Does Boiling Water Make It Safe?

I was stuck in my parents home in Arkansas during the Christmas ice storm of 2000. According to the National Weather Service — the worst storm to hit Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas since 1819. Lucky me. Being in an outage away from home meant I was left with the resources based on someone else’s planning, not my own. We had a house full of people (young and old), which meant we were going through food and water quickly. After three days we really needed to start thinking long term. Our biggest concern was water, but we were at a lake house. There was plenty of water. I remembered reading an article about boiling water for drinking, but others in the home contested if it would be safe. Luckily after four days, the power was restored and we never had to use the lake water. So, I’ve done some research to settle the score and provide a good resource for you to use.

Does boiling water make it safe? When you boil water, all of the diseases, bacteria, viruses, and parasites are killed off by the high temperatures. As a result, it does make it safe to drink, as long as you use a non-contaminated source, you make sure the water reaches a rapid boil (212°F), and you boil the water for at least one minute.

Water is, without a doubt, the most important resource during emergencies. It’s needed for good hygiene, cooking, to stay hydrated and even flush toilets. Side note: not sure how to flush a toilet when the power goes out? Check out our article: Can You Flush a Toilet Without Power?

As a result, it is always important to have a reliable water source. In the event that you do not have immediate access to any clean water to drink, you can make your own.

So, stick with us…

In this article, you’ll find out the facts about boiling water for drinking, the specific steps needed to make it safe, and how you can do it when the power goes out.

How To Boil Water For Drinking

If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation where you don’t have any water, you can resort to boiling it to make it safe to drink.

Although this might sound like a straight forward process, it is very important to get it right. If you do not boil the water in the right conditions and for the correct amount of time, you could expose yourself to the diseases, bacteria, viruses, and parasites we were hoping to kill off by boiling the water in the first place.

In this section, we will be discussing how you can correctly boil water in order to make it safe for drinking. To begin, let’s get some supplies.

  • Pot
  • Heat source (likely your grill, portable stove, or fire pit)
  • Clean sanitized containers
  • Covers for the containers

Step 1: Locate a Durable Pot for Boiling Water

The first thing that you will need for boiling water is a durable pot. This should be big enough to fit a good amount of water in it with some room at the top for the splashing and bubbling from the boiling water.

Note — the pot should be clean and please don’t skip this. There is no way you’ll be able to make clean water in a dirty pot, so double check that the pot is clean before you start.

Step 2: Get Water to Boiling Temperature

Next, you will need some kind of heat source, either a grill, camp stove or fire depending on where you are. This assumes you’ve lost your stove because of the outage. Ensure you are able to keep the pot level so it’s stable and safe. Ensure the heat source is set on high and then pour the water into the pot.

Step 3: Allow to Boil for One Minute

Leave the pot there for several minutes, allowing it to hit a rapid boil.

It is very important that the water comes to a rapid boil, and it is not just bubbling. This will indicate that the temperature is correct and all of the bacteria are being discarded from the water making it safe to drink.

As soon as it hits the rolling boil point, begin to time how long it’s boiling. You should allow this to happen for no less than one minute. It is ok if you go over the minute mark to be safe, but you should never go under it.

For elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for the water for at least three minutes

Step 4: Allow Water to Cool

Let the water cool in the pot after turning off the heat, and once it is completely cooled you can begin to store it in the clean sanitized containers.

Step 5: Store Water in Sanitized Containers

Finally, you need some clean sanitized containers with lids to store the water after you are done boiling it. This is just as important as disinfecting the water in the first place because this is probably what you will be drinking out of.

If you pour clean water into containers that are not properly sanitized, you may need to repeat the process.

Effects of Contaminated Water

By not ensuring your water is boiled long enough and at the right temperature are exposed to some nasty contaminants. Microorganisms, bacteria, and viruses are harmful in untreated water that can lead to parasites, other infections, and can even be life-threatening.

What If I Did Not Boil My Water Long Enough

You should re-boil water if you’re unsure if the water was even boiled in the first place or not boiled long enough. There is no harm in boiling water longer than a minute. In fact, more organisms will be killed if you boil the water for a longer period of time.

Signs You May Have Consumed Contaminated Water

  • Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, chills, headaches, and pain. Salmonella can contaminate both food and water and the onset of symptoms can occur in 1-3 days after consumption.
  • The parasite Giardia Lamblia causes the giardiasis infection, which causes cramping, gas, diarrhea, and nausea. The incubation period for giardiasis is approximately 2-weeks.
  • E. Coli causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Usually, you can see symptoms appearing within 1-8 days.
  • Legionnaires Disease is a serious bacterial infection. Symptoms can range from muscle aches, fever, shortness of breath and coughing. The incubation period can be 2-10 days.
  • Hepatitis A can cause fatigue, stomach pain, fever, jaundice, and dark colored urine. The incubation period can be close to 30 days before symptoms appear.

While there are more contaminants these 5 examples will hopefully give you some common signs to be aware of. Rest and hydration can help with Hepatitis A and E. Coli — otherwise, you’ll likely need antibiotics, which may or may not be readily available.

As you can see it is very advantageous to follow the proper steps. Skipping steps can put you and your family at serious risk and none of those symptoms sound like fun.

Can All Water Be Boiled for Drinking?

Now that you have all of the information on boiling water for drinking and how you can do it yourself, you might be wondering what the limitations are to these methods. Surely not all water can be safe to drink from just boiling it, right?

This is correct. Although you can boil water that you have available in order to make it safe for drinking, this does not apply to all water.

Water That Should Not Be Boiled for Drinking:

  • Contaminated water (toxic materials)  
  • Anything containing fuel or chemicals

More specifically, if the water is contaminated with toxic materials such as fuel or chemicals, you will not be able to do any amount of boiling to make it safe for drinking.

The normal method of boiling water for drinking is meant for the water that has germs or bacteria, which can be killed by the high levels of heat.

Toxic substances; however, will not evaporate or become disinfected when they reach the same temperatures. Instead, they will remain in the water and be consumed if you follow through with this process.

All in all, just make sure to examine the water that you are cleaning before you do so. Smell it to ensure there are no chemicals, and check for other contaminants. In general, cloudy water is ok, as long as you strain it out before you boil.


To conclude, I guess I can say to my sisters — I was right 🙂 Boiling water is a quick and easy solution for making water safe to drink on the go. If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, you can quickly solve it with a pot and some fire. Just make sure you’re using water from a non-contaminated source and follow the steps you’ve learned here.

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