The Great Debate: Is UK Bathroom Tap Water Safe to Drink?

The Great Debate: Is UK Bathroom Tap Water Safe to Drink?

4th Jul 2024

White counter top basin with wall mounted matt black tap

It's a common scenario most of us have faced before: waking up in the middle of the night in need of a drink but too tired to journey downstairs to the kitchen tap. Instead, you walk to the nearest water source, the bathroom sink, and pour yourself a cup of water – but is it safe to drink?

Depending on who you ask, you'll either be told bathroom tap water is the same as anywhere else in your home, or completely unsuitable for anything other than bathing and brushing your teeth.

In this guide, we'll walk you through the facts behind the safety of tap water – helping you put your mind at ease the next time you wake up in the night.

We've also gathered expert advice from our own Brian Toward, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) here at Wholesale Domestic.

Contents

What is the quality of tap water in the UK?

The UK is fortunate to have one of the world's most advanced water supply systems. However, it's important to note that we have two main types of water supply systems – mains and private water. Mains water is supplied by public water companies and is usually the source of water that comes from your taps.

In contrast, private water comes from a private supply – such as a well, natural spring, or borehole. Just 1% of households in England and Wales use water that has been delivered from a private supply.

The water from a private supply isn't subject to any monitoring or large-scale cleaning, which can pose health risks if not properly treated. Plus, contamination in the water might not change its smell, taste, or colour, so you can't always tell if the water is safe to use.

The good news is that mains water is carefully monitored by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI). This regulatory body sets strict standards for the chemical composition, microbiological content, and clarity of mains water. These regulations are designed to ensure that tap water remains safe, and a Drinking Water Report conducted in 2022 found that overall compliance with standards for public drinking water in England was at 99.97%. This means that, fortunately, tap water quality in the UK is very high.

Things to consider before drinking bathroom tap water at home

Matt black bathroom tap with green tiles

You may think that since there are regulations to maintain water quality, the water in your bathroom tap is safe to drink. However, this is not automatically the case. There are two factors that you'll need to consider when deciding whether or not you can drink bathroom tap water.

1. Old pipes

The age of your water pipes is one of the most important factors in determining the safety of your tap water.

"Until the 1970s, installing water pipes made of lead was common practice. This has, thankfully, been abandoned following the discovery that it could lead to lead poisoning," Brian explains.

"However, if you live in an older property, there is a chance that your water pipes could still be made out of lead. This could cause a leakage of lead into your bathroom tap water, particularly if the pipes are falling into disrepair or you don’t use water frequently, meaning that it sits in the pipework for longer.”

Brian advises, “Unless you know for certain that your pipes have previously been replaced, it’s best to assume they are still made of lead. The best way to be sure is to test your water quality using a trusted third party.”

Lead pipes pose a potential health risk to people of all ages, but especially to children and babies, so it's better to be safe than sorry.

You might wonder why your kitchen taps are still safe to drink from even if the water in your bathroom isn't. Well, we've got the answers...

2. Water storage tanks

The main difference between water from your kitchen and bathroom taps is how the water is stored. Your kitchen tap is directly linked to the water mains. Water that comes from a mains source travels through large underground pipes that distribute treated and potable water (which means it’s safe to drink) to households across an area. These underground pipes are owned and maintained by the local water utility supplier. This means that the water you receive is fresh and flowing, and is never left standing for too long.

On the other hand, your bathroom tap water is usually stored in a small 25-litre tank that is normally kept in your loft or cellar. It’s worth noting that some bathrooms will have their water supply directly connected to the mains, but this isn’t very common. If you know you have a water tank, or you’re unable to gain access to your loft or cellar to check, it’s best to assume the following applies to you.

While the water contained in a tank still flows from the mains, it tends to sit for longer inside the tank before being distributed from your bathroom taps or shower head. The length of time the water spends in the tank depends on your household’s bathroom habits – with more frequent water usage meaning that the water will flow through the tank more quickly.

"How frequently the water inside the tank is refreshed will depend on your household's water consumption – meaning that homes with few members who do not bathe or shower daily will likely have water sitting in the tank for far longer," says Brian. "Water that is stagnant for some time can accumulate limescale and bacteria alongside any debris from the water tank. This is why water from the tank is allocated to your bathroom, which isn't commonly associated with drinking water."

Additionally, if your home still has lead pipes, water that has time to sit in the plumbing system is more likely to absorb lead, increasing the danger.

Frequently asked questions

Is hotel bathroom tap water safe to drink in the UK?

