If you live in an urban area in the US, you should be lucky enough to have access to a clean drinking water supply.
But what does “clean” actually mean? If you look at your town’s annual water quality report, you’ll most likely find that your water contains traces of chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants that you would rather not put into your body.
Water supplies can also become contaminated, and boil water notices are issued. When contamination occurs, it usually means that bacteria and other harmful pathogens have entered the water supply. These are considered unsafe to drink even in trace amounts.
So, does this mean that boiling your water is the best way to protect yourself against all the contaminants your water contains? Or is it better to filter your water?
In short, it depends on the contaminants you’re dealing with. In this guide, I’ll be comparing boiled water vs filtered water, helping you to determine which option is best for your situation.
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♨️ Boiled Water Overview
Boiling your tap water is a simple, affordable way to kill pathogens.
What is Boiled Water?
For centuries, humans have been boiling water to kill microbiological contaminants like bacteria and viruses.
Bacteria are most active in “the danger zone” – or temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F. They may be able to survive in temperatures above or below this range. However, if bacteria are exposed to particularly hot or cold environments, they will become inactive or be killed.
Heating water until it reaches boiling point – 212 °F – will almost certainly kill the majority of germs, which typically can’t survive beyond temperatures of 160 °F for any longer than 30 minutes.
Boiling water can only kill certain contaminants, however; it can’t remove anything from the water. This means that the actual quality of the water will be the same, but it’ll be safe to drink.
Advantages of Boiling Water
The most notable advantage of boiling water is that it kills bacteria, viruses, cysts, parasites, and other pathogens in water. Whether you’re in the wilderness or you’re facing a water crisis at home, as long as you have access to the necessary equipment, you’ll still be able to drink clean, safe water as it pertains to pathogens.
You only need a pot, a source of heat, and a water supply to boil water. There are no filters to replace and no expensive equipment to buy upfront. If you’re looking for a cost-effective water purification method, boiling tap water is the best option for you. You don’t have to use a stove, either – a microwave or a stove-top coffee pot can also be used to boil water.
Boiling water is a very quick method. As long as your heat source is hot enough, you can bring water to a boil in a matter of minutes. If you’re in a hurry to access clean drinking water, boiling tap water is a fast, time-saving option.
Risks of Boiled Water
Doesn’t Remove Pathogens
Boiling water only kills pathogens – it doesn’t actually remove them. You can only trust the process and hope that boiling your water has done enough to kill off the germs that could be harmful to your health.
Only Targets Microorganisms
Boiling water only targets contaminants that are “alive” in your water. It can’t remove chemicals, pollutants, heavy metals, and other health-harming impurities. In fact, boiling your water can actually increase the concentration of impurities in your water, as some water will evaporate. If your drinking water is cloudy, it’s a sign that you’re dealing with more than just germs, and you may want to consider another method alongside boiling.
Can’t Drink Immediately
Though the actual process of boiling tap water is relatively quick, it can take up to an hour – even longer, for a big batch of water -to fully cool. Of course, you could drink the water hot, but you may not find that pleasant.
Boiling your water as a one-off shouldn’t add anything noticeable to your energy bill. But if you need to boil every batch of water that you drink, then you’ll certainly have a higher-than-average monthly energy spend.
Does Boiling Water Purify It?
Pure water is 100% H2O – it should contain nothing apart from water molecules. For this reason, you can’t purify tap water through boiling alone. When you boil water, it kills pathogens, but it doesn’t remove fluoride, lead, and other harmful substances that are commonly found in tap water. Boiling water alone won’t bring it up to bottled water standard, especially if your water is cloudy to begin with.
Does Boiling Water Make it Safe to Drink?
Boiling water will stop you from getting sick if your water contains pathogens like bacteria. However, boiled water isn’t necessarily safe to drink. It depends on the contaminants you’re dealing with.
For instance, if your local water supply has been contaminated with high levels of PFAS chemicals, bringing your water to a rolling boil won’t remove these contaminants. You’ll still end up drinking them, and they’re certainly not safe to consume.
Even on a smaller scale, boiled water contains trace amounts of chlorine, lead, and other impurities that can’t be removed by heat. While these impurities are considered safe for consumption in small amounts, you may not personally consider them safe for your family.
How to Boil Water
Should you need to boil water, there’s a simple practice I would recommend following.
If your tap water is cloudy, here’s what you should do:
- Start by running your water through a coffee filter, paper towel or kitchen cloth to remove surface contaminants. If you can’t use any of these DIY filtration options, leave the water to settle.
- Once the water looks clear, pour it into a pot and place onto your heat source.
- Allow the water to sit until it reaches a rolling boil.
- Leave your water to boil for at least one minute. If you’re above 6,500 feet, leave for at least three minutes.
- Wait for your boiled water to cool to a temperature that is suitable for drinking.
- Store water in a clean, sanitized container with a sealed cover or lid.
To boil water that is clear, not cloudy, follow the same steps as above, but omit steps 1 and 2.
