How to Make a Homemade Water Filter (4 Easy DIY Projects)

Interested in making your own DIY water filter at home? Wondering about the best methods of DIY water filtration?

In this guide, we’ve shared our top pick DIY water filters for at-home and camping/hiking use. Most of these filters require basic equipment and can be set up in a matter of minutes.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • You can make a homemade water filter using a few basic items, including sand, gravel, and activated charcoal.
  • Other DIY water filters are coffee filters, fruit peel filters, and sapwood filters.
  • DIY water filters are ideal if you want to avoid the costs associated with store-bought filters and make a solution with natural items.
  • On the negative side, they’re not as reliable as the branded filters available today, and there’s no way to measure their results.

🔩 Most Popular DIY Water Filter: Activated Charcoal Filter

The most popular and effective DIY water filtration system today involves activated carbon, sand, and gravel.

What Is It?

This filter has separate layers of gravel, sand, and charcoal, which each work to trap different contaminants. To make this filter, you will need:

  • A plastic water bottle with a lid
  • A hammer and nail
  • A craft knife
  • A large mug or cup
  • A coffee filter
  • A container for the clean water
  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Activated carbon

More on the filtration process below.

How Does It Work?

Begin by pouring water into the filter.

There are three stages of filtration as water flows through each of the filters:

  • Stage 1: The gravel traps large debris, like twigs and leaves
  • Stage 2: The sand traps mid-sized particles of grit and dirt
  • Stage 3: The charcoal adsorbs some chemicals and bacteria
  • Stage 4: The coffee filter removes cloudiness
How to make an activate charcoal filtter

How to Make an Activated Charcoal Filter

To make an activated charcoal DIY water filtration system, follow these steps:

Step 1: Cut the bottom inch off the plastic bottle.

Take the plastic bottle and cut the bottom inch or so off, using the craft knife. Begin by puncturing the plastic with the bottle, then carefully saw around the bottom. Alternatively, puncture a hole in the bottle, then use a pair of small, sharp scissors to cut around until the bottom is removed.

Step 1 Cut the bottom inch off the plastic bottle

Step 2: Make a hole in the cap.

Press a nail into the center of the bottle cap and use a hammer or another heavy object to knock it into place. Or, use the end of a sharp knife to carefully poke an x-shaped hole in the cap.

Step 2 Make a hole in the cap

Step 3: Place a coffee filter over the bottle opening.

With the bottle cap removed, place a coffee filter over the bottle opening, so that the excess material of the filter overlaps around the bottle’s sides. Then, put on the lid and tighten it to secure the cap.

Turn the bottle upside-down and place the cap end pointing downwards in a cup. This will prevent the bottle from tipping over when you add your filter materials.

Step 3 1st layer coffee filter or cotton batting

Step 4: Start adding your filter materials.

Begin with the activated charcoal layer, which should be in small pieces. Break down the charcoal into small, pea-sized (or smaller) chunks if needed.

Step 4 2nd layer activated charcoal

Step 5: Add Fine Sand.

Next, add an equally-thick layer of natural sand to the bottle. Any sand is fine, but avoid using processed, dyed craft sand, which could introduce chemicals into your water.

Step 5 3rd layer fine sand

Step 6: Add Coarse Sand.

Ideally, use both coarse and fine-grained sand to filter contaminants through two separate textures. The fine-grained sand should be added first.

Step 6 4th layer coarse sand

Step 7: Add Gravel.

Pour gravel into the bottle, stopping once the top surface of the gravel is one inch away from the cut part of the bottle. Again, you can use both chunky and fine-grained gravel here to provide separate layers of filtration.

Step 7 5th layer gravel

Step 8: Add a Top Strainer

cover the top layer with a coffee filter or a cloth (such as a cheese cloth or bandana). This is an optional step but it’s great for straining large debris from water.

Step 8 top strainer

How to Use an Activated Charcoal Filter

Your homemade water filter is now ready to use. Here’s how to use an activated charcoal filter to filter your water:

  1. Select a jar. Place the bottle filter cap-down in a clean jar, ready to catch the water. You can use the same jar or cup that was holding the bottle while you made it, as long as the jar is clean.
  2. Add water to the filter. Pour water into the plastic bottle. Slow, steady pouring is best. Pause between adding water to wait for the water level to fall below the top of the gravel.
  3. Wait for the bottle to fill. Water will travel through the filter layers, becoming cleaner as it goes. Within about 10 minutes, it’ll start to fill the bottle.
  4. Repeat the process. If you have a dirty or turbid water supply, you might need to filter water several times in your bottle filter. To do this, wait for all the water to fill the cup, then put the water bottle onto another cup and pour your original batch of water back through the bottle.
  5. Boil your water. If you’re using a water source that’s potentially microbiologically contaminated, you’ll need to boil the water for three minutes to make it potable (safe to drink) after you’ve filtered out the contaminants. That’s because microorganisms like bacteria are too small to be trapped in any of these homemade water filter materials.
  6. Cool and store the water. Allow the water to cool, then pour it into an airtight container (ideally made from glass or stainless steel) and place it in the fridge or a cool cupboard.

📇 Other DIY Water Filters & How to Make Them

The activated carbon water filtration system is the best homemade water filter because it has multiple filtration layers made from different materials, allowing it to trap the widest range of contaminants in different sizes.

With that said, not everyone will want to go to the effort of sourcing all the different filter materials.

We’ve shared a few other inexpensive water filter systems that you can make at home with only a few basic materials.

Pine Branch Filter

A recent study shows that pinewood has potential as a natural water filter, reducing up to 99.9% of bacteria and dirt from water.

