Can I drink the Tap Water in South Africa? What is the best water filter for South Africa?

Can I drink the Tap Water in South Africa? What is the best water filter for South Africa?

Can you drink the tap water in South Africa? What water filter is the best for tap water in South Africa?

South Africa’s tap water is a topic of much debate and concern. With its diverse climate and topography, the quality of tap water varies greatly, raising questions about its safety for consumption. This article explores the journey of tap water in South Africa, from its sources to the tap, and the challenges it faces along the way.

Where Does the Tap Water Come From?

The tap water in South Africa primarily comes from surface water sources such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. These are heavily dependent on the country’s rainfall patterns, which can be erratic. In urban areas, water is sourced from large dams and treated at municipal treatment plants before it is distributed to consumers.

Map of rainfall across South Africa

Water Treatment in South Africa

South Africa’s water treatment process includes coagulation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection, adhering to international water quality standards. However, the country’s water treatment infrastructure faces challenges, including aging equipment, maintenance issues and corruption, which can lead to water quality concerns.

Drinking Water Safety in South Africa

In metropolitan areas like Johannesburg and Cape Town, tap water is regularly tested and considered safe to drink. However, across South Africa, there have been reports of water quality issues due to defective infrastructure and neglect.

The Blue Drop Watch Report in 2023 highlighted a decline in drinking water quality, with over 60 systems (41%) of a sample producing water that did not meet the SANS 241:2015 drinking water standards. Issues such as the collapse of wastewater treatment works and a rise in non-compliance with minimum standards have been identified, leading to waterborne illnesses like cholera. Source: The Conversation 

PFAS in tap water in South Africa

There are several reports about PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in tap water in South Africa:

  1. PFAS Contamination at Hartbeespoort Dam: A state-owned company, Pelchem, a subsidiary of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation SOC Ltd (Necsa), is suspected to be responsible for PFAS contamination at Hartbeespoort Dam. Pelchem, located upstream from Hartbeespoort Dam and less than 4km from the Crocodile River, has a permit to release 250,000m³ of effluent into the Crocodile River each year. The effluent, largely described as “industrial”, might contain PFAS. Source: Dailymaverick 
  2. PFAS in Multiple Water Sources: PFAS have been found in multiple water sources in South Africa. The levels of PFAS in the Hartbeespoort Dam were extremely high at the point at which the Crocodile River enters the dam, indicating this river and its tributaries as a key pathway of pollution.
  3. PFAS Sources in Africa: Reported sources of PFASs in Africa include municipal landfills, inefficient wastewater treatment plants, consumer products containing PFASs, industrial wastewater, and urban runoff. Source: PFAS Central

    Microplastics in tap water in South Africa

    There are several reports about microplastics in tap water in South Africa:

    1. Microplastics in Drinking Water: A study on the prevalence of microplastics in South African drinking water found that microplastics concentrations in the source water ranged from 0.24 to 1.47 particles/L, immediately after treatment from 0.56 to 0.9 particles/L, and in the distribution network from 0.26 to 0.88 particles/L. Most of the microplastics found in the water were classified as ‘fragments’ and a few as 'fibres’. Source: Journals South Africa
    2. Microplastics in Johannesburg and Tshwane: Tap water in Johannesburg and Tshwane was found to contain microplastics. The study found that tap water samples collected from the Tshwane region seemed to have fewer fragments compared with Johannesburg.
    3. Microplastics in African Countries’ Water Systems: A review on microplastic pollution in African countries’ water systems found that microplastic pollution levels in the studied water bodies were reported in high concentrations. Most of the research on microplastic pollution was conducted dominantly in South Africa.
    4. Microplastics in Freshwater Environments: A report indicated that low to medium amounts of plastic particles were found in surface, tap, and groundwater sources in South Africa.

      Lead and other heavy metals in tap water in South Africa

      Another concern is lead and other heavy metals in tap water:

      Electrochemical Detection of Heavy Metals: A study on the electrochemical detection of selected heavy metals in water across Africa highlighted that the concentration of heavy metals in drinking water in different parts of the continent, including South Africa, often exceeds the permissible level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Source: Pubs by RSC

      Toxic Heavy Metals in Richards Bay: An integrated health risk evaluation of toxic heavy metals in water from Richards Bay, South Africa, was conducted. The study assessed the hazards of heavy metals based on target hazard quotient (THQ), derived from concentrations of heavy metals in water.

      Heavy Metals in Isipingo River: A study evaluated the pollution levels, sources, and ecological risks associated with five selected heavy metals (chromium, copper, iron, lead, and zinc) in surface water, soil, and sediment systems along the Isipingo River, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

      National State of Water Report 2021: The National State of Water Report 2021 by the Department of Water and Sanitation might provide more recent and comprehensive data.

        Nitrates and Pesticides in tap water in South Africa

        There are several reports about the presence of nitrates and pesticides in tap water in South Africa:

        Agricultural Pesticides in River and Tap Water: A study detected selected agricultural pesticides in river and tap water in Letsitele, Lomati, and Vals–Renoster catchments, South Africa. The study confirmed the presence of selected agricultural pesticides: atrazine, terbuthylazine, imidacloprid, metolachlor, simazine, and alachlor. Although low concentrations of most of these pesticides were detected, pesticides such as atrazine, alachlor, and simazine are known for endocrine disruption. Source: Scielo
        National State of Water Report 2021: The National State of Water Report 2021 by the Department of Water and Sanitation might provide more recent and comprehensive data.

          Bottled Water in South Africa

          Bottled water is widely available and often used as an alternative to tap water. However, it’s important to consider the environmental and health impact of plastic bottles. Some bottled water may just be tap water that has undergone additional treatment.

          There is also significant evidence that microplastics and hormone disruptors from bottled water is bad for your health.

          Best Water Filters for South Africa

          To address water quality concerns, various water filters are available, including activated carbon filters, reverse osmosis, ceramic gravity filters, UV purification and ultrafiltration systems. These can help remove specific contaminants and improve water safety.

          EcoPro by Tappwater is one of the highest performing water fiters in terms of taste and filtering 100+ contaminants for potable public tap water.

          Well Water Filter | Faucet Filtration System | Tappwater

          Ultra by Tappwater is the best choice for tap water sources that may be contaminated by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses.

          women Getting Shower with shower head Filter

          ShowerPro Diamond by Tappwater improves the skin and hair by reducing chlorine, limescale and other substances in the showering water.


          While tap water in South Africa’s urban centers is generally safe, the situation is less certain in other parts of the country. Staying informed about local water quality and using water filters or worst case bottled water can help ensure safe drinking water. Efforts to improve water infrastructure are essential for the health and well-being of all South Africans and visitors.


          About the author Magnus Jern

          Water Researcher, computer geek and entrepreneur with a mission to reduce human impact on the planet. Spent the last 7 years learning everything about tap water, water filters, bottled water and everything else you can imagine. Believes in radical transparency and writes a about water contaminants, filtration, myths and surprising facts. Drinks a lot of tap water, usually filtered. Linkedin

          Back to blog