HEALTHPLAN MAGAZINE

Tap Or Bottle: A Guide To Drinking Water In Spain Expat Tips

Water is the source of life and key to abundant, robust health.

When the water we drink is free from contaminants, it promotes both our physical and mental health. In fact, 60% of the human body is composed of water with every vital organ and system dependent on it to function correctly.

When people emigrate to Spain or come here for their holidays, they are often unsure as to whether the water is safe to drink.

With this in mind, we thought it would be good to compile a brief guide to answer some of the most important questions you may have on drinking water in Spain.

In this article you will learn about:-

  • Tap water in Spain
  • Bottled water
  • The quality of the water in Spain
  • Microplastic and other potential contaminants
  • Water filters
  • And more.

Let’s ‘dive in’ (No pun intended) and find out more.

Drinking Water in Spain

The water that we drink can be considered a good quality when it’s clean and healthy. However, when it contains pathogens, microorganisms, microplastics and other contaminants it can have a detrimental impact on our health.

For many years, Spain has had a somewhat poor reputation when it comes to the quality of its drinking water. It’s unclear as to why this may be, however it could be due to a number of reasons.

Many Spaniards drink bottled water instead of tap as it tastes better as in many regions the tap water has a strong chlorine taste to it. In coastal regions, many people find that their tap water contains fine sand or sediment. Although this is generally not thought to be harmful, it doesn’t always taste so great.

However, it’s not just the taste of the water that is in question.

In early 2020, a study by the SINC Agency revealed that 11% of Spain’s bladder cancer cases, could be attributed to the quality of its water supply, which is said to contain high levels of chemicals called Trihalomethanes (THM). 

Trihalomethanes are a group of four chemicals which are formed when chlorine and other disinfectants are used to treat water for microbial contaminants during the purification process.

Although the EU has set legal limits on the levels contained in Europe’s drinking water, the consensus from the scientific community is that long-term exposure to Trihalomethanes is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

However, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health, 99.5% of the country’s water supply is perfectly safe to drink, with only 0.5% inadequate for human consumption. 

Furthermore, they maintain that the supply systems in Spain are rigorously monitored and use purification and sanitary controls to preserve water quality and ensure that it is safe to consume once it reaches our homes.

Despite this, many people up and down the country still claim that there are regions where the water doesn’t taste so good, planting seeds of doubt into people’s minds as to its safety.

So who do we believe?

Is the drinking water in Spain safe to drink and if so, what is the best way to get our daily quota?

Tap Water in Spain

Prior to joining the European Union in 1986, Spain was still recovering from the aftermath of the Spanish civil war and as a result, little money was invested into the infrastructure of the country including the water supplies.

Between 1986 and 2008 the country received over 21 Billion Euros in EU funding to improve the country's infrastructure. This meant that Spain was able to invest more money into its water filtration and management systems making it one of the best in Europe.

Many of the Spanish regions enjoy excellent tap water, however, others may have limited regulation, filtration and quality testing, so how your water tastes can depend on the region you live in or visit.

In the popular tourist areas such as Alicante, Malaga, Cadiz and Barcelona you may hear people recommending not to drink the tap water and to purchase bottled water instead.

One of the reasons for this is that many tourists in the ’60s onwards did not drink the tap water in Spain and elected to buy bottled. This is still the case today. Even many Spaniards will only drink bottled water due to the difference in taste and quality.

Is tap water in Spain safe to drink?

Water companies in Spain are obligated to provide regular water quality reports and alert consumers to any non-compliance issues. This means there is a minimal risk of becoming sick from drinking from the tap at home, in restaurants and public drinking fountains.

You can find further information and water reports for your region here https://tappwater.co/en/spanish-tap-water-quality/

In terms of safety, the tap water in Spain is perfectly drinkable. However, as mentioned previously, depending on the area in which you reside, your tap water may have a certain odour and/or taste.

This can be due to the higher levels of chlorine, sediment and minerals that it contains. Some people find that this can upset their stomachs and as a result choose to drink bottled water instead.

The taste of chlorine which is added to our water supplies to kill pathogens can be overwhelming for some and another reason why many of us choose to drink bottled water.

The Spanish Ministry of Health tells us that the tap water is safe to drink, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy or tastes nice.

Drinking Water and Microplastics

Another issue that has raised its head in recent years is the problem of microplastics.

Millions of tons of plastics are dumped into our oceans and rivers each year which break down into fine particles. These ultimately filter into the public water supply contaminating our drinking water.

A 2017 study by Orbmedia found that microplastics were present in around 83% of the world’s water supplies. European water supplies were found to have a contamination rate of 72%. The United States had the highest rate of 94%.

Although the long-term health impacts of consuming microplastics is still unknown, I think we can all come to the conclusion that it isn’t going to be good.

This is another reason why so many people now choose to either use a water filter or drink bottled water.

Bottled Water In Spain

In 2019, Satista.com published data on the amount of bottled mineral water consumed in Spain.

Between 2000 and 2018, the country saw a steady increase in consumption. By 2018, the country’s citizens were consuming 2,873 Million litres of bottled water per year worth a massive 5 Billion Euros to the Spanish economy.

This gives us some indication as to how popular bottled water in Spain has become.