To make a pine branch water filtration system, here’s what to do:

  1. Gather your materials. You need a pine tree branch, a water bottle, and a container to catch the clean water.
  2. Set up the filter. Cut the pine branch down to 4 inches long and peel off the bark. The branch needs to be wide enough to slot about 1 inch into the opening of a water bottle. Cut off the bottom of the bottle, then flip it and place it nose-down in a cup.
  3. Fill the bottle with water. Pour water into the plastic bottle, then allow the water to travel through the pine branch. Clean water should drip into the cup. Continue until the cup is full.
  4. Boil the water. Pine branches can’t remove viruses from drinking water, so ideally, if you can, you should boil the water to make it definitely potable before drinking.
How pine wood filtration works
Source: MIT News

Fruit Peel Filter

Some backcountry regions that don’t have a reliable, clean water source use fruit peels to achieve safe drinking water. There’s not much research into the effectiveness of this method, so only use it as a last resort.

To make a fruit peel filter, follow these steps:

  1. Gather your materials. You need a piece of fruit with peel (banana is best), a large coffee filter, and a jam jar or a wide cup.
  2. Peel your fruit. Place the fruit to one side or eat it immediately – you don’t need it for the filter. After peeling, grind the peel in a blender.
  3. Set up the filter. Place the coffee filter over the opening of the jar or cup and put the banana peels in the center of the filter.
  4. Pour water through the filter. Slowly pour water onto the filter. It’ll travel through the banana peels and the filter, which should remove contaminants like bacteria. Clean water should drip into the container below.

Coffee Filter

If you have mildly cloudy water, you can make it clear by pouring it through a coffee filter.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Gather your materials. You need a large coffee filter, a jam jar or a wide cup, and a rubber band.
  2. Set up the water filter. Place the coffee filter over the jar’s opening and secure it with a rubber band around the top of the jar.
  3. Pour the water through the filter. Slowly pour water onto the filter. The water will seep through the filter and into the jar. Continue until the jar is full.
  4. Boil your water. If there’s a chance that your water isn’t safe to drink, boil it continuously for three minutes before leaving it to cool for drinking.

⚖️ Pros and Cons of Making a DIY Water Filter

Below, we’ve shared the pros and cons you should be aware of before you make a homemade water purifier to filter your tap water.

Pros

Affordable & Natural

Most DIY water filter systems are made using natural materials, like gravel, sand, charcoal, fruit peel, and pine branches. You don’t have to worry about the materials adding dangerous contaminants, like chemicals or heavy metals, back into your water.

Plus, the materials used in a DIY water purifier are inexpensive. Most can either be found in the environment or purchased for less than $5. It’s much cheaper to make your own water filtration system than to buy a store-bought water filter.

Improve Water Quality and Taste

Depending on the type of DIY water filter you make, you’ll be able to improve the taste and quality of your water by removing select contaminants.

Some filter materials can reduce bacteria, making water safe to drink, while others can remove physical particles of sediment and dirt, and reduce poor tastes and odors.

Drinking water

Good For Emergencies

Because it’s so quick and easy to make a water filter, you’re covered in the case of emergencies (as long as you have the materials).

You could be out in the wilderness and suddenly without water, or facing a natural disaster that has cut off your water supply, such as an earthquake or a flood. You can quickly make a water filter that will remove at least some of the contaminants from your water, making it safer to drink than the unfiltered water source.

Cons

Not As Reliable As Store-Bought Filters

When you make a water filter yourself, you’re highly unlikely to produce anything to the quality of a store-bought filter. Even if you combine multiple filter materials, you probably won’t be able to reduce contaminants as effectively as a store-bought filter that has been manufactured based on years of testing and research.

📌 You can still get results from a DIY water filter system, but we wouldn’t rely on them to make water clean and safe to drink.

No Way To Measure Filtration Results

When you use a DIY water purification system, you won’t actually know whether or not the filter has removed certain contaminants from your water. And in most cases, a DIY water filter doesn’t guarantee to make your water completely microbiologically safe. That’s why it’s recommended to boil your water after filtering it, just in case.

Unfortunately, you won’t know by sight, smell, or taste whether or not your homemade water filter has effectively filtered your water.

tap score example report

Not Exactly On-Demand Filtration

A homemade drinking water filter can only produce so much water at once. The filtration process is usually quite slow, and you’ll only be able to make batches of water (usually whatever can fit in the cup or container that’s catching the clean water).

Compare this to a store-bought filter, like a whole house water filter system. Not only can this filter provide filtered water on demand, but it can also clean the water in your entire home. A homemade water purifier produces much more limited results in comparison.

❔ DIY Water Filter: FAQ

How Does a DIY Water Filter Work?

A DIY water filter works by sending contaminants through one or several natural filter media, including charcoal carbon, sand, gravel, fruit peels, pine bark, and more. These filter media trap contaminants like sediment, dirt, tastes, odors, and bacteria, so water leaves the filter in a cleaner form.

How long does a homemade water filter last?

Most homemade water filters only last for several rounds of filtration before the filter materials become soggy and/or prone to bacteria buildup. For this reason, a homemade water filter should only be used as a short-term solution.

Can I make my own filtered water?

Yes, you can make your own filtered water at home with a do-it-yourself water filter. Materials like charcoal carbon, fruit peels, pine bark, and sand are good choices for filtration media.

What materials work best for a water filter?

The materials that work best for a water filter are activated charcoal or any other kinds of adsorptive materials that have proven to pull impurities out of a solution effectively. However, the materials that are best for you depend on what contaminants your water contains. For instance, if your water is sediment-heavy, you’ll probably find that a simple sand and gravel filter is best for improving your water quality.