How to Get Clean, Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency

by Kirk S

Everyone agrees that you should have an emergency supply of water. Most experts advise that you should have a minimum water supply for 72 hours and the CDC recommends that you have 1 gallon of water for each person in your family for each day. If you have a family of 4 you will need 12 gallons of water for those 72 hours. This is pretty easy to do with bottled water. Bottled water is pre-packaged and has clear expiration dates so you know that the water is still safe to drink.

Acquiring safe drinking water becomes a little more difficult if you need to abandon your home or if the emergency lasts longer than 72 hours. Each case requires an understanding of water safety, contamination, and treatment.

Choose the right water source

Water from flowing streams and rivers is always preferable to the stagnant water in ponds or lakes. Always try to choose water as close to the water source as possible. In many cases, spring water coming out of the ground will be the safest for drinking. As much as possibly, try to avoid water that is down river from towns and industry. Waste and pollutants often find their way into the water systems. Likewise, water near to agricultural land can be a problem. Fertilisers and pesticides soak into the land, and through rainfall and runoff, will get into the streams and rivers.

Avoid water in marshes and swamps or where algae is growing. Trying to find the cleanest water will make your life much easier. With the being said, there are times when you do not have any choice about the water that is available to you. This is where it is best that you understand the potential contaminants in the water and the technology needed to remove them.

Water pollutants

To make water completely safe to drink, five types of contaminates need to be eliminated:

  • Turbidity: visible dirt – sand, silt or mud
  • Chemical pollutants: from heavy metals to pesticides – often associated with mining, agriculture and forestry
  • Viruses: biological agent that reproduces in the cells that they infect
  • Bacteria: single-cell organisms found everywhere. Some of them cause infectious diseases. These include E. Coli, cholera, typhoid, etc.)
  • Parasites: waterborne parasites are single-cell organisms (such as protozoa, Cryptosporidium and Giardia) or multi-cell organisms (such as worms) that live in or on other living organisms.

How to purify water

Depending on the level of contamination that you are dealing with, there are a variety of methods you can choose. Water purification technology has advanced quite a bit over the last few years and there are numerous methods for getting rid of the nastiness in contaminated water. Unfortunately, getting clean, safe, good tasting drinking water requires more than one filtration medium. Below are different filtration methods and what they remove.


Boiling water for at least one minute will kill or deactivate all viruses, pathogens, bacteria and protozoa. This is an easy way to filter water with no special equipment and you can treat a lot of water at one time so it is good for large groups or families. Boiling does not remove chemical pollutants or clarify turbidity in the water. Boiling also requires a fuel source to burn which is sometimes difficult to come by.


A water filter is generally a device that blocks impurities or particles from passing through it. This works through size exclusion where the holes in the filter are so small that the bacteria cannot fit. Most filtration of this kind is called Hollow Fiber.


Adsorption normally refers to a product like activated carbon. There are a few forms of activated carbon (granular, powder, and fiber). The small pores in the carbon increases the surface area of adsorption. Activated carbon is ideal for removing chemicals, metals, and turbidity of water. It also improves the taste of your water and has faster flow rates. Activated Carbon Fiber is a fibrous adsorbent that has 10x higher adsorption than traditional activated carbon and gives you faster flow rates.

UV light purifiers

This method uses UV rays to blast microbes and organisms in the water. This neutralises them and renders them harmless to humans. UV purifiers require a power source (generally batteries) and are potentially fragile, leaving you without filtration.

Filtration Products


One of the most popular filtration straws on the market. Originally designed as an emergency water treatment method, straws are also well suited for time in the backcountry and are cheap to throw in an emergency pack. The LifeStraw has a hollow fiber membrane filter that cleanses the water as you sip it straight from the source. LifeStraw does not remove viruses and it can only be used directly from the water source.

Hand Pumps

Hand pump filters are common for backpackers and have the ability to filter large amounts of water. Hand pumps are generally reliable and easy to use. Hand pumps have small filter pore sizes so they can remove more particulate, but this reduces the flow rate of water. Most hand pumps are heavy and have multiple pieces that can get lost. Also, very few hand pumps can remove viruses. There are a few lately that have been released on the market that give you complete viruses protection.

Gravity Filters

Gravity filters are a three step process that are great for groups of people at a campsite or have time to set up a semi-permanent installation. Most gravity filters have a large water reservoir that is filled with dirty water. It will have a tube that is connected to the filter medium and another tube attached to the clean water receptacle. Most gravity filters are made of hollow-fiber which allows for fast flow rates. Gravity filters are hassle-free, light-weight and can collapse down to save space. These systems do not protect against viruses and you need quite a bit of water to make the system work.

