Someone’s Trash Could Save Your Life: How to boil & purify water in a plastic bottle

I travel far and wide to experience nature.  Even when I think I am completely remote in a secluded area it seems I still cannot completely escape human litter & trash.  On almost every water-way I’ve ever traveled from rivers to lakes to oceans I’ve seen some kind of  human litter floating or washed on shore.

Plastic Bottle on River Shoreline

Plastic Bottle on River Shoreline

To a survivalist, however, someone’s trash can be a life-saving treasure.  It really is amazing how you can use complete trash that we throw away everyday to help meet basic survival needs.  It’s the simplest items that are the most useful in a situation when you have nothing.  In this instance – a container for boiling water. 

Boiling is 100% effective method of water purification.  It kills bacteria, cysts and virus.

  The ability to boil water can make the difference between life and death in any survival situation.  With all of the plastic bottles scattered throughout our lands and waterways it is not unlikely for you to find one – even in a remote environment.  If you can make fire, you can boil water using a plastic bottle.  Here is how it’s done.

Remove Cap & Suspend Over or Place Near the Fire

Plastic Bottle with Water Hanging Over Fire

Plastic Bottle with Water Hanging Over Fire

In this example, I propped a long stick up on a Y stick in the ground so I could easily control the height of the bottle over the fire.  I suspended the plastic bottle of water using a piece of rope.  I suspect I could have set the bottle close to the fire as well.  I kept the bottle at about 5-6″ over the coals and the flame licked the bottom on many occasions.

It took about 15 minutes to bring the water to a rolling boil and I left it boiling for about 20 minutes after that.  The bottle did distort in shape with the heat from the fire but the plastic did not fail.  I think you could use the bottle several times to boil if necessary.  I used a very thin walled plastic bottle so a thicker bottle would probably last longer.  Do not leave the cap on unless you want a hot steam explosion.  Below is a before and after picture of the bottle.

BEFORE boiling (RIGHT), AFTER boiling (RIGHT)

BEFORE boiling (RIGHT), AFTER boiling (RIGHT)

As you can see the bottle actually SHRUNK during the heating/boiling process.  I thought it would expand but it did not.  The lesson here is to fill your bottle only 3/4 full to prevent spillage into your fire.  If the wind is blowing hard you will also want to build a wind screen because the wind will effect your water temp in the hanging bottle and slow down the boiling process.

You never know when knowledge like this might come in useful.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



  1. I am really concerned about using water that has been in a plastic bottle at a high temperature!
    I’ve been taught that at high heats, the soft plastic in most commercial water bottles gives off Xeno-estrogens. These are nasty little foreign molecules that do all the bad things estrogen does, but none of the good things…like make women flabby fat and increase breast size in men!
    Water bottles even left in hot car trunks or carried around in uncooled delivery trucks in hot weather will give off these things.
    Yes, I am an MD, and I do know some of the bad things xeno-estrogens do!
    I actually advise people NEVER to buy or drink bottled water! I know…I’m a kill-joy.

    • Doctor Mom,
      The critical point here is the survival situation. Dying of dehydration in 3 days is a much greater threat than the chance of flabby breasts from long-term exposure to xeno-estrogens.

  2. drlanders says:

    You can also boil water in a paper cup placed directly in the fire. As long as there is water in the cup, the paper wil not burn.

  3. Stephen Landers says:

    Here is a “science fair project” to show how to boil water in a paper cup directly on the fire. The water acts as a heat sink and prevents the paper cup from burning. Paper burns at more than twice the temperature water boils. Styrofoam does not work because it is an insulator.

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  5. Alf Lacis says:

    A thicker bottle may suffer failure, since the heat-path from the fire to the water is longer (plastic is a reasonable insulator so if you do NOT want insulation, make it thinner). BTW, I've boiled water in a home-made paper dish – the paper has to be water-safe so it doesn't fall apart from handling.

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