Why Does Tap Water Taste Different At University?
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Why Does Tap Water Taste Different At University?

Carmela De Simone March 3, 2022

Tap water is the most regulated drink available in the UK, because millions of tests are conducted annually to maintain water quality. Two litres of tap water cost roughly a third of a penny, in comparison to 65p per litre for bottled water.

Across the UK, tap water inevitably tastes different.  If you’ve ever drunk a glass of water that resembled cloudy lemonade out of pure desperation or refusal to lug six litres of water home from the nearest Aldi, it may be worth finding out what you’re consuming.

Where has the best water in the UK?

A 2016 ‘Taste Test’ of the UK’s top water compared purity, taste and appearance. A panel of judges determined that Severn Trent Water produced the best testing water. Severn Trent, which manages supplies to Birmingham, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire, was described as “comparable to a mountain stream for its freshness”.

Anglian water, supplier of East Anglia, and the East Midlands was runner up, followed by Thames Water, supplier of Oxfordshire, London and Wiltshire. Yorkshire and the North West take eighth and ninth place. Whereas Bath and Bristol supplier Wessex Water performed worst in the taste test.

Why does it taste different?

Many people that move from areas in the UK with soft water to hard water areas notice the difference in taste.

Hard Water has a high mineral content, mainly Calcium and magnesium. It’s formed when water percolates through deposits of limestone and chalk. Rainfall is naturally soft water, but it gains hardness when in contact with the ground.

As it permeates the ground, it collects particles and minerals that dissolve into the liquid. If water hits non-permeable ground, such as granite, it will stay soft because it will not collect these pollutants.  

Hard water poses no threat to human health as far as studies show. But it might make your shower screen scuzzy, your kettle full of limescale, cause skin irritation and even dull the appearance of your hair. Common issues associated with hard water areas also include higher electricity and gas bills, boiler breakdowns and less efficient appliances.

What elements and contaminants are found in UK tap water?

Other contaminants and elements that can be used to measure water quality are levels of Alumimium, Lead, Nitrates and Turbidy.

Turbidy is the measure of cloudiness, caused by particulates such as microplastics, plankton, algae and clay. Particulates can be a cause for concern, as they create a breeding ground for pathogens. Hertfordshire has the highest levels of Turbidy in the UK, according to a 2021 study by Homecure.

Lead pipes have been banned in the UK for 25 years. However a lot of houses built pre-1970’s still contain lead piping and connectors in water mains and within the internal plumbing. Lead is more dangerous for young children, and has been linked to learning difficulties, nervous system damage and anemia.

Nitrates are present in our tap water mainly due to farming, because of natural and manufactured fertilisers percolating into groundwater or ‘run off’s’ into rivers and other water sources. Nitrates are linked to “blue baby syndrome” in children, and can have generally negative health effects on adults, such as nausea and gastrointestinal disorders.

Aluminium is not considered harmful. However it can impact taste and colour of tap water. The element is added during the purification process at water treatment plants and centres.

The Future of Tap Water

Last year, it was announced Fluoride will be added to British drinking water to reduce tooth decay. This is the biggest cause of hospitalisation for children in the UK aged 5-9.

The debate about adding the substance to UK mains water has been ongoing. In 2014, Public Health England urged councils to introduce measures to improve dental health amongst Brits. Chief medical officer Chris Witty dismissed claims ionised forms of fluorine cause cancer when the plans were publicised.

This announcement tailgated concerns earlier in 2021, that the government was not testing tap water for manmade-chemicals designed to never break down, known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These chemicals have been linked to a number of diseases and health issues.

There is no perfect formula for water it seems, and there are arguments for and against every possible addition to UK mains water.

However, it’s useful to know whether you’re living in a hard of soft water area to know the effects it can have on the cost of utilities, possible increased costs of skin and haircare and increased housework due to buildup of limescale.

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I am a journalism graduate from Brunel University. My background is in property lettings and the motor industry. I’m obsessed with all things health & beauty, travel, music and Turkish food. You will most often find me drinking vodka lime sodas and watching Shrek.