You can only carry or store so much water.  What happens if you lose access to water for longer than a few weeks / months?  What then?

 

Water filtration vs water purification

First, you need to understand the difference between water filtration and water purification.  This can get a bit tricky.

 

Filtration

Filtration is what it seems to be.  A system that filters out unwanted “stuff.”  It is like a giant strainer and anything too big to pass through the strainer is kept out of your water.  This (obviously) includes things like debris, sand, dirt etc.   With a good filter, this also includes all bacteria and protozoa.

This level of “water cleansing”  is sufficient for most water you will find in North America.  This would also be sufficient for water you have stored in your home if you are unsure of it’s safety.

However, water filters miss one thing: viruses.  The viruses are simply too small and they pass through the “strainer.”  With most water sources that aren’t exposed to sewage, this isn’t a problem.  However, it could be more of a problem in a long term disaster situation.

 

Purification:

Water purification typically uses a chemical treatment (UV light is one approach) to eliminate (kill) viruses as well as bacteria and protozoa.

However, if all you do is purify your water, it may be safe to drink, but still contain sediment or other nasty looking “stuff.” (sticks, sand, dirt etc)

If you want your water to both look and be safe to drink as well as taste good, you want to purify and filter it.

 

The confusing part:

Now comes the confusing part:  While many filters and purifiers are labeled as such, not all are.  Some products that are labeled as purifiers are just purifiers, but others will both filter and purify.  The same goes for products labeled as water filters.  Some are just filters.  Others will both filter and purify.  So, make sure you read the fine print so you know what you are getting!  If it removes bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses, then it is just filtering your water.  If it removes bacteria, protozoa AND viruses, you will have purified water.

I’ll help you out by listing various processes and some of my favorite products below:

 

Products or Processes that ONLY PURIFY:

1.  Boiling water

Heating water to 150 degrees is often recommended or suggested.  Many call this pasteurization since that is the temperature at which milk is pasteurized. This temperature will kill all protozoa.  But higher temperatures (or longer periods of time) are needed to kill all bacteria and viruses.  I suggest you will boil water (212 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1 full minute to make certain it is truly purified.  Source: Health.ny.gov

pan on a gas stove
Advantages:

  • Anyone can do it: even if you don’t have a stove.  Try putting a pot of water on the dash of your car on a hot summer’s day!
  • Inexpensive.
  • No special equipment needed.
Disadvantages:

  • You will lose some water as it evaporates (unless you use a lid)
  • Time intensive.  You must wait for the water to boil, then wait for it to cool
  • Taste.  Boiled water tastes off.  This can be helped by pouring it back and forth between two cups.
  • Tough to do away from home

 

2.  Bleach

Household bleach (chlorine) can be used to purify water.  Simply add 1/4 tsp (8-12 drops) to 1 gallon water.

bleach
Advantages:

  • Inexpensive.
  • No special equipment needed.
Disadvantages:

  • Bleach has a short shelf life (3-6 months), if you don’t go through it regularly, this may not be the method for you as your bleach won’t always be use-able.
  • Somewhat time intensive.  You must wait 30-45 minutes after adding the bleach before drinking it.
  • Taste.  Bleached water will taste funny.
  • Some say it creates potentially harmful by-products.
  • Tough to pack in a go-bag or 72 hour kit.

 

3.  Chlorine Dioxide


This is the chemical used Aquamira.

aquamira
Advantages:

  • Iodine and chlorine free
  • Creates no potentially harmful bi-products
  • Easy to use
  • Taste.  Is actually sometimes used to improve the taste of water.
  • Longer shelf life than bleach (4+ years when stored away from heat, air, water)
  • Easy to pack in a go bag / 72 hour kit
Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than bleach or boiling.
  • Time intensive.  You must wait 4 HOURS after adding the tablets before drinking the water.
  • Around $0.27 / gallon purified.

 

4.  UV Water Purifiers

Ultraviolet light can be used to purify water.  The most common, well known brand (and the brand I use) is the SteriPen.

Advantages:

  • Fast!  Purify a full liter of water in 90 seconds.
  • Chemical free.
  • Doesn’t alter the taste of water at all.
  • Easy to pack in a go-bag / 72 hour kit
  • Some come with a pre-filter
  • Cost per gallon purified is low (around $0.07-$0.15 per gallon depending on the option you choose) compared to chlorine dioxide.
Disadvantages:

  • Initial cost compared to other three options is high: $40-$100 or so.
  • Requires batteries.  Although SteriPen does offer a hand powered version. (which also happens to come with a filter) and there are some rechargeable options.

 

 

Processes or Products that ONLY FILTER:

There are numerous options for water filters available.  I’ve listed my two favorites and then a general type of filter below, but you may find others that work for you.  Just remember that if it “filters” viruses in addition to protozoa and bacteria, it is actually combo filter / purifier.

1.  Sawyer Mini Water Filter

This tiny (2 oz) filter can filter up to 100,000 gallons of water.  Find it on Amazon here.

sawyer mini
Advantages:

  • Rated to 0.1 micron absolute (a VERY high rating for a filter, meaning the “holes” in the “strainer” are tiny)
  • Versatile: Can be attached to the included collapsible drinking pouch, inline on a hydration pack, on a standard soda bottle, or simply use the included drinking straw to drink directly from the water source
  • Proper back washing (very easy) restores the filters flow rate giving it a nearly indefinite life.  No need to replace your filter for the full 100,000 gallons if properly taken care of.
  • TINY!  Work great in go bags / 72 hour kits
  • Cost: You can find them for under $20 which is an AMAZING price for a high quality filter. and is less than $0.01 per gallon filtered.
Disadvantages:

  • Must squeeze or suck to get the water out (can’t easily pump it out of a 55 gallon barrel etc)
  • Hard to share one between multiple people (though you can)
  • Difficult to filter a large amount of water at once.

