‘Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink’
How to make sure water is safe to drink
“Boil it, Filter it, Purify it or Forget about it”
You should ALWAYS:
- Drink bottled water, from a bottle that has an unbroken cap seal OR
- Drink water that has been boiled for 3 minutes OR
- Drink water that has been filtered with an ‘absolute less than 1 micron’ filter and add iodine or chlorine tablets to kill viruses or drink water purified with a filter that removes viruses as well.
- Drink bottled water, juice, soda and alcohol directly from the container.
- Brush your teeth and wash hands before eating with bottled water.
You should NOT:
- Drink tap water
- Order ice with drinks, including alcoholic beverages
- Brush your teeth or wash hands before eating with tap water
Practical Tips from Our Travel Experience!!
What is the most reliable method of making sure water is safe to drink?
Boiling water to an angry, gurgling and rolling boil (greater than 212 F/ 100 C) for a minimum of 1 minute but suggested up to 3 minutes is the single most reliable method of purifying water. Let it cool to room temperature on its own; please don’t dump ice in it!!
What is the most ‘practical’ way of making sure water is safe to drink?
Bottled water is readily available in most parts of the developing world, is cheap and the most practical way of drinking water safely. It should generally be safe, but be SURE the cap on the bottle is sealed when you buy it or else your karma will be let loose shortly!
When you have finished with the plastic bottle, CRUMPLE it thoroughly, so it will not be ‘recycled’ unscrupulously. Help your fellow vagabond stay healthy.
How good are water purification tablets in making sure water is safe to drink?
Water purification tablets containing iodine (Potable-Aqua, Globaline, Coghlans) if used according to manufacturers directions may be an alternative if you are unable to find bottled water and cannot filter or boil water. Make sure to take a new set of tablets with you, once the bottle is opened the shelf life is fairly short; don’t dig it out of your closet for the trip.
The drawbacks are that chemical purification of water with Iodine tablets can be affected by the pH, temperature and levels of organic material in water and therefore is not 100% reliable. Water purification tablets are not 100% reliable to kill giardia and cryptosporidium. It is not effective if the water is murky or muddy; you will have to filter the water first.
If the water is cloudy or extremely cold (<41 F) you may need to use more tablets and increase the treatment time to be effective, follow manufacturers instructions.
Those who are allergic to iodine and shell fish or pregnant should not use iodine tablets.
Are there non – iodine water purification tablets available to purify water?
Chlorine dioxide tablets (micropur forte, pristine, aquamira) are available and are effective against bacteria, viruses and protozoa, but treatment time can be from 30 minutes up to 4 hours to be effective against cryptosporidium. It is not effective if the water is cloudy, murky or muddy; you will have to filter the water first.
The drawbacks are again that chemical purification of water with Chlorine tablets can be affected by the pH, temperature and levels of organic material in water and therefore is not 100% reliable. Water purification tablets are not 100% reliable to kill giardia and cryptosporidium. If the water is cloudy or extremely cold (<41 F) you may need to use more tablets and increase the treatment time to be effective, follow manufacturers instructions.
How good are water filters/purifiers in making sure water is safe to drink?
Reverse osmosis filters are reliable against bacteria, protozoa and viruses but are bulky, expensive, prone to clogging and not practical for most overseas travelers.
Smaller traveler friendly microstrainer filters are more practical; those with an ‘absolute less than 1 micron filter’ are excellent in removing bacteria and 99.9 % effective in removing protozoa like giardia and cryptosporidia. You MUST add iodine or chlorine tablets to kill viruses.
Some filters come with an additional filter effective against viruses and some are combined with an iodine impregnated resin to clear viruses.
Filters that are designed to remove protozoa (cryptosporidium/giardia) carry one of the four labels verbatim on the package:
- Reverse osmosis.
- An absolute pore size of < 1 micron. (Typically 0.2 to 0.4 microns)
- Tested and certified by NSF International Standard 53 or 58 for cyst removal.
- Tested and certified by NSF International Standard 53 or 58 for cyst reduction.
