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How To Build A Salt Water Distiller | Survival Life Guide



Feature | Spoon of salt, sugar, soda with glass of water | How To Build A Salt Water Distiller | Survival Life Guide

Learn how to make a salt water distiller with only very minimal resources and the sheer will to survive.

RELATED: How To Purify Water | 5 Water Decontamination Techniques

In this article:

  1. How to Desalinate Water
  2. What You’ll Need
  3. Step 1: Set up the Metal Trays
  4. Step 2: Fill the Trays with Sand
  5. Step 3: Position the Bottles Evenly Mouth to Mouth
  6. Step 4: Wet the Sand Surrounding the Receiving Bottle
  7. Step 5: Fire up the Heat Source
  8. You’re done! It’s time to taste your distilled water!

Make Your Own Improvised Version of the Salt Water Distiller

How to Desalinate Water

How would you like to make your own off-grid water distiller from the simplest materials? When you’re in the middle of nowhere and waiting for rescue to arrive, you always have to prepare for the worst possibilities to survive.

Below, you’ll find out how the desalination process is done.

What is desalination? Desalination is the process of separating salt from seawater to make it safe for drinking.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 bottles of water
  • A pair of metal trays
  • Homemade rocket stove
  • Beach sand


Step 1: Set up the Metal Trays


To start with your salt water purifier, position the metal trays in such a way that the two bottles rest mouth to mouth. Cut a notch on one side of both trays, so the neck of the bottles can sit a little lower in the pan.

Suspend one of the bottles over a heat source. For example, here, a homemade rocket stove is shown.

Step 2: Fill the Trays with Sand


Secure the trays in place and fill them with sand. The sand will allow the trays to act more efficiently as the heat sinks.

The first tray is for cooling one of the bottles, while the other tray evenly heats the other bottle, so it doesn’t shatter from too much heat on one side.

RELATED: Make A DIY Survival Water Filter | Survival Tips

Step 3: Position the Bottles Evenly Mouth to Mouth


Press the bottles firmly into the sand to give them good thermal contact and allow for evenly distributed heat. Make sure the bottles meet up as steadily as possible to prevent the water vapor from escaping.

Fill up one bottle with just enough volume of seawater so it doesn’t spill when turned sideways.

Step 4: Wet the Sand Surrounding the Receiving Bottle

As an additional measure to keep the cold half of this setup, wet the sand on the receiving bottle’s end to allow evaporative cooling to take place. You can cover the entire bottle with more wet sand or a wet towel as an alternative.

Step 5: Fire up the Heat Source


It’s time to fire up the heat source. The quantity of sand on the tray may delay the water from reaching its boiling point immediately, but once the sand is heated enough, it stays hot for a long time.

As the water boils dry, simply refill it to continue with the distillation process as long as you want.

You’re done! It’s time to taste your distilled water!


There you have it! Now, you have your DIY water distiller. Since you already know how to remove salt from water without boiling, it’s time to test if your newly distilled water is good for hydration and no longer has a salty taste.

You can do this desalination of seawater for drinking all over again until you have a large enough water supply to keep everyone hydrated in a survival situation.


Here’s the full video of this simple distillation process from NightHawkinLight:

For the purpose of this tutorial, the metal trays hold both bottles firmly in place. While you probably won’t have trays ready in a survival situation, you can substitute them with a pile of sand and bury one of the bottles at the very top of the pile with its mouth sticking out.

Then, you can build your fire on top of the mound. As for the bottles, sadly, human trash has gone everywhere and plastic bottles usually wash up on beach shores, so they won’t be hard to find.

Have you tried making a simple salt water purifier? Share your experience in the comments section below!


Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer.

How To Build A Salt Water Distiller | Survival Life Guide |

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 16, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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  1. Lester Branch

    September 10, 2017 at 6:35 AM

    Yep, I never leave home without two bread pans.

    • Fat Joe

      June 2, 2018 at 5:16 PM

      LMAO! I’m gonna start carrying a bottle of sea water on my desert trips where I’m not around the ocean.

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  3. Anonymous

    October 13, 2017 at 3:32 PM

    drinking enough distilled water will kill you just as sure as dehydration.

    • JiM

      October 14, 2017 at 8:49 PM

      So throw in a little salt water.

    • Anonymous

      October 16, 2017 at 7:33 PM

      No it won’t. No more than regular water. Why would you think that!?

    • Zou Yang

      January 27, 2018 at 11:32 AM

      Without water you’ll die in 3 days. Distilled water is pure water; it is free of arsenic, lead….there is no way it can harm you.

    • Seamus

      May 23, 2018 at 7:41 AM

      Making a stupid comment like that shows why you masquerade under the anonymous tag. Distilled water is the purest water there is. How can that kill you?

      • Anonymous

        September 15, 2019 at 9:23 PM

        There are no source of electrolytes in the water and if you drink enough it will start to leech electrolytes from you

  4. Dutch

    October 14, 2017 at 9:44 AM

    I guess I am too dense to get the concept. The lead-up states “no resources to boil it”, and then the description requires a rocket stove, and actually states “It’s time to fire up the heat source. The quantity of sand on the tray may delay the water from reaching its boiling point immediately.”

    So, I have no resources to boil water, but must boil it in order for distillation to occur.


    • paul

      November 17, 2017 at 12:23 PM

      I agree you maybe able to find something to burn but if you can’t start a fire your screwed.

      • Norbert Tanguay

        December 10, 2017 at 3:54 PM

        I agree. You may be able to find something to burn, but if you can’t start a fire you’re screwed.


