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My partner and I are going to Delhi for 10 days. We would like to know how to refill our bottles with safe drinking water in India without buying bottled water.

While travelling in South East Asia last year we found that clean and safe to drink water was widely available thanks to the local filtration and purification plants that provide the locals with 20L blue drums (like the ones you may find in your country at the bank or the doctors). Does India have any reliable system like this one?

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    don't refill , only buy ! and that also the know branded ones - bisleri , aquafina – Nigel Fds Apr 8 at 6:46
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    This has been flagged as too broad, but I disagree, given that the correct answer appears to be "Essentially, nowhere". – David Richerby Apr 8 at 9:14
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    @NigelFds Having lived in a 3rd world country for quite some years, I got aware Coca Cola and Pepsi use their local plants to produce local brands of bottled tap water, and usually aim for mineral water. eg. I would buy bisleri and avoid aquafina getting the two at hand. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 8 at 9:51
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    @Mikey That is one of the reasons to buy bottles at natural temperature. Usually you notice when it has been tampered with. Likewise, when someone wants to sell you tap water, usually they sell it cold for concealing the taste. One of the golden rules is also being you opening the bottle, the trick of a waiter pretending to open a bottle in front of you is well too known. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 8 at 18:25
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    @jdf Read the instructions for those filters... they are not to be used for water of unknown quality or is microbiologically unsafe. Those mechanical filters have nearly no effect on viruses since they are too small. Proper sanitation of water requires a chemical like chlorine or iodine, UV light or ozone, just like they do at water treatment plants, or potentially RO, which is highly energy intensive or wasteful of water. – user71659 Apr 9 at 1:35

10 Answers 10

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In India, never drink tap water without boiling it. In Delhi, when you ask nicely at any restaurant, they will usually get your bottles filled with hot water. There will be proper filtered water available in most hotels and hostels where you can fill up. The blue drums will be found in many places and you can ask where any of those are found.

Also, bottled water can be cheap compared to your country. You can get 1 liter for Rs. 20 (0.29$). Never hesitate to buy if you are running out.

Just a personal note. I have faced serious health issues, even being hospitalized while in Delhi, while drinking water without boiling or from tap. Be cautious about this.

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    @LogicalBranch yes, they don't universally and properly filter/sanitize it, so while often the tap water may be okay, you can't rely on it being clean. And in some regions, it also might be contaminated, so even boiling isn't good - just use bottled water from a good supplier, possibly in the refillable 20l bottles mentioned by OP. – Peteris Apr 8 at 7:17
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    @LogicalBranch By default, water is a disease vector and has been since the dawn of life on earth. It is only very recently, and in some parts of the world, that access to sterilized potable water has gradually become common. Developing countries are called "developing" because they do not yet universally have the same access to the luxurious infrastructure as developed countries. It's not a question of what is wrong with tap water in India, it's more a question of what is right about water in rich countries who deliver it to your kitchen. – J... Apr 8 at 12:02
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    @JuhaUntinen Surely he could get spring water in Himalays, but not in Delphi. I wouldn't recommend that either, I've seen clean looking springs that turned out to go through herd animal pens or had dead animals in them. Additionally, water being processed by a factory is not inherently bad, certainly not as bad as water that literally runs through horseshit. – Tomáš Zato Apr 8 at 12:31
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    @JuhaUntinen In some areas, brain-eating amoebas are found in natural springs, even hot springs. Springs are not universally safe. – called2voyage Apr 8 at 16:44
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    @LogicalBranch : The locals are probably already used to it and are immune. You are probably not. I can drink from creeks in the forests around my area and I've done it since childhood. I wouldn't recommend it to a non-local (or a local who only drinks bottled water), as their bodies might not be used to the exact type of water and the exact type of pathogens common where I live. – vsz Apr 8 at 17:43
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I've lived in India for five years, and I believe it's better to err on the side of caution here.

Why?

It's important to remember that as a foreigner, your immune system is quite differently equipped compared to that of the locals. Indian ground water and tap water is often contaminated with various bacteria, other pathogens, as well as toxic chemicals from agriculture, industry, etc. The most common and most reliable way to truly remove all of this is a quality system of Reverse Osmosis (RO), preferably with ozonization or UV for redundancy. This system also needs regular maintenance and quality control, and the membrane has to be replaced regularly. Anything they give you in a restaurant or hotel that is referred to as "filtered water" or even "RO water" may or may not have been produced according to such standards. Or some employee may have washed a vessel with tap water before filling it with this water, etc, etc. In some cases it may be satisfactory for the immune system of most locals, but not for that of a foreigner.

Therefore

For drinking water, stay away from all fountains, taps, non-sealed and non-branded vessels , and the like. I would stick to this advice even in the airport and at hotels. Also use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

enter image description here

Buy bottled water of a known brand. (Bisleri, Aquafina, Kinley.) It's preferable to get them from a large supermarket or other trusted source, to avoid counterfeit bottles. Your hotel will probably sell them. Make sure the caps are sealed. You can typically get 5L or even 10L bottles. If you do this, though, make sure you don't get the type where the same bottles are reused, as the refilling process can often be unhygenic. Below is a picture of reusable bottles that you want to avoid. They feature quite sturdy plastic. These are 20L, but smaller varieties and shapes also exist.

enter image description here

If they ask for a deposit on the bottle, and the bottle is exchanged back for another bottle after use, then you know you're dealing with reusable bottles. Some of my friends have had water tests done of the reusable bottles (of a known brand) and found that they are more likely to contain various bacteria. The tests of the disposable bottles, on the other hand, turned out fine. If there is no deposit on the bottle, then you know that each bottle is new.

