How You Can Safely Drink the Tap Water Anywhere in the World

Apr 3, 2019

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When exploring countries such as Mexico, India and Peru, many travelers are reluctant to drink water straight from the tap. Water can carry a variety of viruses and bacteria that can cause illnesses such as dysentery, hepatitis A, cholera and giardia.

And according to new research by booking platform Globehunters, there are actually 187 countries where visitors should be cautious when drinking untreated tap water — and some of the locations are pretty surprising.

Fiji, for example, is often associated with pristine and safe drinking water, thanks to the brilliant marketing tactics of the high-end “Fiji” bottled-water brand. So it may come as a surprise that drinking untreated tap water during a stay here may result in a ruined vacation. Some other popular — and unexpected — destinations where tap water can be an issue include Russia, Cyprus and the Maldives.

It’s not to say the water in those places is necessarily bad; rather, our bodies are simply not immune to what’s in it. That’s why drinking from the tap abroad can sometimes upset your system even if there’s nothing technically wrong with the water.

The simplest solution is to drink bottled water when it’s available. But when traveling to some remote places, that may not always be an option. It’s also not the most eco-friendly solution.

Luckily, if you can’t find — or continuously purchase — bottled water, you don’t have to choose between dehydration or cholera.

Here are a few methods you can use to ensure your drinking water is safe, regardless of whether it’s from your hotel room faucet or a stream. (Just remember, these methods may be ineffective when treating heavily contaminated water, so use caution when treating unknown natural sources such as rivers or lakes that may be polluted.)

Boil It

The most rudimentary way to make sure water is safe to drink is by bringing water to a boil, which kills virtually every type of bacteria, virus and protozoa in a water source. Of course, not everyone has a method to boil water readily available at all times, so this may not always be the most convenient option. (Not to mention, most people prefer drinking their water cold, so you’ll have to have a source of refrigeration, too. Or be exceptionally patient.)

Metal cooking pan with boiling water and on a cooker, stove
Boiling is an age-old way to treat water. (Photo via Getty Images)

Add Iodine

Iodine has been used to treat water since the early 20th century. According to the World Health Organization, iodine may be even more effective in water treatment than chlorine — a chemical used for decontamination in most US tap water. Iodine does have its downfalls, however. The chemical does not kill cyclospora, which is a bacteria sometimes found in Nepal during the late spring and summer months. Pregnant women, individuals with thyroid disease or individuals with an iodine allergy should also exercise caution with this method.

To treat water with a 2% iodine tincture, which can be purchased at most outdoor stores, use eight drops per liter and then wait 30 minutes before drinking the water. Cloudy water may require longer contact times or a higher concentration. It is important to read an individual manufacturer’s instructions before use, as iodine can come in different forms and concentrations.

Iodine works well to cleanse water of bacteria. (Photo via Getty Images)
Iodine may be more effective in decontaminating water than chlorine. (Photo by Getty Images)

Use Chlorine Bleach

Before writing off household bleach as a treatment method, it is important to note that most tap water in the US is treated with chlorine — the chemical present in most bleach compounds. Plus, drinking water with a slight bleach odor is probably a better option than spending the entirety of your vacation on the bathroom floor.

For one liter of water, simply mix in two drops of unscented chlorine bleach, shake the bottle and wait for 30 minutes before drinking. (If the water is cloudy, you may want to add a few extra drops.)

Buy a Filtration System

Many outdoor companies, such as MSR, make filters specifically intended for treating natural water sources while on longer hikes or expeditions. Fortunately, they can also be used to treat tap water under less adventurous circumstances.

Unlike iodine and bleach, these filters deliver tasteless and odor-free water, but at a small cost. Many of these filters (except for gravity-style filters) require hand pumping the water, which can be strenuous and time-consuming. After a while, they also tend to clog and deliver potable water at a slower rate.

You can use a handpump to filter water, but it may take a toll on you physically. (Photo via Getty Images)
You can use a hand-pump to filter water, but it may take a toll on you physically. (Photo via Getty Images)

Try a SteriPEN

Possibly one of the best methods available, the SteriPEN utilizes ultraviolet rays to kill bacteria, viruses and protozoa immediately. These pens come with a fairly sizable price tag (around $100) and require batteries.

To treat one liter of water, simply press the button and use the SteriPEN to stir the water for 90 seconds. As with most other treatment methods, cloudy or murky water may require additional treatment.

The SteriPen (L) Adventurer and the SteriPen Ultra (R). (Photos via Amazon)
The SteriPen (L) Adventurer and the SteriPen Ultra (R). (Photos via Amazon)

Filter First

One of the best ways to achieve both potable as well as aesthetically pleasing drinking water — especially if the source is a cloudy lake or stream — is by filtering it first before treating it. Since the second stage of treatment is what kills the bacteria, viruses and protozoa, it isn’t necessary to use an expensive filter like the ones mentioned above for the first part. Instead, simply use a coffee filter (the free ones in the hotel room will do just fine) or piece of cloth to remove any sediment. From there, boiling, using iodine, bleach or the SteriPEN will work just fine.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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