The worldwide need for fresh water requires more and more plants for the treatment of non-conventional water sources. During the last decades, seawater has become an important source of fresh water in many and regions. The traditional desalination processes [reverse osmosis (RO), multi stage flash (MSF), multi effect distillation (MED), electrodialysis (ED)] have evoluated to reliable and established processes; current research focuses on process improvements in view of a lower cost and a more environmentally friendly operation. This paper provides an overview of recent process improvements in seawater desalination using RO, MSF, MED and ED. Important topics that are discussed include the use of alternative energy sources (wind energy, solar energy, nuclear energy) for RO or distillation processes, and the impact of the different desalination process on the environment; the implementation of hybrid processes in seawater desalination; pretreatment of desalination plants by pressure driven membrane processes (microfiltration, ultrafiltration and nanofiltration) compared to chemical pretreatment; new materials to prevent corrosion in distillation processes; and the prevention of fouling in reverse osmosis units. These improvements contribute to the cost effectiveness of the desalination process, and ensure a sustainable production of drinking water on long terms in regions with limited reserves of fresh water.