A good way to ensure you’re drinking clean water is by filtering it.
While you can purchase bottled water that a company has already filtered, you can also filter water yourself. The method you choose to do this — and there are several — will likely depend on your:
- water quality goals
- desired level of effort
This article focuses on do-it-yourself (DIY) water filtration methods, which you can use whether you’re at home, traveling, or in nature.
The best water filtration method for you will depend on your environment, your budget, and how much effort you want to invest.
You can purchase relatively small home water filters at many hardware and homeware stores. Many of them are canister-style filters that couple directly with your kitchen faucet.
Some offer a variety of filtration cartridges to choose from, depending on your filtering needs.
You can also use a number of DIY methods to filter, disinfect, and purify water yourself. They may come in handy, especially when traditional systems aren’t an option.
Below are some common DIY water filtering methods you can use.
Heating water at a rolling boil for 1 minute makes it safe to drink. Boil it for 3 minutes if you’re at an elevation above 6,500 feet (1,981 meters).
In the event of a local boil water advisory, experts recommend people boil their water to prevent infectious diseases (
Tablets or drops
Some common water purification or disinfecting tablets and drops include:
- sodium dichloroisocyanurate
- chlorine dioxide
- tetraglycine hydroperiodide
To use, follow the instructions on the package and drop the tablets into the water to purify it, letting them sit for a directed period of time.
In this approach, you allow ultraviolet sunlight to shine through the water. This damages the DNA of harmful germs, disinfecting the water by removing bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.
Adding lime juice can help speed up the solar treatment process (
Activated charcoal can take up and store toxic compounds, smell, and germs. It can also reduce fluoride and heavy metals.
However, it doesn’t appear to be very effective at removing bacteria, viruses, or hard water minerals (
To use it, simply put the charcoal in a sock or cloth bag and pour water through.
Travel-size sediment filters
These store-bought filters are designed to remove germs and bacteria from natural water. Companies may design them to use once or multiple times.
They come in the following forms:
- a hand-pump machine
- a filtering straw or water bottle
- squeezable pouch filters
- a filtering water pitcher
DIY portable sediment filters
You can create your own water filter to remove smell and debris by layering a mix of gravel, play sand, and activated carbon in a bucket drilled with a hole and fit with plumbing to pour water through.
Fruit peel filters
People sometimes use fruit peels, such as apple peels, for water purification in remote villages that rely on contaminated water for everyday needs.
You could potentially adapt this method into a DIY water filtration system. However, this may not be a good idea until scientists have done more research on the safety and effectiveness of this method for DIY use (
When traditional water filtration methods are unavailable, you have plenty of other options, such as boiling, UV treatment, disinfectant tablets, portable sediment filters, and activated charcoal.
You may be interested in filtering your water for many reasons.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets certain standards for tap water in homes throughout the United States. However, these may not be enough to align with your water quality goals.
For example, the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for arsenic, a known human carcinogen, is 0.0 mg/L. However, the maximum amount the EPA allows in tap water is 0.01 mg/L (
The MCLG is the highest amount of a contaminant allowed in tap water before there is concern for adverse health effects. This means it’s possible people could experience harmful effects from arsenic by drinking tap water that adheres to EPA water quality standards.
Furthermore, though EPA regulates approximately 90 contaminants in tap water, there are many more it doesn’t regulate (10,
Some people are also concerned that they can’t know or control what may happen to their drinking water between the time it leaves the treatment facility and pours into their glass, or how their municipality functions.
In the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, the city failed to treat the water after changes in water source. As a result, lead leached into the city water from pipes and the contaminated water reached people’s homes (
Lead has negative impact on the brain development of children, among other harmful effects (
For indoor water use, it may be a good idea to keep a stock of filtered water available in case of emergency water shutoffs or other events that result in a lack of clean drinking water. Having a water filter at home may come in handy, too.
For outdoor activities, like camping and backpacking, consider bringing a method to filter water. This will help you avoid consuming harmful germs or other contaminants in natural water, which may result from wild animals or other human traffic.
Filtering water can not only remove contaminants and debris, it can also make your water taste better. Additionally, it can be a more eco-friendly way to enjoy clean water because it helps you cut down on single-use plastic bottles.
Water filtration may further improve some aspects of tap water. It can also be helpful in water shutoff situations or scenarios when clean drinking water isn’t readily available, like in remote locations.
The benefits of filtering your water depend on the effectiveness of your chosen method and the reason you’re using it.
For example, certain types of filtering methods can do the following:
- improve taste and smell
- remove chemical contaminants
- remove germs and harmful pathogens
- remove heavy metals
- remove physical debris or particles
While you can try several DIY water filtering methods, their effectiveness varies. Not all of them will have the same result and most can’t provide all these types of filtration.
Boiling water and UV treatment, as well as iodine, chlorine, and other disinfectant tablets, can remove certain bacteria.
However, they can’t remove:
- heavy metals like lead
- chemical contaminants like pesticides
They also can’t filter out physical debris.
Furthermore, iodine and chlorine tablets don’t kill the parasites Giardia or Cryptosporidium, whereas UV treatment does (
Activated charcoal can take up impurities, certain heavy metals, and organic contaminants like pesticides, but it isn’t very effective at removing germs.
Physical filters, whether store-bought and portable or homemade from layers of sediment, are your best bet for removing debris from water.
The best methods to improve water’s smell, taste, or appearance are activated charcoal and physical filters.
If you choose to purchase a water filter from the store, a good way to ensure effectiveness is to find one with a seal indicating that a third party has tested it against a public health standard.
One example is the NSF/ANSI 53 standard, which certifies that a water filter is effective at reducing specific health-related contaminants (
To determine the effectiveness of a DIY water filter, you’d need to use a water test kit. This can give you information about the presence of certain heavy metals, pesticides, and bacteria in the water.
DIY filters of different types are effective at different aspects of filtration. Some are best for removing particles, while others target harmful germs and contaminants.
Whatever filtering method you choose, there are a couple things to keep in mind for the best experience.
Determine the most appropriate filtering method for your needs. For instance, for longer treks in the wilderness, it may make more sense to purchase a travel filter you can use multiple times instead of relying on a DIY filter.
What’s more, you can combine two methods of water filtration. For example, you could use a DIY water filter or sieve, then use boiling, activated charcoal, or UV treatment as a second step.
This would help remove both physical debris and microscopic contaminants.
To get the best results with a DIY filter, make sure you choose the most appropriate filter or filters for your goals. This may mean combining more than one type to best tackle both physical and chemical water issues.
While you can purchase prefiltered water or use a store-bought filtration system to improve water quality, you can also try several DIY methods of filtering water.
To find the best approach, consider your goals. Certain methods work best for removing physical debris and particles, whereas others are better for removing heavy metals and germs or improving smell and taste.
You can also combine different methods or use a commercial travel filter.
You can use DIY water filtration at home, for travel, or in nature. While it can take a little creativity and effort, you can improve the quality and aesthetic of your water even if you don’t have a traditional filtering option available.