When Fire Doesn't Burn: Boiling Water Inside a Plastic Bottle

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Pablo Edronkin

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Common sense would tell us that plastic burns and melts if touched or influenced by fire or heat, but this survival technique proves that you can actually boil water inside a plastic vessel put over a fire with no structural damage.

What would happen if you suddenly find out that the metallic vessel that you used to cook things or boil water in your camp is suddenly lost or damaged beyond repair? Some pessimistic folks would think that there would be no more hot meals or even worse: that it would be impossible to purify more water by boiling it. However, that is not true: You can actually heat and even boil water inside a plastic container by putting it over a fire much like a kettle. The principle is simple: The water inside the vessel will absorb all the heat or energy transmitted by the flames to the plastic; hence, the container suffers no damage.

In practice this technique requires some rehearsing because there are a few problems that could potentially ruin the experiment and the plastic vessel, so don't try it with anything that you are fond of. Instead, use a plastic bottle of the sort found at any supermarket. The first problem that you could confront is that the flames might touch the plastic where there is no water and so, no transmission of energy would take place there; the result will be a charred and possibly damaged plastic vessel.

Another problem that could appear is an explosion: If you leave the cap, lid or cork in place, pressure will begin to accumulate and the whole thing might explode like a bomb, throwing plastic shrapnel overheated steam and boiling water all over the place. This is actually a way to make expedient bombs but since it is not your goal to teach how to do that, we have to remind you that it is highly unadvisable and dangerous to toy with such things. However, this stresses the point that several survival techniques have dual uses: To provide you with the necessary things to support life, and to fight unconventionally.

Better than having a fire with big flames would be to provide yourself with a pile of hot embers; with them you will be able to control better the process, avoiding contact between plastic where there is no water and the source of heat.

This video shows how to heat water inside a plastic bottle.

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