How to Purify Drinking Water Using Iodine

Clean drinking water is always a necessity. This is true whether you are backpacking for 2 days or 2 weeks or in a survival situation after a disaster. Water is essential, but it is also very heavy to carry. Luckily, there are multiple ways to purify water that you find along the way that way you don’t have to carry it with you. In this article we will learn how to purify drinking water using iodine.

To walk far, carry less

It is good to be prepared, but in many cases it is even more important to be nimble and agile. This is difficult to do if you are carrying a lot of baggage. If you were planning for a 2-week backpacking trip, your packing list might look like this:

  • Backpack
  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent
  • Water bottle
  • Clothing
  • Map
  • Food
  • Pocket knife
  • Lighter or matches
  • 60 lb. Dumbbell
If you didn’t purify water on the go, you would need to carry around 60 lbs. of water (minimum) for a two-week hiking trip. I know that I personally drink more water than that.

An average person should at least drink a half-gallon of water a day and a gallon weighs around eight pounds. Therefore, a 2-week trip would require about 56 lbs. of water. Add in a few extra bottles of water and the weight you would be carrying would be around 60 additional pounds. That would get heavy fast!

Also, keep in mind that your pack should weigh less than 20% of your body weight. For example, a person who weighs 150 lbs. should aim to carry 30 pounds or less while backpacking and 15 pounds or less while day hiking. How on earth will you ever stay hydrated without carrying 60 pounds of drinking water with you?

Thank goodness you can purify water with iodine! This will save your energy and your back.

Reasons to use iodine to purify drinking water:

  • It comes in liquid or tablet form and is lightweight and easy to pack / carry
  • Inexpensive
  • Iodine can kill bacteria and viruses
  • Iodine has been known to be a quicker water purification method than chlorine
  • Easy to apply

How to purify drinking water using iodine


  • 2 water bottles Any kind of container that you use to carry water will work.
  • Iodine In liquid form (Iodine Tincture) or tablets
  • A medicine dropper: If you are using the liquid form of iodine, it is necessary to measure accurate doses


  1. Locate a good water source. The clearer the water, the better it is. Ideally, you should source your water from a free-flowing river or stream rather than a stagnant pond, lake, pool, or puddle. This reduces the number of harmful microorganisms that could potentially be in the water. Iodine does not remove chemical contaminants. Be sure to avoid getting your water from places where weed killers or pesticides may have run off.
  2. Remove all visible matter from the water. Make sure that you remove leaves, sticks, pebbles, sand, mud, and any other questionable debris that you see. You can filter the water by passing the water through a bandana or a piece of cloth.
  3. Purify the water with iodine. If you are using common household iodine (or “tincture of iodine,”) add 5 drops 2% tincture of iodine to each quart or liter of water you are disinfecting. If the water is cloudy or colored, add 10 drops of iodine. If you’re using iodine tablets, drop in 1 tablet per liter of water. The correct amount of iodine will vary depending on the condition of the water. Clear and flowing water will require less iodine than murky, stagnant water.
  4. Wait then hydrate. Now celebrate the fact that you didn’t have to carry the water weight equivalent of a child and allow the iodine to work it’s magic. The water will be orange and have a funny taste, but don’t be alarmed. This is totally normal.
  • If the water is cool / cold: Mix with iodine for 1 hour for liquid. 2 hours for tablets.
  • If the water is warm / hot: Mix for 30 minutes if using liquid. 1 hour for tablets.

Warning: Iodine isn’t for everyone

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

  • Allergic to iodine
  • Pregnant
  • Have been medically advised not to use table salt
  • Have thyroid issues

Side Effects of Iodine Treated Water

You should not use iodine for prolonged periods of time because it can be toxic. The excessive consumption of iodine treated water may be harmful. Some of the side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Diarrhea
  • Metallic taste
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling of the lips or face
  • Joint pain

If you experience any of the symptoms above, please discontinue iodine use immediately and use an alternate method of water purification.

How to Purify Lake Water With Iodine

How to remove iodine from water

You can add iodine to water to disinfect it, but water also naturally contains iodine. Seawater is known to contain large quantities of iodine whereas, river water contains much smaller amounts. The most common way to remove iodine from water is to use activated carbon.

  1. Prepare an iodine solution in a container of your choice.
  2. Add a small amount of activated carbon to your iodine solution and mix it together by shaking.
  3. Let the solution sit for a few minutes.
  4. Filter out the activated carbon with filter paper.

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

Dealing with the taste

Iodine disinfected water doesn’t have a pleasant taste, but there are things you can do to help. It definitely helps to remove the iodine from the water using the filtering method above.

Add in powdered drink mix: I brought Tang with me on one of my camping trips when I was testing out these different water purification methods. On one day I used Aquamira drops which uses chlorine dioxide to destroy bacteria. The next day, I followed the Iodine disinfection method that we discussed today and I mixed in Tang both times. I think that the Aquamira is more palatable than the iodine treatment, but the Tang made a world of difference for both methods. I can see why serious outdoorsmen pack and bring powdered drink mix with them on their excursions.

Aerate your water: I think that it is always a good practice to aerate your water regardless of what purification method you choose to use. You can easily aerate the water by shaking the bottles vigorously. After shaking the bottle, I like to transfer the water from one container to another. Just aerating the water can make a huge difference when it comes to the smell and taste of iodine.

Use Neutralizing tablets: Neutralizing tablets are truly amazing! After you treat the water with the iodine, add a neutralizing tablet, shake, and it will completely neutralize the water. I was amazed by the way that it smelled and tasted like clean, fresh water.


I think that iodine is worth keeping in my emergency pack. It has multiple uses and I’m glad to know that I can use it for more than an ointment on cuts. What are your thoughts on the iodine water purification method? Have you used it before? Would you try it in a survival situation or is there a different method that you would rather use? Comment below to share your thoughts.

See you next time!