Recently, residents of Austin, Texas, were issued a Boil Water Advisory after heavy rains caused historic flooding. In this case, silt (a granular material somewhere between sand and clay), mud and debris got into the city’s water supply lakes, limiting the area’s ability to clean water. Because the water has been compromised, telling people to boil their tap water before drinking or cooking with it provides an extra layer of protection.
This news story raises some common questions people might have about Boil Water Advisories in general. These notices come up from time to time in different areas for different reasons to help keep drinking water safe. Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about boil water advisories…
1. How does boiling water help keep people safe?
In the event of a Boil Water Advisory, the CDC first and foremost recommends using bottled water. If you don’t have bottled water available or you need to use tap water for cooking, the CDC says boiling is the most effective method to “kill disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites”. On this page of the CDC website, they provide instructions on boiling as well as filtering cloudy watering before boiling if necessary.
2. How long should you boil water to kill organisms, bacteria and viruses?
Water should stay at a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (or at least 3 minutes if the elevation is over 6,500 feet). After the water is cooled, it should be transferred to clean containers with tight covers. Remember to also not use ice cubes unless they are made with boiled water as well.
3. Can you use tap water to do laundry and wash dishes during an advisory?
You can use your water to do laundry. This is considered safe. However, when washing dishes you do need to take extra precautions. If washing dishes by hand, make sure you wash them in hot water with dish soap then rinse them in water that has been boiled. Most dishwashers are safe to use during an advisory since they reach a high enough temperature during use.
4. Can I still take a shower when there is a Boil Water Advisory?
Yes, it is still safe to shower when there is a Boil water Advisory. But be extra careful not to get any water in your mouth. You want to be especially conscious of this with children.
5. Can I use a portable water filter like a Brita instead of boiling water?
No. These filters are not capable of removing viruses and bacteria from water.