How to Purify Urine for Drinking with an Emergency Solar Still
It's called Urophagia—the art of consuming urine. There could be any number of reasons for having the desire to drink your own urine (or somebody else's). There's the so-called term "urine therapy," which uses human urine as an alternative medicine. In urine therapy, or uropathy, it's used therapeutically for various health, healing, and cosmetic purposes. There's also those people who drink urine as sexual stimulation, where they want to share every part of each other. And then there's the ones stranded, shipwrecked, in the desert, or the harsh wilderness without a supply of drinking water.
There are a few known methods for purifying your urine, but even though your urine is mostly water it is not considered safe to drink. It's the other stuff in your urine that's harmful, that small percentage of waste products, like nitrogen, potassium, calcium, sodium, and undigested alcohol. When you drink your pee, all of that waste, everything that your kidneys had worked so hard to excrete, comes right back in.
Unless you have one hell of a filtration system, like the one NASA is working on, then your pee will never be the equivalent to H2O. Last year, NASA sent a $154 million water regeneration system to the International Space Station, which would recycle astronauts' urine. To this day, it's had more problems than successes:
- Space Station Urine Recycler Breaks Down (November 21, 2008)
- Space Urine Recycler Test Delayed by Low Flow Glitch (March 22, 2009)
- NASA: Astronauts' Urine Clogs Water Recycling System on ISS (January 13, 2010)
- Astronauts Work to Fix Space Urine Recycler (February 10, 2010)
There's also other uses for human urine, like Submersible Design's project called drinkpeedrinkpeedrinkpee, which provides an installation and DIY kit for turning your pee into fertilizer.
But that's not what this article is about—it's about drinking your urine. And there are three ways I know of that can let you drink urine.
One: Make a solar still and pee.
Two: Water purification tablets in pee.
Three: Just pee.
Just peeing and drinking it is the easiest and most common in survival mode, but as discussed above, not the safest (at all). Water purification tablets is another quick way to drink your urine, because they're small and easy to carry, but they usually contain iodine which kills bacteria and not all of the specific waste products in your urine. Building a solar still is the best way to go, but more time consuming.
Any soldier deployed or being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan should know how to make a solar still. The desert is the one place where water is essential, and if by chance you should find yourself alone in the arid lands of Middle East, your piss will save your life—but I'd probably thank the solar still or my survival skills, not necessarily my urine.
A solar skill provides the best way to collect sources of water other than your urine. It's great for collecting the moisture in a dry streambed or dried-up gorge, in any moist land, at the base of a hill, and of course—urine soaked dirt. To learn more about the function of a solar still, visit DesertUSA.
To build a solar still, you don't have to be in survival mode, you can be merely curious. But if you do need to make one, it could be the difference between life or death. Either way, this is how you do it.
Hopefully, you'll have some variation of the materials needed with you. If you're just doing it for fun (not that drinking urine is fun per se), you should be able to get everything needed. If you have nothing, and a stranded in the middle of nowhere, chances are you could scrounge up some of these items (God bless litter).
- A sheet of plastic (preferably a sheet 6 feet by 6 feet)
- A container to catch the liquid
- A rock (a small one to create a funnel-like effect in the plastic)
- A shovel (optional)
- A tube (optional—to drink without taking apart the still)
You can use just about anything for the container: a canteen cup, styrofoam cup, small bowl, tin can, cut water bottle... whatever you can find that can collect the water drippings. The plastic should be something without tears or small holes, and could be a thin tarp, thin drop cloth, poncho, garbage bag or even a grocery bag if that's all you can find. As for the rock, it just needs to be the right size.
If you have a shovel, this is the time to use it. If you don't, your hands will suffice. You just need to dig a big enough hole in relation to the size of plastic and the container being used. A hole 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep is great for a 6 by 6 sheet of plastic, but if you have smaller materials, a 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep should work just as well, but if you get any smaller, you may not have much luck.
Look for soft soil or sand to dig in. A depression in the land is a great spot, or anywhere rainwater might collect (that way you have some backup sources— not just pee). A place where the sun hits is also needed, hence the "solar" in solar still.
Here's the best part. If you aren't really interested in drinking your own piss, you can always skip this step and hope to collect enough from rainwater or dampness of the land, but if you're in a hurry, adding a little of your own touch will do the trick. Just pee in and around the hole.
Simply place your container at the bottom of the hole, in the center. Make sure it is secure. If you want, prior to pissing in the hole, you can dig another small hole inside that hole to keep your drippings container nice and snug.
If you're using the tubing, run the tubing from the outside of the pit to the bottom of the container. This allows you to drink straight from the container, without having to disassemble the actual still. A good idea if you plan on being in one place for awhile.
Now, stretch out your plastic to cover the entire hole. You're going to need to evenly secure the edges of the plastic, to secure it in place and to keep any air from escaping. You can use the soil that you dug up to lay on the edges of the plastic. You can also you some rocks for extra weight. Make sure the plastic is not drooping down into the pit.
Find the best sized rock for centering on the spread out sheet of plastic. You may have to try a few out to find the perfect stone. Place it directly over the water container below. This keeps the plastic form moving about more than you want, and it pushes the plastic down into a cone shape. A 45 degree angle is best, and the rock works better if right above the container opening.
The cone will point right into the cup, and all the moisture will drip down along the sides of the plastic and right in.
Double check that the edges of your plastic our secured and airflow-free. Also, make sure the end of your tubing is covered, as to not let air flow in and out of the pit. Cover it with tape or whatever you have or can find, or just tie it shut if flexible enough.
This is the time where you let the sun do its magic. This process will take anywhere from 2 hours until the sun goes down. Also, to help quicken the process, you could have laid some green foliage inside the walls of the pit, which contain added moisture.
The sun heats up the soil around the still, and in turn, creates moisture which saturates the undersides of the plastic. The condensed moisture then drips slowly down the angled sides of the plastic (thanks to the rock), down to the lowest tip and down into to the container.
Once enough water accumulates in your water holder, you can simply drink straight from the tubing you installed, or you can take the solar still apart to get access to the container. The water is pretty safe to drink, since most of the toxins are left behind in the soil, leaving only pure water to evaporate and condense, dripping down into your cup.
Now, enjoy a nice cup of pee— er, water. Keep urinating around the hole to keep collecting fresh water.
Check out these how-to videos for further reference on making a urine solar still: