Today we all rely on bottled water and tap water that only a few of us know how to filter rainwater. Rainwater is an abundant source of water for any domestic and agricultural need and can be harvested easily. But filtering rainwater can be difficult and costly in modern times. Instead, find out how they filtered rainwater 100 years ago and make your own!
Filtering Rainwater Collection Using the Old Method
In this article:
- Water Shortage in Summer
- Traditional Water Supply
- Old Homemade Water Filtration System
- Rainwater Filter Instructions
- Other Uses of Trickle Filters
- Online Reading
Water Shortage in Summer
During our boiling, broiling, blistering summer of 2012 here in the Missouri Ozarks, water was a topic of conversation wherever we go. Creeks and ponds dried up (some never recovered) and the water table dropped, forcing a few neighbors to have their well pumps lowered or to even have deeper wells drilled.
Traditional Water Supply
Many folks shared memories of rain barrels, cisterns, hand pumps, and drawing water with a well-bucket as a child usually on grandpa and grandma’s farm. Some said they’d never want to rely again on those old-time methods of getting water. But, at least they knew how it was done.
Old Homemade Water Filtration System
A tattered, 4-inch thick, 1909 book I happily secured for $8 in a thrift store reveals, among umpteen-thousand other everyday skills, how to make homemade water filters. The instructions in “Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook” are quite basic as everyone had a rain barrel back then and presumably knew how to clean the water. Now, 104 years later, I am thankful the authors had the foresight to preserve their knowledge for us and pointed out that rainwater collected in barrels from a roof is a necessity in some locations but also is best for laundry and “often more wholesome for drinking purposes than hard water.”
Rainwater Filter Instructions
Step 1: Prepare the Container
Take a new vinegar barrel or an oak tub that has never been used, either a full cask or half size. Stand it on end raised on brick or stone from the ground. Insert a faucet near the bottom. Make a tight false bottom 3 or 4 inches from the bottom of the cask. Perforate this with small gimlet holes and cover it with a piece of clean white canvas.
Step 2: Cover the False Bottom
Place on this false bottom a layer of clean pebbles 3 or 4 inches in thickness. Next, place a layer of clean washed sand and gravel and then coarsely granulated charcoal about the size of small peas. Charcoal made from hard maple is the best.
Step 3: Add the Final Layer of
After putting in a half bushel or so, pound it down firmly. Then put in more until the tub is filled within 1 foot of the top. Add a 3-inch layer of pebbles and throw over the top a piece of canvas as a strainer. This canvas strainer can be removed and washed occasionally and the cask can be dumped out, pebbles cleansed and charcoal renewed every spring and fall, or once a year may be sufficient.
Other Uses of Trickle Filters
This also makes a good cider filter for the purpose of making homemade vinegar. The cider should first be passed through cheesecloth to remove all coarser particles. You can also make a small cheap filter from a flower pot. A fine sponge may be inserted in the hole and the pot filled about as directed for the above filter. It may be placed in the top of a jar which will receive the filtered water.
My copy of the 1,000-page book is stained and worn, I assume from many years of use in the house, barn, and garden. Even though I could read the bright, white online version, I treasure my rag-tag book and am hanging onto it. I still have much to learn.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off the grid and invented the WaterBuck Pump. A former newspaper editor and reporter, Holliday blogs for Mother Earth News, sharing her skills in modern homesteading, organic gardening, and human-powered devices.
Find out what mistakes to avoid during rainwater harvesting in this short video by David The Good:
This vintage book offers a cheap and easy way to make a rainwater filter just as good as a patent filter which costs 10 times as much. This 100-year-old filter may be set in the cellar and used only for drinking water. It may also be used in time of drought for filtering stagnant water which would otherwise be unpalatable for the use of stock.
What do you think of this 100-year-old rainwater filtration technique? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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Editor's Note – This post was originally published on December 15, 2015 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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