 

2.  Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter

I like this filter because I can attach it to my faucet.  If our water were compromised, but running, we could keep life relatively normal by attaching these to one or more faucets in our home.  Find it on Amazon here.

sawyer inline
Advantages:

  • Rated to 0.1 micron absolute (a VERY high rating for a filter, meaning the “holes” in the “strainer” are tiny).
  • Can be used on your faucet, inline in a hydration pack or to drink directly from the source.
  • Proper back washing (very easy) restores the filters flow rate giving it a nearly indefinite life.  No need to replace your filter for the full 100,000 gallons if properly taken care of.
  • Filter up to 1 MILLION gallons!
  • Cost: You can find them for under $50-$60 (less than $.01 per gallon filtered) which is a pretty good price for a high quality filter.
Disadvantages:

  • Can’t be used to pump water out of a large barrel.
  • Hard to share between multiple people (though you could)

 

3.  Pump Filters

These filters can be used to pump water out of any source (lake, river, 55 gallon barrel).  There are many brands available.  I have only used Katadyn’s, but I’ve liked them. Find them on Amazon here.

katadyn water filter
Advantages:

  • Can pump filter water as quickly as 1 – 2 liters per minute
  • Great way to filter larger amounts of water at once
  • Can pump water out of 55 gallon barrels
  • Fairly lightweight.  Great for go-bags / 72 hour kits.
Disadvantages:

  • Filters must be regularly replaced (every 200-400 gallons or so).
  • Filters typically have a 6 month shelf life.  If you use them just once and then put them on your shelf, you will need to replace it after 6 months even if you haven’t filtered the full amount of water they are rated for.
  • Cost: the original entire filters systems cost $60-$300 each and the replacement filters $25-$50 each.
  • Cost per gallon filtered is higher than other two option at between $0.20 – $0.40 or so.

 

 

 

Processes or Products that FILTER AND PURIFY:

These products do both jobs (filtering and purifying) at once.  They are AWESOME!

1.  Berkey Water Filters

These are HANDS DOWN my very favorite product listed on this page.  They are top rated and easy to use.  You can’t find a bad review out there.

They come in sizes small enough to fit in a go-bag / 72 hour kit (the go berkey) all they way up to sizes large enough to hold / purify six gallons in 30 mintues (the crown berkey)!   Find them here.

berkey water filters
Advantages:
  • Various sizes available
  • Incredibly fast: 42 – 288 gallons / day!
  • Includes a spigot so these can be used at a sink similar to a faucet.
  • Each filter (you can have 1-4 per system) filters 3000 gallons.
  • If you have a pump for your 55 gallon barrel, you could pump directly from your barrel into the top container on your berkey
  • Gravity does the work for you.  No need to pump, suck, squeeze etc.  Just pour water in the top and it comes out the bottom clean.
  • Average cost per gallon at around $0.02 / gallon purified.

Disadvantages:

  • Initial cost is higher than other three options I’ve listed here: The smallest one (the go-berkey) is $150.  The largest is $325.  Replacement filters are $50-$60 each.

2.  Seychelle Water Filter Pump

I like this filter because I can attach it directly to my 5 gallon and / or 55 gallon barrels.  Find it on Amazon here.

schelle water filter pump
Advantages:

Disadvantages:

  • Will only filter 150 gallons before you need replacement filters which cost around $20.
  • High cost per gallon at around $0.03 – $0.06
  • Since it only filters 150 gallons, it could not really be counted on for a longer term water shortage unless you also bought a lot of replacement filters.
    Would not work in a go-bag / 72 hour kit

 

3.  Sawyer Complete 4-Liter Dual Bag Water Purifier System

This filters up to 1 MILLION gallons of water!  Find it on Amazon here.

Advantages:

  • Fairly fast.  Claims to filter and purify 4 liters of water in 10 minutes though with real use it is closer to 15-20 minutes.
  • Filter 1 MILLION gallons!
  • Gravity does the work for you.  No need to pump, suck, squeeze etc.  Just pour water in the grey bag and it goes into the blue bag nice and clean.
  • If you have a pump for your 55 gallon barrel, you could pump directly from your barrel into the grey bag
  • Fairly lightweight (2.5 lbs) and collapsible.  Would work for 72 hour kits / go bags.
  • EXTREMELY low cost per gallon at far less than $.01 / gallon.
Disadvantages:

  • Higher initial cost: It is typically around $200.
  • No pre-filter meaning if you have very dirty water with lots of visible debris, it can get clogged quickly. (the filter in it is really only meant to filter out bacteria, protozoa and viruses.  It will filter bigger things, but you’ll just have to backwash it more often)

 

 

4.  Lifestraw Family 1.0

This filter / purifier is a great bang for your buck.  Find it on Amazon here.

lifestraw
Advantages:

  • Fairly fast at 9-12 liters / hour
  • Filters 4755 gallons
  • Gravity does the work for you.  No need to pump, suck, squeeze etc.  Just pour water in the blue bucket and it comes out clean.
  • If you have a pump for your 55 gallon barrel, you could pump directly from your barrel into the blue bucket
  • Includes a pre-filter for larger debris
  • Fairly low initial cost compared to other three options at around $80.
  • Fairly low cost per gallon purified at  just under $0.02 / gallon.
Disadvantages:

  • Would not work in a go-bag / 72 hour kit as it is not collapsible
  • Reviews say it needs to be cleaned often

 

There you have it!  Water Filtration vs Water Purification

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