Clean Water: Is Bleach or Betadine Better for Disinfection?
Disinfecting water safely can be tricky, but not knowing how to is fatal. In this post we’ll discuss there methods – boiling, Betadine, & bleach for making clean water safely.
Three Ways of Disinfecting Water
#1 Boiling Water
Boiling is the easiest and most time tested technique. But it doesn’t destroy botulism. And botulism can suck!
But boiling is often easiest. Just remember at low elevation, below 6500 feet, you’ll only need boil it for one minute before it’s safe. Higher elevations require boiling for a full three minutes.
Boiling can be inconvenient, particularly if you don’t have fire, wood, or don’t want to give your position away. In instances like these, chlorine and Betadine become the most useful methods.
#2 Chlorine Disinfection
The principle agent in most household bleaches, chlorine is easy to use, but it doesn’t kill Giardia. This parasite is found in streams and rivers throughout the United States, causing severe diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Regular Clorox bleach, and many of its generic equivalents, come in a standard 5% concentration. Remember to check the label when you’re transferring it to a smaller container. Some preparations are much stronger; you don’t want to confuse the two. One gallon of bleach will disinfect 3800 gallons of non-cloudy water! (But it only has a 1 year shelf life. The warmer it is, the faster it goes bad.)
#3 Betadine Disinfection
One of the best reasons to carry Betadine in your medical bag, is that it can clean wounds and make water drinkable. Two drawbacks are: It takes time to work, and doesn’t kill Cryptosporidium, an infection with symptoms similar to Giardia.
Doubling the amount of Betadine, cuts the disinfection time in half. Similarly, if you have difficulty drinking the water because of its taste, you can cut the amount of disinfectant by half, and double the treatment time. I find it easiest to remember that 1 ml of Betadine, treats one gallon of water.
Take Home Message: Water is so important that you shouldn’t take shortcuts, and should always have redundant systems for purification. For highly contaminated water, filter it before you treat it with chlorine or Betadine. Filtration can be as easy as pouring it through a coffee filter, or the kitchen sponge you scavenged earlier. Then run it through two rounds of disinfection: Chlorine Bleach followed by Betadine. It’s not going to be tasty, but you won’t die… and that’s important!
If you’d like to know more about water disinfection techniques and sterilizing instruments in the field, click on the book image above.