Doctor reveals whether it is better to drink tap or bottled water

Bottled v tap water. (Yahoo Life UK)
Do you drink bottled or tap water? (Yahoo Life UK)

Recent events have understandably raised alarm bells over the quality and safety of water in the UK.

From people across Devon being advised to boil their tap water due to cases of illness causing diarrhoea and vomiting, to hundreds of households in Surrey now being told not to drink their tap water due to tests by Thames Water indicating a possible deterioration of quality in some areas.

But generally speaking, one doctor reminds us that tap water is safe to drink in the UK. Here he runs through what you need to know, including whether bottled or tap water is better, and any differences to our health this might have.

"In my experience, the choice between bottled and tap water often boils down to personal preference rather than a clear health benefit," says Dr. Lawrence Cunningham, contributing medical expert at UK Care Guide and retired GP.

"Tap water in the UK is subject to rigorous testing and regulations to ensure its safety and cleanliness. However, some individuals prefer bottled water due to taste or convenience. From what I've observed, bottled water can sometimes offer a different mineral composition, which might be preferable depending on personal health needs or taste preferences.

"On the other hand, tap water is not only more environmentally sustainable but also more economical."

Dark cooking pot with water steam on stove with kitchen background. Cooking preparation at home. Front view.
Precautions are generally unnecessary unless advised by authorities. (Getty Images)

"Having dealt with various health advisories over the years, boiling tap water in the UK is generally unnecessary unless specifically instructed by health authorities," says Dr. Cunningham, also a health expert at the mental health and financial wellbeing company FinancialEducation.

"Such advisories are usually issued temporarily when there's a suspected contamination or following infrastructure or pipe repairs that might compromise water safety. In most cases, tap water is perfectly safe to drink straight from the tap.

"However, in the rare events of contamination, like the one recently potentially concerning Thames Water, boiling water can be an effective method to ensure safety."

Or indeed, avoiding drinking it altogether if that's what the guidance says. "It's always best to follow local advisories and guidelines issued during such incidents."

Healthy lifestyle. Young pretty smiling lady drinking water before breakfast. Morning routine. Beautiful sun light in kitchen. Awakening. Unrecognisable person.
Tap water goes through rigorous testing and regulations in the UK. (Getty Images)

"Generally speaking, both bottled and tap water are safe to drink in the UK,"

"In my experience, incidents involving contaminated tap water are very rare and are usually addressed quickly. The rigorous standards applied to both bottled and tap water make them safe for consumption under normal circumstances.

"Acknowledging the recent incidents, such as the one with Thames Water, these are exceptions rather than the rule and often prompt an immediate response to ensure public safety."

"As a doctor, my recommendation leans towards tap water, primarily for its environmental benefits and cost-effectiveness," says Dr. Cunningham.

"Tap water in most parts of the UK is perfectly safe, clean, and contains essential minerals that are beneficial for health.

"However, bottled water might be a suitable alternative for individuals in areas with water quality issues or for those who have specific health concerns that the mineral content of water might influence."

Empty Water Bottles
Many plastic bottles are recyclable, though how many actually get recycled is another question. (Getty Images)

"The impact of plastic bottles on health and the environment is a significant concern," warns Dr. Cunningham. Some studies suggest particular chemicals found in plastic bottles can harm our health, though more research is needed.

"I always encourage using reusable water bottles and filtering tap water if taste or slight quality concerns are the reasons for avoiding tap. This approach reduces plastic waste and ensures that water consumption remains as safe and healthy as possible," he adds.

"From what I've seen in my practice, a balanced diet is far more crucial for maintaining health than the choice between bottled and tap water," the doctor points out.

"Water is essential, but the overall quality of what we consume daily plays a more significant role in our health. Ensuring a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains should be a priority."

As mentioned, always follow guidelines when isolated incidents occur regarding the quality or safety of tap water.

Having spoken with South West Water, in terms of the situation in Brixham in Devon, it continuously monitors for cryptosporidium [a waterborne disease caused by a type of parasite] from its treatment works. Incidents like this are thankfully very rare in respect of drinking water in the region and the UK as a whole.

A Water UK spokesperson told us: "Every single day, as independently verified, water companies in the UK provide the highest standard of drinking water in the world to more than 28 million homes and businesses. Nearly four million tests are carried out every year, with well over 99.9% of samples meeting strict Government testing meaning any issue is exceptionally rare."

A Thames Water spokesperson also told Yahoo UK: "We have carried out extensive testing in the Beckenham area since last week, where customers have reported issues, including at their properties, the reservoirs and water treatment works that serve the area. This includes tests from 16 homes all of which have come back clear, and almost 2,000 tests across London this month, again, all of which have come back clear.

"Following a historical fuel leak from the village petrol station, we have been regularly collecting and assessing drinking water samples in Bramley.

"On Thursday 30th May, we issued 'do not drink' advice as a precautionary measure, following test results received that day which indicate a possible deterioration in quality in some areas as a result of the fuel leak. We want to reassure our customers that the village water supply has been safe to drink up to this point, as confirmed through our rigorous water testing, which has also been subject to regular review working alongside the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) throughout this period.

"Customers can find information about their water supply by inputting their postcode on our website. Should anyone be concerned about their tap water, we’d encourage them to contact us."

Watch: Thames Water issue urgent 'do not drink' warning to hundreds of Surrey homes