Controlling A Counter Top Water Distiller With Salvaged Parts


Hackaday reader [Kyle] wrote in to share a project he recently wrapped up, involving a counter top water distillation unit he uses at home.

He lives in Atlanta, and hates both the taste and contaminants in the water, so using this distiller is an absolute must in his house. The problem with this cheap unit is that it waits until it is completely dry before shutting off the heating element. According to [Kyle] this brings up two huge problems.

First, letting the unit run dry simply vaporizes all of the contaminants that he was trying to remove, allowing them to re-condense and contaminate his fresh water. Second, the heating element reaches extreme temperatures once the water is gone, which causes premature failure of the distillation unit.

He originally used a timer to remind himself to turn off the unit before it ran dry, but the process became tedious. He found that he would often forget to turn off the distiller before it ruined his newly cleaned water.

Looking for another solution, he decided to automate the process using some components left over from an Arduino-based terrarium temperature/humidity controller he built a while back. A salvaged toy clock tower was used as an input dial, which sets the distillation time on the microcontroller. The Arduino in turn manages a set of relays that controls the power supply to the distiller.

While [Kyle] only sent us this information to us via email, he has made code and pictures available online. We’re sure he would be pretty open to answering any questions you might have related to his build, so fire away in the comments section.

After seeing that his distiller made the front page, [Kyle] directed us to a write up he prepared, detailing some more specifics on the project.

57 thoughts on “Controlling A Counter Top Water Distiller With Salvaged Parts

  1. @RicoElectrico That is only true of deionized water, which if you drank it would suck out ions from your intestines, which is dangerous. Distilled water is essential and clean. Don’t be stupid.

  2. 1. Distilled water is de-ionised, all substances that do not boil below 100°C are left behind.
    This could lead to the leaching of electrolytes from the blood through osmosis.
    2. Most contaminents in tapwater (except alcohol. ;| ) boil at far higher temperatures than water, so the distiller would not transfer them, even if overheating, but de-ionised water would quickly dissolved scent and taste molecules from the air pollution and his kitchen.

  3. Distilled and deionized aren’t the same. We run a waterjet that takes water up to 60,000 PSI. We specifically are told to avoid using pure deionized (DI) water in the pump (which is made out of stainless steel) to avoid premature failure of the pump – because DI water is such an amazing solvent. Think of it like chlorine gas. It is so reactive because its outer electrons readily combine with just about anything.

    This hack is neat but why not just build a proper distiller from scratch rather than zombify / frankenstein this one?

    Or better yet, buy one that isn’t stupidly designed in the first place?

  4. @norcalli, Calling people stupid isn’t nice, and it makes you look foolish when you’re wrong.

    Distilled water is a form of deionized water, and not all deionized water is distilled. (eg, you can deionize water using revers osmosis.)

    Depending on the impurity you care about, distilled water is often more pure than deionized water. In a chemistry lab, you often use deionized water for 90% of your operations, and only use distilled water for things that need really pure water.

    According to the WHO, distilled water is not ideal for consumption because it’s missing magnesium and calcium. However, there aren’t harmful corrosive effects in vitro. Once it hits your stomach its ionic content is a moot point.

    … don’t use it for your goldfish though.

  5. Distilled and deionized water aren’t the same. Deionized water is just water that goes through a super-brita filter to remove most of the stuff. It doesn’t do anything to the electron orbitals and doesn’t change its solvent ability. Distilled water is well, boiled and condensed. Distilled water is theoretically nearly pure H20 while deionized water still has some non-polar stuff in it.

    Deionized water and distilled water aren’t necessarily harmful, the worst risk would be to your teeth from not having fluoridated water.

    And FINALLY, what sort of contaminates are in your water that also happen to have a higher boiling point than water? Stills work by removing the items from lowest boiling point to highest. Which is why when you distill booze you never drink first part of your condensate because thats all methanol. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a distillable liquid present in tap water that is also soluble in tap water that also has a higher boiling point than tap water.

    Who cares if your water still boils dry, all thats going to be leftover is salt? Unnecessary.

