Q: BOIL ORDERS... I have some questions.

Why must I boil my water?

When a boil order has been issued to your water system that means that either recent testing has shown the presence of organisms that could cause illness (e.g. fecal or E.coli bacteria) or technical/physical problems in the water system have significantly increased the possibility of bacterial contamination.

Boil water

Boiling water is the best way to ensure that it is free of illness-causing organisms. Bring water to a rolling boil for a minimum of 3-5 minutes. When it cools, refrigerate the water in clean containers. (a pinch of salt per quart may improve the rather "flat" taste of boiled water.)

Use only boiled water for drinking, diluting fruit juices, and all other food preparation.

Disinfect dishes

Disinfect dishes and other food contact surfaces by immersion for at least one minute in clean tap water that contains one teaspoon of unscented household bleach per gallon of water.


Water used for bathing does not generally need to be boiled. Supervision of children is necessary while bathing or using backyard pools so water is not ingested. Persons with cuts or severe rashes may wish to consult their physicians.

 During a Boil Order, can I use my tap water for....



Ice cubes

No, and existing ice cubes should be thrown out. Dispose of ice cubes, do not use ice from a household automatic icemaker, and if possible disable automatic ice maker. Remake ice cubes with water that has been boiled.

Brushing teeth


Baby's formula


Washing fruit/vegetables


Preparing Food


Coffee, tea, lemonade, etc.



Yes. Since there is minimal risk inlaundry other options may be considered such as using bleach in the rinse cycle or avoiding laundry until boil order has been lifted.

Watering grass or garden

Yes, but fruits/ vegetables must be washed using pre-boiled or bottled water before consumption

Washing hands

See Below

Showers and baths

See Below

Washing Dishes

See Below

Can I wash my hands using tap water?

It is recommended that you wash your hands using soap and either bottled water or pre-boiled water. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer may also be used.

Can my family take showers or baths using tap water?

The risk of bathing or showering in tap water is uncertain and so should be avoided, particularly by people with open woulnds or who are immunocompromised. For those people who choose to shower or bathe in the tap water, minimize the time spent in the water and be sure to keep your eyes and mouth closed. Babies and young children should not bathe or shower in tap water because they often swallow some water accidentally.

Can I wash dishes using tap water?

You may use a dishwasher if it has a sanitizing cycle. If it does not have a sanitizing cycle, or you are not sure if it does, you may hand wash dishes and utensils by following these steps:

Can I use my coffee maker, ice machine, water or soda dispenser?

None of these devices should be used if they are directly connected to your water supply. Also, filters are unacceptable for removing bacteria. Once you have been notified that the Boil Order has been lifted, these devices should be cleaned and sanitized according to the operator's manual for the device.

What if I drank water already?

There is nothing you can do about the exposure you have already received. If you become ill, contact your health provider. Follow the above recommendations about using your water until you are told the water is safe again.

 What are the symptoms of water-borne illness?

Disease symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea and possible jaundice and associated headaches and fatigue. Symptoms may appear as early as a few hours to several days after infection and may last more than two weeks. These symptoms, however, are not just associated with disease-causing organisms in drinking water; they may also be caused by a number of other factors.

Source: Robin Bagwell  April 20, 2007

University of Illinois Extension