How to Purify Water for Drinking Using Iodine

How to Use Iodine to Purify Water for Drinking Title

I’m sure you already know by now that water is an absolute necessity. This is especially true when you are going on a strenuous multi-day backpacking trip, or if you’re in a survival situation where you need to “bug out” with only what you can carry on your back. In either of these situations, two facts are undeniable; water is essential and every ounce you’re carrying on your back counts.

Packing All Necessary Water is Unreasonable

When you take a two-week backpacking trip, does your packing list look anything like this?

  • Backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Map
  • Clothing
  • Packs of Dehydrated Food
  • 60-pound dumbbell
  • Matches
  • Pocket Knife
60 lb dumbbell - how to purify water with iodine
If you aren’t purifying your water as you go along, you’ll need to carry around 60 pounds worth of water for a two-week hiking trip.

Oh? Do you not usually pack the dumbbell? Well if you plan on only drinking water that you carry with you, then you better learn to like all that extra weight!

The average person should drink about a half gallon of water a day. A gallon of water weighs roughly eight pounds. Therefor, a two-week trip requires about 56 pounds of water, the equivalent of a nine-year-old child. Add to that an extra few bottles of water which you’ll need due to the strenuous exercise, and your carrying around the equivalent of a sixty-pound dumbbell!

Oh yeah, keep in mind that your backpack should weigh less than 20% of your body weight. So a 150 lb person’s pack shouldn’t exceed more than thirty pounds in total weight. So how do you stay hydrated without carrying 60 (or more) pounds of water on you?

Thankfully, you can purify water with Iodine, which will save your back, sanity, and health. 

Why Use Iodine to Treat Water for Drinking?

  • It can easily be packed and carried in different forms such as liquid or tablets.
  • Iodine has been known to be a quicker water treatment method than chlorine.
  • It’s Inexpensive.
  • Iodine can kill bacteria and viruses with little effort.
  • It’s easy to apply.

How to Purify Water with Iodine

The Supplies You’ll Need:

  • Two water bottles. Really anything you’re using to carry water around will be sufficient.
  • Iodine. Can be in liquid, or tablet form.
  • An eye dropper. If you’re using liquid iodine this is necessary to allow quick and accurate dosing of the iodine.

The Steps:

  1. Locate an appropriate water source.  Preferably, you should source your water from a free-flowing stream or river, rather than stagnant pools, ponds, or lakes. This reduces the number of potentially harmful microorganisms in your water. The clearer the water, the better it is. Avoid getting your water from locations where pesticides or weed killers may have run off, as iodine does not remove chemical contaminants.
  2. Remove visible materials from the water. To remove sticks, pebbles, leaves, mud, and other questionable matter, you’ll have to pass your water through a piece of cloth, most likely your tee shirt or a bandanna.
  3. Purify water with Iodine. If you’re using liquid iodine, add 5 to 10 drops via an eyedropper to every one liter (or 20-40 drops per gallon) of water. Shake up the water, and let it sit an appropriate amount of time (described just below). If you’re using iodine tablets, drop in one tablet for every liter of water. The correct amount of iodine needed varies on the conditions of the water.  Clear, quickly flowing water will require less iodine than water that was cloudy or stagnant.

    Water that is cool/cold: Mix with iodine for one hour if using liquid iodine, and two hours if using tablets.

    Water that is warm/hot: Mix for a half hour if using liquid iodine, and one hour if using tablets.

  4. Wait, then enjoy. Give the iodine time to work its magic, and rejoice that you didn’t have to pack in the water weight equivalent of a third-grade child. The iodine will have a funny taste and an orange coloring to it, don’t worry as this is normal. 
purify water with iodine
The water will turn an orangish color and taste odd. Don’t worry, this is completely normal.

Be Advised: Iodine isn’t for Everyone

Iodine is not a safe method of water purification if you:

  • are allergic to iodine
  • have been medically advised not to ingest table salt
  • are pregnant
  • have thyroid issues
  • have dermatitis herpetiformis
  • intend to use iodine as a purifying solution for extended periods of time

The Side Effects of Iodine Treated Water

Iodine treated water is safe for many people around the world except for those listed in the above section. However, you should understand that excessive consumption of iodine disinfected water may be potentially harmful or at least unpleasant. Side effects of prolonged consumption of iodine treated water include:

  • Thyroid Disorders
  • Nausea
  • Running nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Metallic taste
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling of face and lips
  • Joint pain
  • Primarily hypothyroidism

If such condition faces you, discontinue your consumption of iodine-treated water, and instead treat your water using another method

Video: How to Use Iodine to Treat Water


Removing Iodine from Water

Although you can add iodine into water as a disinfectant, water contains iodine naturally. Seawater has been known to hold large quantities of iodine while river water contains much smaller amounts. The best-known method for removing iodine from water is using activated carbon. This process includes the following steps:

  1. Prepare iodine solution in a container of your choice.
  2. Add a small quantity of activated carbon in the iodine solution and shake it.
  3. Leave the solution for a few minutes.
  4. Filter the solution into a container using a filter paper to remove the activated carbon.

The mixture of iodine and activated carbon will accumulate as residue on the filter paper, and the water that passes through will be iodine free.

Dealing with the Taste

While iodine disinfected water isn’t the most pleasant tasting water in the world, there are things you can do to help. Removing the iodine from the water, as mentioned in the section above, is one method. Here are some additional ways that will drastically improve the taste.

Aerate the Water: Just aerating the water can make a huge difference when it comes to smell and taste of the iodine. You can easily aerate the water either by shaking the bottle it’s in vigorously for a short time, or by pouring it back and fourth between two containers.

Add in a Powdered Sports Drink Mix: Another way is to use powdered sports drink mixes to hide the taste. This is a very common method used by serious outdoors men who utilize iodine as a means for producing drinking water in the back country.

Use Neutralizing Tablets: Many commercially available iodine tablets which are made for purifying drinking water come with neutralizing tablets included. These are truly amazing! After you are done treating the water with iodine, add in one small neutralizing tablet, shake, and it will completely neutralize the iodine. It will taste and smell exactly like fresh, pure water.

Adding a powdered sports drink mix can also add electrolytes to the drink, making it much more beneficial for a body that has endured a day of strenuous activity. These drink mixes are also incredibly shelf stable and can last for years sealed in their original packaging.

Potable Aqua – Water Purification Tablets

These are the water purification tablets I bring with me on every backpacking trip I go on. They are extremely small, light weight, and neutralizer tablets are included!

These are also correctly portioned so you just need to drop two of these tablets in a water bottle that’s up to 1 liter (or quart) in size. Then just shake, wait 30 minutes, add two neutralizing tablets, shake again, and drink!

They’re also perfect to keep in your car or bug out bag for emergencies.

See Price on Amazon


What do you think, do you (or would you) purify water with iodine? Is it worth the funky taste, or do you prefer another method of water purification? Has anyone ever actually packed in all the bottled water needed for extended backpacking trips?  Share that with us in the comment section below!

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

Recent Posts