Slow sand water filter system

This guest post by Thomas T. Tinker

Just stirring the pot of ideas for the pack at large and those that have simply missed the possibilities. Thomas T. Tinker

While in a third world country with light arms and air support, I first noticed this style.. type.. of water ‘filter’ systems. Clay boxes and cement pipes, used drums and barrels, pots and 5 gallon buckets. Each had some form of cobbled up hose or pipe out of the top or the side. I got mine out of a ‘Buffalo’ or a 2 liter bottle and I never enjoyed the effects of the third worlds revenge.

Now folks this posting is not unlike the one I did on “TARPS” not too long ago. Short on plans and hoping to instigate a dialogue on the subject. Gawd knows I donwanna spend too much time on this cause it’s a Tuesday and I don’t wanna run into NatGeos Doomsday Preppers. Next to Storage Wars or Snapped…. Who’d wanna miss it!!! THAT LAST LINE WAS FOR THE FEDERALIES READING THE BLOG TODAY… I’M REALLY GOING TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN THE ATTIC WATCHING THE ENTIRE ‘LORD OF THE RINGS’ BOXED SET… YEEE HAWW.

I was going to do this a couple of years back but thought I had better put a couple together myself before I started blowing my horn. I started with a simple 5 gallon food grade bucket model I found on YouTube. One bucket and assorted cheap pvc pipe fittings and spigot. 2 bags of pool filter sand. A couple of shovels full of small gravel from the Cities ‘pot hole crew’ truck.. Thank You to the City of Toledo! One yard of coated window screen and one yard of swamp cooler filter.

Made a small two pronged forky looking thing with a pvc T and two 90s. Drilled out the bottoms of the tines with an 8th in drill. Ran a vertical pvc up the inside and 90ed out the side to a spigot just below the series of rings around the bucket.

Laid in the the ‘fork’ in the bottom and glued on the top 90 and spigot out the side. Laid in a cut piece of screen over the fork. Laid in 3 inches of gravel over the screen. Poured in the sand and tamped it down until it was about 4 inches from the top of the bucket. Added an inch or so of gravel and a piece of screen on top of the sand and topped it off with a layer of Swamp cooler filter. Viola! Settled the media down with the garden hose. Swept off the deck and dumped it in a bucket of tap water. Poured same into filter and waited. Go figure… it came out clear and clean enough not to ruin lunch or dinner… or eggs and taters the next morning.

The 5 gallon model is sitting in the back of the garage. Took about two weeks for the bio-active layer to form on the top. Ah… yeah. Last summer I repeated the same receipt with a 30 gallon gray pvc barrel. This time I used two 6 inch round lawn sprinkler heads and garden hose instead of pvc pipe. Screwed the sprinklers on to a hose Y and cut a section of hose to run up the inside of the barrel and through a notch in the lip of the barrel. I added another hose Y with shut off valves to the end of the cut section of hose outside the barrel and two more 2 foot sections of hose on the hose Y. Each of these two run into a hole in a 5 gallon bucket lid. Screen/gravel/sand/screen/gravel/swamp cooler element. Viola! I figure it at about 26ish gallons cause of the hose notch. Again…. Clear.. clean.. water. HOWEVER!

I use this as a pre-filter for my ceramic filter system cuzz I can! I use the 5 gal. buckets loads to feed my ceramic system. In the bottom of my secondary filtered collection bucket I leave a 1 ounce pure silver round. I have not taken the time to have this end product tested. In any nasty event, I would expect the ‘surface’ water to be rather ‘turbid’. When I have my 55 gal. system up, I’m not going to worry as much as I do now about H2O. Until I need it, the components for the 55gal. will rest inside the barrel.

Here are a few sites that will supply the pack with far more detailed plans and nearly an endless variety of filter styles to consider. Slow Sand Water Filters*** (Center for Disease Control) Safe water systems (Bio sand Water Filter)****
AND my favorite…. If you cannot find a design on this page… consider another layer of personal sanitation preps and storage of several regiments of Ciproflozacin (Keflex) 500Mg. tablets. One by mouth every 8 to 12 hours for general bacterial, intestinal issues with bowel upset. Not that I am giving medical advice cuzz that is the last thing I am qualified to do… Just Saying! slow sand water filter systems.*****
These sand filters are truly ‘plug and play’ items. They are used around the world in major and minor supply systems. !OPINION ALERT! A slow sand filter system coupled with a secondary ceramic or media filter system can supply a preppers answer to one, if not the greatest, problems faced… H2o.

Again, if there are any comments, suggestions, sources or simple death threats… I am.. your humble servant: Thomas T. Tinker


  1. I think this may work well in the short term, but eventually the sand will become saturated with microbs, paristes and chemicles. You would need fresh sand routinly, I think, and a also I would want to boil it for drinking. Just thinking outloud. ME

    • Thomas The Tinker says:

      Short term for shurrrr. If you back flush it now and again it gains some ‘legs’. Back flush with bleach…. longer legs. You should ‘PLAN’ to dump the whole thing now and again and re-build it.

