If you live in any of the urban areas of the United States, you most likely get your water from the city mains. This urban water supply, often referred to as ‘tap water’, is supposedly “clean” and suitable for drinking.
But when it comes to something as essential to life as drinking water, it is important to explore the term “clean” to its ultimate definition. We can begin this search by examining the annual water report posted on your municipality’s local website. You will probably find that there are trace elements of many undesirable substances, like heavy metals, chemicals and other pollutants that most people would rather not place in their body.
Water supplies can also become contaminated and then the water agencies will post notices that water must be boiled to prevent illness. Contamination occurs when pathogens and other types of disease-causing micro-bacteria have entered the water and made it undrinkable. When this happens drinking even a small amount of water is considered a bad idea.
But, what does this mean? Does boiling water improve the quality of water? Is this a viable way to protect oneself against the harmful contaminants that could potentially exist in your urban water supply? Would it be better to filter water?
The short answer is that you will make the most enlightened decision if you consider the type of contaminants that you will be dealing with. This will help you make the best decision for your situation.
Boiled Water Overview
Boiling water is a simple and effective way to eliminate the vast majority of waterborne pathogens. This method has been used for many millennia to kill off microbes present in a water supply. Bacteria have certain temperatures that cause them to hibernate, become especially active and expire. If water is raised over a specific temperature, for example, the boiling point, and maintained there for a reasonable amount of time, the water will be cleansed of biological pathogens.
But this also means that boiling water may be an effective way of killing off whatever pathogens may be lurking in the water supply, but it doesn’t actually take anything out of the water. This means that even though the water will be free of harmful pathogens it will still have the same mineral and chemical composition.
Advantages of Boiling Water
Kills Pathogens — obviously, the most important advantage of boiling water is killing off all biological elements that could cause illness. This includes cysts, viruses, parasites and many other pathogens that can be carried through a water supply. By boiling water you will have access to clean water no matter where you are. Whether you are in a foreign country with dubious standards for water quality, the wilderness or even your own municipality with equally dubious water quality, so long as you have access to fire and decent pot, clean water is available.
With only a pot, a source of heat and a supply of water to purify, you can enjoy clean water at a minimal cost. There are no systems to purchase, filters or any other equipment needed to obtain fresh clean water. You don’t even have to have a stove either, a microwave is perfectly suitable for heating water to the necessary boiling point that will eradicate all pathogens.
Boiling water is the fast and effective method of getting fresh clean water in all kinds of situations. So long as you have a suitable fuel to generate heat, you can elevate the temperature of the water to a point where no pathogen will survive, hence making your water supply fit for consumption in virtually every situation.
Risks of Boiled Water
Doesn’t Remove Pathogens
While the boiling process will neutralize the vast majority of pathogens, these are not actually removed from the water supply, it is generally accepted that no known pathogens will survive these elevated temperatures, but new and fascinating microbes are being discovered every day and some of these are especially tough at withstanding extreme temperatures.
Only Targets Microorganisms
This is only a means of addressing living organisms that are occupying the water supply you are boiling. But there are many other types of substances that can potentially be harmful if consumed. Boiling water is also an effective way to remove chlorine from your water supply. Tap water boiled for 15 minutes will release the harmful majority of its chlorine content.
But there are other impurities that boiling water will not address effectively. As a matter of fact, boiling the water may intensify the concentration of these elements in the water you are boiling. This is true for heavy metals like lead, chromium and copper, as well as chemicals and other pollutants. If you have boiled the water from your water supply, and it still seems cloudy, this is a sign that it has other impurities than just biological pathogens present in the water supply.
Can’t Drink Immediately
There is another setback to boiling water for your drinking needs, it can take an especially long time to cool to a temperature that will allow everyone to drink the water comfortably. Theoretically, everyone can drink hot water, but not everyone will enjoy this.
Boiling water every so often is not going to add a significant cost to your energy bill. But if you plan on boiling all the water you will be drinking, you will find that this can come out to be especially costly.
Does Boiling Water Purify It?
Pure water is nothing but H2O; it should contain nothing but water molecules. This is part of the reason that you should not assume that boiling the water alone will eliminate all harmful compounds and pollutants in the water supply. Boiling the water is especially good for killing living organisms, but it will not perform the same on other substances, chemicals, metals and minerals. You can boil water forever but it will not relinquish its content of lead, mercury or copper for example.
Does Boiling Water Make It Safe to Drink?
If you boil your water, you will be safe from a wide range of organic pathogens like amoebae and other organisms that can impact the digestive tract. But this doesn’t mean you will be safe from a wide variety of other harmful pollutants that can be present in what appears to be crystal clean water.