In-Line Filters

Another very common filter is an in-line filter and most people are aware of the Sawyer Mini. It is one of the lightest filters on the market. It is economical to use and can used with a water reservoir, a collapsible canteen, as a straw and can be threaded onto a water bottle. This type filter will filter up to 100,000 gallons if you continue to backflush it and take care of the filter. The filter is great for a single user, but not very good for larger groups. This type of filter also does not remove viruses and does nothing to remove chemicals and metals.

Chemical Treatment

Chemical water treatment methods, most commonly contain iodine or chlorine dioxide. This is a lightweight option, is good for treating large amounts of water and kills viruses found in the water. The downside is it takes a few hours to treat the water and leaves a negative taste in the water. This treatment does not’t remove the turbidity of water.

A small company out of Utah recently released an adaptable water filter that they believe fixes many of the problems with single use water filters. The MUV Adaptable Water Filter is a multi-stage water filter that can be modified and used based on the water contamination that you are dealing with. Not only does it remove all of the water pollutants covered above, including viruses, but it is also versatile in the way it can be used. You can easily modify the filter to work in a water bottle, as an in-line filter, as a gravity system, as a straw, threaded onto a 28mm soda bottle, and as a pump. The MUV was released on Kickstarter on May 24th and reached its backing goal in just 72 hours. There is still time to back their Kickstarter project and you can see their Kickstarter video below.

With the different MUV filter modules you are able to completely control how your water filter works and what it removes. Using the chart above you are able to determine which module is right for you given your current water situation. You can easily combine one or more of the modules to get superior filtration.


MUV can adapt to your lifestyle or your needs. With a few simple adapters you can go from using MUV in a water bottle to a hydration system to a pump. No longer do you need to buy a variety of separate water filters that are incompatible with each other. Now you can easily buy one system that covers 99.9% of all your water filtration needs.

Check out the MUV Adaptable Water Filter and get in on one of the most innovative products to hit the water filter industry in years.


  1. Rather a timely post, since I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about water. That’s the biggest hole in my preps at this point, and while I have plans for dealing with it, water is one of those things you never have too many plans for.

  2. We installed a 1500 gallon cistern for about a grand. That’s reduces our deep water well cycling and increases longevity. It also provides a geothermal potential for cooling for those of you who are innovative. I plan on taking advantage of that real soon. Think about it. An underground storage cistern for water is a real advantage during the initial phase of any emergency and is an inexpensive advantage to have.

    • i have been thinking that a cistern would be the best way to have a large quantity of water on hand and keep it cycled, but when your pump is going directly into the cistern do you still have pressure in your house?

  3. akaGaGa says:

    While this article contains clearly-presented information, imho, it’s really an ad for MUV, and should not have been presented as a how-to.

  4. Excellent article. I believe clean, drinking water is priority #1. I encourage people to have extra fuel to boil water & extra filters for friends or family. Storing water, & being able to replace your water are also important. B/c clean drinking water will be so precious in a post-disaster world, some say that you’ll be able to trade clean water for other items.

  5. Water is always your biggest concern. Here is what we do. First we have three hot water tanks connected in series (only the final one is use to heat the water. That gives us 165 gallon of constantly refreshed potable water. We also keep 12 cases (60 gallons) of bottled water on hand, that we use and replace. We also have over 2 hundred gallons of rain catchment hidden in the garage along with our yard use catchment on the back deck. We have a multilevel filtering system. As we pump water out of the rain catchment barrels it passes through a coffee filter in a wire basket and into the first bucket. The first bucket has a .1 micron Sawyer filter attached. The water passes through the filter into a clean bucket with a lid. This water is now clean enough for cooking, washing ETC. All water that will be used for drinking or making beverages is further filtered by passing through a Sawyer .02 micron filter and a charcoal filter, then into two 7 gallon Reliance water jugs with faucets. These set on the counter in the kitchen, reserved for drinking. If given enough warning like before a hurricane, we fill another 100 plus gallons of cat litter buckets along with every other large container we have. We also have a Katadyn Pocket Microfilter and extra Sawyer filters for on the road use.

  6. A water distiller can be fashioned guite easily,with basic tools,from a pressure cooker. There is virtually no level of contaminated water that can’t be made safe to drink through the distillation process. Since this isn’t my article,I won’t drop a link,but I’ve done a video showing how simpl,quickly and easily one can fashion a distiller made from a pressure cooker. It can be used over any heat source capable of making water hot enough to boil. In my video,I did this over a rocket stove,but it could be done on an open fire,gas/propane stove or a woodstove. Nice ad !