  6. distilling water and making a distillery are things to watch out for in the US. Yes owning a distillery under 1 gal for water production only is legal, however depending on the BATF in your area even this can be a point of argument. Anyway if you make one of these and post on the internet about it even if it is for water only be advised of the possibility of the BATF having a knock at your door.

    again i know it is legal to do this, but i brew as well and have had many good discussion with a local batf agent about distillers.

  7. h_2_o, what are you going on about? This is a commercial WATER distillation unit. The BATF couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you using it for its intended purpose. As long as you’re not distilling ethyl alcohol, they really don’t care in the least.

  8. I have heard that dislilled water will loosen tooth fillings! That was on some science program on TV. When as little one on a trip to some tourist trap sunken gardens or such, I pulled mom over and wanted a drink from a jug type cooler. She said don’t, you won’t like the taste now or tomorrow. Too late, I drank a little Dixie cup full. Next day I still had a distorted sense of taste!

  9. I live above Atlanta, and I HATE the water here. If it drips, it leaves some nasty pink stain, there’s crud in it for sure.

    But, I have filters, I wouldn’t use a distiller. I think once you take the minerals etc… out, you lose the “flavor” of the water. Depending on the filter you use, you can actually get really good tasting water.

    I have a purifier I use camping (not a filter), and it turns dirty old creek water into some great tasting stuff.

    @Roberto, yes. Not sure why you would, but it can do that. I’ve made “stills” for survival situations that will do that also.

    The “survivor man” thing about drinking your own urine is silly, when you can just distill it pretty easily. The only reason to drink it “from the source” is if you simply can not distill it.

  10. While repurposed/salvaged parts are a great idea as it saves things from the trash pile, a time-delay relay could do the job without all the extra parts. A light timer wouldn’t be a good idea since they have on-off times. Left alone, it would turn on during a day that you might not be there which kind of defeats the purpose.
    I like the repurposed parts, though!

  11. There’s lots of myths here about distilled and de-ionized water posted here.

    1) De-ionized water is more pure than distilled. If this were not the case, you’d be chiseling your posts on stone and mailing them, as DI water is used to rinse silicon wafers after the etching process and has to be pure at the 5-log level. Depending on the conductivity of the feed water, DI resins will purify way beyond what a distiller will do and without the scaling that distilling leaves.

    2)Distilled and de-ionized water will not harm you. Both are chemically the same, only having used different processes (distillation vs ion-exchange) to purify water.

    Also, the body does not absorb minerals from water (or enough to make a difference, anyway). Drinking ultra-pure water will not hurt you. Assuming you eat a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, you get all the vitamins and minerals you need. vitamin supplements, as well as minerals in water go right through your system.

  12. @Steve Cock

    1. so you’re implying we wouldn’t have papyrus and ink as well?

    2. i’ve seen bear grylls drink his own piss and survive, i’d take his word before I’d trust anything you say

    Lou Eney out!

  13. Well spoken, Steve Cook. I was about to start a reply about the properties of this water until I got to the bottom of the comment list.

    I would like to respond to why I chose distilling over filtration. I calculated that replacement filters would be more expensive than the cost of energy to run this still. More importantly, filter effectiveness also steeply drops off and can actually increases the concentration of certain compounds as the filter gains more use. Bacteria are also known to colonize filters, although this is reduced because of all the Cl+, fluoride, etc. in the tap water.

  14. “i’ve seen bear grylls drink his own piss and survive”

    No. You haven’t. You have seen him through a television. Which is edited. You can’t definitively state you have seen him drink his own piss and survive. You knew nothing about his metabolic condition and further, you know for a fact that, AT MINIMUM, he has a camera crew with him.

    I am not calling you a liar but I am saying that what you are saying isn’t accurate.

  15. As to this hack – something tells me that children’s clock isn’t *exactly* industrial grade. Um, yes.. insurance company. Well, you see, my house burned down because uhh yeah….electrical short. That’s right. Absolutely no chance it was a hacked together water distiller.

  16. And please understand, I am in no way attempting to perpetuate the myth that hacked together is inherently unsafe. But sometimes you look at a hack and have to at least go… uhhh… is this a good idea? I get that feeling just looking at this thing. I think it’s the brightly colored plastic combined with the reputation that children’s toys have for… well lack of quality control and breaking.

