Why am I asked to boil water?

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Water emergencies happen every day, complete with boil water advisories – but why? Residents are asked to boil water for many reasons during an emergency, such as:

  • Harmful microorganisms found to be present in the water
  • Pressure drops due to equipment failure or power outages
  • Water main breaks or repairs
  • Flooded water sources

When these events happen, there’s no guarantee the water is safe to drink, but a quick boil will provide peace of mind because it will kill any microorganisms and bacteria, making it safe.

To properly boil water, heat a pot of water on the stove until it’s at a rolling boil with full bubbles. Let it continue to boil for at least one minute and then allow to cool before using. You can also boil water in the microwave in a microwave-safe container.

What kind of water should you boil?

Any water used for ice and beverages, cooking, pet water, making baby formula, washing vegetables, and brushing teeth should be boiled.

What about washing dishes?

For washing dishes, you can boil enough water to fill both sides of the sink and use one for washing and one for rinsing. If you have an electric dishwasher, be sure to use it with the heating elements turned on. You can then rinse dishes in boiled water as an extra precaution.

What about washing hands and showering?

If you can, wait for the boil water advisory to be lifted before washing or showering; however, if you must wash or shower, take care to use hot water. Also avoid getting water in your mouth or open wounds.

But I have a filter!

Filters are great for removing lead, carbon and other chemicals from the water, but it will not kill microorganisms.

When will it be safe to drink tap water again?

You may be asked to run water to flush the pipes in your home before using the water again, or follow special instructions from your water provider. Until notified, continue to boil all tap water for at least one minute before using, or use bottled water.

Our power is out and I can’t boil water.

A good practice is to always have at least a few gallons of water on hand prepared in case of emergency. Bottled water or jugs of water are useful in the event that the power is out and you cannot boil water.

For more information on what to do when you have a boil water advisory, visit CDC’s information on drinking water.