The United States E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) claims that 9 out of 10 of all water sources on the planet are contaminated in some way. There are many kinds of microscopic organisms that contaminate water sources and can cause potentially serious, and sometimes deadly, illnesses when drinking water from the wild. Learning how to boil water for drinking and knowing how to clean the water for safe consumption is an essential skill to know.
The “good old days” of simply finding a stream and taking a drink from its waters are becoming a thing of the past… and even in the past there were many cases of disease that spread through fresh water sources.
You should always assume that water in the wild is contaminated in some way and you should be prepared with purification methods to make the water you come across in the wild as safe as possible in your conditions.
How to Boil Water for Drinking – How Many Minutes Does it Take?
Biologically contaminated water is water that contains microorganisms such as “Giardia” (a common microorganism that, if not killed, leads to intestinal disorders), bacteria, or viruses that can lead to infections.
Ever heard of traveler’s diarrhea? Ever been afflicted while on a hiking or camping trip as a result of drinking water that you thought was perfectly safe? One word… “Giardia”.
Toxic water sources however contain chemical contamination from sources like pesticide runoffs, direct dumping or indirect leaching, mine tailings, and so on.
Boiling, filtering, or chemically treating water can remove or kill microorganisms,
but it will not remove chemical toxins.
Boiling Water is the Most Certain Way to Remove Microorganisms
If you were to ask the Wilderness Medical Society about safe water boiling times -
Water at 160 degrees F will kill contaminants in 30 minutes.
Water at or above 185 degrees F (85° C) kill most contaminants in a few short minutes.
You can safely say that by the time your water reaches its point of boil at 212 degrees that it is safe for drinking. Water is instantly purified at a roiling boil, even if you live at high altitudes.
There are a Couple Things to Consider When Boiling Water for Drinking
If there are chemical toxins present in the water, boiling it will not remove them all. In order to remove chemical toxins, there are a number of methods you can use that are safe. A solar still is a good choice. Or collecting the steam that comes off of boiling water is another good way.
If there is any organic matter or dirt in the water, then you should filter them out first. You can use a simple cloth like a bandanna or bed sheet to remove most of the dirt and organic matter from the water prior to boiling.
If you have heard that it takes several minutes of boiling to purify water, then you have heard wrong. Save your fuel and fire and understand that once water reaches its boiling point… it is as clean as it is going to get by boiling.
If you employ the use of a thermometer then you don’t even have to wait for the water to reach a boiling point to be safe for drinking. To be safe though… I would error on the side of caution and just wait for the first signs of a boil.
Boiling Times to Purify Water for Drinking
- 30 minutes at 160° F
- 3 minutes at 185° F
- Instant at 212° F
How to Boil Water for Drinking