OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Purify Water with Bleach: Clean Drinking Water in One Step

bleached water
Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

Nowadays it’s very important to know how to purify water with bleach. Did you know that almost 97% of the water in the world is salty, or in some other chemical condition which makes it impotable? Another 2% is a component of glaciers and ice caps.

This fact tells us that only 1% of the world’s water remains available for the need of the humanity. That’s why it’s important to have a clean source of drinking water at your disposal. Especially for those people who want to be more self-sufficient while camping or hiking, taking along a small container of bleach with you on your travels can make all the difference in the world.

Why Drinking Purified Water is Important

Water is one of the fundamental needs of human survival. We all require at least 15 to 30 liters of purified, clean and disinfected water for drinking, washing, cleaning and keeping the things clean. The human body can’t even survive for more than three days without water. That’s how essential it is.

drinking water after waking up

Unfortunately, with the natural disasters that occur, water may not be safe to drink. Drinking contaminated water can cause many types of symptoms and diseases such as:

  • Sick stomach
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Guinea worm disease
  • Reproductive and development problems

This is only a small percentage of the problems you could experience, and compounded with the fact that you’ll be hiking in the wilderness, far from civilization, you don’t want to be stuck sick and alone without any means of calling for help.

Getting the Ratios Right

However, when it comes to disinfecting water, you may get really confusing. This is caused by the fact that there is a lot of different ratio and percentage for all kinds of purifying agents. For some people, it is very hard to keep these ratios and solutions right.

pouring water into measurement cup

Fortunately, there is one simple formula that will make this process very easy, and you will never make a mistake disinfecting the water with bleach again.

We all know that in order to drink alcohol, we must be 21. This serves as a good referencing point for your ratio, as you only need to add 2 drops of bleach for 1 liter of water. And, in case you don’t have 1 liter of water or container of 1 quart to measure the exact amount of water, you will just need to divide into fourths. How simple is this?

Now when you all know the formula, you may start with the purifying process. The purifying must be done with properly disinfected water, weather it’s for drinking, cooking or washing. This process contains some steps you must follow, which are explained below:

Purifying Water with Bleach – Step by Step Process

The best choice is to disinfect the water by using your favorite household bleach. The best ones are the regular ones or those what are unscented. As it is indicated on their labels, unscented chlorine bleach products are suitable for purifying and disinfection.

The best options are bleaches that contain 8.25% of sodium hypochlorite. Scented, color safe and those with added cleaners are not recommended for use. The may cause some infections or other medical problems. It’s also recommended that you use your bleach in a well-ventilated area, as the fumes can be a bit toxic if inhaled for too long.

  1. If tap water is clear you could move forward, but if it is cloudy, first filter it through a coffee filter or clean paper towel. In cases when water is cloudy, very cold or colored, you should double the amount of bleach.
  2. Next step is to add the bleach into the water. Bleach works best when it’s added to warm water. The best option is to use fresh liquid chlorine bleach, or if you don’t own one, liquid chlorine bleach stored on room temperatures not more than one year.
  3. After you add the bleach, mix well and let the water stand for about 30 minutes. It should appear a slight chlorine odor in the water.
  4. If the water does not have chlorine odor, just repeat the process, and let it sit another 15 minutes. After that, you can use the water.

In addition, you could use this table as a guide to help you determine the correct amount of bleach you should add to the water:

Volume of Water

Amount of Bleach to Add*

1 quart/liter

2 drops

1 gallon

6 drops

2 gallons

12 drops (1/8 teaspoon)

4 gallons

1/4 teaspoon

8 gallons

1/2 teaspoon

*For Bleach that contains 8.25% sodium hypochlorite.

There may also be a situation where the chlorine taste is too strong. If this happens, pour the water several times from one clean container into another. After that, let the water stand for a couple of hours, and then you are free to use it.

Do not mix the bleach with ammonia or other cleaners into your water. This could result in a health hazard. Bleach tablets are a great alternative to carrying liquid bleach with you, as they are much safer to carry and reduce the risk of spillage. If this is your choice method of purifying your water, then simply follow the directions on the package.

bleach tablets

Although purifying water with bleach is very easy and quick, there are some disadvantages, as stated below. It is up to you to decide what you will do to make your water safe to drink and use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Purifying the Water with Bleach

Like we mention before, bleached water has advantages but also some disadvantages. We will explain some of the main advantages and disadvantages, so we can make your decision easier.

