DIY Water Filter

DIY Water Filter System – Basics & Tips for Beginners

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About 70% of the earth’s surface is basically water. Out of this, about 5% of this water is usable for drinking. While most people, especially those in the urban centers, have access to clean drinking water, a huge fraction of people around the globe do not have access to such water and have to struggle to either boil or filter contaminated water. For preppers, having one or two DIY water filtering ideas is an absolute must if you’re looking to survive in the wild. For homeowners using municipal water supply, having a quality DIY water filter can really help to turn contaminated water into clean drinkable water.

Now, regardless of the situation, you’re in, you can decide to purchase a water filter to take care of the purification process. However, why spend a huge chunk of your money while you can improvise a simple DIY water filter system that can filter your water and make it safe for drinking? So, after hours of online research, this guide has discussed three DIY water filtering processes that will purify your contaminated water.

Related Post: Inline Water Filter


DIY Water Filter System: Step by Step Guide

Why Consider a DIY Water Filter?

If you realize your municipal water is contaminated, you’re likely to wonder whether to go with a store-bought filter, a DIY water filter, or to jump to bottled water. Now, if you’re in such a scenario, here are a few benefits of DIY water filters you might not be aware of.

  • Affordability:

One of the biggest benefits of choosing a homemade water filter is that you won’t spend much on anything. In fact, in most cases, you won’t spend anything at all as you only need to use items that are readily available around you. This way, you won’t have to spend too much money on bottled water or store-bought filters.

  • Flexibility:

Other than being cheap, homemade water filters allow you to choose any configuration process of your choice. Whether it’s choosing carbon, charcoal, or any other available materials, you always have tons of options available depending on your specific situation.

  • Healthier:

The main reason why you need a water filter, in the first place, is to have clean and pure drinking water. With a homemade water filter, you can easily remove unwanted impurities from the water leaving you with clean drinking water. Unlike boiling water, filtering only removes harmful toxins and bacteria from the water without interfering with essential minerals that are beneficial to the body.

  • Both User and Eco-Friendly:

Another huge benefit of homemade water filters is that they’re very easy to handle. All you need is to choose a specific filtering pattern that’s capable of producing clean water to drink. About its eco-friendly benefits, filtering water means that you don’t need to buy bottled water. This will lead to less plastic waste in the end.

  • Emergency:

Although no one wants it to happen, there are times when disaster strikes to a point of damaging some of the bare necessities such as electricity and water lines. In the case of cyclones, residents living in the worst-hit regions are left without access to water and electricity. Since you can’t survive without water, filtering water from rivers or any available source is the only way you can guarantee that you have fresh water to drink.

  • Taste:

Although this is not as important, some people argue that filtered water that’s free from any impurities tends to be more pleasurable to drink.


How Can You Determine Whether Water is Safe Enough to Filter

Although water filters are affordable means of purifying your water, they cannot remove high levels of contaminants such as lead, arsenic, bacteria, and pesticides among others. Now, if you’re in the wild, it’s quite difficult to detect any impurities in the flowing water by just looking at it. The same happens to municipal tap water especially after a disaster where the available water might already be contaminated.

So, before you can move on to filter your water, here are some ways you can easily detect whether the water is safe enough to filter.

  • Using Test Kits:

One of the common ways of detecting chemicals in your water is by using a test kit. The best thing about these kits is that, other than detecting contaminants from the water, they also measure the pH of the water to test its quality.

  • Test Strips:

These are the most commonly used test kits among most preppers and campers. These small single-use strips are affordable options when it comes to detecting specific chemicals in the water. With a test strip, all you need is to immerse it into the water then compare its color with the color chart to determine the specific chemicals present.

  • Color Disk Kits:

With these test kits, all you need to do is simply add a few drops of a liquid reagent to a water sample then wait for some time. Once the water turns to a specific color, use the available color gradient plastic disk to compare the colors to determine which chemical concentration is present in the water.

  • Use Your Senses:

We all have different senses that we can use to determine whether water is safe or not to filter.

  • Sight:

Holding the water with a glass jar and inspecting it thoroughly can easily tell whether the water is safe or not. For instance, if the water is reddish, brownish or orange, that’s a clear sign of corrosion from the pipes. If there are white or tan-colored particles, then it means the water has too many minerals that make it hard water.

  • Smell:

If you’re in the wild, smelling the water can easily tell you what’s happening upstream. If the water smells bleachy, then it means there’s the use of too much chlorine upstream. If the water smells like rotten eggs, then it simply means it has bacterial contamination.

