Living in, moving to or visiting India and wondering if you can drink the tap water?
Most people will say no but it’s a bit more complicated than that. We will explore the truth about tap water, bottled water and filtered water in India. Why you should avoid bottled water, why tap water might not be as bad as people say and the best water filters for India.
If you’re just looking for a simple answer then jump to the summary at the bottom.
Where does the tap water in India come from?
This is the first reason that it’s complicated to talk about tap water in India in general terms. The water may come from pristine springs in the Himalayas, groundwater in Chennai, aquifers in Karala, or the river Ganges for many communities. Unfortunately humans have managed to pollute almost every source of fresh water in India by now. In addition to this there is a major water shortage in some places and will there is constant flooding in others. India is as diverse as it gets.
How is public tap water treated?
India is both a rich and poor country in many ways. Some cities like Mumbai and Delhi have modern water treatment plans that deliver clean water by international standards. At least when the water enters the network.
The problem is that water pipe infrastructure is not of the same standard. Old and leaking pipes, leeching materials and water storage tanks often cause contamination before the water reaches the tap. Therefore clean public water at the source doesn’t mean clean water at home.
Can Indians drink the tap water in India?
Every year 37.7 million people in India are affected by waterborne diseases due to contamination of water by bacteria (E coli, Shigella, Vibrio cholerae), viruses (Hepatitis A, polio virus, rota virus) and parasites (E. histolytica, Giardia, hook worm). Luckily, antibiotics and other medicine can treat most water-borne diseases although not everyone has access to medicine.
But most people gettig sick are not due to tap water. Almost all of the waterborne diseases are caused by lack of access to clean public water.
What is more worrying about the public tap water is the presence of arsenic and other heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc and mercury. These metals cause metabolic disruptions and damage the nervous system and kidneys irreversibly. They are also known to cause cancers of colon, liver, kidney and lung. Arsenic in tap water has been found to be way above the 0.01 mg/litre WHO guideline in drinking water in some parts of West Bengal, Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
In places with good water treatment all of these contaminants are generally removed except for microplastics. Yet this doesn’t mean that the water is safe as it can still be contaminated throughout the pipes.
What about tap water in the big cities?
Mumbai Tap water
This may be one of the exceptions in India thanks to slightly more modern infrastructure. The treatment plant at Bhandup in Mumbai was commissioned in 1980 and provides water to 70% of the area. It is believed to be one of the largest such plants in Asia and adheres to international standards.
Most of the time it provides clean water throughout the city. However, the monsoon season in particular increases the risk of water contamination due to flooding and leakage.
New Delhi tap water
In theory Delhi just like Mumbai has water treatment plants that comply with international standards. In 2015 16 out of 20 districts tested had safe tap water. But others claim that Delhi tap water is safe to drink but not without filtration. You must filter the water before drinking as it often gets contaminated due to pipe leakage.
Out of the latest 4 reports on tap water quality in Delhi 2 says it’s unfit for drinking and 2 claim that it’s safe for drinking in comparison to European tap water. Read more.
In summary the only way you can now for sure that your tap water is safe to drink is to test it with an authorised lab. This still doesn’t mean that it’s 100% safe as the quality can change over time but it will vastly reduce the risk.
Do I need a water filter in India?
Yes, it’s highly recommended. Filtered tap water is generally safer, cheaper, more convenient and environmentally friendly.
Choosing a water filter in India can be difficult. Due to the sheer amount of potential pollutants it won’t be enough with a single technology such as activated carbon, reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, UV light or ion exchange. Typically a combination of two is required for treated public tap water and three or more for untreated water.
Let’s start with the combinations that will remove contaminants from tap water that has been treated (like in Mumbai and Delhi) but then potentially gets contaminated through the pipes to the tap including pathogens and heavy metals.
Activated Carbon + Ultrafiltration
The simplest, most affordable and potentially safest is activated carbon combined with ultrafiltration. Activated Carbon removes 70+ contaminants and ultrafiltration removes most pathogens (bacteria, guardia, etc). Note that it needs to be catalysed activated carbon to remove heavy metals. Faucet and gravity filters using this technology cost from 40 dollars + replacement filters and requires no installation.