While the bathroom tap is often the only water source in a hotel room, this doesn't mean the water is safe to drink. Unfortunately, hotels face the same issues as at-home plumbing systems, with older hotels posing a more significant risk of lead pipes.

Hotels also often use water tanks, only far bigger. While hotels usually have many guests using the water supply at any time, which seemingly justifies this larger tank, this also means that you'll never really know how long the water has been sitting stagnant.

A common belief is that boiling tap water makes it safe to drink, which is somewhat true. However, it’s important to note that doing so does not entirely eliminate the risk of chemical contamination or debris. While boiling tap water for 15 minutes will remove trace amounts of chlorine, and studies have shown that it can also remove up to 90% of microplastics in the water, this will not help if your water has been contaminated by lead.

"If you're staying in a hotel, it's best to avoid drinking from the bathroom tap if possible. While it may be tempting when you have no other taps to use, it's far better to purchase water bottles during your stay," says Brian. "This is especially true if you are staying in an older hotel that predates the change in attitudes towards lead pipes."

What is the difference between UK kitchen and bathroom tap water?

"The main difference between kitchen and bathroom tap water is the process that the water goes through before leaving the tap," Brian explains. "Kitchen taps flow directly from the mains, reducing the risk of built-up debris or bacteria. This keeps the water safe to drink."

“In contrast, bathroom tap water must pass through and sit in a water tank before leaving the tap. During which time, it can become a magnet for bacteria, debris, lead contamination, and limescale," Brian notes.

Why does my bathroom tap water taste different?

If you have poured yourself a glass of water from the bathroom tap, you might notice a slightly different smell or taste to the water from your kitchen.

"The main reason that bathroom tap water can have a distinctive taste is that the water often sits in a tank for a while," says Brian. "So, what you're tasting is actually the minerals that have accumulated in the water during this time. While this doesn't necessarily mean the water is unsafe to drink, many people don't like the taste."

What is the water treatment process in the UK?

The water treatment process in the UK is made up of four parts.

  • Storage – Water is often stored in a reservoir for multiple weeks. This helps to naturally filter the water, as heavier debris and minerals settle at the bottom.
  • Screening – During this stage, the water is passed through a filtration screen to collect any branches and leaves that may have gathered in the reservoir.
  • Removing particles – This step is made up of three parts. Flocculation is the first stage, in which a solution is added to the water to make the particles larger and easier to filter. Next, the water is passed through two filters – rapid gravity filters and slow sand filters – which remove any particles from the water.
  • Final treatment – A very small quantity of chlorine is added to the water. This is less than 1 mg per litre, killing any microbes still present in the water and keeping it safe.

"During each stage of the treatment process, the water is thoroughly tested to ensure that the filtration is working as intended," says Brian. "By the time the water reaches your taps, you are left with a clean, refreshing taste, free from harmful chemicals or bacteria."

Is bathroom tap water safe for brushing teeth?

"While you may feel concerned about brushing your teeth with bathroom tap water, the good news is that it poses no risk to your health," says Brian. "This is because you rarely swallow the water when brushing your teeth, so it doesn't get into your system in significant amounts."

Of course, you shouldn't swallow the water anyway due to the fluoride content found in toothpaste, as this can lead to issues like stomach cramps.

Should I install a water filter to make my bathroom water safe for drinking?

If you really don't want to make the walk downstairs to the kitchen, installing a water filter on your bathroom taps can be a great way to improve the quality of your water and make it safe to drink.

"Water filters help to remove any harmful bacteria, debris, trace amounts of lead and chemicals from your bathroom tap water while being fairly simple to install," says Brian. "This not only makes the water safe to drink but also helps improve the taste."

So, is bathroom tap water safe?

"While drinking water from your bathroom tap is unlikely to cause you any serious harm, I personally wouldn't recommend doing so without a water filter," says Brian. "Long-term consumption of bathroom tap water may lead to exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals and debris. The risk of lead poisoning is also something to keep in mind if you live in an older home, and the taste generally isn't as fresh as water from your kitchen tap."

But just because you shouldn't drink from them, that doesn't mean your bathroom tap isn't still a crucial part of your bathroom! At Wholesale Domestic, we offer a wide variety of bathroom taps, including  basin tapsmixer designs, waterfall styles, high-rise options, and more.

We've also got everything you need to revamp your bathroom, from  sinks, showersbaths and toilets to accessories like mirrorstoothbrush holders and extractor fans. Shop our full range of products online today!