Iodine as a Water Disinfectant

Iodine as a Water Disinfectant

One of the alternative to purify water is iodine. Backpackers when going for long treks which last for weeks, tend to use iodine to disinfect water, as it gives clean drinking water. However, there are some pros and cons for using iodine to purify drinking water.
WellnessKeen Staff
When it comes to treks which can last for a week or weeks together, most backpackers tend to carry limited amount of water with them. When in the wild, supply to pure drinking water might not always be possible, hence many backpackers tend to carry various water purifying products. There are many ways to purify water. Two of the most common methods are heating the water and filtering it. Another popular solution used to purify water is iodine. Though, iodine can be an effective and safe way to purify water, there are some cons to this method. Read on, to find the various pros and cons of iodine as a disinfectant for drinking water.

Using Iodine for Water Purification

Pros
There are many uses of iodine, and one of them is water purification. Iodine has been used for purification of water for around a hundred years. Iodine is generally termed as safe for around three months use. But, people with iodine allergy need to avoid it. Iodine is easy to carry and you can carry iodine tablets or a small bottle of tincture. Just few tablets or few drops of iodine tincture allowed in the water for recommended time makes the water clean and good for drinking. There are many iodine solutions, tinctures and tablets available. You can buy it at a pharmacy and keep it in your first aid kit. However, when using iodine it is important to use the recommended amount of iodine. For example 8 drops or one tablet of iodine tincture helps to purify a liter of water. If the water is clear you need to allow the water to sit for short time, if the water is cloudy you will need to allow it to sit for a long time. Though, iodine is one of the most commonly used solution to purify water, it doesn't tend to be effective in cleaning cyclospora bacteria which can give diarrhea. Hence, if you are going to use iodine to purify water during spring and summer seasons in countries like Nepal, you will need to filter it first and then treat it with iodine.

Cons
Did you know that European Union has prohibited the sale of iodine for water treatment? Yes, the Union has prohibited use of iodine as a disinfectant for water, but iodine is legal to be used in United States. EU has banned the sale of iodine purification tincture or tablets, but in US you can find them at a pharmacy. Iodine when used in incorrect quantities can be very harmful. Iodine toxicity which is overdose of iodine can lead to many serious complications. It can make the thyroid glands to function improperly. Also, it can lead to a condition called myxedema, where a person will get swelling around the nose and lips often accompanied with dry skin. Furthermore, overdose of iodine can lead thyroid papillary cancer too.

So, to avoid iodine toxicity one should clearly know what is the tolerable limit and how much and how long one should use to purify water. Also, there are many alternative methods to treating water that you opt for when going for multi-week hikes. A simplest way is to boil the water. Boiling water kills bacteria, viruses and parasites. Also, you can add a pinch of salt to improve the taste of boiled water. Another simple method is to use filters. Using filters is even better than boiling water, as boiling water means you will have to carry fuel in your backpack. So, choose your water purification system properly, or combine filtration and iodine method together to create more purified drinking water.