Yes, you can drink the tap water in Hong Kong. The water treatment in Hong Kong matches that of the US and Western European countries and WHO standards. The main risk is contaminants from pipes in older buildings and unregulated contaminants such as microplastics.
Therefore, Hong Kong residents living in older buildings or that simply want to reduce risk may want to use a water filter.
For tourists visiting and staying in hotels (especially those built in the past 20 years) tap is most likely safer than bottled water.
Below we will explore why.
Where does the water come from?
Hong Kong doesn’t have enough fresh water supply on the islands so therefore 80-90% of the water supply is imported from the Dongjiang River and other surface water in Guandong. As with most Chinese surface water the Dongjiang has been polluted due to farming, factories, hydropower, waste leakage and more. The Guangdong government have made big efforts to preserve and improve water quality in the river the past 10 years. This is showing promising results but the untreated water is definitely not drinkable.
Thankfully Hong Kong’s advanced water treatment infrastructure that Hong Kong has the capacity to remove all known pollutants. Therefore the treated water is clean and safe to drink.
Is Hong Kong tap water clean and drinkable?
Yes, based on WHO standards (similar to EPA and EU standards) the tap water supplied to the water networks in Hong Kong is safe to drink. Hong Kong’s Water Supply department carries out over 160,000 quality tests every year to ensure this is the case. These tests and reports are available for anyone to view.
These quality reports consistently show that the tap water is comparable to that in e.g. New York, London or Munich.
The main risk is in the infrastructure of individual buildings water pipes. If you live in a building constructed after year 2000 or with pipes renovated since then there shouldn’t be any risk.* The same thing applies to water tanks. This obviously assumes that the building is adequately maintained (this is highly regulated). For older buildings you should check with the property management company.
The issues with older pipes are that they can leech heavy metals such as lead, nickel and cadmium. The latest such incident was reported in 2015. Old and poorly maintained water tanks could also result in bacteria contamination but no such incidents have been reported in the past 10 years. Therefore boiling the water has no real purpose.
To reduce the risk of pipe contamination you can run the water for 2 min before using as drinking water. This will flush out most potential contaminants.
A more recent issue is microplastics found in most tap water around the world. We haven’t found any local tests or reports on microplastics yet but the local government is working on it. In the meantime it’s safe to assume there is some plastic residue in the water but bottled water contains even more.
What do the locals say about Hong Kong tap water?
Most say that they don’t trust the tap water and that it’s not worth the risk. Or they tell you to boil the water before drinking. Neither statement is backed up by any science. The last reported incident with tap water in HK was in 2015 some samples containing lead and other heavy metals above recommended levels. However this was in the specific estates/buildings and related to the quality of the pipes.
Boiling water will kill bacteria but not remove any contaminants. Bacteria has not been an issue in Hong Kong for the past 10 years at least. Boiling water is also said to remove the chlorine but this requires boiling for 15 min. It’s more efficient with a water filter or to pour up the water in a carafe and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
“Better safe than sorry they say” and buy bottled water. However, once again there is no scientific evidence that bottled water is cleaner or healthier.
How can I test if my tap water is safe to drink?
The simple answer answer is to take a sample of the water and send it to an authorized water lab. The lab report will the content and if it’s safe to drink. Unfortunately this isn’t 100% accurate though as e.g. pipes can leech lead on and off over time. Therefore a test one day may indicate lead but the next day it doesn’t. Here’s more specifics including labs and prices.
What is the Hong Kong tap water really like?
On the positive side it’s soft, alkaline (pH level above 8), low in calcium (less limescale) and with low chlorine residue. Mineral content is low but this is not necessarily an issue as we can get all minerals from food anyway. There’s nothing negative to say other than maybe it’s a bit warm when it comes out of the tap. The average temperature is 23 degrees. The information is from the public data on water quality.
What about bottled water in Hong Kong?
About half of the population in Hong Kong only drink bottled water. Subsequently Hong Kong throws away four to five million plastic bottles every day, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
Most of the bottled water people buy such as Watson’s is simply filtered and distilled tap water. This means people pay about 100x more than tap water to carry home bottles, store them at home and then carry them to the trash. And even if the bottles get recycled (which they usually don’t) the environmental impact is huge due to manufacturing, bottling and transportation. An affordable water filter such as TAPP 2 will provide similar clean water and save effort, money and the planet.
So is bottled water healthier?
There is no scientific evidence that bottled water is healthier than the tap water in Hong Kong. As a matter of fact it’s less regulated than tap water and more likely to contain microplastics due to leeching from the bottle and production process.
Should tourists drink bottled water?
There is no evidence that tourists get sick from tap water in Hong Kong even if they have sensitive tummies. It’s more likely that you will get sick from air pollution, food or catch a local illness. “The better safe then sorry” you will hear from many people simply has no justification.
The only exception is if you are staying for an extended period time in an old hotel or building that hasn’t been renovated or maintained in the past 20 years.
Preferably tourists should be drinking tap water out of respect to their hosts to reduce plastic pollution.
- Tap Water in Hong Kong is clean and safe to drink unless the building is old and poorly maintained
- Most locals you meet will likely tell you to drink bottles water or boiled tap water
- There is no scientific evidence that bottled water is not healthier or safer than tap water (actually it’s probably the opposite
- To consume tap water safely long term use an affordable water filter such as TAPP 2
- Tourists visiting Hong Kong can safely drink the tap water**
Enjoy Hong Kong! Let us know if you agree, disagree or have any additional information we should add.
* The government says 1995 when new regulation for pips was introduced so we give it a bit of buffer
** The author of this blog and his family drank the tap water every day during his recent visit.
Official Hong Kong government website about water supply: https://www.gov.hk/en/residents/environment/water/drinkingwater.htm
Drinking water quality data Oct 2017-Sep 2018: https://www.wsd.gov.hk/filemanager/en/content_1182/Drinking_Water_Quality-e.pdf
Dongjiang River water quality: https://www.asiaglobalonline.hku.hk/pollution-china-river-dongjiang/
Dongjiang water pollution: https://m.scmp.com/news/china/article/1020422/dongguan-authorities-admit-water-dongjiang-not-fit-drink
Lead incidence Hong Kong 2015: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Hong_Kong_heavy_metal_in_drinking_water_incidents
Water quality and sources: http://www.chinawaterrisk.org/resources/analysis-reviews/8-things-you-should-know-about-hong-kong-water/
Water Use Leaflet by Hong Kong Water Supplies Department: https://www.wsd.gov.hk/filemanager/en/content_1185/water_use_tips_leaflet.pdf
eBook about reducing lead in Hong Kong Tap Water: https://www.isd.gov.hk/drinkingwater/pdf/hk_water_supply_booklet_e.pdf
Microplastics in Hong Kong Tap Water: https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201811/21/P2018112100285.htm
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