Products with any other wording are not reliable to remove protozoa. Unless the product specifically states that it removes viruses, you need to add iodine or chlorine tablets or liquid as directed. Chlorine liquids will not be allowed on carry on luggage.
Proper maintenance and change of cartridges are essential to reliably purifying water.
What are some models of filters and purifiers that are effective?
Purifiers that remove protozoa, bacteria and viruses are:
- First Need TravL-Pure water Purifier (pump)
- First Need XL Purifier (pump)
- MSR Sweetwater Purifier System with ViralStop (pump)
- Katadyn Exstream XR Purifier Water Bottle (No pump bottle)
- MSR MIOX Purifier (No pump bottle)
Filters that remove protozoa and bacteria; but need chlorine/iodine tablets for viruses are:
- Katadyn Hiker Filter (pump), Katadyn Hiker PRO Filter (pump)
- MSR Hyperflow Microfilter (pump), MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter (pump)
- Katadyn Microfilter bottle, MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter (no pump bottle)
- Sawyer 2L Water Treatment System. (No pump bottle)
How effective is ultra violet light in making sure water is safe to drink?
Ultraviolet light can kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa. The advantages are the lack of any after taste or prolonged wait time before drinking. In addition the devices are compact, lightweight, run on batteries and are easy to use. One can purify individual drinking containers; for example in hotel rooms or restaurants.
Make sure all the water in the container is exposed to UV light; it will not kill microbes above the light line – on the lip of the container for example. It does not work with muddy or cloudy water; you have to filter it first.
A product called Steri PEN is available and is effective if directions are followed closely; you can purify 32 ounces of water in 90 seconds. The SteriPEN’s have a prefilter; a screw on cap for water bottles with a 4 micron filter and can be used if the water is cloudy or muddy.
The products are;
SteriPEN Adventure Water Purifier
SteriPEN Classic with Pre-Filter
SteriPEN Journey with LCD Display
Does alcohol in beer, liquor and wine kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa?
Unless your drink has alcohol content greater than 70% it will not help in killing bugs. However it can potentially make you act silly and still have the runs. Cooling your drink with ice made from unclean water is not wise either.
What are some common mistakes that are made when it comes to safe drinking water?
Pouring a drink into a glass that was washed in dirty water with unclean hands is a common mistake. Drink directly from the container (can, bottle, and carton). If the container (can, bottle, and carton) is wet, dry off the outside and clean all surfaces that will come in contact with your mouth.
Brushing your teeth with tap water is another mistake; always use bottled, boiled or purified water.
Washing your hands before eating with tap water and not bottled or purified water is also a common mistake.
Swimming in local swimming pools (inadequate chlorination), rivers, lakes and oceans is also a mistake. There is absolutely no point in drinking bottled, purified, filtered or boiled water, only to gulp water contaminated with sewage while swimming.
What if I am staying in a 5 star facility with lots of snootiness?
Yeah! Yeah! You must take these precautions even in expensive (5 star, blah-blah, hoity toity) restaurants, hotels, spas etc in developing nations. The places are not expensive because the local labor is exorbitant; trust us on this one!
What is the bottom line, best practical advice?
If your overseas travel is limited to places where bottled water is readily available, you can drink it straight from the container or use the SteriPEN to purify water for extra caution. If bottled water is not available but clear running water is available from taps in hotels and restaurants, use the SteriPEN to purify water.
If your overseas travel involves outdoor activities like camping, trekking and hiking where water needs to be obtained from rivers, streams and wells, take a water purifying microstrainer device or filters with ‘an absolute less than 1 micron pore’ filter but add chlorine or iodine tablets to kill viruses. Devices that pump water are convenient for purifying larger quantities of water and are practical for cooking, cleaning etc; especially for more than 1-2 people. Alternatively, one could use the SteriPEN’s prefilter screwed on to a compatible water bottle to remove particulates and use the SteriPEN as directed. One may have to repeat the dose of UV light once or twice for caution.