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Distilling Your Way To Water Storage Prepping Success

Steam over lake

I keep talking about ways to improve your water storage prepping efforts be because water is such a vital element needed for life to continue. Thankfully, it falls in relative (or actual) abundance for many of us. The thing is that rain water isn't necessarily safe to drink straight up, especially if it's collected off of roofs and such. You need some means of purification to make sure the water provides nourishing hydration and not be a poison. This is where water distillation comes into play. It is a great way to purify your water so that you can drink it and not get sick. In this article, we'll get to take a look at the distillation process and how it can help you get safe water from sources like rain, lakes, rivers, or even salt water.

Water Distillation to Supplement Water Storage Prepping

Distillation is when you transform a substance into a gas and then turn it back into a liquid. You collect the liquid in a clean, typically empty container. Applied to water, you turn liquid water into a vapor, and then condense it back down into a liquid. Now, you may be asking yourself as to why anyone would want to do this. Well, it would be pretty pointless do distill clean water. But if you did this to say muddy water, dirty water, or otherwise contaminated water, the benefits start becoming more apparent.

Now, as is the case with many things, this process doesn't work for every possible contaminant. Or rather distillation may be able to handle most contaminants, but it may require more sophisticated methods depending on the specifics. Now, if you are not in a particularly contaminated area, such as a river, creek, or lake contaminated with say heavy amounts of mined copper, distillation will likely be a good, simple method for getting clean water when you need it.

The specific benefits of water distillation is that many if not most of the contaminants that may be in water, such as bacteria, dirt, trace minerals, and other things are not transported with water when it becomes a vapor. The contaminants, solid ones in particular, stay behind. Sure, you can heat up water a lot to get it to boil and turn into steam. But you probably know that water turns to a vapor at lower average temperatures than that.

If you've ever been out on a hot summer day with low humidity, or taken a hot but not scalding shower, water turns to steam at less than boiling temperatures. This allows for separation of what you want from what you don't, yielding substantially cleaner water than what you might have started with.

Water Distillation Methods

Pretty much any form of water distillation will involve getting enough heat to liquid water such that it turns into a vapor. You then cool or allow it to cool such that it turns back into a liquid away from the contaminants. So, lets look at some ways you can practically distill water.

Solar Methods

Solar heaters

You can have a set up that uses a container that has a black light absorbing sheet on the inside and is clear. Put the contaminated water in at the bottom of the clear container, put the black light absorbing sheet in the middle, and put the glass (or plastic) over the top. Have a hole in the top of the container, and make sure that the container is not too tall. You don't want the water condensing too quickly. The small hole will be attached to tubing. The tubing will lead to a bucket of water, having the tubing spiral and go down.

The bucket will have a hole that lets the tubing or piping go out, but doesn't let any of the water in the bucket itself leak out. The tubing that exits the bucket will lead to another clean container to collect the now clean water. This is something you can make yourself to try out to see how it can work.

Another very simple way to demonstrate this is to have some dirt or sand that is filled up with water. The moist dirt or sand is placed in a fairly large bowl. You put a small saucer or bowl in the middle and on top of the moist soil. The bowl should be small enough to not come near the top of the larger container when it sits on top of the most soil. Or, you could put the soil around the bowl and have the bowl sit on the middle and bottom of the larger container. Put some clear cling wrap over the larger container, and then place something small and fairly heavy on the cling wrap in the middle. A small stone can work well for this. You want the stone to push the middle of the cling wrap down slightly and towards the smaller bowl.

This achieves the effect that as the water in the sol evaporates, it hits the slightly cooler cling wrap. It condenses, builds up, and is driven downward along the cling wrap and towards the indentation int he wrap made by the stone (or similar object). When enough of it builds up, it will start to drip down into the bowl. Guess what? You've got distilled water!

External Heat Methods

Fire boiling water

You actually could do fairly well with external heat methods, such as fire, if you model them similarly to the first solar method detailed above. There are some differences, however. If you have a fire, you would want to make sure you don't get your water source too hot. When temperatures get very hot, you might react some of the contaminants in unexpected and dangerous ways.

You could do this by allowing significant distance from the container with the contaminated water and the heat source. You could also use boiling water to help keep the temperature from getting too hot in terms of fire temperatures. The process is the same from there. Heat the water source, it vaporizes inside the container. The container has tubing or piping leading to a condensing unit, which leads to a collecting unit.

Vacuum Aided Distillation

Red vacuum cleaner

This method is a bit more complicated. But in the end, it generally works the way the other methods do. When you have water under a sufficient vacuum, it will start to boil. This can happen even at room temperatures. You may not believe me off the bat. But are you familiar with the phenomenon of water boiling at a lower temperature at sufficiently high altitudes? Well, that happens because the air pressure is much lower when you are at very high altitudes.

That's what a vacuum is doing. it is lowering the air pressure of it's environment by having less air in there in the first place. So, when there is less air pressure acting on the liquid water, it doesn't take as much heat energy to get the same amount of water to vaporize in the same amount of time. You can kind of think about the boiling process as receiving enough heat energy to overcome the molecular adhesion forces and the atmospheric pressure acting on it. It takes less effort to lift 10 pounds versus 50 pounds when it comes to weight. Using the vacuum is akin to taking (not literally) off weight on a barbell.

Once you have the vacuum going, you can speed up the process by adding a little extra heat to the process. Not too much. Just enough to help the process go pretty fast. You need tubing or piping that funnels the water vapor to a condenser, as before, which leads to a clean water collection unit. Of the mentioned methods, this one has the potential to be one of the fastest.

Choosing Your Distillation Method

The method that works for you will depend on where you are at in your water storage prepping and survival prep journey. If you are just starting out, all you might be able to do is the very simple solar method. That's okay. It's a tool in your tool box to pull out if or when needed. If you are much further along, you may want to use either the more complicated solar method, the external heating method, or a combination of both.

While I definitely think highly of the vacuum and heat method, my experience has been that that works better for more industrial treating processes. By all means, if you can make a small scale system work, more power to you! But for the rest of us mere mortals who aren't doing some large scale industrial application, the other two methods will probably serve us well.

You will want to make sure that you have a way to clean the piping or tubing used to transport the water vapor. There probably won't be much, if any, but there is a small chance that small microorganisms might get transported through the tubing. You don't want them to build up in them, or else you will have contaminated water in your clean water. You could boil the collected clean water to help combat this. If you want the system to work well for you, make sure you take care of it.


It's important to be able to make and store clean water as part of your survival prep efforts. Distillation is a way for you to be able to get at precious water when your initial water storage prepping supply is running dry. A bit part of any prepping is to get started and to be versatile. Now you've got more knowledge, an additional tool, and an additional skill to help carry you through an emergency or towards becoming more self sufficient. So, what are you waiting for? Get a move on in improving your efforts!

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