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Supported by Recycle Now

Water wash

Make a water filter, and learn about people who struggle to access clean drinking water.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Scissors
  • Cotton wool balls
  • Clean, empty plastic bottles (two litres)
  • Paper napkins
  • Gravel
  • Sand
  • Soil
  • Mud
Water, toilets and hygiene

Millions of people don’t have access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. Learn about the global crisis from WaterAid.

Before you begin

  • Make some dirty water by mixing soil, mud, and water in a large clear bottle. It’s even better if the soil contains bits of dried leaf, grass, and other debris. Shake it well to mix.
  • Use scissors to cut the clean, empty plastic bottles. Cut the top third off—it doesn’t need to be an exact measurement as long as the bottom section of the bottle is noticeable bigger than the top part. You might find it easier to pierce the bottle with the point of the scissors first.
  • Set up tables with the same equipment on each: one cut empty bottle, cotton wool, paper napkins, and gravel or stones. Set up one table for each group—it’s up to you how many groups you want to have.

Talk about water

  1. Everyone should think about the difficulties some people go through to access clean and safe drinking water.
  2. The person leading the game should explain that millions of people live without easy access to water.

Make a water filter

  1. Everyone should split into groups and each group should go to a table with equipment.
  1. Each group should put the top half of the plastic bottle (with the bottle top) upside down inside the bottom half. The top half should rest inside the bottom half, like a funnel. The funnel-like top half will be the filter, and the bottom half will hold the filtered water.
  2. The person leading the activity should show everyone the bottle of dirty water they’ll be filtering.
  3. Each group should decide what order to layer the materials in their funnel to make their filter. They can use as much or as little of each material as they like.

Test the water filters

  1. Once each group has finished their filter, the person leading the activity should test each one by slowly pouring some of the dirty water in the top.
  1. Everyone should talk about which filters worked best, and why. They should rearrange the materials (or add or take away materials) to see what works best.
  2. The person leading the activity could rinse or wipe out the bottles, so everyone can have another go.
  3. At the end, the person leading the activity should get rid of all of the water by emptying it down a drain or sink. No one should drink the filtered water as it may still be unsafe.


This activity reminded you that you’re an international citizen. The person leading the game might give you a cup of clean tap water to sip while you think about the activity. How far do some people travel to get clean water? Imagine having to walk a long way, and carrying heavy bottles or buckets home. What activities would you miss out on if you had to walk a long way to collect water? Imagine that the water in your cup is all you have for the whole day. Would it make you more careful with your water?

This activity was also a chance to practice problem solving. How did you decide what to put into your filter first? Did you look at the dirty water to help you make decisions? Did you test the filter, and then change things based on the results?



Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Rubbish and recycling

All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.

Gardening and nature

Everyone must wash their hands after the activity has finished. Wear gloves if needed. Explain how to safely use equipment and set clear boundaries so everyone knows what’s allowed.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Make it accessible

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.