  17. It probably true that DI water can be more pure than distilled, but that isn’t always the case. I’ve been at two public universities where (triple?)distilled is preferred over house DI for certain experiments. Good point on the efficacy of a resin column though.

    But, it’s very well established that minerals in water have dietary value. Here’s the WHO review I referred to earlier (not peer reviewed, but feel free to dig into any of the citations that are):

    Sure, pure water won’t hurt you, but it’s false to say that the minerals don’t offer a positive health effect.

  18. [Disclaimer – I can’t read the picasa album at the moment, so this is just based on the hack a day summary.]

    This seems pretty energy inefficient.

    Since he is in Atlanta, why use a still, rather than a dehumidifier to get purified water?

    Certainly some care would be necessary to find a dehumidifier that produces potable output. But such devices do exist (I have seen booths for them at commercial festivals). In summertime using a dehumidifier would have the added benefit of making the living area more pleasant. (Lower humidity makes it feel less hot.)

    If using a still – is it more energy efficient to have the still inside (in a presumably air conditioned space – where the heat from the still makes the room even hotter, and adds air conditioning load), or outside (where the outdoor air temperature aids boiling (a little), but the condenser is a little warmer).

    And how does the cost of distilling it compare to just buying commercially distilled (or otherwise purified) water.

    Of course the still might still be useful in the wintertime (rather than just using a heater.)

    (Now if one wanted to get really fancy with a still, one could use the energy saving tricks like they do in a Multi-stage flash distillation plant – lowering pressure to reduce the boiling point, recover heat from outgoing water, etc. Put all that together and you would have quite a hack.

  19. RE:M H
    I do not know for sure that a dehumidifier could collect the amount of water that I and the people I live with drink, but I do know that commercial water is contaminated with BPA and other toxins that leach from the plastic container it’s stored in. That’s even more true with distilled water.

  20. I dont want government to alter my conciseness using water. When I was purchasing distiller I went on long research and found out most distillers made in China with no name and no purity standards in material and they sell it to other companies so they put their label on it. This particular unit in article is one of them, I highly recommend to look for USA made product all from stainless steal instead this questionable heath hazard machine.

    P.S. Distilled water danger is myth, originated from single doctor without proof based on assumption that in nature there is no pure water and repeated over and over as fact.. Animals het their minerals mostly from food so there is no know danger in drinking distilled water

  21. @ed “why not use a water filter?”
    short answer: home filtration is a scam, it does filter out living organisms not chemicals but boiling water kill them as well and leave nasty staff in water

  22. @Climate Change Kills
    dont you brain worth it?, in US they put florine now in bottle water too. Otherwise you can let government calcify you pineal gland, most people have rock in brain by age of 20 they even use it for x-ray to find brain tumor by looking if calcified gland in a center of pushed by tumor aside. And it not that expensive it cost me ~50C for a gallon comparing 1.50$ for bottle water

  23. @therian Do you believe everything you read on wikipedia or only the stupid bits?

    I must add my voice to the masses here, this seems to be an awful waste of energy just for drinking water. I can entirely sympathize with shitty water, we have it where I am as well, but we just filter it. Works fine and tastes about a billion times better.

  24. @RicoElectrico Exactly, people who drink distilled water should complement it supplementary minerals. Your organism doesn’t only need H2O, but also all other minerals that come dissolved in regular mineral water.

    @norcalli Don’t be a jerk, you can have distilled water *not* deionized.

    Deionized water is good for the organism if not consumed regularly (one time each two month is ok). It is used for cleaning toxins from your body.

  25. As Gerrit Coetzee said there seems to be an awful lot of confusion going around here.

    First thing to mention is that the only difference between properly distilled and deionized water is that deionized water can still have non-ion impurities (eg sugar) if the deionization process isn’t complimented with other filters.

    @RicoElectrico & @norcalli & @Gerrit Coetzee : distilled/deionized/”ultrapure” water alone does not leech minerals out of the body, your kidneys do. Drinking excessive deionized/distilled water makes it easier for the kidneys to allow minerals to escape (osmotic pressure plays a part in this). It only becomes a real problem if you do not replenish those minerals through other intake such as food (which they should be if you’re eating healthily). It has been suggested that osmotic shock could also cause intestinal issues but there are mixed results in the research.

