Is boiling the safest and best practice with regard to disinfecting your water?
I have seen this topic and question for many years now, and the answers always vary, depending on who is giving it. Though most people agree that it is in fact the best practice, there are some that argue the fact and give reasons stating otherwise. There are also some other considerations that are brought up, even some best practice techniques from the CDC that are commonly discussed. So what’s the real deal? And what is the context in which we are talking about this?
So the main context in which this is discussed and brought up, is in the Survival community. Some folks think boiling is the best way to disinfect water and some disagree, stating (insert latest gadget, or chemical here) is the best way. I have always been a believer of boiling myself, but too each their own I say. With that said, let’s discuss boiling some more. People have quoted the CDC (Center for Disease Control) saying that water should be brought to a rolling boil for at least a minute (at or around sea level). On the contrary, also stating that water should be brought to a rolling boil for up to 3 minutes (at elevation, above 2000ft). The reason given for this is that water boils at a lower temperature at elevation, than at sea level. I’m not sure exactly what that means to be honest, and this confuses the heck out of me. It is human nature to make things complicated I guess. When I hear this, all I can think about is the old saying, what weighs more, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers? There’s obviously no difference, and I believe the same to be true with regard to how long your water should be boiled. If it’s boiled, it is boiled. The time frame and air thickness is, and should be, irrelevant (my opinion). I like to keep things simple if I can. Boiling water gives the advantage of killing 100% of all water-born pathogens. Examples of that are giardia, cryptosporidium, Hepatitis-A and the likes. Truth is, most of these are killed at a much lower temperature, and in some cases, can be killed with pasteurization.
So then there is the chemical factors that may be in the water you intend on using. This usually takes place around agricultural fields and such. Depending on the chemical, pasteurization/boiling here can actually enhance the chemical, or make it more potent and dangerous. Obviously, being more harmful if consumed. My thought on that is, if you are around such a place or water source, you are most likely not lost or in a Survival situation, at least not one where water is a concern. In this case, you should be packing your water in with you if you are concerned about it. Again, keep it simple and use common sense, that is typically a best practice. Speaking on the chemical aspects of water disinfection, there are some who bring this up regularly as well, and for good reason I suppose. On the flip side however, there are some of the same people who would defer to using other chemicals over boiling to disinfect. I find that to be sort of hypocritical, but again, too each their own I guess. I was never a big fan of using chemicals, and never will be. I have a huge problem with ingesting them needlessly. Some of the chemicals used, or advocated for use, say right on the bottles or packaging, “do not ingest”. But this is safe? Or a safer way than boiling? I would beg to differ, but again, that is just me.
I’m an advocate of boiling myself and have never had an issue. I have done this in different states around the country and do it regularly on trips and such. This technique has been used for a long time now with great success, and is the one I will continue to practice. Humans make errors, so the latest gadget to filter water may not work as advertised, and typically doesn’t remove 100% of the bad stuff anyhow. Just a little food for thought, to go with your water ; )
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Believe what you may, but if in a “Survival” situation, use whatever technique you wish. But don’t die of dehydration because you couldn’t disinfect the water, just drink it! You may be sick after the fact, but you will be alive and sick.