How to Build a Water Purification System in 10 Minutes

Lidya Noyes
By Lidya Noyes November 2, 2016 11:18

How to Build a Water Purification System in 10 Minutes

In a true emergency situation, you can last for months without adequate food, but a lack of water will knock you on your back within a matter of hours.

You might be thinking that dehydration will never be a problem for you. Maybe you live by a large body of water or have a well in your backyard. But do you have a plan in place if that water gets contaminated? Poisoned water is as bad as having no water at all, and without careful planning you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Some of the solar stills online are dizzyingly complex and involve specialized materials to work. You MIGHT be able to build one in a survival situation if you had the materials on hand, but without access to instructions from the internet you might be sunk for good.

But hope is not lost. There’s one method of making a water still that is so simple and effective it can be done just about anywhere, constructed in minutes, and with no special knowledge or supplies. And it can turn salt water into fresh water as well.

All you need is a little sunlight to get the process going. It’s a technique that was invented by the U.S. department of agriculture to pull water from the arid Arizona deserts, and it’s even more effective in less extreme climates.

Related: 5 Water Storage Myths

How It Works

The general principle of this still is the same as the “greenhouse effect” on our planet. Heat from the sun passes through the clear plastic, heating up the soil and causing the moisture content within it to evaporate. This moisture then tries to escape into the air but gets caught on the underside of the plastic barrier and condenses into water droplets. By placing a heavy object like a rock directly over your water containment device, you will be directing the water drops to the lowest point of the plastic, where they will collect and drip into your container. After several hours, you will have perfectly clean, distilled water to drink.

This method is also effective for purifying bad water or even urine. Simply pour the tainted liquid down close to your container (but not in it). Through the process of evaporation and condensation, only pure water will collect in your cup.

Supplies You Need

To build your solar still you need a big sheet of clear plastic, a few rocks or other heavy objects, and a container to catch your water in. A hard sided container works best, but you can use just about anything (even a sandwich baggie) in a pinch.

That’s it! A shovel certainly helps the digging process but it isn’t necessary. You can keep your sheet of plastic in your bug out bag or some other handy place where it will be accessible in an emergency.

Building Your Solar Still

First, find a patch of ground that gets lots of sunlight, especially in the early morning. If you can, choose a spot with lots of vegetation or that is a dried out stream bed. These places are more likely to have water in the soil.

Next, dig a hole that is big enough to fit your water collection container. Try to make your hole as wide as the piece of plastic you have. The more surface area your plastic can cover, the bigger the area that you can pull water from. Wider holes also need to be deeper, so that there is room for the rocks to weigh down the plastic without falling right into the water container. step-1

You can also dig a second hole just for your container to get it down deeper.step-2

After setting the water container in place, cover your hole with the plastic and pile dirt and rocks around the edges to weigh it down. This is crucial because your still won’t work if an edge of the plastic comes lose.step-3

Find a small rock or similarly weighted object and position it directly over your water container. step-4Be sure to check if the weight of the rock is pulling too much on the plastic. If so, add more rocks and dirt to the edges.step-5

Finally, wait several hours for condensation to occur. You should start getting water within two hours, though for best results, step up your still in the evening and check it in late morning to take advantage of morning dew. You can carefully pull out your water at any point and reconstruct the still to gather more.step-6

When built correctly, a still like this can provide you with less than a quart of water a day depending on the humidity, sunlight, temperature and altitude. It might not be enough to let you run a marathon, but it will keep you alive in a dire situation. You can build multiple stills to maximize your water gathering potential.

Words of Caution

Be careful to keep your plastic as clean as possible before building your still. Dirty plastic will produce dirty water and might make you sick if you drink it.

Also, remember that this solar still is a lifesaving device, not an alternative for packing your own water. If you are going hiking or camping, be sure to bring all the water that you need with you as well as a regular water purifier in case you run into trouble. A solar still like this should be saved for true emergencies.

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Lidya Noyes
By Lidya Noyes November 2, 2016 11:18
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  1. Ron H November 2, 18:22

    “Thar’s water in that thar grass, Pardner”..
    If you add fresh vegetation from the area around the still and place it under the plastic and around your collection container the sun will also pull water out of the vegetation and deposit it in your collection container.

    Reply to this comment
  2. wa2qcj November 2, 18:25

    The machine that turns air into water is as simple as any air conditioner now in use. Cooled air produces moisture. That is why some refrigerators have door heaters. The heaters prevent the formation of algae in door seals. The whole thing is, make cooler air, collect the water formed. Air conditioners do it every summer, most people just let the water go to waste.

