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Boil Water Advisories FAQ

Click on a topic below to view the answers.

Why was I advised to boil my tap water?

You may be asked to boil your tap water during an emergency:

  • If tests show that harmful microorganisms could be present in the water,
  • If the water pressure drops due to equipment failure or power outages,
  • Because of water main breaks or repairs,
  • If the water source has been flooded, or
  • During other situations that warrant special action to protect consumers’ health.

How does boiling make my tap water safe?

Boiling the water kills microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoans that can cause disease. Boiling makes the tap water microbiologically safe.

How long should I boil the water?

Bring tap water to a full rolling boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using.

Can I boil water in the microwave?

Tap water can be boiled in the microwave in a microwave-safe container, provided that the water reaches a full rolling boil for one minute.
Place a microwave-safe utensil in the container to keep the water from superheating (heating above the boiling point without forming steam or bubbles).

Do I have to boil the tap water used to make beverages?

Yes. Boil all of the tap water you use for making coffee, tea, mixed drinks, Kool-Aid, or any beverage made with water. In addition, all tap water used for making ice for consumption must be boiled.

Should I boil the tap water used to make baby formula?

Yes. Only use boiled tap water or bottled water for mixing formula for your baby.

Do I need to boil water before using it to wash vegetables that will be eaten raw?

Yes. Boil all of the tap water you use for washing raw vegetables.

Should I boil the tap water used in cooking?

All tap water used in cooking must first be boiled for one minute, unless the cooking process involves boiling for one minute or more.

Do I have to boil my dish-washing water?

No. Adding a tablespoon of household bleach such as Clorox to a sink full of tap water should be sufficient to treat the water used for washing dishes. Bleach should also be added to the water used for rinsing dishes.
Allow dishes and utensils to air dry before reuse.  You may wash dishes in an electric dishwasher, but be sure to use it with its heating elements turned on.
After washing in an electric dishwasher, dishes should be rinsed in water with a tablespoon of bleach added, and allowed to air, and allowed to air dry before reuse.

Should I boil tap water for brushing my teeth?

Yes. Any tap water that might be swallowed should be boiled before use.

Is it necessary to boil water to be used for hand washing?

Is any special soap necessary? No. It is not necessary to boil the tap water used for washing hands, and no special soaps are necessary.

What about my bath water?

There is no need to boil water for bathing or showering. Adults, teens, and older children, can shower or bathe, though they should avoid getting water in the mouth or swallowing the water.
Infants and toddlers should be sponge bathed. No special soaps are necessary. Care should be taken to prevent water from getting into deep open or post-surgical wounds.
Consult your physician or health care provider for wound care instructions.

Do I need to use boiled water for washing clothes or flushing the toilet?


Do I still have to boil tap water if I have a water treatment device?

Yes. Devices designed to improve the taste, odor, or chemical quality of the water, such as activated carbon filters, will not remove harmful microorganisms from the tap water. Boil the tap water to make sure it is safe.

Can I use bottled water instead of boiling tap water?

Yes. Bottled water can be used for all of the situations where boiled tap water is recommended in this brochure. Be sure that the bottled water is from a reliable source.

Can I haul water from my neighbor’s well or spring for drinking purposes?

No. You should only use water from an approved, tested source. Without routinely testing the water there is no way to know if the water is safe to drink.

Should I boil the tap water I give to my animals or pets?

You can boil the tap water you give to the animals in your care. Your veterinarian can tell you if this precaution is necessary.

What should I do if I become sick?

See your family physician or healthcare provider. Your doctor may call the Virginia Department of Health Office of Drinking Water at (804) 864-7500 for information about the boil water notice.
Your doctor should notify the local health department if he or she suspects your illness was caused by microorganisms in the water.
Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants. People with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant patients,
people with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders, some elderly, and infants can be at greater risk from infections.
These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers.
Guidelines on ways to reduce the risk of infection from microbiological contaminants are available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.

How will I know when it is safe to drink my tap water?

You will be notified when tests show that the tap water is safe to drink.
You may be asked to run water to flush the pipes in your home before using your tap water or be given other special instructions.
Until you are notified, continue to boil all tap water for one minute before use.

If you cannot boil your tap water because of a power outage:

In an emergency, boiling is the preferred method for making sure tap water is safe to drink. The following are acceptable alternatives if you cannot boil your tap water because of a power outage or loss of gas service:

  • Use bottled water.
  • Use liquid household bleach to disinfect tap water. The bleach product should be recently purchased, free of additives and scents, and should contain a hypochlorite solution of at least 5.25%. If the water is clear, add 8 drops of bleach (about 1/8 teaspoon) to each gallon of water. Add twice the amount of bleach (16 drops, or 1/4 teaspoon) to each gallon if the water is cloudy. After adding bleach, the water should be stirred and allowed to stand for at least 30 minutes before use.
  • Water purification tablets may also be used to disinfect tap water by following the manufacturer’s instructions.


Boil Water Advisory for Schools and Food Service Establishments FAQ

During a boil water advisory, use water boiled at a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes or water from an approved source (e.g. bottled water). If neither of these options is available, the establishment or facility must close.


How do I wash my hands during a boil water advisory?

Use warm tap water and soap for handwashing. After hands are rinsed and dried, follow with a liquid hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer must be used as an additional step; it does not replace handwashing.


Food Preparation

Can I use tap water when preparing food products?

If using tap water in your food product, the minimum internal temperature must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit or boiled water must be used.

Can I use tap water for washing food products?

Use boiled and cooled water when washing food products that will not be cooked afterward or purchase pre-washed items.

Can I thaw food with tap water?

Tap water may be used to thaw food in a preparation sink, as long as the product is cooked afterward and reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If possible, thaw food in a refrigerator instead of using tap water.

Can I continue to use my ice maker?

No. Discard ice made from tap water. All ice, including bagged ice, must be from an approved source (e.g. purchased ice).

Can I continue to use a produce mister?

Discontinue the use of produce misters during a boil water advisory.


Utensil Washing/Sanitizers

Can I use my dishwasher during a boil water advisory?

Test dishwashers to verify that temperatures reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit on the surfaces of the internal contents of the appliance.
To test the temperature, place a food thermometer into a glass and run the dishwasher. During the wash cycle take note of the temperature.

Can sanitizing solutions be used during a boil water advisory?

Yes, however sanitizing solutions must be 50-200 parts per million chlorine and tested routinely with test strips.

Can dipper wells be used during a boil water advisory?

No, discontinue the use of a dipper well for the duration of a boil water advisory.



Can hot beverages continue to be served during a boil water?

Coffee and other hot drinks must reach a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, use boiled and cooled water to prepare hot beverages.

Can mixed beverages containing water be used during a boil water advisory?

  • Do not consume mixed beverages containing tap water during a boil water advisory. This includes soda dispensers connected to a water supply. Substitute mixed beverages with canned or bottled.
  • Discontinue the use of drinking water fountains and other plumbing fixtures used to provide drinking water.


Special Recommendations for Schools

  • Purchase and distribute bottled water.
  • Cover and tag out all drinking water fountains. Unplug all ice makers. Discard any ice.
  • Signs should be posted at all faucets as a reminder of the boil water advisory and not to drink the water.
  • Discard all food products that were prepared with tap water that has not been boiled.
  • There is no need to boil water for bathing or showering. Adults, teens and older children can shower or bathe, though they should avoid getting water in their mouth or swallowing water.