How to purify river water for drinking

How to Purify River Water for Drinking

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Drinking water is the body’s natural way of getting rid of toxins. This is why it’s important to have a secure water supply near your home.

Fortunately, water is plentiful. It is constantly being recycled by the earth. The water cycle is a process in which water evaporates from the earth’s surface and goes through the air, condensing into water droplets and then returning to the ground as precipitation.

With that said, whether it be a lake, reservoir, stream, rain, or river, it can count as a water source. The idea of drinking river water might seem scary at first, but it is actually a great idea. In fact, the health benefits of drinking river water often outweigh the risks – especially if it’s purified.

We have previously written about 12 ways to purify water and how to filter river water for home use, but in this article, we will cover how to purify river water for drinking.

river water for drinking

Why do you need to Purify Water before Drinking?

Water purification is necessary because many different chemical toxins and sediments can be found in untreated water. It is crucial to your health and well-being, but many people don’t think twice about what’s in their water.

However, let’s keep in mind that water purifiers are designed to filter out most of the waterborne viruses, bacteria, and other impurities, as well as to kill bacteria, viruses, and cysts.

There are many ways to purify water, but the easiest way to do it is to buy a water purification system. Your purification system should be able to filter out disease-causing microorganisms from your water, as well as eliminate other contaminants like chlorine, fluoride, and heavy metals. It should also be able to filter out germs and bacteria from the air.

Note: Pregnant women should not drink purified river water.

Treating river water for drinking

Step-by-Step Guide to Purify River Water for Drinking

It is important to purify river water before drinking it. There are a few simple steps that you can take to purify the water, but it always starts with getting the water tested at a top-notch lab. But of course, not everyone has access to that, so here’s how you can safely purify river water before drinking it.

1) Collect River Water

The first step to purifying river water is to collect the water. The water should be collected in a water barrel or food-grade 5-gallon bucket and kept closed. A closed container prevents mosquitos from breeding and limits algae growth.

Remember, river water, even though it starts out pure, can become contaminated as it travels from one body of water to another. This happens when the water gets mixed with anything that contains bacteria or chemicals.

2) Filter River Water to Remove Sediments

Most river water is heavily polluted and needs to be filtered to remove sediments. There are a few different options to filter river water. One of the easiest and cheapest options is to buy a water filter. These filters are reusable and are considered a cost-effective solution.

You may also want to filter your water for the best results by using a cross-flow filter, which has the ability to remove sediments that are heavier than water. The cross-flow filter is a mesh that has large openings on both sides and a funnel that is connected to a small opening.

A cross-flow filter is not always recommended as it tends to be expensive, but if you have a budget and want to be double-safe, we say why not.

3) Treat River Water to Purify It

One of the best ways to purify river water is to boil it. Boiling it will kill all types of bacteria and viruses that could be in the water. You can also use disinfection tablets to eliminate any bacteria and viruses.

However, if you are worried about the water, you can use UV lights for a more comprehensive way to eliminate all types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. If you want, you can even use a machine that will filter the water and use the water for irrigation.

river water harvesting

5 different Ways to Purify water

Now that you are aware of how you can purify river water for drinking, let’s take a look at the 5 different ways how you can purify water.

1) Boiling Water

boiling waterBoiling is a useful method for purifying river water. It’s straightforward, simple, and can be done almost anywhere. However, there are some challenges associated with boiling water. For starters, you’ll need to boil it for a long time in order to kill off the most dangerous microorganisms. In addition to the time and temperature needed to boil, boiling river water also needs to be done in a clean container or pot that is covered with a lid and a weight.


  • Traditional method to effectively purify water
  • Straightforward and simple to perform
  • Can be done almost anywhere
  • Does not require electricity


  • Starting a fire can be difficult without electricity
  • Extended time to boil
  • Time to boil depends on altitude
  • Requires clean containers to boil
  • It can only boil as much water as can fit in the container.

2) Disinfection Tablets

water chlorine tabletsThere are many uses for disinfection tablets, but they are most commonly used for water purification. They are affordable, portable, and easy to use. They are designed to kill bacteria, viruses, and even other pathogenic organisms.

All you have to do is drop them into the contaminated water and let them do the work. The tablets are designed to break down after a few seconds, so you don’t have to worry about waiting long periods of time, unlike a boiling method.


  • Easy to use to purify water
  • Compact tablet that can be transported easily
  • Can be used for all types of water 


  • Frequent use of Disinfection Tablets may affect your health. Meaning, they are not supposed to be used as a long-term method.
  • They may not remove murkiness

3) Gravity Water Filter

ceramic water filterWhen it comes to different methods of purifying water, gravity water filters are one of the most common. This is because gravity filters are easy to use, don’t require electricity or complicated materials, and can be used for both large and small amounts of water.

There are water filters that need to be periodically cleaned and filters that need to be replaced on a regular basis. Filters that need to be periodically cleaned are typically cheaper, but filters that need to be replaced on a regular basis are better at filtering out pollutants. However, they are more expensive and require more maintenance.


  • No electricity required
  • Can remove sediments and chemicals pollutants
  • A wide variety of filters (carbon, ceramic, etc.) with their own pros and cons


  • They can be expensive, bulky, and inconvenient
  • Not all water filters can remove all contaminants such as lead, SFAs, Arsenic, and Fluoride

Our Personal favorite type of gravity filters are Brazilian Ceramic Filters. These filters are made from clay material and use the Earth’s natural filtration process to clean water. The main downside of using these filters is that some filter systems cannot remove certain heavy metals, but this can be mitigated by relying on a brand or filter cartridge that removes heavy metals. To see a full list of our favorite ceramic water filters, you can find our post on it on our site.

4) UV Light

uv light water treatmentUltraviolet light water filters are devices that will purify the water by killing bacteria, viruses, and cysts through UV light exposure. This is an effective method for water purification method because UV light water filters disrupt the DNA of the pathogen, making them ineffective.

These filters come in different shapes and sizes and range from expensive to inexpensive. Hikers find themselves relying on sterilization pens and mobile tools to purify water. Homesteaders tend to use full home UV light systems to treat river water.


  • Kills algae and bacteria in water
  • Can be purchased as a mobile system or as a full home system, depending on your needs.
  • Does not use chemical treatment


  • UV lights are not good for people with a weakened immune system
  • Are typically more expensive than other filtration methods
  • Requires electricity whether to charge a mobile UV light device or power the bulb at home

5) Solar Purification

solar purifierSolar Purification is a process in which the water is put into place with the sun and is heated. The water is heated to create steam which is then allowed to enter the boiling point of water for about six hours. This process is fairly simple and does not require you to use any chemicals. All you need is a clean place to put the water.


  • The process is inexpensive and requires less maintenance
  • No chemical treatment is necessary
  • A traditional method for water purification


  • This method will not work without sun exposure
  • This method requires 6-24 hours to purify water

safe drinking water


Rivers can be an excellent source of drinking water. However, it needs to be filtered and treated to make sure it is safe for consumption. Rivers are polluted with toxic substances and sediments that are harmful to humans. That is why you should take the time to learn how to purify river water so that it’s safe to drink.

Whether you are hiking overnight or a homesteader who lives by a river, knowing the different methods to purify river water for drinking is an important skill.

It’s also important to remember that you can purify water in many ways. We recommend finding a way that works for you and your lifestyle.

If you enjoyed this article, consider reading some of our past articles on water security:

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