How Do Water Purification Tablets Work? (Their Secret Power!)

water purification tablets ingredients

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Did you know that 90 percent of the water supply is not safe to drink? That is what the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States estimates. Knowing this, water purification tablets seem unbelievable: You just drop a little white tablet in poison freshwater, wait 30 minutes, and drink from any stream, lake, or reserve. You may be skeptical and wonder, “How do water purification tablets work?”

This post explores the dangers of impure water and the magic behind water purification tablets. Learn how deadly it can be not to have handy water purification tablets, and read how these surprisingly powerful tablets turn diseased, undrinkable water into a safe, hydrating necessity for survival.

The Need for Water Purification

Drinking impure water can lead to life-long disease, serious illness, and certain death. You may have heard of some common dangers in drinking water as “traveler’s diarrhea,” beaver fever, salmonella, E. coli, and dysentery. Each of these and more pose a serious risk to anyone drinking water that has not been treated with a water purification tablet.

Water purification tablets are essential to make water safe for you to drink or use in cooking. When backpacking or surviving in the wilderness, for example, you can use water purification tablets to restore your supply of drinking water from streams and other freshwater sources.

Without purification tablets, these sources of water might contain sickening bacteria or deadly pathogens, and drinking them could easily risk your life. Perhaps more urgently, many people keep water purification tablets on supply for emergencies such as floods and hurricanes when contamination makes your usual sources of water potentially lethal.

Water purification tablets come in many forms from many suppliers. Usually, however, the active ingredients of iodine, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide are the same. Once you know the secret, you will realize they work in very similar, simple ways.

How Do Water Purification Tablets Work?

The process of purifying water using tablets happens in three stages. Basically, the active ingredients chemically neutralize threats to your health, making water drinkable and portable.

It is a simple process because water purification tablets were originally designed for tactical and military applications. Like you, soldiers needed a dependable and easy-to-deploy solution to unsanitary drinking water.

Dissolving Stage

Imagine you are escaping into the woods. You have brought everything in your emergency kit, including all the water you could carry. Over the next few days, your water supply runs steadily dry. That is when you pull out your water purification tablets at a nearby stream.

The first step in the working of a water purification tablet begins when you place a tablet in a container of warm water to dissolve. As the iodine- or chlorine-based tablet dissolves, it starts to act immediately on the water.

Deactivating Stage

You have potted the water, let it warm to an ambient temperature, and dropped in your little white purification tablet. The only thing you must do to have safe water is waiting for the purification tablet to do its magic. (The exact amount of time needed will vary based on the tablet you choose.)

After about 30 minutes in a closed container, the active ingredient of the tablet chemically “deactivates” dangerous bacteria, deadly viruses, and invisible parasites. What does it mean to deactivate bacteria, viruses, and parasites? As the tablet dissolves in the water, it becomes unsuitable for microscopic life.

Both iodine- and chlorine-based tablets make it impossible for threatening organisms to live in the water. Potentially deadly and yet invisible threats are exterminated and killed in the water. Deactivating risky bacteria, viruses, and parasites do not mean the water is completely clean and delicious.

Water purification tablets do not and cannot remove dirt, pollutants, or chemicals. Chemicals and sediment will need to be filtered from the water before using a water purification tablet. The next step in the purification process involves making it suitable and palatable to drink.

Neutralizing Stage

Now, you are ready to drink the water that the purification tablet has rendered sterile and safe. After your first sip, even if you are in an emergency, you are not sure how much iodine- and chlorine-flavored water you can handle.

You may have heard that purified water that has not been neutralized has an unpleasant taste; that is because iodine and chlorine have a strong flavor. The need to neutralize the water of iodine and chlorine is the last step, but it is also optional.

Once the water has inactive bacteria, viruses, and parasites, the water can be neutralized by:

  • adding a neutralizer tablet,
  • dropping in Vitamin C, or
  • allowing the chlorine to evaporate.

Final Thoughts

For survivalists and outdoorsmen, water purification tablets are as effective a solution as they are simple, portable, and long-lasting. The only requirement of water purification with tablets is that you realized the need stock up. They remain effective for years with proper storage, and they are small and lightweight enough to carry in your pocket or emergency kit.

Compared to other forms of water purification, water tablets have many advantages. Unlike boiling, straw filtration, or radiation, tablets require no electrical power, special equipment, or personal expertise. Although boiling practically kills all microorganisms living in your water, the requirement of having a power source and time could mean water tablets save your life!

They make a great backup in case other filtration systems fail. Sometimes access to power and equipment is limited. When unexpected disaster strikes, they are easy to carry and include in a go-bag or emergency survival kit.