Whether you live in the city or a small town, a boil water advisory event will get your attention!
So, what are you supposed to do?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you follow the list of state guidelines provided to avoid potential health issues that can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and other illnesses.
Let’s examine water boil advisories and the important questions you need answered.
Table of Contents
- What is a Boil Water Advisory?
- What Should be Done During a Boil Water Advisory?
- What are the Risks if You Don’t Boil Water During an Advisory?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Boil Water Advisories
- Can You Cook with Water During a Boil Advisory?
- How Long is Boiled Water Safe?
- Can You Wash Dishes During a Boil Water Advisory?
- Can You Shower During a Boil Water Advisory?
- Can You Brush Your Teeth During Boil Water Advisory?
- Can You Wash Your Hands During a Boil Advisory?
- Can You Use Water for Laundry During a Boil Water Advisory?
- Can You Use Ice Cubes During a Boil Water Advisory?
- Can You Use a Coffee Maker without Boiling?
- Can You Use Water without Boiling for Cleaning?
- Can You Use Non-Boiled Water for Your Pets During a Boil Advisory?
- Can You Water Your Garden and Plants with Normal Tap Water During an Advisory?
- Can You Drink Filtered Water During a Boil Advisory?
- It Helps to Be Prepared
What is a Boil Water Advisory?
A boil water advisory is an emergency guidance that tells residents that you should boil your water before using it.
Boil water advisories are often issued when germs, pathogens, or other dangerous organisms are found in tap water samples that can harm your body or make you sick.
Since you don’t want to consume anything that can be dangerous, it is important to take the recommended precautions if your tap water source is under an alert.
The water may not look or taste any different, but you must assume it is dangerous during an advisory.
Contamination, flooding, and power outages leading to loss of water pressure are often the main reasons that can compromise home water quality or lead to a boil advisory as a precautionary step.
Who Gives a Boil Water Advisory?
Your local or state health officials will often issue a public boil water advisory.
Local water suppliers can also announce a boil advisory if they find that the water they supply is compromised before distribution to their consumers.
CDC health officials might issue a boil water advisory if the scale of the problem covers large areas.
Where do You Get Information About a Boil Water Advisory?
Regardless of the reason for a public advisory, it’s important to follow the advice given.
The CDC website can give you information about boil water advisories in various locations and the proper procedures to follow.
Your local government website should have this information and answer your questions and concerns.
Local news stations will usually issue notices to the public whenever there are boil water advisories.
How Long Does a Boil Advisory Last?
Boil water notices will last until health officials can confirm that the community tap water system is safe to use without boiling.
This means that a boil water notice will be lifted if the harmful substances are eliminated, and the water quality is back up to standards imposed by the CDC and EPA.
As stressful as it is, a boil advisory will last a minimum of 24 hours.
What Should be Done During a Boil Water Advisory?
Depending on the health officials and conditions involved, the actions taken during the boil water notice could vary.
What is consistent is the need to boil your water before it is safe for drinking, food preparation, and washing dishes.
The process of boiling raises the temperature high enough to kill all pathogens and microorganisms that may be present.
Any source of water that can enter the body should be considered unsafe until the advisory is lifted.
Do You Need to Boil ALL Tap Water During an Advisory?
In most cases, only tap water for drinking, eating, and cooking needs to be boiled.
Brushing teeth is another activity that should be done with boiled or bottled water.
If you can’t boil your water for some reason, your drinking water should be bought in bottles from a safe source.
How Long do You Boil Tap Water?
To destroy microorganisms when boiling water in a pot on the stove, it should come to a full rolling boil for at least one minute after reaching the boiling temperature.
At elevations above 6,500 feet, one minute is not enough and the full rolling boil should increase to 3 minutes because of the altitude difference.
It is also important to allow the boiled water to cool to a safe temperature before using it.
What are the Risks if You Don’t Boil Water During an Advisory?
You can become sick if you do not boil water during an advisory. Pathogens and microorganisms can create a lot of different issues if you drink them.
Your children and those who are immune compromised could be in greater danger of illnesses.
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of consuming contaminated water are:
- Abdominal cramps
- Possible fever
You expose your food to contamination if you use tap water without boiling, including washing fruits and dishes.
If contaminated water is not cooked properly and the heat is not sufficient to kill the germs, they will survive in your food.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Boil Water Advisories
Once you get the notice that you should boil water before using it, you are sure to have lots of questions…
Here are answers to some of the common things people ask.
Can You Cook with Water During a Boil Advisory?
Just like water used for drinks, you should use bottled water when preparing and cooking food.
If you can’t get bottled water, boil tap water for at least one minute (3 minutes at higher elevations) before using it to cook.
How Long is Boiled Water Safe?
Once water has been boiled, it is free from microbial contamination. You can store it in clean containers for as long as you need to.
