Homemade Water Filter: The Complete Guide

How to make a cheap, do-it-yourself homemade water filter that you can use to drink disgusting pond water as crystal clear, delicious life-giving nourishment, OR simply to clear up cloudy tap water.

Because in a survival situation, you need to have a source of clean drinking water.

Your emergency stock must include enough water for you and your family to live on for an long, long time. You must have ideas for where else you could find water when your drinking water runs out. If your stockpile is contaminated, it will be worthless without the means to filter and clean it.

Knowing how to make homemade water filters can save your and your family’s lives.

homemade water filter

From ohorizons.org on Wikimedia Commons

When to Use A Homemade Water Filter

  • During storms or other natural disasters when the water supply is contaminated.
  • When the power to operate your water pump fails.
  • When you need to survive away from home or in nature.
  • Anytime your drinking water is questionable or cloudy.

Basic Homemade Water Filter Design

Every homemade water filter needs a setup where you can pour water through a series of materials. These materials will remove impurities and sediments. We’ll talk about several different ways to clean water, including both at home and in nature.

Homemade Water Filter At Home

You will start with some kind of plastic bottle. An empty and washed two-liter bottle will work well for our purposes. The first step is to cut the bottom of the bottle off so that water can pass completely through the bottle.

Step two is to turn the bottle upside down and put cloth inside the capped end. Cheesecloth is great for this, but you can use any clean fabric. In a survival situation, you could even use a bit of your shirt or a sock. The cloth will keep the rest of the materials inside your homemade water filter in the bottle, but lets the debris-free water flow out.

On top of the cheesecloth, you’ll need to add a layer of activated carbon. The water will flow through the homemade water filter and the carbon will absorb the impurities and contaminants as it passes by. On top of the carbon, a layer of fine sand will filter out organisms and small impurities. Once you’ve added the sand, the last layer on top is a layer of gravel. These larger rocks will filter out the bigger contaminants like grass and other plant matter.

The last step should be to add some chlorine to the water.  You can buy and use chlorine that’s designed to clean drinking water. Or, you can also use low levels of household bleach for the same effect.

WARNING: Be careful to dilute the bleach properly because the same properties of the bleach that kill germs in water is also poisonous to our bodies.

Homemade Water Filter In Nature

homemade water filter

It might not look delicious, but this swamp water could be an important life-saving tool in a survival situation. It’s just one pass through a homemade water filter away from being crisp, clean drinking water.

In essence, the steps to creating a homemade water filter in nature are the same as creating a homemade water filter at home. Yet, it’s unlikely you’ll have a two-liter bottle and chlorine bleach at your disposal when you are trying to survive in the wilderness.

In this case, the process is the same.

The water will need to pass through gravel-sized rocks first to filter out the bigger impurities. Next, it will need to travel through fine sand to filter out the minuscule impurities. Lastly, the carbon or coal is to chemically absorb any remaining contaminants.

Without bleach, your best option will be to boil the water for at least three minutes before you pour it through your homemade water filter. You’ll need to gather coal to build the fire anyway, which can be used in place of “activated” carbon. The last challenge will be to find a container to that you put your filter in. The container has to be clean enough that it doesn’t contaminate the water with more impurities.

Creating a homemade water filter in the wild will test your problem-solving skills. If you are in an area frequented by people, you may be able to find a discarded plastic bottle or aluminum can that can be cleaned out. If you are worried about how clean the found item is, you can boil it the same way that you did your water.

Water is vital to survival in the wilderness. Never trust that the water you’ve found from a natural setting such as a lake, river, or spring is clean. Always assume that the water will need to be bottled and filtered before drinking.

In the video above, you can see a  Youtube user, who goes by the name of “The King Of Random,” make a homemade water filter.

The best part about this video is that he takes the grossest water and makes it drinkable.

This water is just teeming with organisms and gross things. Yet, with the help of a homemade water filter, it can be made into drinkable water. If you doubt that a simple homemade water filter like this could make swamp water look delicious, you need to watch this video.

He drinks it!

He uses smaller water bottles for his homemade water filter, which is easier to store and to carry with you if you are surviving in nature.

There are a couple other important tips to take from the video.

Number one, if you are gathering the materials yourself, you’ll need to separate the larger rocks and finer sand. He shows us that you can either do this using water or some kind of sieve.

