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How Long Do You Actually Need to Boil Tap Water?

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Ever wondered how long you needed to boil tap water in order to render it potable? How many minutes of rolling bubbles are required to kill the germs in the water from one’s faucet? Well, wonder no more, because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has put an end to all our inquiries.

It began with a little baiting. The CDC tweeted a poll, asking its followers how long they thought water should be boiled before consumption. An overwhelming majority of poll-takers (42 percent) erred on the side of caution and shot high, assuming that water needed a hefty ten minute boil to clear it of any harmful germs.

But a response tweet by the CDC clued us in to what only a measly ten percent of poll takers expected: that water needs to be boiled for only one minute to be considered safe to drink. This doesn’t mean, however, that the whole process takes a minute. Only when the water is brought to a boil does the one minute timer begin. Thus, the whole process might take something more like five or ten minutes.

The information is particularly useful for people under boil water advisory—whose tap water might be unfit to drink due to natural or man-made disasters and disease outbreaks. And while many of us, myself included, never think twice about drinking from the faucet, the same can't be said for certain communities across the country. Just this week, parts of New Orleans were placed under boil water advisory and residents were warned to avoid drinking tap water without first treating it.