An alternative to boiling water is to disinfect it with household bleach. However, using bleach can be risky, and not everyone wants to disinfect their drinking water with chemicals. I would only recommend using bleach if you have no other options.
💧 Filtered Water Overview
Filtering water removes a number of select contaminants, from lead to chlorine, pesticides to fluoride.
What is Filtered Water?
Filtered water is water that has been treated in a water filter.
There are many types of water filter available on today’s market, and not all of them target the same contaminants. However, the concept of water filtration is the same: water passes through a filter media, which grabs onto specific contaminants, preventing them from leaving the filter with the water molecules.
Filtering water doesn’t kill live pathogens (although some water filtration processes, such as reverse osmosis and UV treatment, can remove these impurities). Instead, a water filter is typically used to remove or reduce chemicals, heavy metals, and other trace impurities that are commonly found in tap water supplies.
Advantages of Filtering Tap Water
Much Faster Process
Generally, filtered water is much quicker to produce than boiled water. If you purchase a water filter that connects up to your water supply, you’ll be able to get access to clean drinking water in a matter of seconds. Even pitcher water filters, which use gravity filtration, provide a drinkable product faster than boiling. You won’t need to wait for one minute for the water to boil, and nor will you need to let your water cool before you can drink it.
Removes More Contaminants
Filtering your tap water can remove a broad range of contaminants, including lead, chlorine, hardness minerals, microplastics, man made chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, fluoride, radon, nitrates, and more. None of these can be removed by boiling your water. Some water filters can even remove up to 99.9% of total dissolved solids.
Can Be More Reliable
When you’re boiling your water, you can’t be certain that you’re making your water safe for drinking. Using a water filter, on the other hand, can be a lot more of a reliable option. Look for filters that have been certified by the NSF/ANSI for removing certain contaminants, and you can know for sure that you’ll effectively remove these contaminants.
Using a water filter to clean your water is an energy-saving alternative to boiling. Most water filters just need water pressure or gravity to operate. You won’t need electricity to improve the quality of your water.
Multiple Options to Choose From
There are so many types of water filters to choose from, depending on the contaminants you want to remove or the outcome you want to achieve. There are under-sink filters, faucet drinking water filters, showerhead chlorine filters, emergency preparedness filters, whole-house filters, and much more. There’s a water treatment solution for all budgets and requirements.
Bottled Water Quality
If you drink bottled water because you prefer the taste, switching to a water filter is worth doing. Filtering water often gives it the same quality and taste as bottled water, from the convenience of your own household. Bottled water can produce a lot of plastic waste, and switching to filtering can mean you’re doing your bit for the environment.
Disadvantages With Water Filtration
Can Be Expensive
Some filtering methods are costlier than others. You may have to pay hundreds of dollars upfront for a water filter, then pay for filter replacements along the way. Filtration systems don’t last forever, either – you’ll eventually need to buy a new system if you want to continue to enjoy the high-quality drinking water.
Can Be Difficult to Install
Depending on the system you opt for, installation may be a challenge. A filter system that needs to be hooked up to your water line may even require expert installation. Some manufacturers offer better installation instructions than others. Look for products that come with online video instructions if you’re more of a visual learner.
More Maintenance Required
Most filter systems will require a certain level of maintenance. Your system will probably need its filters replacing every 6 weeks to 12 months, depending on the exact product. You may also need to clean your filter from time to time.
How to Filter Drinking Water
There are a number of different filtration methods that you can use to remove impurities from drinking water. I’ve highlighted the most common below.
Mechanical filtering physically removes dirt, sand, sediment, and other particles. This type of filtering solution is typically used in pre- and post-filters with a range of pore sizes. The smaller the pores, the smaller the particles that can be removed.
Activated carbon uses adsorption to grab onto aesthetic impurities like chlorine. These filters can improve the taste and odor of your water. AC filters can be found in gravity filters, faucet systems and RO units (see below).
Reverse osmosis combines numerous filtration stages, including pre- and post-filters, AC cartridges, and semi-permeable RO membranes. As one of the most effective filtering methods available, RO can remove up to 99.99% of impurities with health effects, including chlorine, lead, fluoride, pesticides, nitrates, VOCs, and more. Depending on the manufacturer it may also disinfect water, removing bacteria and parasites such as cryptosporidium.
UV purification is one of the best alternatives to boiling if you need to remove disease-causing organisms from your water. This type of water treatment kills pathogens, but it can’t be used for filtering any other health-harming impurities.
Finally, ion exchange is a popular solution to hard water. If you want to use water in your home that won’t cause limescale, ion exchange water softeners are the answer. These systems replace hardness minerals with sodium ions.
🤔 Boiled Water vs Filtered Water: Which is Better?
In short, there is no better option between boiling and filtering – it just depends on your desired outcome.
For water sources that contain disease-causing pathogens, boiling may be enough. To remove a broad range of impurities – but not necessarily any pathogens – filtering is a more suitable option.
Of course, in emergency situations, you should follow the advice of your local authority. But if you’re just looking to make your water cleaner and safer to drink, I would recommend testing it to see exactly what it contains. This will help you to make the best decision for your health.