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  3. left coast chuck November 2, 18:37

    Notice how much water the article says you can collect. Perhaps a quart a day. Now, refer to all the literature that deals with daily water requirements. OOPS! Three quarts short each and every day. While a quart of water is better than no water at all, it will rapidly lead to dehydration. Do not depend upon this method to provide you or your family with your daily water needs.

    It presents an interesting paradox. The hotter the sun is the more water it will generate, but the more water you need.

    I repeat myself: Do no depend upon this method to provide your daily water needs. If you are going to be active, you will need even more water.

    Reply to this comment
    • A Arizonian November 2, 22:36

      Oh gee, I would never have thought of that.

      Reply to this comment
    • Wendy November 3, 12:14

      Can’t we just make four of these to get enough water?

      Reply to this comment
    • Wendy November 3, 12:43

      Sorry. Wasn’t thinking. Too late at night. Emergency situation – may not have more that one container or piece of plastic.

      Reply to this comment
    • Cameron May 7, 11:13

      Why not make 4 to get your daily requirement? Are you suggesting this is a bad idea and you should just go to the store when SHTF and buy the water? Silly. This is a great way to get water when none is had and exerts little energy.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck May 9, 17:13

        Wel, yes, Cameron, you can dig multiple holes in your yard or better yet in some public place with a couple of acres of land so you can scurry from hole to hole collecting the drippings off the plastic. How big is your family? Just you and wifey? Not too hard to maintain a supply. You, wifey and two kiddies? Whoa! you are going to be busy, busy, busy. No time for fending off zombies who just want to stop by and avail themselves of your hard work. No time scrounging the burned out Piggly Wiggly for unscorched cans of okra. If you are on the move, do you want to wait around all day for a quart of water? You would be better off breaking into houses and attempting to tap the water system. You will get more results. This is supposed to be useful if one is in a desert location. But it means you have to hang around all day for a quart or two of water in one location. You can’t be on the move to get out of the desert.

        It’s like the fish line and hook that is in so many “bug-out” kits. I’m trying to get out of Dodge so I am going to spend a whole day trying to snag a trout or two or a couple of red eared perch? If I do any fishing at all, it is going to be with a 50 or 100 foot long trot line with multiple hooks and it will go in the water as soon as I stop for the day and come out a little after dawn when I am getting ready to move on. You are better served stowing a couple extra GU tubes in your bag that you can suck down while on the move than wasting weight and space with the miserable so-called fishing rig that is provided. Sometimes it is exasperating looking at the b.s. that is dished out as “expert” advice. Any time someone offers you advice, including the advice I offered in this post, think about it. Does it make sense? Does it seem practical? How much time are you going to have to spend to see real results? What has been your real life experience? Talk it over with your partner and see if your partner has a different view. Just because you read some drivel on the internet doesn’t make it gospel.

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    • Danny July 18, 19:13

      One quart is better than nothing.

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  4. Chuck November 2, 19:59

    perfect info!

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    • Mommanurse January 8, 22:44

      He even said for emergency (as in no other source) & for best results set it up at night, to catch the morning dew. It can be collected even in a ziplock baggie. With the crazy amount of plastic bags we use, surely you can find stuff to do it. On the move top of the list of stuff to look for. You can set up multiple stills at night, wake up, collect, get moving. Repeat each night. This does work if youve no other means

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  5. FS November 21, 17:45

    Why not produce and sell the H2O Dynamo water purification from air assembly, instead of selling it as a DIY project? Obviously, if it works as suggested, it would be a world- wide production and selling wonder.

    Reply to this comment
    • Proteus January 11, 19:48

      The air to water device is also called a “room dehumidifier” …. can be purchased at Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes ….

      Reply to this comment
      • grammy em February 11, 17:34

        but the dehumidifier requires electricity to run. in an emergency, esp one requiring a bug out, you won’t have electricity. perhaps a useful adjunct here would be a life straw or other way to purify any unclean water available.

        Reply to this comment
  6. clergylady May 9, 20:37

    OK for a suppliment but you reality need to plan and prepare for far more fluid than that.

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  7. Jesse May 9, 20:57

    Most all of these survival “tricks” can be found in the old Boy Scout manuals or old Army/Navy manuals, even this water gathering technique.

    Reply to this comment
  8. joe December 25, 01:10

    This gets repeated time and again, don’t waste your time and energy, As the article says less than a quart a day, most times, less than a pint. You will sweat out more digging the hole that you gain. Always been bad advice, and still is.

    Reply to this comment
  9. red February 11, 22:38

    What’s humidity? I live in Arizona and last year it was so dry we lost a lot of cactus. A Warka tower would work here for water.

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