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Injury Prevention and Safety

I drank water from an electric water boiler.

04/01/2008

Question:

Doctor, I drank water for a few years from an electric water boiler/warmer (a machine that keeps water hot 24/7, and placed on my kichen counter). I didn`t realize that the time I`ve been drinking the water, the inside of the machine had very much buildup that looked very dirty (looked like rust or flakes). I don`t know if what I saw was water deposit buildup/minerals or something else. I didn`t realize that the machine was never cleaned. I never felt sick from drinking the water, but am always concern if this can cause any long term health problem. Since this happened a few years ago and I feel fine, do I need to be concern?

Thank you.

Answer:

I would want to know how often you drank from the water dispenser and what the deposits looked like. This kind of mineral buildup is common for any appliance that heats water – think of the coffee maker that needs to be cleaned out periodically.

You mention a rust-like appearance. This is harmless and may have resulted in your getting a little extra iron. The only real risk would be from dangerous metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, etc. Using hot water from the tap can cause lead exposure by leaching lead from the solder in the pipes. I would guess an appliance like the one you used was made of relatively harmless metals and that you are at very low risk for illness from getting that mineral buildup.

You can clean it out with vinegar and still use it, I would guess. Having to use vinegar to get the deposits off tells you that there is not much of the mineral staying in the water you drank – it stayed stuck to the lining.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University