    @Hackerspacer : DI water/distilled water is no more reactive than normal tap water and is especially much much less reactive than chlorine gas (which is scary stuff). The solubility of water comes from the fact that water is a rather polar molecule, not because outer electrons are being transferred or “combined” (which would be chemical reactions and result in you no longer having water). The reason pipes may encounter problems when DI/distilled water is run through them is if the pipes themselves are not properly connected and mixed metals occur where electrochemistry can take place with the naturally occurring self ionization of water (ie hydrodronium and hydroxide ions).

    @therian : What?! Foremost, the “cheap” filters found in the pitchers often just contain activated carbon which tends to absorb many chemicals, that’s why they use it orally to treat poisonings and overdoses. Secondly the calcification of the pineal gland occurs with or without fluoride as it’s been shown to consist of not just fluoride but calcium, phosphate, and carbonate.

    More on topic, the point of this hack was to take something which was done manually beforehand (switch off the distiller early) and the automate it. I believe it was accomplished successfully. Leaving the vaporizer on too long and thereby vaporizing some of the chemicals in the water is quite possible but it wont vaporize any minerals originally present (if you’re vaporizing mineral salts you have more serious issues at hand than bad tasting water) so it must be some of the chemicals they treat it with that’s ruining the taste. This brings to mind that, as mentioned earlier, activated carbon filters could likely do it for much cheaper.

  26. “He lives in Atlanta, and hates both the taste and contaminants in the water, so using this distiller is an absolute must in his house”

    And almost ALL carbon block filters are not only good at fixing thins but far more efficient.

    This was a bored person who decided to make a rube goldberg device out of a pile of junk.

  27. @therian

    You sound nuttier than the UFO people.

    I have a degree in water chemistry and worked for 10 years at a water filtration plant. I know a metric ton more about water, water purification, and flouride addition than you do. Compared to me you are a 3 year old.

    You are 100% wrong and completely and totally on the Nutter side. Stop reading the internet and start reading real books.

    Oh and that tin-foil hat you wear, It does not stop the aliens from reading your mind.

  28. @kyle. you calculated wrong or you intentionally looked for the most expensive ones available.

    You buy a under sink carbon block filter. they are only $6.95 and filter nearly 1000 gallons of water. you plumb that in to a secondary faucet. total spent to install, $60.00 if you buy cheap stuff. Of it you are a nutter and cant use copper or PVC pipe for the water, $27,500 for special Mason blessed anti reverse ion generating silver pipes and Alien technology reverse wave filtration system that has sonic disruption resonators with a UV sterilization faucet tip.

    Normal people go for the PCV pipe, cheap $30.00 faucet and $20.00 filter and housing under the sink. 1000 gallons between filter changes. Want to go even cheaper buy a 55 pound bag of activated carbon and make your own filter housing out of layers of T-shirt, screen and some PVC again. fill it with activate carbon, run water through to flush out the dust and now for $0.23 you made a larger activate carbon filter that will filter easily 1000 gallons of water .

    TaDa! Tasteless, ODerless, Chlorine Free as well as almost everything else, you need to add a 0.5 micron filter after that to get rid of everything, but those are only for labs or nutters.

  29. A .5 micron filter is not pure enough for me, as many viri and bacteria can pass through that with ease.
    Also, anything constructed with water coming into contact with plastic parts is out.
    Carbon filters also don’t remove contaminates such as fluoride, pharmaceuticals, and metals, to name a few.

  30. Wall wart “vacation” outlet on/off timer. Ya can get a mechanical one from the Dollar Tree for a buck. A digital one from a major retailer shouldn’t bust the $10 mark. Plug that into the wall and plug the destiller into that.

  31. “DI water/distilled water is no more reactive than normal tap water and is especially much much less reactive than chlorine gas (which is scary stuff).”

    So your argument is that pure almost completely non conductive DI water will corrode steel at the exact same pace as normal tap water?

    I am sorry but you have no idea what you are talking about.

    My point about chlorine gas was to make an analogy that DI water was highly reactive compared to normal tap water. Not reactive in the sense that the results are spectacular or fast but reactive in the sense that, well, DI water likes to react with things to pull ions out of it.

