Distilling water is a useful skill in an emergency when no clean drinking water is available. The process is simple enough, if you want to know how to make distilled water. However, practicality comes into play when considering distilling in large batches.
The Distillation Process
Distilling water removes most impurities that would make water undrinkable, at least those impurities with a higher boiling point than water. Heavy metals and other minerals, bacteria, dissolved solids, and most organic matter can be removed, if you learn how to make distilled water. Chlorines and other VOCs (volatile organic contaminants) like pesticides are not removed through distilling if their boiling point is close to the boiling point of water. Generally, regular tap water is perfectly safe and does not need to be distilled, unless it has become contaminated during a flood or similar emergency.
The concept of distillation is simple. If you can boil water, you can learn how to make distilled water. The distillation process simply requires heating the water to its boiling point to create steam. Boiling kills off harmful bacteria, while converting water molecules to vapor. If you capture the water vapor/steam and allow it to cool, it will return to a liquid state, thus making distilled water. Since most minerals and other impurities require a much higher temperature to boil, the water will vaporize first, leaving the impurities behind.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to know how to make distilled water easily, the following process works well. However, it is not practical for producing distilled water in large quantities. Rather, such a process works best in an emergency, when the alternative is having no potable water.
- You will need a heat source, a pot, two lids and a cup. A can of Sterno or campfire will do for a heat source in worse case scenarios. Otherwise, a regular hot plate or stovetop works best.
- Fill the pot with water and place on the heat source to boil. Cover with a lid. When the water heats enough to create steam, the steam will collect as condensation on the underside of the lid.
- Once the condensation collects, remove the lid while simultaneously replacing it with the second lid. Pour the condensation off the pot lid into a cup. Swap the lids back and forth, pouring off the condensation at each exchange. The steam and condensation will be hot, so be mindful about the kind of cup you use and protecting your hands and arms from the hot steam.
Large Batch Water Distillation
Figuring out how to make distilled water in large batches takes more materials, skill, and time. You can make a homemade old-fashioned bootlegger style distillery for distilling large batches of water. You will need a pot with a lid you can permanently modify, as well as several feet of small copper piping. Using a pipe-bending tool specially designed for bending copper pipes is not a hard skill to develop. These tools are readily available in the plumbing section of your local hardware or home improvement store.
Drill a hole in the top of the pot lid equal to the size of your copper pipe.
- Bend the copper pipe so that you have a straight section at each end and several looped coils in the center.
- Insert one end of the pipe into the hole in your pot lid. Use a heat-safe, non-toxic sealant to get an airtight seal around the pipe and keep it in place.
- Place a heat-safe container next to, but preferably lower than your pot. A sturdy TV tray next to the stove is a good option. Insert the other end of your copper pipe into the container. It is a good idea to set your container in a bowl with ice, since the condensed water vapor will be extremely hot. At the very least, be sure the surface you set the container on is heat resistant.
- Turn on your heat source and bring water to a boil. The steam should collect inside the copper pipe, condensing and trickling through the pipe to your collection container. Use oven mitts as pot and piping will get extremely hot.
References and Resources
The Farm.org, Water Distillation http://www.thefarm.org/charities/i4at/surv/distill.htm
North Dakota State University http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/watsys/ae1032w.htm
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