SteriPEN Misconceptions

The vast majority of SteriPEN users are happy with their products, only about 1.3% are returned because of manufacturing defects. Unfortunately, a small minority of people tend to be the most vocal in online reviews and forums. Here we address some myths and misconceptions around UV water purification and SteriPEN water purifiers.

Misconception 1: When Using a SteriPEN, the AA Batteries Don’t Work or Die After a Short Time

This is our number one complaint, and 99% of the time, the culprit is AA alkaline batteries. We advise SteriPEN users not to buy AA alkaline batteries, as they often won’t retain their charge as effectively as other batteries.

If using the correct type of batteries, lithium disposable or NiMH rechargeables, our larger Classic, Traveler and Emergency models can purify 100 liters of water before needing a battery change.

Misconception 2:  SteriPENs Don’t Work in Cold Weather

The SteriPEN instruction manual advises not to use the product in temperatures below freezing, this is primarily because batteries don’t function well at low temperatures. However, putting the battery somewhere warm (like your pocket) before using the SteriPEN will solve the problem.

A second reason people experience difficulties using SteriPENs in cold conditions is quite counterintuitive, so bear with us. In order to ensure the UV lamp only turns on when submerged in water, SteriPENs are installed with a sensor that detects the presence of minerals. Nearly all water has trace elements of minerals … except for mountain snowmelt that hasn’t had the chance to run through rocks and riverbeds and pick up mineral content. As a result, exceptionally pure sources of water without any minerals can keep the SteriPEN sensor from turning on when submerged. And where do you typically find extremely pure snowmelt? Places that are cold! So in these cases, it isn’t actually the temperature that is directly creating the problem.

In 2009, we doubled the size of the mineral detection sensor on all SteriPENs and ensured that the UV lamp will turn on in virtually any water, even distilled water. If you have an older model and are using the SteriPEN in snowmelt, you can simply add a bit of salt or electrolyte powder into the water. A tiny pinch is plenty to trigger the sensor.

Misconception 3: SteriPENs Don’t Work at High Elevations

This misconception is also a result of the snowmelt issue. Elevation has no effect on SteriPENs, but water with low mineral content typically exists in high elevation conditions.

Misconception 4: Water Leaks into SteriPENs

It is possible for water to get into SteriPENs, but this is a rare occurrence and we only get returns from water leaks once in a blue moon.

The lamp area, buttons and main shaft of SteriPENs are completely waterproof. The battery compartment is splash resistant, but not totally waterproof, which is why the instructions suggest you never submerge a SteriPEN in water. Despite the fact that the battery compartment isn’t totally waterproof, leaking is only a problem in rare cases.

Misconception 5: SteriPEN Doesn’t Eliminate Microorganisms on the Threads, Rim or Lids of Bottles

Microorganisms in such small levels are rarely dangerous, however, this issue can be addressed by simply drying the water off the lid, rim and threads of the bottle with a towel, bandana, etc.

Misconception 6: SteriPENs are Fragile and Break Easily

Despite using a UV lamp, SteriPENs are quite sturdy. We’ve heard reports of people accidently dropping SteriPENs off cliffs and recovering them in perfect working order. Part of our development process consists of dropping SteriPENs from more than 50 feet to make sure they still function.  In fact, we tested the durability of a SteriPEN by launching it out a potato gun. See for yourself!

We use a buffering system on the lamp (a pair of exotic polymer composite o-rings if you want to get technical) that act as a shock absorber, and allow UV light to pass through. The lamp is encased in what looks like glass, but is actually high-strength quartz, which provides very strong protection of the lamp.

Having said that, SteriPENs of course aren’t indestructible, and should be handled responsibly.

Misconception 7: SteriPEN is Heavy When You Factor in the Wide Mouth Bottle and Extra Batteries

Many prize SteriPENs because they’re small, light and easy to pack, though some argue that because you need to use a wide mouth bottle and carry extra batteries, it cancels out the weight benefits.

Models like the Adventurer Opti and Traveler Mini do require slightly wider bottles (Gatorade bottles work fine, for example) but other models like the Classic and Journey can be used on most all standard water bottles.

Unless you’re in a situation where you’ll need to purify water for nearly a month or more, and won’t have access to new batteries, one set will be fine. Batteries can of course malfunction for various reasons, so it’s recommended to bring along an alternative treatment method like pills. It’s never advisable to go deep into the backcountry or other situations without a backup water treatment method, no matter what your treatment of choice.

Misconception 8: The Battery Compartment Screw Gets Stripped

Some of our customers were reporting that the screw on the battery compartment was getting stripped after many uses, making it difficult to change the batteries. This has been addressed in newer models and isn’t an issue anymore.

2 thoughts on “SteriPEN Misconceptions

  1. Cortland says:

    Water has leaked inside the bulb of my steripen adventurer. Is this normal? Is it still safe? I’m in Panama right now and need to know if I can continue to use it safely.

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