Timeline of Water Treatment Methods

For almost as long as people have been consuming and using water in their every day life, there has needed to be ways of treating it. Water taken directly from its source can contain anything from harmful chemicals, disease causing germs, sediment, and other troublesome contaminants. Starting from primitive methods like boiling water and working up to innovations using advanced technology like UV germicidal irradiation, the timeline of water treatment has made some impressive advances.

Jump To:
2000 BC1500 BC1000s BC1600s1800sEarly 1900sPresent Day

2000 BC

Water is filtered by boiling water using the sun as well as using gravel and sand.

Using the Sun to Filter Water through Boiling

Ancient Egyptians Invented Early Methods of Coagulation

1500 BC

Egyptians start “coagulating” their drinking water, which is a method of clarifying water. Their early method involved using almonds smeared on their drinking vessels.

1000s BC

Greeks and Romans create more advanced purification systems that involve placing bags of pounded barley and bruised coral into water.

Pounded Barley and Bruised Coral were Used as a Method of Filtration
Early Filtration Experiments Involved Seawater Flowing through Sand


Early experiments of removing salt from ocean water conducted by Sir Francis Bacon by allowing seawater to flow through sand. These experiments inspired other methods to be tested, such as a covered and raised container that would capture rainwater and use sand to filter out contaminants.


Water purification increases on a larger scale and used in municipal applications using sand and gravel. By 1850, the first instance of water purification using chlorine was used during the cholera outbreak in Britain. By the end of the 1800s, a combination of large-scale sand filtration, pretreatment using charcoal, and coagulation were used to treat water on a large scale.

Using Chlorine to Disinfect Water
Calcium Hypochlorite Formula

Early 1900s

Calcium hypochlorite is used as disinfectant and to coagulate water. Water purification becomes more popular in homes. In 1914, water standards for drinking water are put into place for public supplies. Standards for all municipal water was put in place by the 1940s. The Clean Water Act is passed in 1972 and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

Present Day

Several new methods of water treatment have been introduced that utilize new technology and innovative ways to treat and purify water and wastewater. Some methods used to treat waste water include shock electrodialysis, biological purification and ceramic filtration membranes, and electromethanogenesis. Other methods of water treatment that use new types of technology are ultraviolet germicidal irradiation and deionization. Read more details about these new technological advancements in our full article.

Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation




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