skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

What to do when a boil order is issued

The boil order fact sheet is also available in the following languages:

Chinese (中文) | Korean (한국어) | Somali (af Soomaali) | Spanish (Español)

Why must I boil my water

If you are in an area with a boil water order in place, it means that recent tests show that your water system is contaminated with organisms that can cause illness.

Who can be affected? Can I become ill?

Anyone who drinks contaminated water may become ill. Infants, young children, the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems are more at risk of illness. This includes people who are on chemotherapy, organ or bone marrow recipients, those with HIV or AIDS, malnourished children, infants, and some of the elderly with compromised or weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms to watch for?

Disease-causing organisms in water can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating, gas, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and/or fever. Symptoms may appear as early as a few hours to several days after infection and may last more than two weeks. If you are ill with these symptoms, contact your health care provider.

How can I make the water safe?

Boiling is the best way to ensure water is free of illness-causing organisms. Bring the water to a rolling boil for one minute. When it cools, refrigerate the water in clean covered containers. If you don't want to boil your water, you can disinfect the water using household bleach. Do not use bleach that contains perfume, dyes, or other additives. Use 1/4-teaspoon bleach per gallon of water, mix thoroughly, and then let stand for 60 minutes before using.

Can I use bottled water?

You can use purchased bottled water.

During a health advisory, can I use tap water for...?

Ice cubes...
Brushing teeth...
Baby's formula...
Washing vegetables/fruits...
Preparing food...
Coffee or tea...
Washing clothes...
Baby's bath...
See below
Washing dishes...
See below
Pet's water bowl...
Contact your veterinarian

Can I bathe my baby or child using tap water?

Yes, as long as they do not drink any of the water. Don't let babies suck on washcloths.

Can I wash dishes?

You can use your dishwasher if you use the sanitizing/heat cycle and commercial dishwashing detergent. You can hand wash dishes if you rinse them in a diluted bleach solution—one teaspoon household bleach to one gallon of water—and then let dishes air dry.

What must be done to fix the problem?

Fixing the problem could be different in each situation depending on whether the problem is at the water source or in the water lines. Usually, the water lines will need to be flushed and the whole system will need to be disinfected using chlorine. The water will then be tested to make sure it is free of coliform bacteria.

How long will this health advisory be in effect?

This health advisory will remain in effect until the water is tested and results show that it meets public health drinking water standards. Your water system will notify you when that occurs.

I already drank the water. Will I get sick?

Most people who happen to drink this water will not get sick. If you do get sick, the symptoms are similar to food poisoning: nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and possibly a mild fever.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

The most important thing to do is avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid drinks with caffeine, such as soda, coffee, and tea.

Can I use tap water for brushing my teeth?

No. Do not use untreated tap water to brush your teeth. Use boiled or bottled water.

Should I give my pets boiled water?

Pets can get some of the same diseases as people. It is a good idea to give them boiled water that has been cooled.

Do I need to worry about my fish or aquatic pets (e.g., reptiles, frogs)?

Most germs that infect people do not infect reptiles or fish. If your water system is using more chlorine or changing disinfection, be cautious about changing the water in your fish tank or aquarium. Contact your local pet store or veterinarian for more advice.

Is it safe to water my garden and house plants?

You can use tap water for household plants and gardens.

What about shaving?

Yes, you can shave as usual.

What about doing laundry?

Yes, it is safe to do laundry as usual.

How should I wash my hands during a boil water notice?

Vigorous hand washing with soap and your tap water is safe for basic personal hygiene. However, if you are washing your hands to prepare food, you should use boiled (then cooled) water, disinfected or bottled water with hand washing soap.

Should I take special precautions with vegetables or soil watered while the boil water was in effect?

The use of municipal water to irrigate gardens during the recent boiled-water advisory was not restricted. Garden soils are normally teaming with life, including harmful bacteria that can contaminate vegetables and possibly make people ill. The Food and Drug Association reminds everyone to wash produce prior to preparation and consumption, regardless if it was harvested from your home garden or purchased at a local market. Download the FDA's Food Facts document to learn more (PDF)

What should you do when the boil water notice is lifted?

Flush household pipes/faucets first.

  • To flush your plumbing, run all your cold water faucets on full for at least 5 minutes each.
  • For a residence with multiple levels, start at the top of the house.
  • If your service connection is long or complex (like in an apartment building) consider flushing for a longer period. Your building superintendent or landlord should be able to advise you on longer flushing times.
  • If the water is discolored, continue to run it from the tap until it is clear.

Ice and automatic ice makers:

  • Wash and sanitize ice trays.
  • For an icemaker, dump existing ice and flush the water feed lines by making and discarding three batches of ice cubes.
  • Wipe down the ice bin with a disinfectant.
  • If your water feed line to the machine is longer than 20 feet, discard five batches of ice cubes.

Hot water heaters, water coolers, in line filters, and other appliances with direct water connections or water tanks:

  • Run enough water to completely replace at least one full volume of all lines and tanks.
  • If your filters are near the end of their life, replace them.
  • Follow any other instructions from the appliance manufacturer.

Water softeners:

  • Run through a regeneration cycle.
  • Follow any other instructions from the appliance manufacturer.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) units: Replace pre-filters, check owner's manual.

Replace other water filters, as they are disposable and may be contaminated. This applies especially to carbon filters and others that are near the end of their life.