      “Microbs, paristes, chemicles” .. ahmen! I’m ‘planning’ to use these as ‘PRE-filtration’ only … turbid water, bird poop etc. These things keep a chunk of Asia and Africa alive every day as is…. Its Prepping for things you’d rather not have happen.

    • Agreed. The DIY style water filtration systems are really only for the short term. But I think most water filters would be for the short term. I think it’s still a great system since it’s easy to create and sand is pretty readily available in a lot of areas.

  2. Sir, this sounds fantastic but can you get pictures, I am not following what you are saying on the construction. Until then I will be in my Man Cave watching old episodes of Green Acres.

    • Thomas The Tinker says:

      Kevin… I’d have to make another and do a step by step photo thang.
      1. bucket or barrel
      2. perforated sections of pvc or round plastic sprinkler heads constructed in such a manner as to cover the bottom of bucket or barrel bottom with holes directed DOWN.
      3. pvc or garden hose and fitting so as to attach array of pvc or sprinkler heads to a vertical pipe or hose up the inside of the bucket or barrel.
      4. The vertical pipe or hose must exit the bucket or barrel below the top level of material inside the bucket as it is the water pressure of the next lot of water you pour in the filter that forces out the lot of water that has passed down the sand to the outlet pipes or sprinkler heads.
      5. you can attach a valve outside the bucket or barrel.. or simple direct the ‘line’ to another catch bucket or barrel. I direct it into 5 gal. buckets.
      6. Cover the ‘outlet’ system you have decided to use with first a layer of window screen (plastic.. not metal screen) then enough WASHED gravel to cover by 2 inchs or so.
      7. Add enough pool filter sand to fill bucket or barrel to with in a few inchs of the out let at the top.
      8. Add another few inchs of WASHED gravel on top of pool filter sand the a layer of straw… rough air filter material… “Swamp Cooler” matting. Some I’ve seen put another of screen here also.
      Water it all down with the garden hose until you begin to get clear water out of the outlet and continue until your happy that you have ‘Flushed’ the new materials or you really wanna make coffee with it…
      9. Make sure you construct any size bigger than the bucket style in the spot where you want to place it for use… 30 to 40 ‘gallons’ of wet filter sand a gravel are a pain to move and you can burst the barrel if you let it go bump down the basement steps …. like I did.
      10. DISCLAIMER ALERT….. I only use mine as a first line filter to ‘clear’ the water of what ever it can for our ceramic / black berkey S. Hittng T.F. filter system.

      Endless plans for these ala internet and youtube…..

  3. Oh yes Thanks for the insight.

  4. I’ve done similar, with the bucket, gravel and sand. I do use natural charcoal also. Since most of my potable water ends up as coffee of tea, it is also boiled. I have not had any issues with dysentery. It looks like a good discussion topic!

  5. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Water is to critical a prep not to have actually put together a system to ‘refill’ you stores or pre-filter the rain catchment system(s) you may have in place already.

    Ours are… City water. Stored bottled. Store Aquatainers. Covered drums in the barn for EM fill up or run off catchment. Back of the pick up rain catch ment. Off the house and barn roof catchment. Swan Creek. City storm system (not storm /sewer system thank you). Maumee River. Lake Erie.

    For those that have the time, tarp and plywood …. take a 4×8 foot section of ply. cut down the long axis. Screw, nail, staple, tape or other wise attach tarp to cover. Prop up in the yard as you can at a shallow downward angle with the two halves of the ply slightly raised at each side like a very very very shallow V. Wait for it to rain….. You will be happy to see how fast it will fill a five gallon bucket.

    Cost…. plywood (see home depot ads) Tarp (free at harbor frayt with flyer) Bucket… you should have a stack of these already or your not trying.

    You can skip the plywood if you have a couple of 2 x 4s and a tarp. You can skip the 2x4s if you have a nice fence and some tomato stakes… and a tarp. If you have a tarp…. Rain… and a Brain…. you have water.

    Just set a coffee cup out in a pouring rain.. heat.. Taster’s Choice… you have Coffee!

    I’ve tried this off the Hood of my DW’s Honda.

  6. Chuck Findlay says:

    About a year ago I searched “Sand Water Filter” on U-Tube and saved (downloaded) the ones I thought were worth having.

    I don’t need a sand water filter right now, but I have everything (including U-Tube Videos) to make them if needed.

    Learn to download videos and save them for future use. There could be a time when they won’t be available to you, plan ahead.

  7. Anonamo Also says:

    Zeolite cleans all kinds of isotopes from rainwater…might consider adding it and charcoal to filter rainwater in troubled times. Available as stall refresher. . This product.will also remove water from gasoline, diesel or alcobhol…

  8. Michael Crowe says:

    ciprofloxacinn is cipro a quinolone

    keflex is a cephalosporin related to penicillin.

    these are not in the same family of antibiotics.

  9. The Hesperian booklets are useful. THIS one is about water and a companion booklet is about SANITATION.

    Might be worthwhile printing them out and keeping them handy …

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