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A Look at Boil Orders: What to expect and how to prepare in advance

Posted by NMCL Employee on

A look at boil orders, what to expect and how to prepare in advance

Q: What is a boil order?

A: A boil order is an announcement issued by your local government or water provider declaring public tap water unsafe for consumption. Consumption includes but is not limited to drinking the water, cooking with it, using it to brush teeth, etc.1

Q: What should I do during a boil order?

A: For drinking, it is recommended that water be disinfected by boiling at a rolling boil for one minute. Drinking water from an outside source, such as bottled water, is also suggested.

If you are cooking with the water, it is imperative that you dispose of any food treated or prepared with water before the boil order was issued. Until the order is lifted, only use water that has been properly purified or use bottled water. Disposable eating/cooking utensils are recommended.2 If unavailable, only use utensils that have been sanitized using boiling water.

When washing hands, use purified water, and follow the instructions given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Bathing with normal tap water may be done if necessary. However, it is important that no water is ingested or touches the mouth, nose, and/or eyes. It’s recommended that small children or individuals with disabilities be watched closely as they bathe to prevent accidental ingestion. People who are prone to infection or have recently closed wounds should bathe with bottled or boiled water. Washing clothes with untreated water should be perfectly fine. 3


  1. Drinking- Disinfect water at a rolling boil for one minute.
  2. Cooking- Dispose of any food or beverage prepared with tap water prior to the boil order. Use only properly purified or bottled water until the order has been lifted. Use disposable utensils if possible.
  3. Washing Hands- Use properly purified or bottled water.
  4. Bathing- Bathing can be done if absolutely necessary, but make sure no water can enter your body.
  5. Washing Clothes- Washing clothes should be fine to do.

Q: What contaminants should I be concerned about during a boil order?

A: Boil orders are issued to provide time for local authorities to retest and reset their systems when a high level of bacteria is found in a water source, and to minimize public exposure. The most commonly found bacteria include cryptosporidium and E. coli. Boil orders can be issued due to failures in the public water treatment process, public health violations, damaged public water infrastructure, contaminated ground water sources, etc.

Read our post, "E. coli Bacteria Explained,” for a complete look at E. coli: what it is, where it’s found and how to reduce the risk of potential exposure.

Q: How should I use my Berkey® system during a boil order?

The Black Berkey® Purification Elements that come standard with all Berkey® Systems have been tested to remove different bacteria as well as viral contaminants from drinking water. These purifiers will not only remove chemical and heavy metal contaminants that can be found in “clean” drinking water, but can also provide a final barrier between you and your drinking water during a boil order.

You do not need to boil your water in addition to running it through the Black Berkey® Purification Elements. Black Berkey® Purification Elements remove biological contaminants as well as heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, and other waterborne contaminants. These purifiers stand as a clean and cost-effective alternative to buying copious amounts of bottled water during an emergency.

However, as an additional precaution, if using a source of water that you believe might contain extreme viral and bacteriological contamination such as E. coli, it is recommended by the CDC, EPA and other organizations that approximately sixteen drops of plain bleach (sodium hypochlorite) or iodine per gallon be added to treat the source water before purifying. This should kill minute pathogens such as viruses, within 30 minutes. 5 Simply add the drops to a pitcher of water, wait a half hour and then pour the treated water into the top chamber of your system. The disinfectant will be removed from the treated water entirely with the Berkey® system, including any odor or taste.

View coliform reduction test results at our knowledge base.

* Please use only room-temperature water with your system. Using boiling water can cause damage to the purification elements inside the Berkey® system.

** Berkey® systems always highly recommends using the cleanest source water available, whenever possible.

Q: Where do I find additional information on boil orders?

A: Information can be found from a variety of sources. Authorities on boil orders include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department offers an excellent list that covers other frequently asked questions regarding boil orders, such as washing clothes or how to care for an infant while.

The Bottom Line

Berkey® Water Purification Systems address a broad universe of potential contaminants, including viruses, bacteria, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and even radiologicals while leaving in the healthy minerals your body needs.

Discover more about Black Berkey® Purification Elements and Berkey systems by reading these related articles or visiting our Knowledge Base:

Share this Important Information

Understanding is key. Share this with others so they may make informed choices about their water.


(1), (2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (April, 2015). Public Users of Public Water Supplies.
(3) Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. (April, 2015). Boil Water Advisory Frequently Asked Questions.
(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (March, 2016). Boil Water.
(5) Ground Water and Drinking Water

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