How You Can Safely Drink the Tap Water Anywhere in the World
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees