does boiling water make it safe

As Americans are hearing more and more stories about local water contamination in places like Flint and Benton Harbor, it’s becoming clear that water safety is an issue that can strike anywhere at any time. From corroded lead pipes to water contamination following a storm surge, communities across the country may find themselves facing unsafe tap water for days, weeks, or even months.

In this situation, local authorities will sometimes caution residents to avoid using tap water unless it has been boiled first. But does boiling water make it safe?


What Are Boil Water Advisories?

If a “boil water advisory” has been issued in your area, this indicates a problem with the local tap water — often from germs that may make you sick. To avoid exposure to these dangerous contaminants, you should boil tap water before using or switch to bottled water until the advisory is lifted.


What Boiling Water Purifies (and What It Doesn’t)

When a boil water advisory is established, that’s typically a sign that whatever your local issue is, boiling the water should make it safe. As long as you follow the recommended guidelines, you should be in good hands.

Still, it’s important to understand that while boiling water can purify certain contaminants, it’s not the answer to every potential water problem you might face.

Biological Organisms

Boiling water is most beneficial when the water carries some kind of biological contamination, such as harmful bacteria or microorganisms. These tiny creatures cannot survive in water that has been boiled for several minutes, making boiling a strong purification method in such cases.

For the record, it’s not unusual for water to contain organisms at some point in its journey to your home. Often, water from rivers, lakes, or reservoirs naturally carries bacteria, viruses, or parasites. But if you’re on a municipal water system, this water will be processed at a treatment plant to remove dangerous contaminants before it ever reaches your home. This is why a boil water advisory is only necessary in unusual circumstances and not for everyday water use.

Minerals and Chemicals

However, some pollutants such as minerals and heavy metals may not be affected by boiling your tap water. So if these are a problem in your area, boiling won’t be enough to ensure safe drinking water for your household. This is why cases of lead contamination, such as in Flint, Michigan, leave residents highly dependent on bottled water. Unfortunately, when certain metals or chemicals are involved, boiling water just isn’t sufficient to promise its safety.


Steps to Boil Your Water for Purification Purposes

So, a boil water advisory has been implemented in your area. You may be used to boiling water to cook pasta or make tea, but what are the proper methods to boil water for purification? That depends on the starting condition of your tap water.

Cloudy Water

If your water is cloudy, here’s how to boil it for best safety results.

  1. First, filter your water through a paper towel, coffee filter, or clean cloth. If you don’t have access to any of these, you can also allow the water to settle until the cloudiness rests at the bottom, then draw clear water off the top.
  2. Place the clear water in a pot or kettle and bring to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for one minute. (At elevations above 6,500 feet, you’ll need to boil it longer, for three full minutes.)
  3. Let the boiled water stand until completely cooled. Then use immediately or store tightly covered in sanitized containers.

Clear Water

If your water is already running clear, you’ll follow similar, slightly simpler instructions to boil it for purification.

  1. Place water in a pot or kettle and bring to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for one minute. (At elevations above 6,500 feet, you’ll need to boil it longer, for three full minutes.)
  2. Let the boiled water stand until completely cooled. Then use immediately or store tightly covered in sanitized containers.

Pro Tip: Sometimes boiled water may seem to have a flat taste. You can improve this flavor by pouring your boiled water from one container to another to aerate, then leaving it to stand for a few hours.

Alternatively, you can add a pinch of salt to each quart or liter of boiled water. But start small! You can always add more salt if necessary, but you can’t take it away once added.


What Tasks Require Boiled Water During an Advisory?

Boil water advisories aren’t only about creating safe standards for drinking water. Depending on the specific issue that prompted the advisory, it may also include guidance on other household tasks that use water. So when a boil water advisory is in effect, what tasks require boiled water?

To ensure safety, use boiled or bottled water for:

  • Drinking
  • Washing or cooking food
  • Making ice
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Filling pet water bowls

During a boil water advisory, it’s also a good idea to take the following steps:

  • If you have an infant that consumes baby formula, use ready-to-use formula rather than one that must be mixed with water. Otherwise, use only bottled water to make your water-mixed formula.
  • Use plenty of soap when washing your hands in tap water. Or you can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60% or more alcohol content.
  • Be careful to avoid swallowing any water when bathing or showering during a boil water advisory. Children and babies should be bathed with extra care to avoid water ingestion — consider switching to sponge baths until the advisory is over.
  • Dishwashers are typically safe to use during an advisory so long as they reach a final rinse temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you’re not sure, though, it may be safer to use disposable dishware and utensils for the duration.


Ensure Safer Water with Home Filtration

When contamination strikes your area, be sure to follow the guidelines of your boil water advisory carefully. It could mean the difference between good health and a serious medical problem.

But boil water advisories are only issued during a serious disaster — so what about potential contaminants that may be lurking in your water daily? For peace of mind and safer water 24/7/365, the best way to protect your family is with a whole home water filtration system.

At The Science of Water, we assess and install water filtration systems to meet your unique needs, using technology backed by NASA and the EPA. With our advanced water systems, you can purify your water supply to enjoy safer, clearer, and more delicious water through every tap and appliance in your home.

Don’t wait for a crisis to strike. Proactively protect your household with water that can be relied on. For more information about The Science of Water or to book your free water test, just get in touch with our team today!



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