We often take water for granted in developed countries. If we want to shower, wash up the dishes or have a drink, we just need to turn on the faucet for water to come straight out.
But the reality is that water is a resource we all need to live – nobody can survive for long without drinking water. The problem is that water is a finite resource, meaning there’s only so much of it in the world!
Hang on, you might think – isn’t about 70% of the Earth’s surface covered by water? Yes, that’s right.
The problem is that 97.5% of that water is salt water, leaving only a tiny fraction of the world’s water classified as fresh water. Saltwater is not drinkable. Drinking too much of it will make you ill and could even kill you.
How can we convert salt water into drinking water? You might wonder whether boiling salt water will make it safe to drink. In this article, we’ll discover how salt water turns into drinking water. Is boiling it enough? Let’s find out.
Why Isn’t Salt Water Drinkable?
Why can’t humans drink salt water? Saltwater is just too salty for humans to consume. Saltwater is approximately 3.5% salt.
That might not sound like a lot, but it’s too much for our bodies to process. Kidneys remove excess salt from the body but need water to function correctly.
The salinity of saltwater is so great that the kidney doesn’t have enough fresh water to counteract the sheer volume of salt it needs to process.
As a result, your body has to get rid of the salt another way, via urination. Soon, you’ll urinate more fluid than you’ve consumed, leading to dehydration. If it carries on long enough, this will eventually cause your organs to fail, and you could die.
Can You Boil Salt Water To Drink?
No, boiling salt water does not make it safe to drink. Boiling fresh water makes it drinkable by sterilizing dirty water. The heat kills off any nasty bacteria within the water, meaning you can drink it safely.
Boil salt water, however, and you simply end up with sterilized salt water. Free of all those nasty contaminants, but still very much salt water. Instead, you need a way of separating the salt from the water.
That’s a process called desalination, which is significantly more complicated than boiling water.
How Do You Remove Salt From Salt Water?
Now it’s time for some physics 101. When water gets to the correct temperature, that water will start to evaporate, forming a vapor that will escape into the atmosphere.
If that vapor is caught on a surface and allowed to cool down, it will condense again, back into droplets of water.
It’s important because when water evaporates, it leaves behind anything that may have been in it. You have purified ‘distilled’ your water.
So, all you need to do to make salt water drinkable is have a heat source to evaporate the water and a condensation apparatus to catch it as it turns back into drinkable, purified water.
When you’re boiling water, you are making drinking water – it’s just the steam you want, not what’s left in the pan!
Method One: Boiling Salt Water In A Saucepan
First is a method for desalinating water that you can try yourself. You’ll need a large saucepan (with lid), a drinking glass/cup, and a heat source. A metal or Pyrex cup is best since certain types of glass will shatter when exposed to high temperatures.
- Place the cup in the center of the pan, and add your salt water around it. Don’t fill the pan too close to the rim of the cup. You don’t want to contaminate your cup with salt water.
- Place your pan lid on the pan upside down so that the handle is hovering directly above your cup.
- Gently bring the water to a boil. Do not boil it violently, as you risk shattering your drinking receptacle (if using a glass) or contaminating it with salt water as it bubbles.
- Watch as the steam begins to rise and accumulate on the pan lid. You’ll notice after a while that it condenses back into water droplets, which will then run down to the lid’s lowest point – the handle. From there, the water droplets will drip into your cup.
- When you think you’ve got enough water, remove the pan from the heat and wait for it all to cool down. When it’s cool enough, you can take your cup and enjoy a glass of water!
Method Two: Solar Desalination
This desalination method employs the same principle as the previous one but uses the sun as the heat source instead. All you’ll need is some plastic wrap and two bowls, a larger one and a smaller one.
- Fill your large bowl about half full of salt water. Then, float the smaller bowl in the center of the large bowl. Make sure the rim of the smaller bowl is some way above the water line.
- Tightly wrap the plastic wrap around the large bowl, and then place a small rock on top of the wrap above the smaller bowl to create a slight dip.
- If your bowl is in direct sunlight, over time, the heat from the sun will evaporate your water into steam. As with the previous method, it will hit the plastic wrap and condense it back into water droplets. Gravity will do its job and send the droplets towards the dipped center, from where they will drip slowly into your smaller receiving bowl.
No, you can’t just boil salt water to make it drinkable. It will be sterilized but still too salty for the body to process. Instead, boiling water is one part of a desalination technique.
You can boil salt water, catch the steam and let it condense into water droplets. If you collect this recondensed water, it is then drinkable and salt-free.