Despite certain shortcomings, boiling is still the most common means of treating water in the home and the benchmark against which alternative household-based disinfection and filtration methods must be measured. We assessed the microbiological effectiveness and cost of boiling among a vulnerable population relying on unimproved water sources and commonly practicing boiling as a means of disinfecting water. In a 12 week study among 50 households from a rural community in Vietnam, boiling was associated with a 97% reduction in geometric mean thermotolerant coliforms (TTCs) (p < 0.001). Despite high levels of faecal contamination in source water, 37% of stored water samples from self-reported boilers met the WHO standard for safe drinking water (0 TTC/100 mL), and 38.3% fell within the low risk category (1--10 TTC/100 mL). Nevertheless, 60.5% of stored drinking water samples were positive for TTC, with 22.2% falling into the medium risk category (11--100 TTC/100 mL). The estimated cost of wood used to boil water was US$ 0.272 per month for wood collectors and US$ 1.68 per month for wood purchasers, representing approximately 0.48% to 1.04%, respectively, of the average monthly income of participating households.