Can You Wash Dishes During a Boil Water Advisory?
During boil water advisory, people are advised to use disposable plates, cups, and utensils so they don’t need to wash dishes.
This prevents the pathogens from infecting your family since you will not reuse these items that are essential for eating.
If your dishwasher can reach temperatures of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 66 degrees Celsius, it is safe to wash your dishes during a boil water advisory.
If there is a sanitizing cycle on your dishwasher, this is also allowed.
For those who do not have dishwashing appliances, you should:
- Hand wash in hot dishwater
- Soak clean dishes in a separate basin containing 1 teaspoon (tsp) of unscented liquid bleach per one gallon of warm water for at least one minute.
- Let the dishes air dry completely before using.
Be sure to fully sanitize baby bottles before using. The CDC provides instructions on various ways to sanitize baby feeding items.
Can You Shower During a Boil Water Advisory?
Bathing and showering can be safe but proceed at your own risk. You need to make sure that the water will not enter your mouth or wounds you have on your skin.
Babies and children must not be allowed to take a bath on their own since they often drink water while bathing or showering.
You can use a sponge bath to minimize the risk of swallowing water during bathing.
Can You Brush Your Teeth During Boil Water Advisory?
It is recommended to use bottled water for brushing teeth.
You must not use tap water unless it is boiled properly since there is the danger of ingestion.
Can You Wash Your Hands During a Boil Advisory?
There is no need to heat your water before washing your hands.
Washing your hands is still allowed using tap water and soap if you follow proper washing procedures provided by health officials.
Hand washing should take at least 20 seconds and must be rinsed by running water.
If you want to be safe, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with more than 60% alcohol content on your hands as a precaution.
Can You Use Water for Laundry During a Boil Water Advisory?
You can do your laundry normally with soap without the need of bottled or boiled water.
Make sure the clothes are fully dry before using.
Can You Use Ice Cubes During a Boil Water Advisory?
If the ice was made at home after the advisory was announced either from faucet water or ice makers connected to the water supply, then it may be unsafe.
Freezing does not kill pathogens in water and all contaminated ice should be dumped.
Buy bagged ice at the store for your drinks until the advisory is lifted and be sure to flush the water line to your ice maker to remove any disease-causing organisms when the water state returns to normal.
Can You Use a Coffee Maker without Boiling?
No. Coffee makers usually don’t heat water hot enough or long enough to match boiling.
Coffee should be made with bottled or boiled water.
Can You Use Water without Boiling for Cleaning?
You must use boiled or bottled water for cleaning surfaces and toys your children can reach or put into their mouth.
Household liquid bleach is another option for cleaning and killing bacteria if there is any chance that a child will put the item in their mouth.
Can You Use Non-Boiled Water for Your Pets During a Boil Advisory?
Only boiled or bottled water is allowed for the protection of your pets.
Your furry residents can get sick or catch diseases from the pathogens and bacteria just like people do.
Can You Water Your Garden and Plants with Normal Tap Water During an Advisory?
You do not have to boil before watering your household plants, grass, and in your garden area.
They are safe from pathogens and viruses since they use their roots to filter the water they absorb.
Can You Drink Filtered Water During a Boil Advisory?
There are many different types of water filters that will give you safer, cleaner water, but not all of them can help during a boil advisory.
Let’s review each type of water filtration system:
- UV filter (Yes) – Unlike other filtration systems, ultraviolet (UV) filters are designed to kill harmful microorganisms without adding chemicals. It is effective for removing 99.9% of microorganisms (including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi) and can be installed with both whole house filters and some reverse osmosis filters.
- Reverse osmosis filters (Yes) – RO filters are one of the most effective ways to remove harmful microorganisms from your water supply. An RO system with UV is an excellent option.
- Water distiller (Yes) – Distillation is considered a very effective filtration system at removing most contaminants including harmful microorganisms. This process is not very efficient and will not produce a lot of water that is safe to use.
- Pitcher filter (Probably No) – Unfortunately, it is hard to find a pitcher that can effectively remove harmful microorganisms. Most of the models available in the market can only remove common chemicals but not bacteria and other living microorganisms. If you use a pitcher with contaminated water, you should replace the filter after the advisory, so no pathogens linger inside.
- Ion exchange (No) – These filters are not designed to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
- Sediment filter (No) – It is not effective in removing microorganisms from your water.
- Water softeners (No) – They only alter the hardness (mineral content) and do not kill microorganisms.
It Helps to Be Prepared
A boil water advisory can be scary and difficult to deal with.
Boiling water and stockpiling water bottles are tedious but necessary if there really is a problem with the supply.
Some areas are more likely than others to have problems, so it pays to be prepared.
If you are worried about the possibility of an advisory, be prepared with the tools you need to boil water, a supply of bottled water in the house, and possibly a water filter certified to remove microorganisms.