What You Need to Know About a Boil Water Advisory?

by Adel

What is a Boil Water Advisory?

A boil water advisory/notice/order is an order from the local government to boil your water before use. Cities generally send this notice when they identify a possibility of pathogens in the water supply. In most cases, this simply means there is a possibility, while in others it means the city has actually identified contamination in the water. 

What is a Pathogen?

Sometimes cities will also issue advisories when the water pressure is below a certain limit. Low water pressure makes it easier for pathogens to survive in water (think about how still water is dirtier than moving water in a river).

Pathogens are what are commonly known as germs. They are microorganisms that can cause disease. Pathogens found in the water are referred to as waterborne pathogens. The most common way to kill pathogens found in water is to boil the water.

pathogen example
E. Coli

Should I boil ALL the water I use?

The advice provided by governments is to boil any tap water that will be consumed or used to clean dishes or food (like fruits). You should also use boiled (then cooled) water when brushing your teeth since there is a high possibility of ingesting that water. There is no need to boil water used for bathing and washing your hands.

Although it IS advised to use boiled water when bathing kids and toddlers since they are also more likely to ingest the water they shower with. You should also use boiled tap water on toddlers’ toys, since they will likely end up in their mouths.

How long do I need to boil my water for?

You need to boil your water for 1 minute. Boil your water to a rolling boil, wait 1 minute, then let it cool. Make sure to only use your water once it has cooled, to avoid scalding. After the water has cooled, store it in a covered container and use it as needed. It is safe to use so long as it stays clean. After the water boils, it will kill the pathogens (germs), so it is safe to drink even when it cools down. 

If you are in an area that is more than 6,600 ft above sea levels, you will need to boil your water for 3 minutes for the pathogens to die (In the US, this generally only applies to some mountainous areas in the heartland states). 

It is also advised by some to boil baby water for 2 minutes under regular conditions before using to be extra safe.

Alternatively, you can always use bottled water purchased from the store while the water advisory is in effect, as it will not be affected by the same boil water advisory. 

boil water advisory

Can My Normal Filtration Systems Kill the Pathogens?

Normal filtration systems are NOT enough to kill pathogens. It is even advised to throw out the filter if contaminated water was used in one. 

Reverse osmosis units SHOULD be able to remove the pathogens, but it is very common that units found in homes are not working at full capacity so it is advised not to rely on these alone. 

What About My Dishwasher and Coffee Maker?

Coffee makers do not boil the water for long enough to kill pathogens in water. Follow the rules mentioned earlier for boiling water during a water boil advisory. 

Only certain dishwashers are okay to use, but only if the hot wash cycle reaches a minimum of 170°F and includes a full dry cycle. Most dishwashers do NOT reach this temperature; so make sure to check on yours.

What Should I do After the Water Boil Advisory is Over?

According to the NY department of Health, it is advised to run cold water through all your pipes for at least 5 minutes to make sure there is no water left in the pipes that may be contaminated. 

Also, make sure to remove any ice from any icemakers in the house. And throw out the next 3-5 batches made by the ice machine. 

What if I drank the Water?

If you drink the water after a Boil Water advisory has been issued, in most cases you should be fine, especially if you are healthy. If you do start to feel sick though, seek medical attention right away.

What is the Difference Between a Water Boil Advisory/Notice/Warning/Order?

Each one has a different meaning depending on the area. Make sure to check on your specific area so you know what you are dealing with. Some areas specify when they found a pathogen vs. when there is a possibility. You should be more cautious when dealing with confirmed pathogens, so make sure to check your local government.

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