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How To Purify Salt Water for Survival

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: July 2, 2019
How To Purify Salt Water for Survival

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Desalination can be done on a small scale with basic items. Pot distillers can make the process faster but you can also achieve desalination with salvaged items in a survival situation.

With most of the water in the world in the form of saltwater, desalination is a concept that has been refined, but since it is always easier and cheaper to drink fresh water when available, desalination is only usually done in areas where it is necessary to meet demands.

Over time you are going to see more desalination plants throughout the world. Some areas have such a small supply of fresh water that it is not possible to grow and be prosperous without creating more fresh water. The byproduct of sea salt can, of course, be recovered and sold. In some cases, the seas salts are worth more than you would expect because the various bodies of saltwater throughout the world vary in flora and fauna.

Desalinators are not cheap, but they are of course what is ideal for an extended emergency at sea or near any body of saltwater where fresh water is just not an option.

How to purify salt water for survival? When it comes to the best method for you that depends on the situation, you find yourself in. We are going to talk about a few different methods and also suggest a few things you can just buy and keep around.

The Raincoat Method

You can remove salt from water by boiling it, but you have to have a way to catch the condensation that results. A raincoat or poncho can work. To do this, you will need to make a tent out of the poncho or raincoat over the boiling pot. Place containers on the edges to catch the condensation as it runs down the coat.  This use is an argument for carrying a spare poncho.

Bucket and Plastic Method

This is one of those where you need a few things put back to get results. It also only works if you have sunlight on your side.




Plastic Wrap

Small stone

Take the bucket and place the jar in it. Pour your saltwater around the jar being careful not to pour enough to make it float. Cover with plastic and place a small stone or weight on the jar so that the surface curves in. As the sun evaporates the salt water, it will cause condensation that will drip into the jar. This is a slow method, but it does work if you have the right supplies and conditions.

Remember The Basics

Getting salt out of seawater requires the following basic components. It doesn’t matter what you do to accomplish the process unless you are using unclean items.

  1. Method of evaporation
  2. Something to catch condensation
  3. A way to collect the condensation back into a solid container.

As you might have gathered, there are a lot of things you can use to accomplish this and during a true survival situation knowing the basic actions you need to make happen and improving with what you have on hand could save your life.

Video Using Plastic Water Bottles

Here is an example of basic distillation using whatever you can find.

Pre Made Desalinators

Any water distiller will work for removing salt water. There are also special emergency desalinators like those provided in rescue rafts aboard ships that travel through open water a lot and of course those fancy cruise ships.

The same stills that are used to produce moonshine or other liquors are excellent for removing salt from seawater.

I am going to show you a few stills in this post but be sure to check out the previous post on “Best Water Distillers For At Home Use” for a lot of options in a wide price range and size. There are a lot of things you can use a pot still for so they may be just the thing you need to add to your serious preps.

D-STIL Lite(tm)Do It Yourself Emergency Survival Water Distiller

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First of all, I am surprised how much water this can give you per hour. The description reads that you get 8-10 cups per hour. This means a few hours of operation can give you a gallon or more of drinking water. That is enough for two adults that are doing some manual labor. An adult can drink a 1/2 gallon of water a day if sweating a lot. It is always better to overestimate how much you need as well.

This distiller is excellent for use on any stove eye. To use you will need two pots as well. This emergency distiller gets excellent feedback from preppers. While some may say that it is a lot to pay for something so small, it is made of quality stainless steel and comes in at a much lower price than other distillers. It stores away easily, and since you can use your own pots, you don’t have extra space taken up by extra water distilling pots although you can easily pick up some stainless steel pots and still come out cheaper than buying a lot of the actual “stills” available.

This could also be used on a rocket stove or camp stove if needed.  Here is a video that shows the distiller in use. The opening is rather dramatic but stick with it to see this still in action.

Seeutek 2 Gallon 8L Water Alcohol Distiller

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This brand of still is affordable and can be used for all types of distilling projects. This is the smaller size they make. The largest size is 8 gallons which could be nice for bigger jobs. The 2 gallon is a nice size though because it can be stored easily when not in use and it is not particularly bulky.

Emergency Raft Desalinators

These are a bit expensive and only good for desalination so for most of us a good old-fashioned pot still is going to be the best bet. I still want to include one of these so you can make the best choice for your situation. If I lived near the ocean and spent a lot of time on a boat, I might want one of these instead of something that I had to boil water or use the power of the sun for desalination.

These are a bit harder to find, and chances are you are going to need to order one online. I can’t see these being at very many stores since they are a real specialty item.  There is a reason these are only used on serious boats.

Katadyn Survivor 35 Desalinator

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It takes a lot of pumping to get water out of this. It is only for the worst emergencies. Think of a scenario where you are sitting in a life raft waiting for rescue. Supposedly you can produce 30 gallons of drinking water a day with this thing, but that comes slow. You have to pump this thing for an hour to get a quart! There is also a shelf life on the membranes inside the desalinator, so you have to replace that every once in awhile.

Aquamate Solar Water Purification Inflatable Kit

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I think it is a lot for something that seems like not much more than a fancy balloon, it is still 10% of the cost of the Katadyn Desalinator, and there is no pumping involved or major maintenance to do. This fits in a small space and just forms a tent and uses the power of the sun. Of course, this could be quite slow and under some conditions might not work at all. It seems like on bad weather days you would not get much out of this.

My Choice=Pot Still or the Dstill Lite as long as you are somewhere you can use a stove or make a fire.

Boiling saltwater and collecting the condensation is the fastest way to get a decent amount of water. Keeping a simple $100-$150 distiller around and having some type of stove with an eye on it is ideal.  A camp stove that takes white fuel or 1 lb propane cylinders works great, but you can also use a wood-burning rocket stove or even a campfire if you are careful and sit everything up right.

I also like items that are multi-purpose, and a distiller makes water clean and potable and in sufficient quantities with minimal effort. You can also use a pot still to make alcohol for tinctures, personal consumption, or for disinfectant. If you run mash, wine, or beer through a still enough times, you will get a very high alcohol percentage that is used for a disinfectant during a survival situation. During long-term SHTF scenarios, things like alcohol for drinking and medicine might be quite hard to come by.

Remember that you can always use multiple methods. For example, you might have a solar desalinator set up but also a stove top pot still. It is worth it to have a few options so you can easily get water during an extended situation. A distiller allows you some water security and is a great addition to a bug out location regardless if you are near salt water or not.

Taste Of Desalinated Water

If the taste of desalinated water is too much for you and you have a water filter then you can pump the water through and get a better flavor. Distilling makes the water safe to drink but the flavor may be a different story. A simple charcoal filter will improve taste. A Brita pitcher is enough to remove odors or tastes that persist. Some people may not feel the need to do anything beyond distilling.

Have you ever had to use seawater for survival? Do you have any tips? Is distilling a part of your preps? Is using a desalinater as bad as people say?

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