The Russian River in Alaska.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You can’t count on water anymore. No matter how pristine looking, a mountain stream is full of parasites, such as giardia from animal feces. Pond water, even rainwater, is loaded with bacteria just waiting to make you deathly ill. But what if that’s all there is?

It’s relatively simple to disinfect water manually so it becomes drinkable.

Step 1:
Filter the water.

If the water is cloudy, strain it through a clean piece of cotton fabric or a coffee filter. This removes debris and bacteria. Then let the water sit for a couple of hours to let residual sediment settle. Pour all but the sediment into another container.

Step 2:
Use one of the following options to disinfect your drinking water:

  • Boil the water.
    Just bringing the water to a boil will disinfect it. Some would say, just to be safe, boil the water for one minute. If you have a lid, keep it on for a few extra minutes.


  • Add chlorine.
    Add two to four drops of unscented, 5-percent chlorine bleach to each quart (or liter) of water. That’s eight to 16 drops per gallon. Mix it well. Wait 30 minutes or so before drinking it.


  • Add iodine.
    Add one iodine tablet, five to 10 drops of 2-percent iodine solution, or eight to 16 drops of 10-percent povidine (Betadine) solution to each quart of water. Mix. Wait at least 30 minutes.


  • Use the sun’s UV rays to disinfect the water.
    If none of the other options are available, and if the sun is shining, set a clear glass container of water (such as a mason jar) in the sun for eight hours. Be sure the top is covered. Place the container on a black surface. It needs a minimum of four hours sunlight. The more the better.

Even better,
be prepared.

  • Buy some gallon or 5-gallon clear water containers to use for drinking. Keep them full. Even unopened bottled or chlorinated water should renewed every six months or so. Check for an expiration date.
  • You need to drink at least 2 quarts of water per day. So 14 gallons would last a week for a family of four. You may want few gallons extra for bathing and cleaning wounds. In fact, I would suggest at least 1 gallon per person per day since you will need more with heavy activity or in hot weather.
  • If you have any warning your tap water is going to be off, fill all the bathtubs up as reservoirs.

These are but a few ways to disinfect water. None of these methods removes toxins, poisons, or any chemicals from the water. I don’t know of any improvisational method that does.

Have you tried any of these methods? How did the water taste? I would love you input, and other ways you’ve tried for disinfecting water.