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Can I drink the tap water in China?

Yes. Or no. It depends on where you are in China. If you’re in Hong Kong or Macao then drinking from taps should be fine; likewise, tap water in Taiwan is regarded as being safe, although many still boil it to be sure. But if you’re living on the Chinese mainland then you definitely want to avoid drinking untreated tap water, for the reasons that follow…


Sources of contamination

There are four ways that mainland tap water can be polluted:

  1. Polluted water sources; both waste water from factories and excessive pesticides can get into freshwater supplies, both under and above ground. 
  2. Pollution from the delivery process. Some older water pipes in China are made of steel and other metals; as a result rust and other metal contaminants can enter the flow of water, transporting the metal into household taps. 
  3. Leakage; if water pipes are cracked or damaged, contaminants in the surrounding soil can enter the water flow. 
  4. Unclean water storage; in some old high-rise buildings, water is pumped up to a container on the rooftop, in order to have it ready for users in the apartments below. Consequently, water coming from the taps in these apartments may have rust or other contaminants that have collected in the storage container.


Avoiding contamination

  1. Do not drink water directly from the tap. Chinese people often boil water before drinking it, in order to kill bacteria and purify the water. However, this will not remove any metal contaminants that may be in there. When in restaurants, do not ask for tap water like you might outside of China; drink bottled water instead. You may also wish to be wary of hot tea and coffee. 
  2. Use a water filter on your home taps (typically the kitchen tap). These funnel the water through replaceable (and usually cleanable) cartridges containing various materials that filter the water of contaminants. They must usually be cleaned or changed after a certain time period, normally six months to two years, depending on which brand and make you choose. Famous water filter brands in China include Midea, Sundylee, Everpure, Paragon and Angel. Prices range from several hundred yuan to 7,000 yuan. 
  3. Buy a water cooler for your home; barrels containing purified water will then be delivered by the company to your home upon request – usually by phone call. Most water cooler companies have a special offer that provides a free water cooler, provided the customer pays for 30-50 barrels of water. Naturally, these barrels are not delivered all at the same time – customers pay for a number of tickets that will then be given to the delivery person with each new barrel. There are a number of different brands available, including Nestle, Robust and C’estbon. Prices vary, but a five-gallon water barrel will usually cost 20-30 yuan. The delivery staff take away the empty barrels when they deliver new ones. 
  4. Drink bottled water, which should be available at most corner shops, grocery stores and supermarkets. Most brands available in the market should be okay, such as Kangshifu, C’estbon, Wahaha, Robust and so on, and will cost one-to-two yuan for a bottle. If you are very strict about what you drink, there are more expensive brands of bottled water, such as Kunlunshan, Everest and 5100 selling for 6-30 yuan.


Useful Chinese words and phrases

自来水 zìláishuǐ Tap water
瓶装水 píngzhuāngshuǐ Bottled water
桶装水 tǒngzhuāngshuǐ Barreled water
纯净水 chúnjìngshuǐ Purified water
净水器 jìngshuǐqì Water filter
家用 jiāyòng Domestic use
开水 kāishuǐ Boiled water
饮水机 yǐnshuǐjī Water dispenser


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