Second, when you use coal or charcoal that you made yourself with a campfire, you’ll need to crush it into a very fine powder to make your homemade water filter. In the video, he uses a brick to smash his homemade charcoal. Third, he uses a piece of the bottom of the bottle overtop of the layer of gravel.

He says in the video that this stops erosion on his homemade water filter when he pours the water into it. Makes sense to me.

Then, before he even pours his water in, he lets it set for a minute. You can see that many of the biggest contaminants settle to the bottle of the container. By pouring away the water on top, he already had much cleaner water to pour through the homemade water filter.

Once he’s finished pouring through the homemade water filters, he sterilizes it by putting it in the microwave for 4 minutes. This step can replace boiling the water if you have the electricity to run your microwave.

Boiling

homemade water filter

Image from Ildar Sagdejev on Wikimedia Commons.

Any water that passes through a homemade water filter should be boiled before drinking.

Because even though you may removed physical debris, it can still carry bacteria that can make you sick.

Every now and then, a city or country will announce a boil-water advisory. When this happens, the city officials say that the water passing into people’s homes is not clean enough to drink.

If your area has a boil-water advisory, do not take the risk of drinking water that hasn’t been treated.

Passing your water through a homemade water filter will take the extra steps to help clean out impurities.

Distilling

With the proper equipment, it’s easy to distill water at home. Distilled water is basically water that has been evaporated and reconstituted. This leaves all the impurities and contaminants of the water behind and nothing but clean H2O in your drinking water.

You will need to boil the water in a container with a small opening. A kettle can work well for this, but so can a pot with a lid. You’ll need to fit a copper pipe onto the opening of the lid or kettle. The copper pipe will point up and away from the pot, then curve down into another container such as a jerrycan.

When the water in the kettle reaches a boiling point, the hot steam will be forced into the pipe. The further away the steam gets from the source of heat, it will cool down. When it cools, condensation will appear on the inside of the copper pipe. That water will run down the pipe and collect in the jerrycan.

But I know. That’s pretty complicated.

Because of the special equipment needed to make distilled water, it’s not something you can easily count on when surviving in the wilderness or in a situation where you cannot carry much equipment. But it can be a lifesaving way to create drinking water from any variety of sources such as a lake, swamp, or even mud puddle.

But you might like this method. It’s an all-in-one solution.

You won’t need to use a homemade water filter if you distill your water since the method leaves behind all the contaminants, while boiling away bacteria at the same time.

Check out this video by YouTube user “Desertsun02” for a demonstration on how to make a homemade water distiller at home.

He said that he already owned the kettle and jar that he used, but that the other pieces cost him about $19 at the Home Depot.

The pieces fit together for a complete seal, and the setup can be used anywhere that the water can be heated to boiling. Although it will be easier at home with a working stove, you can use a distiller like this over a campfire or camp stove as well.

He also notes near the end of the video that the bigger the surface area of the jar, the more water you will collect. This is because there is more space for the water to condense and ultimately drip into your collection jar. Another important thing to note is that a plastic jar will melt under the heat of the system. A glass jar will work much better.

Storing Water

homemade water filter
Polyethylene water containers, used with license from Getty Images.

A polyethylene barrel like the one pictured above is a great investment. You’ll always have clean drinking water available.

Notice the air-tight seal on the top that will prevent contaminants from entering the stored water. After water has been stored for a period of time, it’s a good idea to use a homemade water filter and sterilize the water before drinking.

It’s better safe than sorry.

Accidentally drinking contaminated water can take you out at a critical time. It can lead to gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea. And in a crisis, even diarrhea can be deadly without the right medical aid and lots of clean water to replace the fluids you lose.

Having a stockpile of water is one of the most crucial steps you can take to keeping your family safe in the event of an emergency. You’ll need enough water to last for an extended period of time for each person and animal you plan to take care of.

Remember, children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly will need more drinking water than a healthy adult.

You’ll also need water for cooking and washing, so factor that into your plans.

Many people use blue polyethylene barrels to store water in. This is a great way to keep a large amount of water safe.

But it’s bulky, impossible to carry, and if it becomes contaminated you will lose a larger amount of clean water.

That’s why it’s a good idea to store your water in a variety of sizes of containers.

Other tips:

  • Never use a container that has had something else in it.
  • Find a way to tell the difference between your water and other stored fluids like gasoline.
  • Never store water in containers that you have not sterilized with a diluted mixture of bleach and clean water.
  • You should find a cool dark place to store your water.

If you do store a variety of liquids in different containers, remember: it may be a long time before you need to use these emergency materials, and you may not be the next person who has to get into your supplies.

Make it easy on your family members by labelling and dating every container you store. Don’t forget to write where the water came from so you know whether it’s ready to drink or needs to be cleaned.

It’s a good idea to always pass water through a homemade water filter if you aren’t sure that it’s perfectly sterile.

Where to Store Water after Your Homemade Water Filter

Figuring out where to store your water can be tricky. Here are a few “secrets” to keep in mind.

  • Don’t let it freeze. You’ll need a big enough space to store several food-grade barrels. But, it’s important that your water doesn’t freeze. Frozen water may break the container it’s stored in and is completely useless in an emergency.
  • Keep it safe from others. It may be appropriate to keep your emergency stockpile locked, particularly if you’re scared that someone might try to steal it when the situation gets desperate.
  • Don’t knock it over. If you live in an area of the world where earthquakes happen, you’ll also need to make sure you store your water in a safe place where tremors won’t knock it over.
  • Keep it within reach. It will also need to be a place where you can access the water easily. Remember, you won’t be able to carry the barrels with you very easily. For this reason, you will likely keep your water stockpile in a permanent place.
  • Rotate your stock. The best way to ensure that you always have fresh and uncontaminated water to drink in the case of an emergency is to replace and examine your stockpile every year. Check the barrels for cracks and damage, and make sure the air tight seal is still functioning. Dump the water you have stored, refill it with clean fresh water, then add your label with date and source of the water.
  • Get as much as you need. If you will need to be able to filter a lot of water at one time, you can scale your homemade water filter up into a larger container. You will need to build it the same way, but by using a container like a 5-gallon bucket you can filter more water at the same time. A bigger homemade water filter could have a more permanent place near your permanent water storage.

I’ve got several more “secrets” of water storage in this article right here.

Finding Water

If you’re ever lost in the wilderness, or your home is destroyed and you need to keep moving, you’ll need to drink water from unusual places. Knowing where to find water and where NOT to find water can mean living or dying.

Your first choice in an emergency situation should be clear water running over smooth rocks, perhaps in a riverbed.

You should avoid standing water as much as possible. That can be a breeding ground for bacteria and microorganisms.

Avoid water that looks a strange color, has growing algae or scum, or smells bad.

Factories, busy roads with lots of cars, and farmland all throw byproducts into the water around them.

Avoid water flowing near these sites whenever possible.

Vehicles drop oil and other impurities onto the road. Then, rainwater washes those impurities into a ditch. The rainwater soaks into the dirt and trickles through the natural filtration system of the Earth. This leaves the oil and impurities behind, gradually becoming more potent with time.

And farmland runoff, may be no safer. Even organic farms can have fertilizer and pesticides contaminating it.

No matter where you find your water, it you aren’t completely sure about the source, then you need to boil and filter your water before you use it.

This video by Youtube user “Desertsun02” explains how to make a different kind of homemade water filter.

This particular filter works great for cloudy or bad-tasting tap water.

It won’t work as well in a situation where you need to filter something such as swamp water with bigger particles and impurities floating in it.

It’s made a lot like the filter we’ve covered above, but with some key differences.

Number one, it only has one ingredient for the water to filter through: activated charcoal. This is the reason that the system isn’t going to work for questionable water you find in nature. But tap water has already been filtered, either through the Earth if you have a well or the water treatment plant if you have city water. That makes this is a perfect homemade water filter for improving the taste, look, and smell of your tap water.

Another difference is that he uses a small screen to hold the charcoal in place instead of a cloth. This works because he drills some small holes in the top. The difference in materials inside the water filter and in the cap makes this a much quicker filtration system. It wouldn’t be too hard to use on a daily basis for every glass of water you want out of your tap.

Homemade water filters are more than just science projects to teach kids about the wonders of the world.

Although all of our bodies are different, none of us can survive for very long without clean fresh water. In an emergency situation, the last thing you want to deal with is illness. If you are in a place where you won’t be able to get emergency help from 911, then an illness as simple as diarrhea can cause dehydration and death.

That’s why homemade water filters are important tools that can save your life in an emergency situation.

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