  • Taste:

Finally, you can opt to taste the water. This is a critical step however and, just to be on the safe side, don’t swallow the water. However, by tasting the water, you can easily tell a lot about it. For instance, if the water tastes bleachy, then it means it has excess chlorine. If it tastes salty, it means it has excess sulfates, which is a clear sign of industrial or agricultural waste.

Now that you’re well informed on what you need to know before filtering your water, this guide will now discuss three of the most common DIY water filtering methods that will help you get clean drinking water whether it’s at home or in the wilderness.


DIY Charcoal Water Filter

So, we will start with a charcoal water filter. First, this type of filtration system is easy to make. Secondly, charcoal is a porous carbon that reacts with oxygen to form a high absorption power. This absorption power is what helps in trapping harmful contaminants once contaminated water is passed through it.

So, What Will You Need?

  • A plastic bottle
  • Activated charcoal
  • Sand and gravel
  • A glass jar
  • Knife
  • Coffee filter
  • Piece of cloth
  • Hammer
  • Cotton balls

Step One: Cut the Bottom of the Bottle

Using your knife, cut the bottom of your water bottle to create a large opening where you will fill your filtering materials. When you’re done, poke a small hole on the bottle’s cap to create the water’s outlet during the filtering process.

If you’re in the wild, you can punch two holes near the edge of the bottle (each hole on the opposite side) to tie two threads that you’ll use to hang the bottle.

Step Two: Put the Coffee Filter

Next, take your coffee filter and put it on the mouth of the bottle. Next, tighten it with the cap to keep it intact. The coffee filter will help to hold the activated charcoal during the filtering process.

Step Three: Crush the Charcoal

Before you crush the charcoal, you can place the bottle upside down into the receiving jar. This will help to keep it stable while you fill the materials. Now wrap the charcoal pieces with a piece of cloth and crush them using a hammer until they’re completely fine.

As we mentioned earlier, charcoal has a lot of activated carbon that, if activated, can trap pollutants from the water while still removing bad odor. So, the smaller the charcoal particles are, the more effective they are in removing these contaminants.

Step Four: Start With Filling the Activated Charcoal

Now that everything is ready, you will start by filling the first quarter of the bottle with activated charcoal. Some people opt to put a small layer (about ½ inch) of cotton balls to keep the charcoal intact and catalyze its performance.

Step Five: Put in the Sand

The next layer is sand. Although you’re free to use any type of sand, always avoid using colored sand as much as possible to avoid leaking dyes to your water. To increase the layers, you can opt to add a layer of fine sand followed by another layer of coarse-grained sand. At least with more layers, water will take more time to pass through giving you more chances of having cleaner water.

Step Six: Add Gravel/Pebbles

By now, the bottle should be about halfway full. Now add the gravel to fill the remaining part of the bottle. Follow the same steps as you did with the sand by adding course gravel followed by chunky gravel at the top.

As you add the gravel, don’t be carried away to a point of forgetting to leave some space at the top. So, don’t add the gravel all the way up. At least leave about an inch or so of empty space at the top to add the water. Remember, if you fail to leave some space, the water will spill.

Step Seven: Start Pouring Your Water

At this point, everything is set up and ready to go. The bottle is full of various layers and rests on top of the collecting jar. You can also use a bowl, a cup, a pot, or a mug. It all depends on your choice and what’s available. One thing you should ensure though is that the collecting jar is clean.

Start pouring the water a little at a time. Since the bottle is transparent, you will be able to see the level of the water as you pour. Always give the water some time to sink before you can add more. This way, you will avoid spillage, which can make your project look messy.

Step Eight: Repeat the Procedure

This step will vary depending on how clean the water is after the first filtering process. In case you detect the water is a little bit cloudy, then you can run it back into the filtering bottle one more time to clean it.

Although I didn’t mention it in the beginning, in case you notice the water is too cloudy (muddy), you can start by decanting it to remove the excess sediments before you can begin to filter. At least this way, you won’t have to go through the lengthy process of double filtration.

Step Nine: Boil the Water

Since filtering water alone doesn’t remove high levels of contaminants, you will have to boil the filtered water to take out those dangerous chemicals, bacteria, and microorganisms. To do this, you’ll need to boil the water for about a minute. However, if you’re in a high altitude region (let’s say above 5,000 ft. or 1,000 meters) above sea level, then the boiling process should take about 3 minutes.

Once you’re done, leave the water to cool off before storing it in an airtight clean bottle.


DIY Bio-Sand Water Filter

Another effective and inexpensive way of filtering your water is by using a bio-sand water filter. Unlike our first method, this one is an improved version that purifies water to the extent of removing bacteria, viruses, and chemicals from the water.