In 1965 there were 74 Million glass bottles of mineral water sold. Fast forward to 2019 where glass has now been replaced by around 8 billion plastic bottles.

With only around 20% of these plastic bottles being recycled, it’s ironic that the very plastic we use today to distribute the water is actually making its way into our water supply and contaminating our drinking water...

Bottles of Water Spanish Supermarket

The most common types of bottled water in Spain are ‘agua con gas’ or carbonated/sparkling water or ‘agua sin gas’ without the fizz or still. It is believed that around 95% of Spaniards opt for still water over the fizzy carbonated kind.

A list of the most popular brands of bottled drinking water in Spain or ‘agua mineral’ can be seen here http://www.finewaters.com/bottled-waters-of-the-world/spain

Due to the quality of the region's tap water, Madrid has the lowest consumption of non-carbonated bottled water according to the Household Consumption Database of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

While the Spanish average is 59.46 litres per person per year, Madrid residents only consume 16.7 litres a year. Along the same lines, only a third of households in the Madrid region buys bottled water, a rate of barely 32.62 %. This percentage is also below the national average of 49.4 %. At the opposite end of the range are the island regions: in the Balearic Islands, the percentage of households buying mineral water is 63.69 %, and in the Canary Islands, 71.1 %.” - Source: https://www.canaldeisabelsegunda.es/en/-/-en-que-parte-de-espana-se-consume-menos-agua-embotellada-

But is bottled mineral water in Spain any safer than that which comes from our taps?

Although bottled water is thought to be safer than tap water in Spain, there is no scientific evidence of this. In fact, most Spaniards drink bottled water because of its superior taste rather than because of any health risks.

Drinking bottled water in Spain doesn’t come without its risks though.

In April 2016, the regional health authorities in Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported that over 4,000 people had been infected with the Norovirus from an unlikely source: bottled water. 

The source was thought to be bottled water coolers that had been distributed to hundreds of businesses in the Barcelona and Tarragona regions.

As a result, thousands suffered from the common symptoms of Norovirus which are vomiting, diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps.

It’s unclear how the Norovirus, which is usually spread by faecal matter, got into the water but researchers believe that the original water source in Andorra may have been contaminated with sewage. Yuck!

The spring was subsequently banned as a source of drinking water by the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare.

It is, however, worth remembering that it is extremely rare to get norovirus from the water supplies in a developed country and that this was very much an isolated occurrence.

Something to also consider when buying bottled water is of course as we touched on, the recycling of plastics and the overall damage it is causing to the planet.

You may, therefore, feel that a water filter may be the more environmentally friendly option.

Water Filters in Spain

If you would rather not spend so much on bottled water and make your shopping bags a whole lot lighter, you may want to consider purchasing a water faucet/tap filter.

A typical water filter will usually remove any unwanted tastes and odours including chlorine and also filter out contaminants such as microplastics, lead and pesticides.

With costs at around €80 for the year or €7 per month, a water filter can be a great choice for those who want to save money and the planet at the same time.

Tapp is a company that specialises in water filters in Spain and other European countries. https://tappwater.co/en/

Which Should I Drink, Tap or Bottled?

As we’ve established, there is no scientific proof that either bottled or tap water is better for you.

In most cases, it comes down to the area in which you live and the quality of the tap water in your region.

If you find that the water in your region has a strong chlorine or mineral taste then you may want to buy bottled which will set you back around €300 for the whole year.

A more environmental and cost-effective approach would be to use a water filter which could save you hundreds of Euros a year compared to the cost of purchasing bottled water each week.

Common Questions About The Water In Spain

Q. How much water should I drink each day?
A. Guidelines suggest you should drink between one and two litres of water each day to stay hydrated. This equates to between four and eight 8 ounce glasses per day. The amount you drink may vary depending on how hot it is and whether you have been exercising.

Q. Can babies drink tap water in Spain?
A. If adding water to baby formula, always use boiled tap water and allow it to cool. If used as a drink you should still boil the water first and allow it to cool before giving it to an infant. Boiling the water will remove any bacteria or other pathogens that may be present.

Q. Can I use bottled water to make up baby formula?
A. Yes, you can but make sure it is a brand which is low in sodium. You will also need to boil bottled water as you do with tap water when making baby formula.

Q. Is it safe to put ice in your drink?
A. Strangely, some people ask whether it is ok to have ice in their drinks. Ultimately, ice water will come from the tap. So having ice in your drink will be the same as drinking a glass of tap water.

Q. Can you brush your teeth with Spanish water?
A. Yes, tap water is perfectly ok to use when brushing your teeth. Bottled water is also very cheap in Spain so this can also be used if preferred. Alternatively, get a water filter which will be kinder to the planet and cheaper in the long run.

Q. Do Spanish people drink tap water?
A. Although 99.5% of Spain’s tap water is safe to drink, many Spaniards prefer to drink bottled water due to the taste. Madrid has some of the best tasting tap water in the country and lower sales of bottled water as a result.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share with your friends and family. We would love to hear your views on where you live in Spain and whether you find the tap water is good to drink or whether you prefer bottled. Please share your comments on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/HealthPlanSpain/posts/3179782685419166