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Water Purification – What You Need To Know

Whether you’re on your feet all day with a heavy backpack
or just relaxing by the pool, it’s important to stay hydrated
when you’re on holiday. But be careful, there’s a whole
range of nasty bacteria you could catch by drinking or even just
using contaminated water. Contaminated water is the cause of around
80% of all travel-related illnesses. Make sure you avoid illnesses
like travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera
by buying only treated water or by purifying the water you use

Unsure about it all? Don’t panic. We at Superdrug have set up a handy guide for you to help you stay safe using water while you’re away.

So, what’s safe for me to drink while I’m out and

  • Bottled water, fizzy drinks, beer and anything in a sealed can
    or bottle. Always check the seal is intact before you take a
  • Boiled water. Even water that’s been boiled for one
    minute is hot enough to kill all harmful bugs and organisms.
  • Hot drinks made with boiled water like tea or coffee.

What should I steer clear of?

  • Anything unmarked or on-tap in countries with poor
  • Ice in your drinks.

If in doubt, don’t drink! As tempting as that homemade
lemonade stand might look in the 30° heat, it’s
definitely not worth getting sick over.

Even brushing your teeth with untreated water can be dangerous, so make sure that all the water you use orally has been either treated, filtered, bottled or boiled!

What if I don’t have access to bottled water or sealed

If you don’t have a ready supply of bottled water then
there are several ways to treat water yourself before using it.
Even if you do have access to bottled drinks, it’s best to
have this as a back-up plan in case you run out or things change.
Luckily for you, there are now all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to
make it easy for you to purify water quickly and efficiently while
you’re on the move. All of these products can be found online
or in good camping or travel equipment shops.

Portable Water Filters/ Purifiers

This is probably the handiest method of on-the-go water
purification. Products like LifeStraw® or LifeStraw®Go are
great for backpackers, hardened travellers and eco-warriors alike
because they’re portable and you can re-use them again and

The LifeStraw® is a straw that filters out bacteria, parasites and debris from whatever you’re drinking and is small enough to fit into your pocket. Simply place one end into an unfiltered water supply, and enjoy clean drinking water. LifeStraw®Go is a bottle with a filter attached into the top, and there are hundreds of other products like it on the market at the moment. Both types are hard-wearing and light, and don’t need any electricity or batteries to work. All you need is access to a stream, river or even a puddle nearby for safe drinking water!

As well as filtering the water, these modern filters also chemically disinfect or purify it using advanced fiber technology. This means that you’re protected from viruses and harmful bacteria. Remember: if you are using a water filter that doesn’t protect against bacteria, you’ll need to treat it with one of our other methods before using it.


This is the oldest method but still a reliable one! Boiling
unfiltered water is a great way to get safe drinking water, if
you’ve got the equipment to hand. Even boiling the water for
one minute is enough to kill all dangerous bacteria making it safe
to drink! Generally though, we’d suggest boiling water for
around three minutes – especially at altitudes above 2000m or
6000ft where water boils at a lower temperature.

If you’re saving the water for later use, then it should be cooled and covered with something to avoid contamination after boiling.

Chemical Purification (Halogens)

This is another easy method for getting clean water if
you’re out trekking or camping with no access to bottled
water or a heat supply. Halogens are cheap, easy to use and to
carry around. Here are a few different types you can try:

  • Chlorine Dioxide: available in tablets or droplet form and effective for killing bacteria, viruses and parasites in water. These can leave a funny taste in the mouth, but are the most common tablets used today.
  • Chlorine and silver based tablets: you can buy these from chemists and special travel equipment shops. These handy little tablets are useful for destroying most bacteria, like those that cause cholera, but are less effective at guarding against viruses and cysts. Chlorine tablets work best when used in combination with products like Aquamira® , which contain phosphoric acid.
  • Iodine: since 2009, the use of iodine tablets or tinctures has been banned in the EU, making them difficult to find. However, if it’s all you have to hand, it’s still an effective method for chemically purifying water.

Other Methods

  • Sodium Chloride (Salt) Electrolysis: as scary as it sounds,
    this hand-held device is a fantastic way of treating water without
    the use of harsh chemicals. It works by passing a small electrical
    charge through a salt-water solution in order to produce special
    oxidants like hypochlorite. You’re left with a solution that
    when added to untreated water destroys the active agent within most
    types of bacteria and viruses.
  • UV Radiation: products like SteriPEN® use ultraviolet light
    to disinfect small amounts of water, and claim to destroy over
    99.9% of bacteria and viruses. This is another small portable
    pen-like device that is easy to transport but does need AA
    batteries. There is some evidence to show that this method works,
    but the drawback is that it relies upon your using clear and
    filtered water to begin with.

Happy Travels!

Make sure you’re clued up on all of the different methods for water purification out there, as some are better than others. Some of these, like the halogens and portable water filters, are best used together for reliable and safe results. Take care when deciding which method to use, and remember to base your decision on what’s going to be practical for your trip and suitable for the level of water purity wherever you’re going.

For more info about the water purity in countries you’ll be visiting, check out the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NATHNAC).

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