camp. Remember, though, it is a slow process to clean enough water for an adult’s recommended intake of half a gallon of water per day.

Find a large, clean pot with a lid. You will also need a cup and string/twine. Fill the pot half way with water. Tie the cup onto the handle of the pot lid and put the lid onto the pot upside down, so the cup hangs inside the pot. Make sure the cup is not touching the water. Bring the pot of water to a boil for 20 minutes. The water vapors will condense on the pot lid and drip into the cup. The water in the cup is distilled and ready for drinking.

There are two more methods available for water treatment.

Option 4: Iodine Treatment

Use 5 drops of liquid iodine for every quart of water (up to 12 drops if the water is cloudy). Make sure the iodine contains 5.25% hypochlorite as the only active ingredient. The Red Cross or FEMA does not recommend anything else as suitable for water treatments. Iodine treatments are also available in crystal and tablet form. Follow the directions on the bottles for those.

Note: Iodine water treatment is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women, anyone over 50, or anyone with thyroid problems. If after the first treatment, the water does not smell like iodine, it is too dirty to purify. Iodine treatment is not recommended for long-term survival use (over a week or two).

Option 5: Filter systems

There is a range of water filters available at camping supply stores. Some of them are downright expensive. If you live in an area with frequent flooding, hurricanes, or any natural disaster that would remove you from your home(aside from the pending Zombiepocalypse), we’d suggest maybe looking into a filter system. As far as stocking your go bag, use one of the above options and save your money for the essentials–toilet paper and coffee.


For all of the above water treatment options, ensure that the container you collect/purify the water in is CLEAN—washed with soap or rinsed with diluted bleach.

Be sure to collect clear-looking water from a moving source. Ponds and other stagnant bodies of water will have far more bacteria than large, flowing bodies of water. The cleaner the water is when you start the purification process, the easier it will be to clean.

Always boil water you intend to cook with BEFORE adding food—at least 2 minutes of a hard, rolling boil before cooking to prevent bacteria from hiding in the food.


It is recommended that you utilize commercially bought, food-safe water containers to store water in case of an emergency. Wash the containers with soap and water and rinse thoroughly before filling.

If you do not have the resources to buy a container, use a two-liter soda bottle. Not plastic jugs from milk, or juice (the sugar and protein do not wash out and the water will spoil). Wash the two-liter bottles and lids with soap and water and rinse thoroughly.

Fill the bottles with water from the tap at home (Add two drops of bleach per gallon if your house draws from a well. Public water sources are already treated). Or, use the clean bottles to store your boiled/treated water after it is cool/clean. Water stored in this manner will last for about six months.