Make Water Safe to Drink At Home In An Emergency

You can only carry or store so much water for an emergency., so it is important to know how to make water safer to drink at home.

Think about it. What happens if you lose access to water for longer than a few weeks/months?  Do you have a plan for sourcing water, and cleaning it, if you need to?

While we hope you plan for a long term fresh water solution, like filling a 55-gallon water container, we know that may not always be a practical solution.

You might need to find an alternate source of water. 

That alternate water source, may provide water, but it may not be clean enough for use.

This guide will help you understand how to make it usable!

Water filtration vs water purification

Before we get started you should understand the difference between water filtration and water purification.

This can get a bit confusing, but hopefully I can make sense of it for you.

Water filtration

Filtration is exactly what it sounds like. 

It is a system that filters out unwanted “stuff” from water. It is like a giant strainer and anything too big to pass through the strainer is kept out of your water. 

This can include things like debris, sand, or dirt. 

With a really good filter it can also include things like bacteria and protozoa. This level of “water cleansing” is good enough 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 its safety.

However, water filters miss one thing: viruses. 

The viruses are simply too small and they will still pass through the strainer. With most water sources that aren’t exposed to sewage, this isn’t a problem.  However, it could be a problem in a long-term disaster situation.

Water 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 it might still contain sediment or other nasty looking stuff like dirt or sediment.

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.

Now for the confusing part.

While many filters and purifiers are labeled as such, not all are what they say they are.

For example, some products that are labeled as purifiers are just purifiers, but others might do b 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.

Products or processes that only purify water

Below I am listing various processes and products that will help you just purify your water.

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. 



  • 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.


  • 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


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


  • Inexpensive.
  • No special equipment needed.


  • Bleach has a short shelf life (3-6 months).
  • Somewhat time intensive. You must wait 30-45 minutes after adding the bleach before drinking it.
  • Bleached water will taste funny.
  • Some say it creates potentially harmful by-products.
  • Tough to pack in a go-bag or 72-hour kit.

Chlorine Dioxide

This is a good product to use GERMISEP Disinfectant Tablet 2.5G 100 Tablets.


  • Iodine and chlorine free
  • Creates no potentially harmful by-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


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.


  • Initial cost compared to the 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 water

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.

Sawyer Mini Water Filter

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


  • 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 backwashing (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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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 backwashing (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.


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

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.


  • 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.


  • 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 water

These products do both jobs (filtering and purifying) at once. They are a perfect addition to any survival kit.

Berkey Water Filters

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 and have sizes large enough to hold/purify six gallons in 30 minutes (crown Berkey)!   Find them here.


  • 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.


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

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.



  • 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 long-term water shortage unless you also bought a lot of replacement filters.
    Would not work in a go-bag / 72-hour kit

Sawyer Complete 4 Liter Dual Bag Water Purifier System

This system can filter up to 1 million gallons of water!  Find it on Amazon here.


  • 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 into 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.


  • 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)

Lifestraw Family 1.0

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


  • 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 into 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 the other three options at around $80.
  • Fairly low cost per gallon purified at just under $0.02 / gallon.


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

And there is everything you need to know to try and make you home water as clean as can be. Whether for an emergency or for every day use, these recommendations should help your family have the cleanest water possible.

Would love to hear your thoughts and whether you have experience with any of these recommendations!

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Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.

23 thoughts on “Make Water Safe to Drink At Home In An Emergency”

  1. Thanks for all of the information about water conditioning. I like how you showed all of the different filter types, and listed their advantages and disadvantages. We’re looking to purify our water to be more healthy, so I’ll have to look into these some more.

  2. For 25 years we have used rain water, but A) it must be in a concrete or galvo tank so wild fires wont burn it. B) Automatically or manually divert the 1st half hour of rain in order to clean both the air & the roof etc. The tank water is just for cooking, drinking + dish wash-up. We also have a small dam below the water table for garden, cleaning , laundry etc. Clean the car when it rains, also probably do laundry rinsing- – –

  3. What’s the recommendation for stored water? Do you put bleach in with the water when storing or put it in right before you’re going to use it?

  4. We actually have 3 systems going for us. The first is the Sawyer Point One mini in each of our GO bags. I’ve used mine on numerous trips and campouts and it does an amazing job cleaning the water. The big selling point for me was that it screws onto standard water bottles (which I find trailside ALL the time) or a tube. Water bottles hold up to squeezing MUCH better than the bags do.

    We have it’s big brother set up for bucket filtering. We have 2 buckets pre-drilled with all the attachments, filters, tubing, directions and pictures of it set up to use at the house with our stored water supply, “found” water and municipal supply.

    Lastly is the Sawyer Point-Zero-Two filter which filters viruses as well. That is kept in reserve (due to cost) but can be used in place of the other filters without having to adapt anything.

    One thing to note, we made a gravity system using 2 inexpensive bladders from wally world (I think they’re Outdoor Products brand). We wrapped one in black tape to identify dirty water and took the bite valves off each one and put the Sawyer filter inline, connecting the 2 bags. The dirty one gets filled (bandanna over the opening to remove large debris and most sediment) and then hung on a tree. In no time, the other bag is full and ready to go.

    I was sold on Sawyer products when I used them in the military ages ago. There was some definitely NASTY water in the countries we went to and that little filter kept me safe time and time again. Add to the fact all the good humanitarian deeds they are doing to provide clean water around the world and my money will go to them every time.

    Thanks for putting the course together, it’s a great one!

  5. Excellent info as usual. I was wanting to buy something but wasn’t sure what to buy…you made it so much clearer. Thanks for all your research…much appreciated.

  6. Where we live we have well water for the only option, we use reverse osmosis for the house. I was wondering if anyone knew if any of the filter / purifiers would get rid of excess nitrates and phosphates as our ground water and streams are so polluted with pesticides and weed killers for the farmers fields around us.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this information! Never thought about the difference before & now I know. I have been following your Prep 101 since last month & you have helped me be better prepared. I am not overwhelmed & every week I just wait for your “lessons” & I try to complete them to the best of my ability. You are doing an awesome job & helping so many of us be better prepared.

    • THANK YOU Patti! It is so encouraging to know that the course is truly helpful! Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  8. You were talking about the twigs and debri. I bought an embroidery hoop and used a very tight woven material to attach inside. I pour the dirty water through it, directly into my Berkey and it works great. Tried it while camping to make sure it would work and it did. Just a suggestion. Great article you presented on all the other avenues. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thanks for including SteriPEN! SteriPEN handheld UV water purifiers are also great for when you’re traveling to areas with unsafe water. International travelers can save thousands of dollars by purifying tap water rather than buying bottled water and help the environment by keeping plastic water bottles out of landfills.

  10. We have a Berkey and a steri pen. I love my berkey. I thought it would be worth mentioning that it also takes out added chemicals such as floride( if you buy the extra filter) which was wjy we chose it as our water purification method.

      • I’d also like to see you add a prominent note to make readers aware that not all filters eliminate the hazards of viruses and that all water should be boiled, exposed to UV light (sun) or chemically treated for safety. People think they are safe when they are not.


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