We explain all about distilled water and how to make it at home in today’s guide. It’s actually really easy and can even be done when camping.
Whether you want to make sure that your iron, steam cleaner and other water-dependent appliances remain in top working form as long as possible, or are in need of drinking water which may not taste as good as the bottled variety, but is free of harmful pollutants, creating distilled water is the way to go.
You’ve probably seen large jugs of it in the supermarket, but if you’ve a handy source of fuel nearby, or don’t want the hassle of lugging such a big canister around with you on your next camping adventure, you’ll be glad to know that distilled water can easily be made at home with a few choice pots, bowls, bottles and the power of physics in action.
We’ve distilled everything you need to know about what it takes to create this pristine liquid in your own home, so read on to add this useful survival skill to your repertoire.
What exactly is distilled water?
In essence, distilled water is water from any given source which has been heated to the point where it starts to evaporate, and whose vapors were then condensed and collected for further use.
The chief reason we distill water nowadays is that it is very hard. Hard water is that which has a high mineral content that can be damaging to appliances. While tap water is generally safe to drink and use in your household (depending on where you live), it can contain a surprising amount of minerals, chiefly magnesium and calcium, which cling to and settle on surfaces over time. This is harmless for humans and their pets, but mineral buildup can cause appliances such as water heaters to suffer irreparable damage over time.
Distilled water lacks much of these minerals as they are too heavy to evaporate. Distilling water of questionable purity is an essential preventative measure when you’re out in the wilderness – even seemingly crystal-clear streams may contain harmful chemicals and bacteria the vast majority of which can be dealt with by distillation.
It’s important to note that distilling water should not replace the use of an effective water filtration system. While the distillation process can remove some impurities and contaminants, it’s not a completely effective method of filtration. Organic contaminants like herbicides and pesticides are not effectively removed by distillation, due to their low boiling points.
It’s a useful tool in the wilderness as it’s very easy to set-up with minimal equipment. It’s also a great back-up in emergencies.
How to distill water at home
There are two main ways you can distill water that’s used for drinking. Both share the same principle, the only difference being the type of containers you have at hand.
The basic process is simple. You heat water in a container so that it evaporates, then collect the condensation in another container.
What you need:
- A heat source such as a stove or campfire
- 2 glass bottles or a single glass bowl
- A plastic tube (to link the bottles together)
- A pot (for boiling water in)
- Some ice
- Start off by filling one of the two bottles up with whatever water you have to work with. Fill the bottle a little over half way so that the water inside has room to expand.
- Next, take the second bottle and the connecting cylinder and tape one end of the cylinder to the first bottle and the other to the second with duct tape. Now you have 2 bottles that are connected with tubing.
- Now you can start creating the distilling environment. Take a solid-sized stock pot and place the first bottle inside. Fill the pot with water that reaches all the way to the first bottle’s collar. At this point, make sure that the bottle is standing at a relatively steep angle toward the pot’s side so that it is easier to force the vapors which will be produced into the second bottle. Check that the duct tape is still holding the whole contraption securely together a few inches away from the pot and that you can still place the second bottle down comfortably. You can then turn the stove on.
- Let the water inside your pot start warming up. In the meantime, prepare a couple of ice packs. As the water inside the pot gets warmer so does that in the first bottle. Eventually both start to evaporate. Since you’ll want to speed up the condensation process, place the ice packs around the 2nd bottle and hold until the water inside stops being cool, or the distillation process is complete.
- Now that you have some distilled water, you can turn your stove off. Let the pot cool off for a few minutes and then carefully take out the now empty first bottle, taking care not to burn yourself. Detach it from the second one and use the newly created distilled water as needed.
The second method replaces the use of external bottles with a single glass bowl which is placed inside the pot. For the best results, use a bowl that’s just large enough to be able to sit flat in the middle without touching the pot’s sides. For this method to work, the bowl needs to be floating in the water at all times and mustn’t touch the base. That’s why you’ll want to keep an eye on the water level and refill when necessary.
Fill your pot about halfway up, turn the stove on and place your glass bowl inside. Place the lid on top and let the water heat up. You don’t want the water to boil when using this method, so either add more periodically or turn the heat down.
This method creates water vapors inside the pot which then condense on the sides and lid. Some of that condensed and distilled water will fall into the bowl and be collected there. You can apply the same ice pack trick here as well – just place some on top of an inverted lid and you’re all done. After enough water has been distilled, turn the stove off, let the water cool down and then pour the bowl’s contents into a more suitable container.
Making distilled water for your appliances
If your only intention is to use distilled water for your steam cleaner etc., there are even easier ways of making or collecting some. Using snow or rainwater is the most accessible one as both are readily available. Snow can be collected into a large pot and then either heated on a stove/fire or just brought into a heated room to melt. Rain is usually collected in barrels where you should leave it to sit for a few days so that the heaviest particles inside can accumulate on the bottom.
If you have an air conditioning system or an electric dehumidifier, you can use the water which accumulates during their use as well. The dehumidifier usually has a container the water is collected in. Household air conditioners have an external compressor water tends to fall under, so place a bucket underneath and collect the water that way.
If you enjoyed this guide then make sure to read our article on alkaline water next.
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Image Source: By Guruleninn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link