What is a Boil Water Advisory?

A boil water advisory is a public notification advising customers to boil tap water before consuming it. Advisories are issued when an event has occurred with the potential to adversely affect water quality, or a situation has occurred where there is known degradation of the water quality.  There are two types: precautionary and mandatory.

Precautionary boil water advisory: Issued when the water system experiences a loss in positive water pressure, typically due to a serious main break or low storage tank levels. A loss of positive water pressure indicates the existence of conditions that could allow contamination to enter the distribution system. This is the most common type of advisory, which is issued as a precaution until water samples are collected and analyzed to confirm that water quality has not been affected.

Mandatory boil water notice: Issued when contamination is confirmed in the water system. Customers are instructed to boil the water to kill bacteria and other organisms in the water, until the issue is resolved and the notice can be lifted. Contamination from organisms, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, can cause symptoms, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea and associated headaches.

What actions do I need to take?

If notified of a boil water advisory, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER WITHOUT BOILING IT FIRST. Bring all water to a rolling boil, let it boil for one minute, and cool before using; or use bottled water. You should use boil or bottled water for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation until you are notified that the advisory has been lifted.  

We also recommend the following steps:

  • Throw away uncooked food or beverages or ice cubes if made with tap water during the day of the advisory
  • Keep boiled water in the refrigerator for drinking
  • Do not swallow water while you are showering or bathing
  • Provide pets with boiled water after cooling
  • Do not use home filtering devices in place of boiling or using bottled water; Most home water filters will not provide adequate protection from microorganisms
  • Use only boiled water to treat minor injuries;  When showering or bathing, avoid allowing the water to come in contact with an open wound
  • Do not wash salad items with tap water during the period; Use bottled water or freshly boiled and cooled tap water

To ease inconvenience, Pennsylvania American Water typically provides alternate water sources by placing a water tanker at location(s) within the affected area. The locations will be listed on the company’s website, news releases, social media and other communications. Customers are asked to bring their own containers when visiting a tanker for drinking water.

How long does a boil water advisory last until it can be lifted?

According to PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) guidelines, water samples must be collected to test for bacteria in the distribution system. The first samples are taken on the day when the issue (e.g. main break) has been corrected, and then another set of samples are taken in the next 24 hours. Two consecutive days of "clean" test results are required before DEP will allow the advisory to be lifted. (The process takes 24 hours for test results to come back from the laboratory, so final lab results to lift an advisory can take several days after the event.)

You will be notified when the corrective actions have been completed and you no longer need to boil your water.  This information will also be provided on Pennsylvania American Water’s website under Alerts Notification [link].

What should I do once the advisory is lifted?

Customers under a precautionary boil water advisory can resume normal water usage when the notice is lifted without taking additional measures. If you experience cloudy or discolored water, you should run your faucets for a few minutes until the water runs clear.

In the event of a mandatory boil water notice, you should flush household pipes, ice makers, water fountains, etc. prior to using for drinking or cooking. Flushing simply means letting the water run to ensure that no contaminated water remains in your pipes. Follow these guidelines for flushing:

  • Run all cold water faucets in your home for one minute at one time with the highest water flow possible to prevent splashing or flooding of the drains
  • To flush automatic ice makers, make three batches of ice and discard
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.  Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines specified in the owner’s manual
  • Run drinking water fountains for one minute at the highest flow rate possible
  • Change refrigerator filters

Can I use the water for showering and bathing?


Yes. Just be careful not the drink the water while you shower or bathe.

Can I use the water for laundry?


Yes, it is OK to do laundry.

Can I use the water for washing dishes?


You should NOT use the dishwasher, because the water temperature doesn’t reach the boiling point. Dishes should be hand-washed with water that has been boiled first. Or, you can use hot, soapy water and add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon as a precaution, and rinse dishes in cooled water that has been boiled first.  

Do I still need to boil my water if I have a filter system on my faucet or refrigerator?


Most point-of-use filters are designed to improve the aesthetics of water (improve taste and odor), and not to remove harmful bacteria. You can learn about the capability of your filter by contacting the manufacturer. If in doubt, you should boil your water or use bottled water even if you have a filtering system.