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H4656 Water desalting kit, plastic / metal / contents / paper / textile, made by Permutit Company, United States of America, 1944. Click to enlarge.

Water de-salting kit

This desalting kit uses a synthetic plastic resin to purify salt water. Such devices were first developed for military personnel during World War II and were very costly, although former museum direct Arthur Penfold stated that "surely the saving of a life at sea, even in peace time, is worth any cost". Penfold saw the potential for this technology to be applied in Australia to purify bore water and immediately requested this sample to be displayed in the museum.

Plastics have been described …


Object No.


Object Statement

Water desalting kit, plastic / metal / contents / paper / textile, made by Permutit Company, United States of America, 1944

Physical Description

Water desalting kit, synthetic resin / plastic / paper, made by Permutit Company, United States of America, 1944

A water desalting kit with a rectangular lidded tin with printed text, a plastic drinking bladder and five paper wrapped rectangular blocks of salt-removing chemicals.There is white twine tying the blocks together and on the drinking bladder and the tin.



This desalting kit was a specially prepared outfit issued to the United States Naval and Air Force Personnel. The kit was used to provide the facilities to make fresh drinking water from sea water in the event of an emergency. It consists of a tin container, desalting bag, 6 packets of salt removing chemical, and one roll of patching material.

The following was written on an old Museum label that accompanied this kit:
"In 1935 two English chemists, Adams and Holmes, discovered that certain synthetic resins could remove all the solid substances dissolved in water. The substances usually found are sulphates and carbonates of calcium and magnesium; some waters contain common salt and bicarbonate of soda. By merely passing the water through a container holding one of the resins it was found practicable to remove the calcium, magnesium, sodium, and similar metallic ions.

The water, after passage through this resin, was found to be acid, and so it was passed through a further container of another synthetic resin. This removed all the acidic ions, i.e. the sulphates, chlorides, ect.

The water issuing from the last container was neutral and pure. By this means a sterile water, produced without heat, was obtained, equal in quality to the best distilled water.

This classical investigation laid the basis of modern water purification. The method has been applied commercially in Germany, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, and has made very rapid strides during the past few years. Newer and more efficient synthetic resins have recently been prepared.

There were obvious difficulties in applying the method economically to small scale operations, such as lifeboat equipment and for general household purposes. The war, however, has stimulated research into methods for demineralising or desalting seawater, so that the worst terror of shipwreck, THIRST, which also faces airmen forced into the sea, would be overcome.

The great firm of Permutit Co. Ltd. Has succeeded in preparing the two synthetic resins in a small compact cake, so that they can be applied on a small scale for the use of naval and air force personnel.

It is now practicable to remove the salt dissolved in sea water, and thus make available a supply of fresh drinking water for the benefit of airmen forced down into the sea."

The desalting bag was accompanied by a label reading "This bag is made of vinylite plastics and fitted with a filter pad, suction tube, and screw plug. To make water-tight when filled, the top opening of bag is rolled over and secured with strap and buckle. A lanyard is attached to prevent loss of bag. When filled to the blue line the bag holds about 1 pint of water."

The synthetic resin compound was accompanied by a label reading "made up in waterproof packets and secured together with tape as a safety measure. Contents of one packet are required to remove salt from one pint of seawater. Not all the salt is removed, a little is left to compensate for perspiration losses."

Museum label, H4656 Desalting kit, Blue File H4656
Penfold, A. R., 'Plastics and Synthetic Fibres', A.H. Pettifer, Government Printer, Sydney, 1956



This desalting kit was donated to the Museum by the Permutit Company in 1944. Arthur Penfold had seen this water purifying technology in Germany in 1939 and described Permutit's small scale application of the synthetic resin desalting kits as 'remarkable'. He had great interest in these desalting kits and their possible post-war application in Australia, specifically to purify bore water.

The kit was very difficult to obtain and Penfold was informed that it "was not sold to the public and under American War Production order could only be supplied to the Forces". After much correspondence, the company finally released one of these kits for the museum to display in its plastics exhibition.

Correspondence, A. Penfold with C. Hando, November 1944, Museum Archive 1947/2100
Correspondence, A. Penfold with Henry Foulds, November 1944, Museum Archive 1947/2100


Credit Line

Gift of the Permutit Company, 1944

Acquisition Date

24 November 1944

Cite this Object


Water de-salting kit 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 June 2021, <https://ma.as/240379>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/240379 |title=Water de-salting kit |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 June 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}