PFAS chemicals are one example of contaminants that can’t simply be boiled out of your water supply. If your water supply is polluted with high levels of PFAS chemicals you could boil your water, but you will still be facing the same high levels of PFAS chemicals and these are not safe for consumption for any period of time.
Even after boiling water, you will not remove every last trace of chlorine, lead or other impurities that can make you sick in the long term. While the FDA does label these chemicals as “safe for consumption” in small amounts, given a choice, would you really want you and your family to be ingesting these impurities regularly?
How to Boil Water
If you have decided that boiled water is the surest and safest path to satisfying your need for fresh and clean water, then here is a plan I suggest you follow. This is my personal method of boiling water for human consumption.
If your tap water is cloudy, here’s what you should do:
Begin by running the water through a filter — a coffee filter will do if nothing else but you can make a fairly effective filter with crushed charcoal, sand and pebbles. If you have absolutely nothing on hand that will serve, simply allow the water to settle for as long as possible before moving on to the next step.
Pour the water into a pot once it looks clear and allow it to boil.
Once the water has reached a boiling point, allow it to boil for about 15 minutes for maximum safety. But one full minute is the minimum boiling period, unless you are at an elevation of 3000 ft. In which case you will need to boil the water for three full minutes.
Allow the water to cool to a comfortable temperature before serving or storing the water.
Stored water should be kept in clean bottles with tops.
Another option that could be applied in a situation where boiling water is completely out of the question would be to disinfect the water with household bleach. But I would only recommend this as a very last resort as not everybody will want their drinking water disinfected in this manner as the taste can be most disagreeable.
Filtered Water Overview
Then water can be filtered to remove the contaminants that it carries and this has its own specific advantages. Filtered water can release its content of chlorine, pesticides, fluoride, and even minerals.
What is Filtered Water?
Filtered water is water that has been sent through a filter.
There are many different types of filters available on the market today and most are designed to address one specific type of impurity that may be in the water supply. But it will probably take a two or three stage water filtration system to provide a well-rounded treatment to meet the needs of your water supply.
The type of impurities trapped by a filter will depend on the media of the filter itself. As the water passes through the media, the impurities are stopped by the specific type of filter made to catch them. Filters will not always be effective against pathogens, unless they include a UV or RO (Reverse Osmosis) filter. But water filters can be designed to remove chlorine, heavy metals and many other types of contaminants from a water supply.
Advantages of Filtering Tap Water
Much Faster Process — Generally speaking filtering water is a faster and more energy efficient process than boiling water. If you can find the right type of water filter that removes the specific contaminants you want removed from your water supply, this can be hooked up to your home to ensure that filtered water is always available from every tap in the home. Even the most simplistic water filtration pitchers will provide clean healthy water in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, you will not have to wait for the water to cool before it can be enjoyed.
Removes More Contaminants — as mentioned, boiling your water doesn’t actually remove any of the contaminants from your water supply, so having a filter I’ll allow you to remove far more from a dubious water supply than boiling the water could. Additionally, filtered water will be free from toxins and harmful compounds that boiled water will still contain.
Can Be More Reliable — filtered water is generally more reliable than boiled water. This is because filters can be designed to remove a wider range of harmful contaminants from the water supply. Always choose a filter that has been certified by the NSF/ANSI for removing all types of contaminants and you can match this to the types of contaminants found in your water supply.
Energy-Saving — as mentioned, most water filters don’t require any more energy than the power of gravity to work their purpose. No electricity, no fuel for fire, just sit and wait.
Disadvantages With Water Filtration
Can Be Expensive — water filters can be an especially costly investment, although if you are currently purchasing purified water from a commercial service you will probably come out on top by switching to a water filtration system. But compared to boiling water, a water filter could be a more expensive option.
Can Be Difficult to Install — unless you have some intermediate to advanced DIY plumbing skills, installing your plumbing system can be a difficult task. Sometimes water filtration companies provide detailed instructions on how to do this, sometimes it may be best to hire a professional to ensure that the installation is done right.
More Maintenance Required — filters will need to be cleaned and maintained if they will continue to function and remain an asset, not a liability. Make sure you buy from a manufacturer that has a strong guarantee program and a spare part supply for all components of their filtrations systems.
Boiled Water vs Filtered Water: Which is Better?
In the end, there is no true answer to which is better between these two very different ways of water purification. It is best to match the situation to the method that will provide clean healthy water most effectively. Here are the best water filtration system reviews: