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Anyone who knows portable gravity water filters knows that one of the best ones available today is made by Berkey. But Berkey filter systems are a little on the expensive side, and not everyone can fit one into their budget.


If you've been wanting a Berkey filter system but balk at paying $200 to $400 for one, I have good news for you!

You can actually make your own system using the Berkey filters and substituting food grade storage pails for the stainless steel containers. In less than an hour you can make a system that performs just as well as a stainless steel Berkey at less than half the cost

So, exactly how do you do it, and what materials will you need? Read on and find out. I've also included a short video that walks you through the process. You'll be drinking pure great-tasting water in no time!

You can click on a topic in the Quick Navigation below, or just scroll down to read the whole article.

What Materials Do I Need & Where Can I Get Them?

First, you'll need two (2) 5-gallon food grade plastic storage pails with lids. You can usually get them for free from grocery store bakeries or from restaurants, although it seems like they're a little harder to come by than they used to be.

Just a word of warning: don't take any pickle buckets! The smell never fades or washes out. Believe me, I've tried! If you can't find any free ones, you can buy them new online.

The second thing you need is 2 black Berkey filter elements, which always come in pairs.  Click here to check availability and price at Amazon.

Last, you'll need a spigot. There are plenty of styles to choose from. Click here to see what's available on Amazon.

What Tools Will I Need?

All you need is a drill with a 7/16" drill bit.

How Do I Make the System?

Before you get started, make sure that your plastic pails and lids are clean. If you got them from a bakery or restaurant, you're going to want to give them a good scrubbing.

You will also need to prime the filters before installing them into the pails. This just involves flushing them with water at your kitchen sink. Instructions for doing this are included when you buy the filters.

Basically all you do to make the system is to drill some holes through the plastic and attach the filters and spigot. Simple, right?

This video by Johnny Mars at the Permaculture Paradise YouTube channel shows you exactly how to do it:

Johnny does mention, and I will repeat: After your filter is assembled and you fill it up for the first time, you should discard the first batch of filtered water. This is because there is usually some residue left in the filters from the manufacturing process and you want to get it all out. You might even need to do this a second time.

What If I Want to Filter Out Fluoride, Too?

The black Berkey filters don't remove fluoride from the water, so you'll need to buy a pair of the optional fluoride/arsenic filters. This isn't included in the video, but it's simple to add them. They just screw on to the bottom of the black filters and then hang down into the bottom bucket. The instructions for attaching them will be included with the filters when you buy them.

It's less expensive to buy the black filters and fluoride filters all together as a bundle than to buy them separately. Click here to find the current price on a set of 2 black filters and 2 fluoride filters at Amazon.

How Long Will the Filters Last?

A pair of black Berkey filters are good for 6,000 gallons of water. Then they should be replaced. Depending on how much water you use, this could last 3-4 years.

The fluoride filters, if you use them, need to be replaced every 1,000 gallons.

Which Size Berkey System Does This Compare To?

If you use the 5-gallon buckets, this makes a filter approximately equal in size to the Imperial Berkey.

For more information on all of the genuine Berkey filter systems, see my Berkey Water Filter Buyer’s Guide.

Can I Use Something Other Than Plastic Food Pails?

I have seen other homemade Berkey filters made from stainless steel stockpots. Of course, this is a little more expensive than using free plastic buckets, but if you really want to have stainless steel, it's an option. It's just going to be more difficult to do because you'll be cutting metal instead of plastic.

Another option is to use large 5-gallon water bottles like the ones water delivery services use. As with stockpots, this involves more than just drilling holes and is a little more complicated than using buckets. It involves using a jigsaw and a box cutter. I'm sure you can google to find more information about it if you're interested.

Whatever type of container you decide on, make sure that it's made of a food safe material - either stainless steel or food grade plastic. If you're not sure how to tell, you can learn how to identify food grade plastic by reading How to Identify Food Grade Buckets.

What do you think of this idea? Do you think you want to give it a try? Or maybe you've already made your own filter. If so, how did it go? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated on April 2, 2022

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  1. I believe the bucket system is far superior to the pretty stainless systems because it can be made overflow proof.

    The following description uses the M&M Industries Inc. 2.5 Gal buckets that originally came with the Berkey Style Bucket System from ‘’ I can’t find DisasterStuff any longer but the buckets are available. They have twist on airtight tops with ratchets to hold them tight. Various sizes are available from
    The airtight seal of the top on the bottom bucket is important for this overflow proof modification.

    In a stainless system, if you fill the upper tank while the lower tank is mostly full, you will likely get water on the floor as the top tank continues to empty even after the lower tank is completely full. It is true, that this can happen even with the basic bucket system because although the tops can screw down tight that is normally not done. The top bucket top in not tightened because there is no need to tighten it, and doing so would slow or even stop the water flow due to the vacuum that would form at the top of the top bucket as the water flows out. The bottom bucket top is not screwed down tight because air needs to escape as water enters from the filter in the top bucket, and when emptying the lower bucket to harvest the filtered water, a vacuum would form in the lower bucket stopping the outward flow of water.

    People therefore leave both lids somewhat loose to allow air to freely flow in and out of both buckets. Unfortunately, this can cause a problem. Since the water level in the lower bucket is not obvious it is easy to fill the top bucket while the bottom bucket is half full or more. I have done this more than once with the lower lid loose, the water just overflows onto the floor because the top bucket will empty even though the lower bucket is overflowing through its loose lid.

    The solution is to tighten the lower bucket lid so it is watertight and add an air tube from near the top of the lower bucket that extends just above the highest level water could reach outside the top bucket. I find that a food-grade 3/8 inch clear plastic tube serves well and does not appreciably slow the drain of water out of the lower tank when the spigot is open. I recommend searching for fittings that can provide an air passage from the inside of the side of the lower bucket, near the top, to a taper fitting on the outside of the lower bucket, onto which the 3/8 plastic tube can be pressed. The other end of the plastic tube can be cut to length and loosely fastened to the handle of the top bucket so that it’s open end extends above the highest top bucket water level.

    Now, if you fill the top bucket while the bottom bucket is already full, what will happen is water will flow from the top bucket to the lower bucket completely filling it and also flowing out into the new plastic tube. As water continues to filter the water level in the tube will climb up and up until the water level in the tube is the same height as the water level in the upper bucket. At that point water flow stops because pressures are equal on both sides of the filter.

    When you open the spigot air will enter the open end of the plastic tube replacing water as it flows back down to the lower bucket. Air will continue to flow through the plastic tube allowing water to freely flow out the spigot even though the top on the lower bucket is tightly closed. This mod has worked beautifully for me for years.

    To make this mod work on fancy stainless systems you would have to somehow make the top of the lower section watertight. I don’t think that would be easy.

    Just one other tip: Water levels in the buckets can easily be checked using a small flashlight aimed through the white bucket plastic.

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