Methods for Making Distilled Water at Home or While Camping

5 Easy Ways

How to make distilled water illustration

Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin. ThoughtCo.

Distilled water is purified water produced by condensing steam or water vapor from impure water, such as well water, seawater, tap water, snow, streams, or even plants or damp rock. You can distill water to further purify the water you have, to make drinking water for emergencies, or to obtain water while on camping trips. There are several methods for making distilled water, so you can save yourself some money and distill it yourself rather than buying it at the store.

Which of several methods to use to distill water depends on the resources you have available and whether you are distilling impure water or have to get water from the air or plants.

Distill Water on Your Stove, Grill or Campfire

You can make distilled water over a stove, grill, or campfire quite easily. You need a large container of water, a smaller collection container that either floats in the first container or can be propped up above the water level, a rounded or pointed lid that fits the big container (turned upside down so that when the steam condenses, the water drips into your smaller container), and some ice. Here is a recommended material list:

  • 5-gallon stainless steel or aluminum pot
  • Rounded lid for the pot
  • Glass or metal bowl that floats inside the pot
  • Ice cubes
  • Hot pads
  1. Fill the large pot partly full of water.
  2. Set the collection bowl in the pot. The plan is to collect water dripping from the center of the inverted pan lid, so choose the size of the bowl to make sure the distilled water won't just drip back into the main pot.
  3. Set the pot lid upside down on the pot. When you heat the water, water vapor will rise up to the lid, condense into droplets, and fall into your bowl.
  4. Turn on the heat for the pan. The water needs to get very hot, but it's OK if it doesn't boil.
  5. Put ice cubes on top of the lid of the pot. The cold will help to condense the steam in the pot into liquid water.
  6. When complete, turn off the heat and use care to remove the bowl of distilled water.

Store distilled water in a clean, preferably sterile container (dishwasher clean or else immersed in boiling water). Use a container intended for long-term storage of water because other containers may have contaminants that would leach into your water over time, undoing all your work to get pure water.

Collect Water in an Outside Container

A similar method is to heat water in a pot but collect the distilled water in an outside container. You can be as creative as you like with your setup for this. Just be sure to collect the distilled water and not the pot water.

One option is to use a funnel over the boiling water container that is connected to the collection bottle with aquarium tubing. For the funnel to drain into your collection bottle, you want to empty the tubing at a lower level than the funnel. Otherwise, the method is the same.

The advantages include safety (you don't need to wait for the pot to cool to get your water) and reduced risk of contamination from the source water. Contamination is not a big concern when you're purifying rain or tap water but may be more of a consideration if you're trying to make nonpotable water safe enough to drink.

Distill Water From Rain or Snow

Rain and snow are two forms of naturally distilled water. Water evaporates from the ocean, lakes, rivers, and the land and condenses in the atmosphere to fall as precipitation. Unless you live in a highly polluted area, the water is pure and safe to drink. (Do not collect rainwater that comes off an asphalt shingle roof through the gutters for this procedure.)

Collect rain or snow in a clean container. Allow a day or so for any sediment to fall to the bottom of the bowl. In most cases, you can pour off the clean water and drink it as-is; however, you can include additional filtration steps, such as running the water through a coffee filter or boiling it. Water keeps best if it's refrigerated, but you can keep it indefinitely in a clean, sealed container at room temperature, too.

Use Home Distillation Kits

Unless you're collecting rain or snow, water distillation costs money because it uses fuel or electricity to heat the source water. It's cheaper to buy bottled distilled water than it is to make it on your stove. However, if you use a home distiller, you can make distilled water more cheaply than you can buy it. Home distillation kits range in price from about $100 to several hundred dollars. If you're making distilled water for drinking, the less expensive kits are fine. More expensive kits are used for lab work or for processing large volumes of water to supply water needs for an entire house.

Distill Water From Plants or Mud

While out camping or in serious emergency situations, you can distill water from virtually any source of water. If you understand the basic principle, you likely can imagine many potential setups. Here's an example of a method used to extract water from desert plants. Note that this is a time-consuming process.

  • Green plants
  • Plastic wrap
  • Coffee can or other clean container
  • Small rocks
  1. Dig a hole in the ground in a sunny location.
  2. Place the coffee can in the center of the bottom of the hole to collect the water.
  3. Pile up damp plants in the hole around the coffee can.
  4. Cover the hole with a piece of plastic wrap. You can secure it using rocks or dirt. Ideally, you want to seal the plastic so no moisture escapes. The greenhouse effect will trap heat inside the plastic, aiding in the evaporation of the water.
  5. Place a pebble in the center of the plastic wrap to create a small depression. As water evaporates, the vapor will condense on the plastic and fall where you created the depression, dripping into the can.

You can add fresh plants to keep the process going. Avoid using poisonous plants containing volatile toxins because they will contaminate your water. Cacti and ferns are good choices, where they are available. Ferns are edible, too.