Over 1.1 billion people in the world lack access to improved drinking water. Diarrhoeal and other waterborne diseases cause an estimated 1.9 million deaths per year. The Safe Water System (SWS) is a proven household water treatment intervention that reduces diarrhoeal disease incidence among users in developing countries. Turbid waters pose a particular challenge to implementation of SWS programmes; although research shows that a 3.75 mg l−1 sodium hypochlorite dose effectively treats turbid waters, users sometimes object to the strong chlorine taste and prefer to drink water that is more aesthetically pleasing. This study investigated the efficacy of three locally available water clarification mechanisms—cloth filtration, settling/decanting and sand filtration—to reduce turbidity and chlorine demand at turbidities of 10, 30, 70, 100 and 300 NTU. All three mechanisms reduced turbidity (cloth filtration −1–60%, settling/decanting 78–88% and sand filtration 57–99%). Sand filtration (P=0.002) and settling/decanting (P=0.004), but not cloth filtration (P=0.30), were effective at reducing chlorine demand compared with controls. Recommendations for implementing organizations based on these results are discussed.