April 22, 2024


Than a Food Fitter

What to do when you can’t use or drink your tap water

6 min read
Whether it's non-potable or simply not running.

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Clean, running water is an essential part of life—but it’s one we don’t think about often. That is, until our water supply has been contaminated or shut off, and then we begin to realize just how much water we use every day.

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If you’re faced with a non-potable water supply or the water unexpectedly shuts off, you’ve got a few options for drinking, bathing, and other necessary tasks. Here’s what you can—and can’t—use during drinking water advisories, and what you can do when you have no water at all.

When your water isn’t running at all, here’s what to do

The FDA regulates bottled water products, including spring water, mineral water, artisan well water, and more to ensure it is safe for human consumption.

In the event your water isn’t running at all, it’s best to be prepared with plenty of bottled water since household tap water won’t be accessible for any of your needs. 

Unopened, commercially bottled water is one of the safest and most reliable sources of water in an emergency. Make sure to have an emergency kit that includes plenty of bottled water. 

Ready.gov, FEMA’s partner site, recommends stocking up at least one gallon per person per day. Multiply this by the number of people in your family by the expected days you’ll be out of water. This is how much water you’ll need. If you don’t have enough water stockpiled, or any at all, you’ve got options to find water. 

You can grab some cases of water bottles from your local Walmart or Target. You may also be able to get them sent to you via grocery delivery services like Instacart or Shipt if you’re in a pinch.

You should never drink rainwater—the CDC warns against this since rainwater can contain contaminants like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals. 

While it is possible to make rainwater and water from streams, rivers, and other sources safe, it’s a complicated process, and we recommend looking for alternatives, if possible. If your situation is dire, and you’re considering drinking rainwater, be sure to read up on the CDC’s guidance and recommendations.

Without running water, you also can’t bathe. To keep off the stink, it’s great to have cleansing and refreshing products that don’t require any water on hand, including dry shampoo and body wipes.

If you have a pool, you can even use that water for bathing and personal hygiene, but please, do not drink your pool water. 

You have running tap water, but it’s under advisory, so proceed with caution

Drinking water advisories are issued when there is a possibility of contamination that may make you sick. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three types of drinking water advisories: Boil Water Advisory, Do Not Drink Advisory and Do Not Use Advisory. 

Make sure you listen to any other guidance from local public health officials regarding what is safe for your area.

Boil Water Advisory: Boil water before use or use a different source of water 

Any advisory issued by local officials may come with its own set of guidance, depending on the reason why there is an advisory to begin with. Be sure to listen to local guidance on what you can and cannot use your tap water for.

A boil water advisory says that those in the affected areas must boil their water before use or use a different source of water.

Avoid using tap water even if it’s filtered (i.e. a water filter pitcher) and water from any appliance that’s connected to your water line (i.e. ice from the fridge)—this may be contaminated, unfortunately.  

For water that you’ll use for drinking or food preparation/cooking, bring it to a full rolling boil in a pot for one minute (or if you’re at an elevation of 6,500 feet or higher, for three minutes). Allow the water to cool. 

Don’t forget about pets—make sure you fill their drink bowls with boiled (cooled) or bottled water.

In addition, you should avoid brushing your teeth with tap water during this kind of advisory. The CDC recommends using boiled or bottled water to do so. 

Although you’ll be limited to many uses during a boil water advisory, there are a few things you can still do with caution. Unless stated otherwise by local officials, you may be able to use your tap with soap to wash your hands. Be sure to follow proper hand-washing by scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 

You can also typically shower and bathe with this advisory—just be sure to not swallow any water while doing so. You may want to practice extra caution with young children while they are bathing.

As for other household tasks like washing dishes, the CDC recommends using disposable plates and utensils instead. If you do need to do dishes, make sure your dishwasher reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit or has a sanitizing cycle. 

To hand wash dishes, you can proceed as normal with hot water. Before letting the dishes air dry, allow them to soak in a separate basin with one teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of warm water for one minute.

You can wash your clothes safely as normal during this advisory. 

Do Not Drink Advisory: Use a different source of water for drinking or cooking

A do not drink advisory is much more strict in terms of what you can use water for. This may be put in place by local officials if water is contaminated by harmful chemicals and toxins.

It is best to use bottled water for many of your daily routines during this kind of advisory. Here’s what you should use bottled water for, according to the CDC:

  • Drinking and cooking 
  • Brushing teeth
  • Washing fruits and vegetables
  • Preparing food
  • Mixing baby formula
  • Making ice
  • Giving water to pets

If you’re low on bottled water or your local store is out due to a shortage, there are emergency water options for which you can still use your tap.

If you have ice cubes made prior to the water emergency, you can melt them to have some clean water for drinking or cooking. It may not be much, but it’s definitely something.

You should not use well water if you’re under an advisory, as that water may be contaminated, too. 

Depending on the specific situation in your area, you may or may not be able to wash your hands, flush toilets, or shower, so be sure to listen to local guidance before thinking your water is safe to use for non-drinking purposes. 

Do Not Use Advisory: Do not use the tap water for any purpose, including bathing

While rare, do not use advisories can happen—this means your community’s water could be contaminated with germs, harmful chemicals, toxins, or radioactive materials. These contaminants can be especially dangerous when coming into contact with skin, lungs, or eyes.

If you’re under a do not use advisory, proceed as if you do not have running water at all.

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