Distillation involves boiling the water to produce water vapour. The vapour contacts a cool surface where it condenses as a liquid. Because the solutes are not normally vaporised, they remain in the boiling solution. Even distillation does not completely purify water, because of contaminants with similar boiling points and droplets of unvapourised liquid carried with the steam. However, 99.9% pure water can be obtained by distillation.
Organic polymers were developed in the 1960s as aids to coagulants and, in some cases, as replacements for the inorganic metal salt coagulants. Synthetic organic polymers are high molecular weight compounds that carry negative, positive or neutral charges. When organic polymers are added to water with particulates, the high molecular weight compounds adsorb onto particle surfaces and through interparticle bridging coalesce with other particles to form floc. PolyDADMAC is a popular cationic (positively charged) organic polymer used in water purification plants.:667–8
The first part of the purification tag team must eliminate microorganisms, like harmful bacteria and parasites. There are a handful of tried and true methods for doing this. The most familiar is boiling. Simply bringing water up to its boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit will kill almost all microorganisms, so just a few minutes of boiling will do the job.
In 1946, some maple syrup producers started using reverse osmosis to remove water from sap before the sap is boiled down to syrup. The use of reverse osmosis allows about 75–90% of the water to be removed from the sap, reducing energy consumption and exposure of the syrup to high temperatures. Microbial contamination and degradation of the membranes must be monitored.
There is another method that produces fully purified water in one step, and that is distillation. A solar still can be built by digging a hole, putting an empty pan in the bottom, setting a bucket full of impure water into the middle of the pan, and then setting a peaked clear plastic sheet over top. This will evaporate the water out of the impurities, collect and condense it inside the plastic, and let it drip down into the empty pan. The problem with this method is that it is very slow and produces relatively little water.
Portable reverse osmosis water processors are sold for personal water purification in various locations. To work effectively, the water feeding to these units should be under some pressure (280 kPa (40 psi) or greater is the norm). Portable reverse osmosis water processors can be used by people who live in rural areas without clean water, far away from the city's water pipes. Rural people filter river or ocean water themselves, as the device is easy to use (saline water may need special membranes). Some travelers on long boating, fishing, or island camping trips, or in countries where the local water supply is polluted or substandard, use reverse osmosis water processors coupled with one or more ultraviolet sterilizers.
Ultraviolet light (UV) is very effective at inactivating cysts, in low turbidity water. UV light's disinfection effectiveness decreases as turbidity increases, a result of the absorption, scattering, and shadowing caused by the suspended solids. The main disadvantage to the use of UV radiation is that, like ozone treatment, it leaves no residual disinfectant in the water; therefore, it is sometimes necessary to add a residual disinfectant after the primary disinfection process. This is often done through the addition of chloramines, discussed above as a primary disinfectant. When used in this manner, chloramines provide an effective residual disinfectant with very few of the negative effects of chlorination.