How do you get the purest possible water at home? How would you distill water in an emergency situation?
If these aren’t questions you have been asking yourself, they should be!
Just a few months ago Texans had their at-home survival skills tested, and if Texans can find themselves in a frozen wasteland having to purify their own water and light their own fires… well… anything could happen.
So, how do you distill water at home?
What is Distilled Water?
First, a recap on distilled water. When it is distilled, which essentially means turning it into a gas and then cooling it back down into water in another vessel, water leaves behind almost every compound that was previously dissolved in it.
That means that even very contaminated water is usually safe to drink after distillation. And, as all you need is the correct vessels and a source of heat to turn your water into a gas (aka, boil your water) at-home distillation is also incredibly easy.
To distill water, you need only a couple of pans, a lid, ice, and a heat source. That being said, it’s a lengthy process and you need to be present to keep an eye on things.
If you find, after trying at-home distilling, that the distilled water is useful and you want more of it around then you should look into water distilling systems.
Most of them can be left unattended, and are somewhat quicker than the DIY method described here too.
Is Distilled Water Safe to Drink?
Yes and no. In some situations, drinking distilled water is your best option. In most, though, you should be careful about how much distilled water you drink.
It should be particularly noted that Distilled water is so pure it shouldn’t be the only water you drink unless you don’t have access to other clean water, you remineralize your distilled water (or take mineral supplements) or you have a medical condition that requires that you consume distilled water.
The lack of minerals in distilled water also means that it leaches metals. This can lead to it damaging cooking equipment, as well as you ingesting metals if you cook with distilled water. For that reason, you shouldn’t regularly use distilled water for cooking, though once in a while (such as in an emergency situation) should be fine.
How to Make Distilled Water at Home in 7 Easy Steps
You have a few options for making distilled water at home, but this is the easiest and uses kitchenware you’re bound to have hanging around.
Before we start, I have to warn you that making distilled water at home is easy but it’s also time consuming. If you start with 8 cups of water, you should have about 1 and ¼ cups of distilled water in an hour. So, it’ll take you two hours to distill 2.5 cups, four hours to distill 5 cups, and so on.
That’s not to say any of the water you use is wasted! From 8 cups to start with, you should get almost 8 cups of distilled water, it’s just that it will take you over 6 hours. You may also have to add additional water at the end of the process to avoid your pots boiling dry, so if water is limited keep a little aside with that in mind.
Okay, warning over. Here’s how to distill water at home.
You will need:
- A large pot
- A smaller pot which fits inside the large pot
- A lid (the lid for the large pot if possible)
- 8 cups of water
- A bunch of ice
- An oven glove or tea towel
Steps to Make Distilled Water:
- The first step is to place the large pot on the burner, and add your 8-cups of water. You can add them all at once, as long as you have access to a little more for later (the ice water is also good for this).
- Place the small pot into the larger pot. It should float, and there should be plenty of circulation room above and around it for the water vapour and air.
- Turn the burner on to a medium-high heat. You don’t want to boil the water as this will upset the smaller pot and create a chaotic environment, so don’t turn the burner on full. And remember, you can adjust it as you go. Around 180-200f should work.
- Once the burner is on, place the lid upside down on top of the larger pot. The handle of the lid should be in or over the smaller pot. This means that water vapour that gathers on the surface of the lid (because it is cooler than any other available surface) it will trickle down into the smaller pot.
- Ice time! You should fill the bottom of the lid (which is face upwards, remember, creating a sort of bowl) with ice. The more you put in there, the longer it will last, as it will keep itself cool despite the heat below.
- This step is easy. You just wait. You might need to swap out the ice once or even twice (you can use the meltwater to stop things from scalding later). I would leave things for around an hour, perhaps longer.
- You’re done! Well, not done, you’ll need to repeat the process if you need more than about a cup to a cup and a half of water. But, all the water that has gathered in your small pot is distilled. That means no matter how contaminated it was before, it should now be safe.
How to Make Distilled Water When Camping
When camping, you can use exactly the same principle to distill water for drinking. It should be fine to use a campfire, but I wouldn’t advise use of a camping stove as the lengthy process will eat up an awful lot of propane.
If you don’t have ice, remember you can use snow! Of course, only the hardiest campers go out while it’s snowing, but only the hardiest campers distill their own water so the two are likely to align.
How to Make Distilled Water in an Emergency
In an emergency, it’s best to fill everything possible with water from your taps before the water supply is cut off. Then, cover the vessels you have filled. This should be good to cook with and drink after boiling, at least for a few days.
If water has been sitting around for more than a few days, or it comes from a source other than the tap, distilling it is a good idea. You can also melt and distill snow, using more snow as your source of cold for the top of your pan.
Remember, this is advice for an emergency. In normal circumstances, probably avoid drinking snow water.
Collecting Rain or Snow
If snow has been sat on the ground, it is best to distill it before drinking. If you catch it in a clean container as soon as it falls, however, it should be pretty safe. That’s because both rain and snow are naturally distilled – water evaporates, gathers as clouds, and falls as rain. That’s just like the steam gathering on your pot lid and falling into your inner vessel when you distill water at home or on a campfire!
Of course, rain and snow both pick up debris from the air and anything they hit on the way down, so you may want to treat rain and melted snow a little before drinking.
The best way to get drinking water from rain and snow is to put out clean containers when it begins to snow or rain, bringing them in when it stops. Cover the containers, and let the rain or meltwater sit for a few days, so that any grit and sediment sinks to the bottom.
At this point, you can either carefully pour off or scoop the clear water from the top and use it for washing, or boil it, and use it for cooking and drinking, or else you can filter it further before drinking.
A ceramic filter or a charcoal filter are good choices here – they’ll get rid of small bit of grit along with some other contaminants.
How to Make Distilled Water From Plants or Mud
This is one for the real survivalists out there! Or anyone who fears they might get trapped on a multiday hike, sans water. This is a principle that can be used on anything that contains a fair amount of water in an emergency situation. It might be worth practicing it if you’re often in dicey situations, or live somewhere where water is sometimes scarce.
You will need:
- Green plants, mud, or anything else damp or wet
- A coffee can or similar
- Saran wrap or plastic (even a plastic bag would work)
Steps to Make Distilled Water from Plants or Mud:
- Dig a hole in the ground in the sunniest place you can find. Remember, you want the place that gets the most sun over the course of a day, because this is going to be a slow process. Make sure the hole is a little wider than the circumference of your coffee can.
- Place the coffee can in the center of your brand new hole. Make sure there is space all around it.
- Fill the space around the can with your green plants, wet mud, or other damp material.
- Stretch your plastic or saran wrap over the hole.
- Seal the plastic as tight as possible. Ideally, airtight. You can use stones or anything else heavy for this.
- Place a pebble on the plastic or wrap. Make sure it doesn’t shift whatever is weighing the plastic down at the edges, but does make it dip in the middle.
- The greenhouse effect will cause the water from your damp material to evaporate and then gather on the plastic. It will eventually drip down into the coffee can, because of the angle the pebble is making the wrap sit at.
- In a few hours, or perhaps a couple of days, you’ll find distilled water in your coffee can. The sunnier it is, the quicker this will happen.
Knowing how to distill water is a great tool, whether you’re an outdoorsy adventurer, a keen traveller who has been caught out by bad tap water (hands up for that one over here!) or just have dodgy tap water at home and want to be able to look after yourself if your filter fails or your water delivery doesn’t turn up.
Distilling water is super simple, so after you’ve done it once you should be able to remember exactly how to take care of it next time.
Good luck distilling!