Distilled water is water purified by condensing water vapor into liquid water. Usually, the distillation process involves boiling impure water and collected the condensed vapor in a fresh container. However, you can obtain distilled water from damp soil, plants, snow, and rain, too. You can distill water to make drinking water for emergencies or improve your tap water. Here are several methods for making distilled water yourself. Which one you choose depends on your situation and resources.
Distill Water Using a Stove or Fire
If you have a heat source, such as a stove or campfire, it’s better to distill impure water for drinking than to simply boil it. This is because boiling kills many pathogens, but doesn’t remove chemical impurities or kill certain bacterial spores. You can use this method with any water, including seawater, questionable tap water, or even water from a puddle. To distill water, you need a large container to hold the impure water, a smaller container that either floats in the larger one or can be propped up above the water level, and a rounded lid that fits the large container. The process goes much faster if you also have some ice.
- 5-gallon aluminum or stainless steel pot
- Rounded lid for the pot
- Metal or glass bowl that floats inside the pot
- Ice cubes
- Fill the large pot partially full of the impure water.
- Float the collection bowl on the water. The goal is to drip water from the inverted lid into this bowl, so make sure the bowl is large enough to catch the drips.
- Place the pot lid upside down on the pot. When you heat the water, water vapor will rise in the pot, condense into droplets on the lid, and fall into the collection bowl.
- Heat the pot. The process occurs more quickly if the water boils, but it’s okay if it only gets hot.
- If you have ice cubes, place them on top of the pot lid. The ice chills the lid of the pot and helps condense water vapor into liquid water.
- Use care when removing the lid from the pot so you don’t get burned by steam, the pot, or the hot water. Store the distilled water (the water in the collection bowl) in a clean container. Ideally, store the water in a sterile container (one immersed in boiling water) or dishwasher-cleaned container. Use a container meant for water storage so contaminants don’t leach into the clean water over time.
Alternative Collection Method
A better method is to collect the distilled water outside of the pot. Basically, this is a simple still. It is superior to the first method because it reduces the risk of contaminating the clean water with the “dirty” water and allows for continuous heating of the source water. One option is to place a funnel over the boiling water rather than a lid. Use plastic aquarium tubing or copper tubing to connect the end of the funnel to a collection bottle. Make sure the collection bottle is lower than the funnel so gravity can drain the water.
Distilled Water From Rain or Snow
Another way to get distilled water is to let Mother Nature do the work for you. Rain and snow are naturally distilled water. Water evaporates from the land, ocean, lakes, and rivers and condenses in the atmosphere to fall as precipitation. Precipitation does pick up particulates from the air, but it’s pure enough to drink except in highly polluted areas. Also, it’s important to collect rain or snow fresh from the sky and not off of trees or buildings.
Collect rain or snow in a clean container. Allow time for any sediment to fall to the bottom of the bowl. You can drink this water or further purify it by filtering it through a coffee filter or by boiling it.
Distill Water From Plants, Mud, or Urine
In a dire emergency, you may not have access to niceties like pots and fire. It’s still possible to distill water using a homemade solar still. This method of distillation uses the heat of the Sun to evaporate water that you can collect to drink. You can use any source of moisture, such as urine, dew, plants, damp soil, or sea water. However, be careful to avoid poisonous plants because volatile toxins may contaminate the distilled water. Cacti, ferns, and grasses are generally safe to use. The major disadvantage to this method is that it takes a long time to collect water.
- Dig a hole in the ground in a sunny location.
- Place a cup in the center of the bottom of the hole to collect distilled water.
- Pile damp non-toxic plants or moist soil around the outside of the cup.
- Cover the hole with a piece of plastic and secure it with rocks or soil. Try to seal the hole as well as you can to prevent moisture from escaping. The plastic traps the water and also traps heat via the greenhouse effect.
- Place a pebble or other small weight on the plastic right above the buried cup. As water evaporates, it condenses on the plastic and falls toward the depression, finally dripping into the cup.
- Don’t mess with your set-up except to drink water or add more plants or soil. Every time you unseal the plastic, you release moisture and slow down the process.
Use a Home Distillation Kit
It’s often cheaper to buy distilled water than make it yourself because it costs fuel or electricity to heat water. But, home distillation kits can be less expensive than bottled water, especially if you use sunlight (solar heat) to heat the water. Home distillation kits typically range in price from $100 to several hundred dollars. More expensive kits are used for labs or for processing large volumes of water.
Pros and Cons of Drinking Distilled Water
On the plus side, distilled water is safer to drink than contaminated water. It can save lives when the only available water is seawater, water from a river or stream, or a questionable public water supply. It also removes trace contaminants that are always present in a municipal water supply from the treatment process, including residual aluminum, chlorine, fluorine, and chloramines. Distillation removes radionuclides, heavy metals (including lead from some plumbing), and many organic compounds.
The high level of purification is also an argument against drinking distilled water, at least over the long term. Distillation demineralizes water, removing healthful minerals, such magnesium and calcium. These minerals are associated with positive health effects, especially for the cardiovascular system. If distilled water is the only source of drinking water, it’s important to get these minerals from other sources.
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