  32. Carbon filters would solve this. I have a tall carbon filter with brass quick disconnects, and run my brewing water through. Otherwise I get varying amounts of chlorine/chloramine in my water, which is foul to begin with (but worse when the chlorines pass through fermentation… awful band-aid taste).

    You can get carbon filters installed in your basement, or under your sink. A Dual filter works even nicer, and the filters last longer.

    For those that worry about minerals, you can put those back into the filtered/distilled water, and with the right mineral ratios you can emulate water from Berlin, London, Burton-on-Trent, Dusseldorf, Plzen etc. :-)

  33. The difference between filtered and purified water is an extreme lack of understanding that I saw time and time again when I worked in the water filtration business. Most people never took chemistry in high school or college, so understanding how nature governs chemical reactions leaves for a lot of myths and misunderstanding.

    Inline filters can remove a variety of contaminants, from .4μ filters for bacteria and pyrogens (dead bacteria and miscellaneous critter bits) to a carbon block filter for chlorine and volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) and larger contaminants. A 1μ absolute carbon block filter (offers five log or 99.999% efficiency) can not only remove chlorine and VOC’s, but can filter out giardia and cryptosporidium as well as a large amount of lead (most lead contaminating water is particulate and not in ionic form) and asbestos.

    If you want to remove dissolved minerals and metals from water, you have to look toward distillation or de-ionisation. Depending on the quality of the distiller, this can be very easy, or difficult in the case of the hack here. I remember customers bringing in models like the one above (Sears sold them for awhile), and there was precious little that could be done as they are mostly plastic. Regardless of the type of distiller used, you would need to treat the feed water or the distillate with a carbon block filter as the VOC’s and chlorine in the water will evaporate during the distillation process and condense with the distillate, leaving you with mineral and metal free water and still a lot of other nasty stuff sitting there.

    De-ionisation works well with feed water that’s under 75 μmhos conductivity. The issues with using mixed-bed DI to filter drinking water are exhausting the resin (which will then allow it to begin throwing contaminants back into the drinking water) as well as a potential amine taste from the anion resin in the bed. In most cities, the conductivity of the feed water is too high to use DI to treat drinking water unless it’s gone through a first stage purification like distillation or reverse osmosis. Cities like Portland, OR, Seattle, San Francisco and New York City have fairly pure water supplies (under 100 μmhos) and can use a mixed-bed DI system successfully with about a 1/4 cubic foot of resin to produce about 500 gallons of drinking water with a conductivity of approximately 2-5 μmhos annually. It’s a separate system with its own faucet to ensure use for only drinking and cooking.

    Labs will use triple distilled water mostly because a) it’s been around for a long time and is fairly simple (mixed bed resin technology is only about 40 years old) and b) distilling removes pyrogens by virtue of the process. Large scale ultra-pure filtration systems will use micro filtration as insurance as USP standards require micro filtration of the distillate. Using DI for ultra-pure water requires more in the way of UV sterilization (using high wavelength UV light to kill bacteria) and micro-filtration, but the big benefit is it can be done at feed water pressures while a distillation system requires a feed pump.

    Pure and ultra-pure water is very aggressive. Water is the universal solvent and it will act on whatever metal container it’s sitting in, and the higher the purity, the more it will do so. This is why most pure water systems use polyethylene or polypropylene tubing and storage containers (not PVC as previously mentioned).

    Regarding the negative health effects of drinking pure water: there are none. While the body will get some minerals from water, it’s again as I stated before, not a reliable source. You’re an animal, not a carrot. Minerals do add taste to water, which is why most drinking water companies like Alhambra or Dasani (Coca-Cola) add lime chips to the distillate to give it some taste. The advantage DI has over distilled water is that it still has a lot of dissolved oxygen in the water, which does more for taste than lime chips will. A good aerator does more for water taste than minerals will. The same with temperature.

    Pure water will not leech minerals from your bones or organs. Your body is constantly balancing electrolyte levels and eating a well-balanced diet and drinking lots of water (and as mentioned by someone else here, drinking pure water actually helps your kidneys, not hurt them) does a lot for your health, Eating a couple of bananas and a mango every day and drinking two liters of pure water would give you pretty much all the minerals and vitamins you need for good health.

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