What Is a Boil Water Notice or Advisory?

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A boil water notice is an announcement from a local health official or agency, instructing you to boil your tap water or use bottled water.

Boil water notices are issued when local water contamination occurs. If you have received a boil water notice, it means that the water system in your local area isn’t safe to drink.

🤔 What’s the Difference Between a Boil Water Notice and Boil Water Advisory?

A boil water advisory is issued as a precautionary measure if suspicions are raised that drinking water in a public distribution system is contaminated.

A boil water notice, on the other hand, is issued when there is confirmation of water contamination.

While boil water advisories only recommend that you boil your drinking water or use bottled water for the time being, boil water notices direct you to do so.

📝 What Actions Should I Take?

Whether you receive a boil water advisory or a boil water notice, it’s wise to stop drinking your tap water immediately, unless you boil it first.

To ensure your tap water is safe for drinking, bring it to a rolling boil and leave it for at least a minute. You can then let it cool before drinking. Don’t worry, the contaminants won’t return in this period.

An alternative option is to switch to bottled water. I would recommend this if you don’t want to put in the effort to boil your water or you’d feel safer to temporarily stop drinking from your water provider altogether.

I would also recommend that you follow the instructions below:

  • After boiling your water, store it in the refrigerator for drinking.
  • If you have a water filter, don’t assume that you don’t need to boil your drinking water. Most common water filters are incapable of removing microorganisms.
  • Don’t let your pets drink your contaminated water; give them clean, cooled boiled water.
  • If using water to treat minor injuries, boil the water and wait for it to cool first.
  • Be careful not to swallow shower or bath water.
  • Use bottled or cooled boiled water for everything in your household, including doing your teeth, making ice, washing salad items, and bathing.
  • Cook and prepare food using boiled and cooled water.
  • Disinfect food contact surfaces and dishes with tap water containing a teaspoon of bleach per gallon.
  • Throw away any foods, beverages or ice cubes made with your contaminated drinking water.

Related: Can You Boil Water in a Microwave, and Should You?

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❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does a Boil Water Advisory Last Until It Can Be Lifted?

Once you receive a boil water advisory, your local authority will already be testing for contaminants that pose a threat to public health.

Regular testing of municipal water supplies is mandatory. Suppliers must ensure that water quality is legally acceptable. If a test determines that it isn’t, advisories are issued immediately.

Testing for microorganisms like bacteria is a 24-hour process, minimum. Once your water service has been restored and your lines have been flushed, your supplier will collect samples and test your water for the problem contaminant again. This means that you can expect the boil water advisory to last for at least 24 hours before it is lifted.

Don’t assume that you can go back to drinking water from your faucet unless you’re given clear notice that you can. Your local authority will let you know when water is safe once more in the same manner that you received the boil water advisory (such as via email, text or phone call).

Your water supplier will also have a website, which should be updated with notifications and alerts. Check this website to keep up with the supplier’s corrective actions to your distribution system and find out when you no longer need to boil your water.

Related: Can you use a Brita filter instead of boiling water?

What Should I Do When the Advisory is Lifted?

Once a boil water advisory has been lifted, you can stop boiling your water as a precautionary measure. If your water is cloudy or discolored, open your faucets and run your water for at least 2 minutes, or until it runs clear.

You may not need to do anything else prior to using your tap water again. However, in some cases, you may need to flush your house pipes.

Flushing your pipes will get rid of any contaminated water that may have been sitting in your plumbing system since contamination occurred. You should open all of the faucets in your home, one at a time, on the highest pressure possible (without splashing or flooding your drains). Leave each faucet open for at least 5 minutes.

You will also need to flush your fridge’s automatic ice maker. Make three consecutive batches of ice and throw them out. Making ice with contaminated water is just as unsafe as drinking the water itself.

Take note of any appliances in your home that use water, too. If you have a water softener, run it through a regeneration cycle. Water coolers and fountains should be flushed for 5 minutes, and refrigerator filters should be changed.

Do I Still Need to Boil My Water if I have a Filter System?

Yes, you will usually still have to boil your water after receiving a boil water advisory, even if you have a filter system.

Most water filters can’t remove or kill bacteria or other microbiological contaminants from your water. They can improve water quality by removing large impurities like chlorine and lead, but microorganisms are usually small enough to slip through the cracks. You may put your health at risk if you assume that your home water filter will protect you from these contaminants.

Of course, some filters are capable of removing microorganisms from water, including certain countertop filters, straw filters and gravity filters. UV filtration can kill microorganisms, and reverse osmosis may also be effective enough to deal with the problem.

My advice is that unless you’re absolutely certain that your filtration system will remove the contaminant you’re dealing with, you should switch to boiled or bottled water to stay on the safe side.

Can You Brush Your Teeth During a Boil Water Advisory?

Boil water advisories strongly recommend that you don’t use tap water for anything, even for brushing teeth.

When you brush your teeth, you’ll typically swallow a small amount of water without realizing. It’s not worth swallowing water that may contain contaminants that pose a public health threat. Use boiled or bottled water for brushing teeth or rinsing your mouth.

Should I Give My Pets Boiled Water Too?

The germs in your drinking water might be harmful to pets as well as humans. In fact, animals can sometimes experience more serious reactions when exposed to certain microorganisms. During a boil water advisory, you should only give your pets water that has been disinfected by boiling.

It’s also safe to give cats and dogs bottled water during a boil water advisory. Taking this precautionary measure will save you the distress of dealing with a sick pet.

Can I Wash Dishes During a Boil Water Advisory?

No, you should not wash your dishes during a boil water advisory. The contaminants in your water may grab onto your dishes and linger on their surfaces, even after the water has vanished. Because the water you use for dishwashing won’t be boiling, you’re not protected from germs.

Wash your dishes using a bucket of cooled, boiled tap water. Don’t use running water directly from your faucet.

It might be easier to use disposable plates and cups during this time, if possible.

Washing dishes in a dishwasher may be an exception, as water will usually reach boiling point during the dishwashing process. Consult your user appliance’s manual if you’re unsure.

Can You Shower During a Boil Water Notice?

Showering or bathing during a boil water notice is strongly advised against. When your water quality is poor enough to warrant a boil water notice, you should avoid getting it anywhere near your eyes, ears, mouth or nose.

If you do shower during a boil water notice, you will need to take extra care not to swallow the water, and keep it well away from your face. Babies and infants should be washed with a sponge to reduce the risk of them swallowing water.

It’s best to use cooled boiled tap water for showering and bathing. While boiling batches of water for bathing may make you feel like you’ve taken a trip back to the early 1900s, it’s only a short-term requirement that will keep the members of your household safe.

The same goes for washing your face. Washing your hands. is usually fine, providing you use a combination of soap and hot water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Otherwise, use a hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60%.

Can I Use the Water For Doing Laundry?

During a boil water advisory, it’s safe to use your water for doing the laundry. The hotter the water in your washing machine, the safer it’ll be. I would recommend using hot wash cycles until the advisory has been lifted.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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