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What Are the Different Water Disinfection Methods?

Whether you're traveling overseas, camping for the weekend, or are simply drinking water from your tap at home, there are a variety of water disinfection methods to ensure that what you drink is clean and safe from bacteria and other microorganisms. It's important to understand what the different methods of disinfection of water are, and when each method is appropriate to use. While boiling your water kills a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous pathogens, for example, it's not practical to boil all of the water that comes into your home every day.

E. coli bacteria
E. coli
B. subtilis bacteria
B. subtilis
Cryptosporidium protozoa
Cryptosporidium
Legionella bacteria
Legionella
Giardia lamblia protozoa
Giardia lamblia
 

Disinfecting Water While Traveling

Most of us have probably experienced an upset stomach and other uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms after drinking untreated water while traveling overseas. Before you travel outside the U.S., do a little research to learn if the country you're visiting has a reputation for unsafe water. This will allow you to be prepared before you go and have a back-up plan for what to do if you can't get bottled water. Keep in mind as well that the safety of the water may depend on where in the country you travel; if you're staying in an upscale hotel, you're more likely to have access to clean tap water than you will if visiting a more remote area.

If possible, avoid the tap water in places that are either known to have unsafe water or that are experiencing water treatment issues. Try to drink bottled water, but always check to make sure that the bottle is sealed and tamper proof. Boiling water is one of the best water disinfection methods, so hot drinks like coffee and tea are more likely to be safe, even if made from tap water. Remember that you can also be exposed to pathogens from foods that have been washed in unsafe water, ice made from tap water, or brushing your teeth with tap water.

There are a number of effective water disinfection methods that you can use while traveling. If you have access to a heat source, boiling water for at least 1 minute at a rolling boil will kill most pathogens. You may need to filter the water to remove any sediment. Many people travel with iodine or chlorine tablets, which can be added to water; both kill most bacteria and viruses, but are not always effective against protozoa. Always follow the directions on the package and be aware that these products may take 20 minutes or longer to work.

You can also find portable ultraviolet light systems that are very effective against all types of waterborne pathogens. Portable UV can be expensive, but it's easy to use and convenient. It's important that your water is clear, however, to allow the UV light to penetrate. Other methods of disinfection of water include portable filtering systems – although these units may not be sufficient for removing all pathogens – and chlorine bleach. You can add just a couple of drops of bleach to a quart of water, but this is typically a disinfection method of last resort.

Water Disinfection When Camping

When you're camping or traveling in remote areas, your options for water disinfection methods are much the same as for traveling. Most people use a combination of chemical and physical disinfection methods, filtering out as much sediment as possible before using an iodine or chlorine tablet. If you have access to a fire or stove, boiling water is one of the most effective methods of disinfecting water.

Portable UV systems usually work with batteries, and UV light doesn't use that much energy, so this type of device can be a useful tool to take on your journey. Many camping stores also offer specialized microfilters designed to remove bacteria, cysts, and protozoa. Filters may have a more difficult time removing viruses, however.

Drinking Water Disinfection

If your drinking water comes from a well or surface water source, it's important to regularly have it tested for bacteria and other dangers. Even if the water is not contaminated, many people choose to install a water disinfection system for their drinking water, just to be on the safe side. For this type of "small batch" treatment, one of the best water disinfection methods is a combination of reverse osmosis and Silecte Quantum Disinfection.

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems offer extremely fine membrane filtration and provide bottled-quality water for your family to enjoy. In addition to the many contaminants that RO can remove, it's also somewhat effective at filtering out a variety of cysts, algae, bacteria, and protozoa. For your complete safety, it's important to pair this filter with a Silecte Quantum disinfection system. Once the water has passed through the RO filter, it can be exposed to Silecte to kill any remaining pathogens that might have found their way through.

Whole House Water Disinfection Methods

For larger or repeated water problems, you'll likely need to use water disinfection methods that can handle the needs of your entire home. Treating just your drinking water might not be enough, in such cases, since you could still be exposed to bacteria and other microorganisms at the bathroom sink, in the shower, and at other untreated taps. You have several options for disinfecting water to your entire home, including chlorine, ozone, UV, and quantum disinfection.

quantum disinfectionQuantum Disinfection

While quantum disinfection is new to the market, it promises to be one of the most effective and cost efficient water disinfection methods around. This method uses a specially treated filtering media that removes the electrons from the cells of microorganisms, killing on contact. Silecte™ disinfection media, which is sold by US Water Systems, adds no chemicals to the water and requires no electricity, so you'll never worry about the system failing if the power goes out.

Ultraviolet Disinfection

Although scientists have known for over a century that the UV light from the sun's rays can kill bacteria and other pathogens, using it as a water disinfection method has become much more common in the past few decades as the technology improved and became less expensive. UV works by changing the DNA inside the cells of microorganisms, disrupting their ability to replicate. Pathogens that can't replicate cannot make you sick. When properly sized, a UV system can be very effective at disinfecting water, but it's important that the water be clear. This type of system also requires electricity to power the light.

Ozone Water Disinfection

Ozone is an extremely powerful oxidant and one of the most effective water disinfection methods available, breaking down the structure of cell walls. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most expensive to implement at the residential level. Ozone must be created on-site, requiring electricity to power a corona discharge system or special UV light to break apart the oxygen molecules and form ozone. From there, the ozone needs to be added to the water, and it's often necessary to install an ozone mixing tank to allow the gas to do its job.

Chlorine Disinfection

Chlorine has been used for years to kill pathogens in water, and it's one of the most well-known methods of disinfection of water. Many municipal water treatment plants still use chlorine (and a related group of chemicals called chloramines) to disinfect the water that they deliver. Like ozone, however, chlorine isn't usually the best choice for home use. A chlorine injection system does require regular maintenance, including the routine addition of chlorine, a toxic chemical. It also requires a pump and mixing tank to be installed. In addition, many people dislike the taste of chlorine-treated water. In some cases, a chlorine disinfection system is the only reliable way to ensure safe water, particularly when algae contamination is an issue.