Boiling water is the safest way to make sure that your water is free from harmful bacteria, viruses, pathogens, and other nasty contaminants that could be very disagreeable. But if you’re faced with an impure source of water, you might be wondering how long to boil water for in order to kill off all those germs!
If you’re used to having access to safe drinking water straight from the tap, then this probably isn’t a question you often consider at home. If you do ever find yourself in a scenario where you have to make water safe to drink, though, then you’ll be glad you kept reading this article.
Let’s take a look at how long it takes to boil water!
You might be asking: when would I ever need to boil drinking water? We all boil water at home, of course, usually on the stovetop or with a gooseneck kettle. But in the US, we don’t often do this to make the water safe; we do it when brewing tea, coffee, or hot chocolate!
But there are times when you could find that boiling water is necessary to make it safe. This could be at home, when you’re in the outdoors, or if you travel to a different country. There are various situations when this info can come in handy, but for Americans, these are thankfully very rare.
The most common scenarios include the following:
The first two scenarios are extreme. If there’s a natural disaster, then you’ll know about it, and there will be guidance issued to inform people to stop drinking the tap water.
More likely, you’ll be out hiking and camping, and you’ll want to play it safe by boiling the local water or sourcing water from springs or outdoor taps.
You could also find yourself in a different country, where the water has impurities your body won’t be used to, or where the water simply isn’t safe to drink due to poor infrastructure. In this scenario, if you don’t have safe bottled drinking water to drink, then boiling the local tap water is the safest option.
Boiling water is the easiest way to make water safe to drink. Other methods do exist, of course, including water purification tablets, chlorine, or UV filters, but unless you’re specifically prepared and ready to purify water, then boiling water is the easiest option available.
Boiling water is effective because, by the time the boiling water temp is reached, the heat kills off harmful and unpleasant impurities that could be present.
Bringing water to the boil is an effective way to kill off bacteria such as salmonella or cholera; it’s an effective way to kill off viruses, including the likes of meningitis or norovirus; and it’s an effective way to remove dangerous parasites.
Once the correct temperature of boiling water has been reached, other impurities such as pesticides or chemicals are also neutralized.
In short, yes, boiling water does make it safe to drink! In certain scenarios, however, you may also need to filter the water too. This removes heavier molecules or macro impurities from the water too.
Okay, let's get to the question at hand: how long to boil water to sterilize it fully? Let’s look at what the authorities say!
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that water needs to be boiled for 1 minute to make it safe for consumption. However, it should be noted that this is not 1 minute in total, but one minute from the point at which the water hits the boiling point!
If you’re boiling water on the stovetop, in a standard sized saucepan, then it takes around 10 minutes for the correct temp of boiling water to be reached. In a kettle, the boiling point is reached in half this time.
One minute is long enough to kill off all of those nasty bacteria and parasites we were talking about before.
Different methods of boiling take different times to reach a boiling point. What’s important is knowing “when does water boil” – and you can judge this by the furious bubbling. Once the water has been bubbling like this for at least a minute, you’re good to go.
And how hot is boiling water? Water reaches the boiling point when it hits 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 degrees Celsius). It’s interesting, however, that the vast majority of pathogens are killed off long before this. Most bacteria, parasites, and other nastiness won’t survive above 158 degrees Fahrenheit (or 70 degrees Celsius).
Better safe than sorry!
In reality, boiling water to make it safe is overkill! However, it’s best not to risk drinking it sooner, just in case. In fact, most people will leave their water to boil for more than 1 minute just to be safe, and this is perfectly fine!
If you’re a germaphobe (and who isn’t, these days?), then you can even consider twice boiled water just to be super-safe (again, though, this is scientifically classed as “overkill!”).
Remember, too, that boiling water doesn’t remove larger impurities. There can still be residue or dirt in your water, particularly if you’ve sourced it from a river or natural water source. In this case, you'll want to filter the impurities out if you don’t fancy having a gritty coffee in the morning!
In addition, if there is a natural disaster or the water supply is contaminated with dangerous chemicals, then always look out for guidance before drinking even boiled water. There are some things that the heat just can’t kill.
Once the boiling point has been reached, it takes just 1 minute for the water to be considered safe for drinking. At this point, the water is free from harmful bacteria and pathogens that would otherwise wreak havoc on your health!
Boiling water is a simple yet truly effective way to sterilize water and make it safe for drinking. Hopefully, the only times you’re going to need to know how to boil water are when you’re out camping or hiking.
Why not bookmark our guide to boiling water, and ensure that your drinking water is safe?
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