    • Curley Bull says:


      • Almost There says:

        Agree, the best is distillation if you can. Filters have to be replaced. But it’s best to have a combo of different types available and know how to use them, so you can adjust to the situation.

    • Sheepherder says:

      Would really like to see the video of the distillation process

  7. One option I have not seen mentioned is spearmint essential oil. If grid down long enough, you may not have some of these products. Spearmint, even in small amounts kill many bacteria and fungi like E. coli, candida and other bad nasties. I have filters, but am making more spearmint essential oil. Just a mild spearmint tea is a great skin disinfectant without the alcohol burn and supports skin healing. If we are down as long as some think, we need to be open to herbs. Alcohol was approved drinking just because it killed you slower than bad water.

    • Almost There says:

      Good information Rebecca. And spearmint tastes good and freshens the breath.

  8. E all of the above. You can never have enough water or ways to treat it. I have most. Kadakyn has a water bottle that only treats 46 gallons, but it has iodine filters so it kills viruses as well as a filter.

  9. Axelsteve says:

    I live near a lake that is called clear however it is nasty green and smells really bad.So any water that I store is either tap or bottled.A good filter would be a good idea for when things get really bad.I also think something to desalinate water would be good since I know folks who live on the coast .

  10. What about RO? I thing it’s the best filter to remove everything, from inorganic to organic: viruses, bacteria, pharmaceuticals, etc. In normal use, a membrane may last three years, filters one. From time to time check the ph, it should be 7 or a bit higher. For 25+ years we have been drinking RO treated tap water. Minerals come from food intake.

  11. Sorry, I meant above filters (pre or post) that come with the RO system.

  12. canadagal says:

    Bro. Steve. We built a 9000 gal. cement cistern under our basement many years ago & have never regreted it. It takes water off the roof or we can pump into it from the well which we do each fall. We top it off for winter as our climate is too cold to pump in winter. It has a moderating effect on our basement, cooling it in summer & warming in winter. Rain water off the roof first goes into 2 screened rain barrels. The outlet from the rain barrels are about 1/2 way up the barrel which allows dirt that goes through the screen to settle out & the clean water to then flow into the pipe directed to the cistern. Our water pump that delivers water from the cistern to the rest of the house is housed next to the hot water tank in the basement. Hope you enjoy your cistern as much as we have.

  13. William says:

    I recently read this review from twitter. Has anyone actually tried the Lifesaver water bottle?

  14. I’m thinking of making a secondary add-on filter using the activated charcoal found in pet stores for fish…

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Nolan I do this with my Katadyn Pocket filter. I bought an in-line filter that holds activated carbon, it has hose barbs on it to go between the filter and the water source. I buy extra carbon at pet stores in the fish department.

      As far as storing water, me bad as I just don’t store much of it. I have 2 rain barrels. I live in a place where water is not a problem, there is a small creek a few hundred yards away, the great lakes are 6-miles away (too far to go for water, but it makes for a water table that is close to the surface so a sand-point well is easy to do.) There are ponds all over the place, there is a river a few miles away that dumps into The Great Lakes, and it rains a LOT here.

      Most of the year it’s more of an overabundance problem with water then a shortage of it.

  15. Chuck Findlay says:

    UV light purifiers have 2 problems.

    First is they seem to have reliability problems with the electronics (switch contacts, battery connections ect.) Years ago I did a lot of research on water filtering and people hiking the Application Trail always talked about sending them in for repair. The fact that numerous people were having problems convinced me they were not the way to go.

    And second they don’t work unless the water is crystal clear. Any impurities that stop the UV rays from going through the water stop the UV-rays from killing critters in the water. So all water needs to be filtered before these things work. If I need to filter the water, why not just get a good filter? I know most filters don’t filter down to the virus level, but viruses are not generally a problem in water. They like a nice warm host to keep them all comfy and warm. And there is always the option of boiling the water to kill them if you feel it’s a concern.

  16. Not_So_Much says:

    Living in a very arid region, I keep several types of filters on hand as well as 200–300 gallons stored at any given time. A factor in my house location was that two separate spring run off washes are close. With at least some rain 10 out of 12 months, I’m confident of an adequate supply for our needs. That said I’ll keep an eye on new products such as MUV to add to my resources. ‘Ya gotta have drinking water no matter what.

  17. Really informative article! With water so necessary to our lives, it’s hardly surprising we like it pure tasty and clean. That’s why last decade people spent more money on water filters that can remove any harmful impurities.

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