          May 17, 2018 at 8:53 AM

          I guess I’m the only one that carries multiple fire starting equipment in their EDC bag?

      • Keith Good

        June 3, 2018 at 1:39 PM

        If you have something to burn and you have the bottles then you can start the fire with one of the bottles!! Using a bottle as a magnifying glass to start a fire is easy!!!

    • Zou Yang

      January 27, 2018 at 11:43 AM

      yes, you are dense

    • Anonymous

      March 17, 2018 at 7:04 PM

      i’ve been looking for a setup that requires zero initial parts: the simplest seems to be a pit with salt water, a cup in the center, and clear plastic covering it, with a little dip over the cup to let water condense and drip down.

      figured out how to make your own pottery using a pit kiln, but with this idea, there’s still the needed clear cover to allow sunlight to evaporate the water, and condense right there.

      been looking for a way to do with wwithout the plastic, but nada. though, i guess if you’re able to make pottery you could probably make something you could boil water in and have it drip down out of it or something.

      • Beth Powell

        May 20, 2018 at 11:04 AM

        Clear glass sweats too

  5. Thomas Diehl

    October 25, 2017 at 5:02 AM

    Wouldn’t plastic bottles melt?

    • Anonymous

      October 27, 2017 at 8:53 AM

      You only have to evaporate the water, not boil it.

    • paul

      November 17, 2017 at 12:26 PM

      not if the fire doesn’t hit it.

      • Daniel

        December 13, 2017 at 5:09 AM

        If it’s hot enough to distill the water then it’s hot enough to melt a plastic bottle. Worthless advice here.

        • Zou Yang

          January 27, 2018 at 11:40 AM

          a plastic bottle won’t melt with water in it. The temp can’t get above 212 degrees. You can boil water in a paper cup for the same reason.

        • K

          May 17, 2018 at 8:56 AM

          Speaking of worthless advice water boils at at 212 deg f . the softest and cheapest plastics dont melt until approx 278 degrees. So there is wont melt strictly from the boiling water. However if it is not BPH free those chemicals will leach out over time and not good for children. So make sure it is Bph free. Now since water does not need to actually boil to evaporate keep it above 165 spend a little extra time and get your water distilled

        • Keith Good

          June 3, 2018 at 1:57 PM

          YES, you can use plastic bottles!! As long as there’s water in the bottle it won’t melt the plastic!! I’ve boiled water in a Styrofoam cup on a BBQ grill, the water in the cup prevents the Styrofoam from melting!! If you have to you can hang a plastic bottle with water in it over a fire pit and boil water the same way!!

  6. paul

    November 17, 2017 at 12:30 PM

    this should work for any water .

  7. Peter Somontes

    November 19, 2017 at 1:31 PM

    No need for a fire. Place the salt water bottle in the Sun and shade the collection bottle. The heat from the Sun will evaporate the salt water and the water vapor will condense in the collection bottle. You can increase the heat by adding a dark cloth under the salt water bottle. Same process as the fire but this WILL take longer and won’t work in cold winter conditions.

    • Jose A.

      December 10, 2017 at 12:22 PM

      Do you wear glasses? Whether yes or no, plan ahead and carry a magnifying glass to speed up the process of primitive distillation.

      • Windy Wilson

        May 18, 2018 at 6:14 PM

        If you’re nearsighted you really need a convex magnifying lense to focus the light.

  8. vicw

    December 10, 2017 at 9:32 AM

    Nice, all those hormone-mimicking chemicals in plastic. Heat it up and you get a mega dose. Just what Joe wanted for Xmas: boobs.

    • Keith Good

      June 3, 2018 at 2:05 PM

      It sounds like some of these morons would rather die of thirst than get a dose of chemicals from the plastic bottles!! In a survival situation when you have a choice of something harming you and something killing you you take the one that only harms you!!

  9. Marc de Piolenc

    December 11, 2017 at 9:47 PM

    Much better solution – requiring a waterproof sheet, a water container and nothing else, is the method that I tested on a beach in California years ago. Basically, dig a shallow hole in wet sand, put a cup or the like inside, in the middle. Put a sheet over the hole (polyethylene or whatever you have) and weigh the sheet down so that its low point is over the cup. Ideally, the sheet is clear, so you don’t have to open the rig up to check whether the cup is full. Mine filled a canteen cup in about twenty minutes.

    • Keith Good

      June 3, 2018 at 1:49 PM

      If you have something to burn and you have the bottles then you can start the fire with one of the bottles!! Using a bottle as a magnifying glass to start a fire is easy!!!

  10. tmbrwolf

    March 22, 2018 at 12:07 PM

    How to make a Solar Water Filter at home

  11. Anonymous

    April 15, 2018 at 2:38 PM

    If you all noticed he used glass bottals

    • Keith Good

      June 3, 2018 at 2:11 PM

      YES I realized he used glass bottles!! The point was that if you can’t find glass bottles you CAN use plastic bottles just the same, AND NO THEY WON’T MELT!!!

  12. ฉีดฟิลเลอร์

    May 17, 2018 at 10:50 AM

    Thanks for another informative blog. Where else may just I get that kind of information written in such an ideal manner?
    I have a mission that I am just now operating on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such info.

  13. Anonymous

    May 23, 2018 at 9:02 AM

    While this is good information to keep on hand, wouldn’t it be better, less weight, to just carry a Sawer Mini.

  14. Alison Wunderland

    May 23, 2018 at 12:09 PM

    Gas will not flow into the cold bottle unless there is way to vent the cold bottle, simple law of gas flow!

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