Does Boiling Water Make It Safe to Drink?

Whether you get stranded on a desert island, your home is hit by a natural disaster, or you just want to travel lighter while backpacking through the back country, you may need to know how to purify water. There are lots of ways to purify water, but they aren’t all equally effective. Boiling can make water safe to drink, but there are some things you should know about this water purification method.

Water filtration vs. Water purification

Filtering water and purifying water are two different things. Simply filtering water does not ensure potable water. Filtration removes sediment, particulates, and large pollutants in the water. Activated carbon filters can help remove certain heavy metals and chemicals.

Portable hiking water filters – such as Katadyn water filters or MSR water filters – typically remove most bacteria and parasites including Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Water filters can’t always remove smaller bacteria, or viruses, however.

Purifying water means that you eliminate all harmful bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms that could cause illness.

Ways to purify water

  • Iodine and chlorine dioxide drops or tablets are reliable, lightweight ways to purify water.
  • SteriPEN water purifiers use UV light to purify water.
  • Boiling water kills bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.

All of these methods neutralize pathogens in contaminated water, making that water safe to drink in most cases.

Does boiling water always make water safe to drink?

Boiling produces safe, clean water most of the time. But while boiling water kills pathogens no amount of boiling can remove heavy metals, fuel, or chemicals from contaminated water.

If dealing with water contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, mercury, or arsenic, distillation is an effective method of removing heavy metals from water.

How long do you have to boil water to make it safe to drink?

Don’t stop at fish eyes. Seeing a few bubbles form won’t kill all of the pathogens in contaminated water. The CDC recommends that you maintain a rolling boil for at least 1 minute (3 minutes above 6,562 feet) to kill viruses, bacteria, and microorganisms.

 

Consider boiling water as a backup or last resort to purify water rather than a primary means. Carry an activated carbon filter when traveling in areas known to have heavy metals in the water, and consider lightweight iodine tablets for water purification. Visit Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters for water purification or water filters in Northwest Arkansas.

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