As unlikely as it may sound, you can actually disinfect your drinking water safely and effectively with common household items.

Whether there’s a disaster or water shortage, there are items in your home that can help you purify water. Just be aware that chemical disinfection doesn’t remove toxins, fallout, etc. – it just kills the living pathogens that can make you sick.

Filter It
First off, any water you may get from a rain barrel, your pool or a nearby creek should be considered contaminated. This water you collect may be dirty, or contain visible particles. A quick trick to make it look better is to pour the water through a coffee filter or a clean cloth. This won’t make it safe to drink, but it can improve the clarity of the water, which will help the following disinfection methods work better. And remember, if you are very sensitive to chemicals, you can always just boil your water for 10 minutes instead of chemically treating it.

Our next trick is to carefully use ordinary household bleach to disinfect water. As a rule, colder water needs a little more bleach than warm water, and muddier water needs more bleach than clear water. Let the water stand for several minutes if it is muddy, and just pour the clearer water off the top. This will make disinfection much more effective.

Add 2 to 4 drops of ordinary chlorine bleach per quart of water. Use 2 drops if the water is warm and clear. Go to 4 drops if it is very cold or murky – or both. Put the bottle lid back on, and shake the container for a minute. Then turn the bottle upside down, and unscrew the cap a turn, or two. Let a small amount of water flow out to clean the bottle threads and cap. Screw the lid back on tight, and wipe the exterior of the bottle to get the chlorine on all surfaces.

Set the bottle in a dark place, or at least in the shade, and let it sit for 30 minutes, if the water is clear and room temperature. When you open the bottle after the allotted time, it should smell like chlorine. If not, add another drop or two and wait another 30 minutes. Don’t take chances or shortcuts with water safety. The last thing you want in an emergency is dysentery.

You can also use the two common forms of iodine to disinfect your water. Iodine is a more harmful substance than bleach in most people’s bodies, so just use the chlorine or boil the water if you are pregnant, nursing or have any thyroid problems.

To use iodine, it is critical to identify which type you are using. Tincture of Iodine 2% is actually much stronger than 10% Povidone Iodine solution.

Use 5 to 10 drops of Tincture of iodine 2%, in one quart of water, and allow it to sit in the shade 30 minutes as mentioned earlier about chlorine. Flush the threads and wipe down the bottle, just like you would do with chlorine disinfection. Use 5 drops for clear warm water, and up to 10 for cold or cloudy water.

Since 10% Povidone Iodine solution is weaker, you’ll need 8 to 16 drops per quart of water. Again, use fewer drops for nice looking water, and 16 drops for swamp water. Clean the bottle, and wait, as with the other methods. An added benefit to iodine products is that you can use them for wound disinfections too. Chlorine does not serve double duty like this, and you should never put bleach on any wounds.

And there you have it, disinfected water with household chemicals. All the biological stuff in the water that would have caused illness, should now be dead. Just remember that I said the water was safe, I made no promises that it would be tasty.

And remember, these tips are meant to be used in emergency situations only.