Drinking Water Emergency

In an emergency situation where regular water service has been interrupted – like a hurricane, flood, or water pipe breakage – local authorities may recommend using only bottled water, boiled water, or disinfected water until regular water service is restored. 

The instructions below show you how to boil and disinfect water to kill most disease-causing microorganisms that may be present in the water.  


How to Boil Water:

If water is cloudy, let it settle and filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter. 

− Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. At altitudes above 5,000 feet (1,000 meters), boil water for three minutes. 

− Let water cool naturally and store it in clean containers with covers. 

− To improve the flat taste of boiled water, add one pinch of salt to each quart or liter of water, or pour the water from one clean container to another several times.  

How to Disinfect Water:

Disinfect water using household bleach, if you can’t boil water. Only use regular, unscented chlorine bleach products that are suitable for disinfection and sanitation as indicated on the label. Do not use scented, color safe, or bleaches with added cleaners. 

− If water is cloudy, let it settle and filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter. 

− Locate a clean dropper from your medicine cabinet or emergency supply kit. 

− Locate a fresh liquid chlorine bleach or liquid chlorine bleach that is stored at room temperatures for less than one year. The label should say that it contains 8.25% of sodium hypochlorite. 

− Use the table below as a guide to decide the amount of bleach you should add to the water.  Double the amount of bleach if the water is cloudy, colored, or very cold. 

Volume of Water                Amt. of Bleach to Add

1 quart/liter                           2 drops

1 gallon                                6 drops

2 gallons                              12 drops (1/8 teaspoon)

4 gallons                              1/4 teaspoon

8 gallons                              1/2 teaspoon

− Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor. If it doesn’t, repeat the dosage and let stand for another 15 minutes before use. 

− If the chlorine taste is too strong, pour the water from one clean container to another and let it stand for a few hours before use. 



While boiling and chlorination will kill most microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes (germs) that resist these methods, as well as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Distillation involves boiling water and then collection of only the vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water.

Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline 1-800-426-4791 

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, Ready.gov