After we’re through with the construction, water will go through four basic processes which are mechanical trapping, predation, absorption, and natural death. So, if you’re ready, then let’s begin.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Three buckets (at least 5 gallons each)
  • Plastic plumbing fittings (the pipes, elbows, T-joints, and a sprinkler riser)
  • Sand
  • Gravel
  • Activated charcoal
  • Superglue
  • PVC cement
  • Silicon caulk

Gather the Tools

  • Hack saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Power drill
  • Eyes and ears protective gear

Step One: Cut the Buckets

Now that you’ve gathered all your tools and supplies, the first step is to kick-start the DIY project officially. To start, you’ll have to cut the bottoms of your top buckets. To do this, simply cut the bottom of the middle bucket then place it on the lid of the bottom bucket. Mark the lid of the bottom bucket to have an idea of where you’ll be cutting.

Do the same to the top bucket by placing it on the lid of the middle bucket and marking the lid to know exactly where you’ll be cutting. By the end of this process, you should stack the buckets together to have one hollow opening from the top bucket to the bottom of the third bucket.

Step Two: Insert the PVC Tubing

The second step is to cut the PVC pipes to assemble the main tube and the collecting tubes that will rest at the bottom of the water filter system. Here, you will connect the vertical main tube to the T-joint. When you’re done, connect two elbow joints, one on either side of the T-joint.

Finally, connect your collection tubes one on each elbow joint. The collection tubes should be parallel to each other at the bottom of the system (while resting horizontally). Since the collection tubes are responsible for collecting the already filtered water at the bottom of the third bucket, you’ll need to drill small holes all around their circumference. This will allow for an efficient collection of water without clogging the holes.

Step Three: Final Assembly

Before we get to the assembly, you need to use the 200-grit sandpaper to sand all the cut areas to make them uniform. You’ll also need to cut a small hole, about 7/8 inch in diameter on the top bucket. Now, once you assemble the main tube, press it to poke through the 7/8 inch hole. You can connect a small tap here to make it easier to gather the water.

After ensuring everything is sitting perfectly in its place, you can proceed to glue the entire water filter. You can also leave it outside for some time to dry up entirely.

Step Four: Gather the Gravel and Sand

So, once you’ve gathered the sand and gravel, start by washing them thoroughly to remove any contaminants. When you’re done, add the initial layer of chunky and coarse grit gravel at the very bottom of the water filter system. When you’re done add sand on top of the gravel then finalize by adding the activated carbon at the very top. Sand should occupy the largest column, as this is where most of the physical and biological processes will take place.

Now, the top layer, which is activated carbon, will strive to capture chemicals and pathogens from the water. The second sand column (commonly known as the biolayer) is where most of the processes take place. Here, the mechanical trapping starts by trapping large pathogens and bacteria between the sand particles.

Next, there’s the predation process where microorganisms (pathogens) begin feeding on each other.

In the absorption process, sand grains produce static charges that capture pathogens to prevent them from moving to the next stage.

The last process is the natural death where captured pathogens are denied food and oxygen leading to starvation then death.

Step Five: Add Water

Since everything is already set, you can now add water and wait for the purification process to take place. At this point, you can also elevate the water filter system then add a water catchment basin just below the tap.


Xylem Water Filter

In the remaining part of this guide, we will discuss one of the most unique DIY water filters that is trending in recent days. In most cases, we tend to focus more on advanced technology and fail to look back on what Mother Nature has patented.

Following numerous research, Rohit Karnik alongside his team, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discovered that water could easily be filtered using plant xylem. In this process, all that is needed is the xylem from the sapwood. Xylem is the porous tissue in a plant (usually covered by the plant’s bark) that’s used to transport fluids.

So, during the process, all you need to do is cut a small piece of sapwood then peel off the bark. Fasten the xylem inside a tube (most preferably a PVC tube) then secure it with a hose clamp. From there, pour small portions of water at the top of the tube and let it drip through the other side slowly.

Bypassing water through the xylem, you’re able to remove nearly 99% of E-coli bacteria. Although this technique has been confirmed to remove bacteria from the water, one of its major drawbacks is that it’s too slow.

However, considering its super-fast setup and high efficiency, this technique is an absolute must for campers as it can prove to be the last remaining option in case things get dire.



Apart from the three techniques we’ve discussed in this guide, there are so many other DIY water filters you can consider to purify your drinking water. Some are affordable; others expensive and several are unique like in the case of the xylem water filter.

Overall, the type of water filter technique you choose should be able to purify your water whether it’s at home or in the wilderness. In case you already have a DIY water filter, then you shouldn’t panic. Instead, put it to the test and I bet you’ll be surprised at how truly effective it will be in purifying your water.

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