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Water Safety

What to Do When There is a Boil Water Order

​What is a boil water order?

A boil water order is issued when harmful germs (e.g., E.coli bacteria, giardia parasite) may be in a drinking water supply. Drinking water contaminated with these germs can make people and animals very sick. Boiling will kill the germs and make the water safe to drink.

When a boil water order has been issued, how do I use water?

When a boil water order has been issued, do not use the water to:
  • drink
  • cook
  • make baby formula
  • make juice
  • make ice
  • wash fruits or vegetables
  • brush teeth
  • fill a wading pool
  • give to your pet

During a boil water order use boiled water, bottled water, or water from another safe public supply not affected by the order. Throw away any ice in your freezer made with the water and sanitize the ice cube trays (see next page). Make ice with boiled water that is cooled.

What if I have a suppressed immune system?

If your immune system is suppressed, your doctor and dietitian will tell you what to do. You might need to use boiled or bottled water to drink and cook with all the time.

What is the right way to boil water?

To boil water, bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. Only boil as much water as you can safely lift without spilling. Put the pot on the back burner. Be careful not to burn yourself or your child.

Can I use bottled water or buy water from self-serve water dispensers?

Sometimes you can use bottled water, but it depends on when and how the water was bottled. Bottling plants and/or water dispensers that use local water must treat the water to remove harmful germs. Check with the Environmental Public Health Office (phone numbers below) about bottled water brands or water dispensers that have been treated so the water is safe. You can also use water bottled from another public water supply not affected by the order.

If I have a water filtration device, is the water safe to drink or cook with?

If you have a water filtration device, do not use the water during a boil water order. Many filtration devices do not remove harmful germs. Check with the manufacturer to find out what your filtration device removes.

Personal Hygiene During a Boil Water Order

Can I use the water to wash my hands?

During a boil water order, you can use the water to wash your hands. Wash your hands with tap water and soap, making sure to lather for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well with running water and dry them with a paper towel. After you dry your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with more than 60 percent alcohol.

Can I take a bath or shower?

During a boil water order, healthy adults can take a bath or shower. Do not swallow any water. An older child can take a shower with a hand-held showerhead, but do not spray any water near the face. Give your baby or young child a sponge bath to make sure he or she does not swallow water.

If you have an open wound, cut, blister, or a recent wound from surgery, use boiled or bottled water so you don’t get an infection.

Can I brush my teeth?

During a boil water order, do not use water to brush your teeth. Use boiled water that is cooled, bottled water, or water from another safe source.

Can I wash my laundry?

During a boil water order, you can continue doing laundry like normal.

Preparing Food During a Boil Water Order

Can I drink coffee made with untreated water?

During a boil water order, you can use your coffeemaker if it heats water to 70 °C or hotter. Most germs are killed at this temperature. Test the coffee temperature with a thermometer. Let the coffee sit in the pot for at least 5 minutes before you drink it. If your coffee maker does not heat the water to at least 70 °C, use bottled or boiled water to make coffee.

Can I wash dishes by hand?

During a boil water order, wash and rinse dishes with hot water like normal. After dishes are rinsed, you need to sanitize (reduce germs to a safe level) them. To do this, soak your dishes:
  • for at least two minutes in a bleach solution. To make a bleach solution, mix 10 mL (2 tsp.) of liquid, unscented bleach (5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite) in 5 L (20 cups) of warm water. Let the dishes air-dry completely.


  • in boiled water (at least 77 °C) for two minutes. Let the dishes air-dry completely.

Can I use my dishwasher?

You can use your dishwasher if it works well and has a hot temperature setting or sanitizer cycle. If not, sanitize your clean dishes after running them through the dishwasher by one of the ways listed above.

How do I sanitize my counter top, cutting board, or other kitchen surfaces?

Wash kitchen surfaces with soap or rinse and sanitize with a bleach solution. Make a new bleach solution every day so it works well to kill germs. This is because bleach breaks down quickly once it is mixed with water.

What do I do after a boil water order?

Once the boil water order is lifted, you need to flush, clean, and sanitize:
  • water pipes
  • water treatment devices
  • plumbed appliances
  • water storage facilities

    To make everything in your house safe:
  • run cold water taps for at least one minute before you use them. If you live in an apartment or condominium, run the taps for more than one minute.
  • flush, clean, and sanitize appliances with water line connections (e.g., fridges with water and ice dispensers) following manufacturer’s instructions
  • disinfect water filtration devices following manufacturer’s instructions
  • run your water softener through a regeneration cycle following manufacturer’s instructions
  • drain and refill your hot water heater if it is set below 45 °C
  • flush, drain, clean, and sanitize your water tank (cistern)

If you have any questions about your water, call Environmental Public Health.

Last Revised: August 20, 2012

​Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
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