Activated Carbon + UV light
Whereas the ultrafiltration filter removes most pathogens UV light is the best bacteria and virus killing technology there is next to boiling. The only negative aspect is that it requires electricity and the lamps need to be maintained. Tabletop filters of this kind cost from about 100 dollars + replacement filters and don’t require any maintenance.
Reverse Osmosis + Activated Carbon
Reverse Osmosis or simply RO is the most commonly promoted filtering technology for under-the-sink filters. The big advantage is that they filter nano-size particles removing all good and bad minerals, pathogens and other contaminants. To complement this Activated Carbon is used to remove larger particles as well as chlorine which would otherwise damage the filter. The disadvantages are that RO also removes the healthy minerals, requires maintenance and wastes a lot of water and energy to create clean water. Reverse osmosis filter cost from 150 dollars + installation + maintenance and replacement cartridges.
Read more about which filter technology removes what in our water filter guide.
TAPP Water currently does not sell faucet water filters for India but we will in the near future.
Our partners at BlueWater provides the most advanced water filters for restaurants, hotels, offices and large households. In addition to this they have the least waste of any reverse osmosis filter available.
Otherwise one of the negative aspect of Reverse Osmosis filters in particular is that they cause a lot of water wastage. In some cases as much as 6 litres for every litre of clean water. Considering water shortage in much of India this should be part of the consideration.
Another affordable product for travelers to India is the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter which filters “over 99.99% of harmful microorganisms in water.”
Still unsure? Filter and boil the tap water.
What about bottled water in India?
Even with bottled water, ensure that you purchase from a reputable outlet, and not unknown brands or from a street hawker, to avoid the risk of contamination. Most local brands are simply bottled filtered water and there is not much in terms of regulation of bottled water in India.
Always check the seal. Reject the bottle if you suspect the lid has been tampered with. Also check the manufacturing date and the expiry date.
A couple of years ago a team of scientists from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Trombay checked samples from 18 brands of bottled water sold by various manufacturers in Mumbai. They found that more than quarter of samples tested contained higher than WHO-permitted limits of bromates, a carcinogenic salt containing bromide that is a by-product of the disinfection. In a previous study in 2003, the Centre for Science & Environment, Delhi, showed that most bottled water had pesticide residues.
India also has a huge plastic pollution problem. Therefore it’s every citizens responsibility to do whatever we can to cut down on plastic usage.
Generally filtered tap water is safer, more convenient and cheaper than bottled water and a lot more environmentally friendly. In conclusion use a water filter in India if you can and ask hotels and restaurants for filtered water.
Can I brush my teeth in Indian tap water?
For public water in modern neighbourhoods in urban areas the risk is really minimal in using the water for brushing the teeth. You’re a lot more likely to get sick from using public bathrooms, eating food in restaurants or drinking bottled water by local brands. Having said this, people with sensitive stomachs should use filtered or bottled water for brushing the teeth as a precaution.
The question to drinking water in India is complicated but we’ve done our best to simplify the
- The tap water in India is generally not fit for drinking
- For public tap water use an affordable water filter in india for clean, healthy and environmentally friendly drinking water
- Bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water so make sure you get it from a trusted source
- Use refillable water bottle and fill up from your filter when you are on the go to cut plastic consumption
- Ask for filtered tap water in hotels and restaurants
There you go! Enjoy the magic of India!
Note: If you are interested in distributing TAPP faucet water filters in India then contact us through the retail and distribution form.
- The water supply in India – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484770/
- Delhi Water board – http://delhijalboard.nic.in/home/delhi-jal-board-djb
- Mumbai Water Works – https://portal.mcgm.gov.in/irj/portal/anonymous?NavigationTarget=navurl://06f20212cc919da73149e1e9ef479e42&guest_user=english
Listen to this text