How To Sanitize Drinking Water by Boiling or Bleach

Hurricane Harvey has devastated Texans all along the coast. In many communities – as of 9/2/2017 – flood water still stands as high has six feet deep. Homes are underwater, grocery stores are flooded, cars are ruined … you may well find yourself in a situation where you need to improvise a way to sanitize drinking water. The tap water in many communities is still considered safe to drink, however in other areas such as Beaumont, there is no tap water, or the community is under a boil notice. The following is an article courtesy of the EPA on how to sanitize water for drinking using either the boil method, or the bleach method. Specific amounts of bleach-to-water are listed in the graph at the bottom of the article.

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. However, boiling or disinfection will not destroy other contaminants, such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.

Print Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water document.

ONLY USE WATER THAT HAS BEEN PROPERLY DISINFECTED FOR DRINKING, COOKING, MAKING ANY PREPARED DRINK, WASHING DISHES, AND FOR BRUSHING TEETH.

  • Use bottled water or water you have properly prepared and stored as an emergency water supply.
  • Boil water, if you do not have bottled water. Boiling is sufficient to kill pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa (WHO, 2015).
    • If water is cloudy, let it settle and filter it through a clean cloth, paperboiling water 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.
  • 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, for example, add 6 drops of bleach to each gallon of water. Double the amount of bleach if the water is cloudy, colored, or very cold.
    • 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.
Volume of Water Amount 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

*Bleach contains 8.25% sodium hypochlorite.

This article originally appeared on the EPA / Environmental Protection Agency website.

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