What to do (and what not to do) during a boil water advisory — 7 tips from CDC experts

A massive boil water advisory was issued Wednesday morning, affecting residents in DeKalb County.

DeKalb County schools will be dismissing early, the district said in a statement. The DeKalb Medical Wellness Center, which previously announced it would be rescheduling elective surgeries as multiple cities continue to report water outages, is closed for the day.

Stay with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the latest.

» RELATED: 3 myths about drinking water, according to Atlanta dietitians

A boil water advisory is a public health measure that suggests the possibility of bacterial contamination in the water system, making the water unsafe to drink tap water without boiling it first, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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» RELATED: Find out if your area is impacted by the Atlanta boil water advisory

But what exactly should you do under a boil water advisory? Here are seven tips to keep in mind from public health experts:

1. Only drink tap water after you’ve boiled it.

When boiling water, fill your pot with water and heat it until you see bubbles reach the top. 

Once you notice a rolling boil, let it continue boiling for one minute before you turn off the heat and let the water cool.

Store the water by pouring it into a clean container with a cover.

2. Can’t boil your water? Try disinfecting instead.

According to the CDC, if your tap water is clear, you can use unscented household liquid bleach to disinfect your water.

Add one-eighth of a teaspoon of the bleach to one gallon of water. Mix thoroughly and then wait at least 30 minutes before drinking it.

Store the disinfected water by pouring it into a clean container with a cover.

If your tap water is not clear, use a clean cloth to filter the water.

Then, continue to use unscented household liquid bleach in the same way you used it for clear tap water, but this time, only add one-fourth of a teaspoon of the bleach to the gallon of water.

Again, store the disinfected water by pouring it into a clean container with a cover.

Keep in mind, however, that if the boil water advisory in effect is a result of high turbidity, bleach is not a viable disinfectant.

In addition, if the advisory in effect says there are Cryptosporidium parasites in the water, bleach will not be very useful. Boil water instead.

3. Can you drink water from a water filter or use ice from an ice tray?

You should still boil tap water even if you’re using a water filter. According to the CDC, most water filters don’t remove bacterium or viruses.

And no, do not use the ice in your ice tray. You should throw out all ice made with tap water, including ice in trays, dispensers or ice makers.

Instead, the CDC recommends you make new ice with boiled or bottled water.

» RELATED: Recall in effect for a brand of water sold at Kroger

4. Cooking food under a boil water advisory

When preparing to cook, wash any food prep surfaces with boiled water.

You can cook to your heart’s content, but be sure to also wash your ingredients with boiled water that has cooled (or use bottled water).

CDC experts recommend using boiled water when preparing beverages like coffee, tea and lemonade.

When you’re ready to wash your dishes, you’re OK to use your dishwasher as long as your appliance reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150 degrees (or if your appliance has a sanitizing cycle), according to the CDC.

You can also use hot water mixed with a teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of hot water to hand-wash your dishes.

Just soak the rinsed dishes in the mixed water for at least one minute and let them air dry.

5. Is it safe to take a shower or brush your teeth? 

Of course, but be careful not to swallow any water when doing so and, when brushing your teeth, do not use untreated tap water. Instead, use boiled or bottled water.

If you have a baby or young child, consider giving them a sponge bath.

6. How to feed your baby safely under a boil water advisory

While CDC experts recommend breastfeeding, if that isn’t an option, use ready-to-use baby formula.

Use bottled water or boiled water (or, if you can do neither, disinfect the water using the disinfecting steps above) to prepare powdered or concentrated baby formula.

Be sure to both wash and sterilize the nipples and bottles before feeding.

7. Is the water safe for your pet?

CDC experts recommend abiding by the same guidelines for pets as you would for yourself and your family. Give your adopted fur babies boiled water that has been cooled. 

More about boil water advisory safety at

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