Advantages

  • The bleach you are using for disinfecting is very inexpensive. This means that you may find a gallon of bleach for just 2 dollars. Using bleach for purifying the water is a much less expensive approach than any other chemical treatment.
  • Besides the fact that the bleach is very inexpensive, it is also very widely available. If you want to purify the water, you will just need to visit the closest grocery store, gas station or supermarket. It won’t be necessary to order the bleach online or search out some specialized stores.
  • If you want to purify 1 liter of water, you would only use a couple of drops. For example, with only 8 drops of bleach, you would be able to purify a whole gallon of water.
  • Even the most contaminated water, may be almost safe for drinking by using the bleach for purifying.
  • Comparing to some other chemicals, bleach won’t discolor the water, after it has been treated. For example, if you use iodine, it may leave the water with an off-color and also very unpleasant taste. One of its advantages is that bleach evaporates really quickly. Although it may leave a bit of chlorine smell, you could get rid of it by swirling the water and allowing it to air.

Bottles of Clorox bleach sit on a shelf at a grocery store

Disadvantages

  • One of the main disadvantages of bleach is that it has a short shelf life. It can’t be stored for a long period of time, no longer than six months. Some of the production companies, highlight to use the bleach for about a year after it is manufactured. They also highlight that it’s not dangerous to use it after that amount of time, only the bleach will be weakened. It is safe to use, but it won’t be with the same characteristics.
  • Bleach is effective against a lot of things, but it does not kill all the harmful contaminant in the water. Some of the organisms that bleach is not able to eliminate are protozoa and Cryptosporidia.  They cannot be killed off even by usage of iodine. The only treatment that can make the cryptosporidia inactive is boiling water or UV lights.
  • Another disadvantage of bleach is that in some situations, it may be poisonous. The body can tolerate bleach when it’s watered down, but only at the right amount. Otherwise, getting in contact with bleach or ingesting may be dangerous, so it pays to be familiar with the chart mentioned above
  • Inhaling the fumes from bleach is also a danger, so be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area. If you feel your eyes burning or you find it difficult to breathe, please seek medical attention immediately.
  • Humans who have problems with asthma should be even more careful. Just a little inhalation of bleach can cause a serious stack. Those who suffer from this or any other breathing problem, should stay away from bleach and not to use this type of purifying.
  • Bleach is not very environmentally-friendly, so that means you have to take extra special care when using it around your campsite. It can leech into the ground if spilled, contaminating food and water supplies for the animals that live in the area. Not to mention it will also kill any plants it happens to spill on.

Girl having a breathing problem

Usage of Purifying Water

Once you’ve learned how to purify the water and what the advantages and disadvantages of disinfected water are, you should know what to use that water for:

You should use purified and disinfected water for the following activities:

  • First of all for drinking but also for food preparation. You may wash your fruits and vegetables, and make a perfect and healthy meal for you and others you are traveling with. Bleached water can even be used in food preparation for your baby, but only in very small amounts.
  • You could add this water to fresh juices, smoothies, and coffee.
  • Purified water with bleach can also be used for pets needs
  • Washing and brushing your teeth.
  • You could bath your children using disinfected water.

Conclusion

Because more than 60% of our body is water, it’s very important to know that consuming unclean and dirty water may cause real health problems. Because of this, you should always have boiled water with you, or have a backup stockpile bleach for purifying the water.

Before using any bleach for purifying, please be sure that the bleach you are using does not contain perfumes or any other additives. It should only contain sodium hypochlorite. Perfumes and additives can be toxic and may cause really serious health problems.

You should also be careful about the expiry date of the bleach. The best choice is always to use a fresh gallon of bleach for every purifying process. Although you don’t need to trash the old one, it’s not best that you take it with you on your camping trip. It might be best to keep it at home and use for cleaning around your home, such as your bathroom and kitchen sinks.

If you have some tips or personal experiences with purifying water, no matter if they are good or bad, feel free to share with us in the comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Bayne
Jessica Bayne

Jessica believes that the only things you need to explore the world are a good backpack and a bit of courage to make the first steps. She also loves the beauty of a sunset seen from the mountaintop and the delicious flavor of a meal prepped over the camping fire. Ready to start a new adventure at any given time, Jessica knows how to be prepared for any situation and understands how important is to find the right gear. She also knows a lot about the type of gear to have and how to choose the products you actually need.

  • Oli Stan

    This is amazing Jessica. Kudos to you for sharing this important article. I will surely take note of the tips you mentioned since, you’ll never know what might happen in case of emergencies. We really need to be more knowledgeable about these kinds of survival tips. Will definitely share this around.

    • Jessica Bayne

      Thank you!

  • Luke Rogers

    I cannot see myself using this technique in the near future, but it is of course nice to know just in case. Since you said it can be dangerous, so I think I will just choose boiling water if needed. Also, there are some organisms that bleach cannot eliminate like protozoa and Cryptosporidia.

    • Jessica Bayne

      It’s definitely one option.

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