Stay away from reusable bottles, even from known brands. Any local refilling facility may or may not have their procedures in place. These bottles may in some cases be washed with tap water between use, or even not washed at all.

Here is an example of a disposable bottle (which is what you do want) from a trusted brand:

enter image description here

This bottled water is quite cheap here. A 1L bottle costs €0.26. A 5L bottle costs €0.87.

Personally, I have my own RO system, UV filter and ozonizer, but that's usually not an option for short-term visitors.

Since most of the bottled water here is RO processed, it's good to choose a type that has added minerals in it (Bisleri, Kinley). The RO process removes all bacteria and harmful chemicals from the water, but it also removes all the useful minerals.

Environmental aspect

For those concerned with the environmental impact of using plastic bottles, you can make sure the plastic is recycled (as opposed to ending up burned or dumped in a field somewhere). In India, there are people who collect plastic for a living in order to sell it for recycling. You could give it to those workers, perhaps along with a tip, as such people are typically poor.

Other than that, if you're worried about the plastic, then the only real and safe option that removes both pathogens and toxins is some sort of RO system, but for a short trip you'd have to consider if the environmental footprint of buying a whole system is really smaller than some plastic bottles.

  • Reverse Osmosis reduces the level of contaminants, but does not eliminate them, and so is more effective against chemical contaminants than biological. – Acccumulation Apr 10 at 18:14
  • @Acccumulation Well yeah. My system used to reduce ppm from like 1000 to maybe 8. For biological pathogens I used UV and ozone for redundancy. – Revetahw Apr 10 at 21:15
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Delhi has a few water ATMs which dispense potable water at a really cheap price(~ 0.07$/liter). Although you have mentioned that you don't want to purchase water bottles, I'd like to mention that water bottles are relatively cheaper (not more than ~ 0.30$/liter ) in India. If you are traveling really cheap, don't hesitate to knock on a roadside house door and ask for a free refill. People are more than happy to offer you water.

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    It is often not the cost of the plastic bottles but the waste you help making if you use several bottles per day. Refilling bottles helps to keep the waste down. – Willeke Apr 8 at 14:45
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    Couldn't agree more. I didn't think of that – bluelurker Apr 8 at 18:55
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    @Willeke in all fairness, if you travel to India by plane, the environmental concerns that come with the plastic bottles you're going to use during your stay are probably negligible in comparison. Also, keeping in mind the hot temperatures, using the same bottle for a few days may already be enough of a problem considering the bacteria that enter it from your mouth. As an experiment, take a sip from a water bottle and leave it for a week or so at room temperature, then smell it. – JJJ Apr 9 at 12:24
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    @JJJ, I often use water from refilled bottles which have been part used and then forgotten, I do not notice any bad smell. Plastic waste and plane exhaust are both not good, no reason to add to both if you can avoid one. – Willeke Apr 9 at 14:58
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    @Willeke sure, and if I had never worn a seat belt, the worst thing that would have happend is probably a minor concussion and a bloody nose from suddenly braking. That doesn't mean it's fine to not use it. Indeed, reusing bottles is common, but that doesn't mean it's without risk. Consider this study, at the very least you'll want to clean the bottle every once in a while (daily?), especially when you're travelling around a lot. ;) – JJJ Apr 9 at 15:15
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Almost everywhere I go, I carry a “Grayl.” This has allowed my to drink from irrigation ditches, small puddles, etc. with no ill effects.  Replacing a filter cartridge every three months or longer for $45 (US) definitely beats buying bottles of water every day.  Although I prefer the Grayl, it has many competitors, some of them quite good.

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    Are water purifiers good enough for the kind of contamination one may encounter with Indian tap water? – gerrit Apr 9 at 8:55
  • @gerrit They claim so - it's supposed to filter out all sorts of pathogens, heavy metals, various organic compounds etc. Does it actually work? Who knows. It has been tested by the EPA, though, so at least some verification is there. – Luaan Apr 9 at 10:01
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    Accounting for a grayl of 0.71 L and using the price in this answer means you need to have ~218 bottles of water to make the refill worthwhile. Thats ignoring the upfront cost. – Pureferret Apr 9 at 13:52
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    web site problems made the link bounce around, but I see someone suggested refilling for $0.07 If that's USD, then you get 642 refills for the $45 price of Grayl's best filter, the one that filters out viruses. But I still go with the Grayl, because (1) I don't know whether I can trust the refill station (one answer suggests I can't) and (2) I've several times been far from any infrastructure and used a puddle or drainage ditch. And I can assure you that it's good enough to keep me from getting sick when doing so several times. – WGroleau Apr 9 at 21:11
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Please make sure to ABSOLUTELY NOT drink water on Railway stations from so called RO-filters. Those machines haven't actually had their filters replaced in years. You will get sick drinking that water.

Trust NO water in India except after carefully checking the spelling, lables 'Bisleri' and 'AquaFina'.

Source: I am an Indian.

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While living/travelling in several locations, me and my wife, usually, we get by drinking potable water using:

  • the free water bottles the hotel provide as courtesy;
  • distilled/filtered/boiled water in restaurants given as courtesy;
  • buying them from local supermarkets/stores - 2L/5L, and leaving it in the room for (re)filling up 20cl bottles a few times;
  • we also carry often a metal water container when travelling by car that is refilled at least daily;
  • if going out for the day, buying at least a couple of 1/1.5L bottles;
  • if residing a couple of weeks in a single location e.g. family home (my wife is an expat Filipina), we buy one or more of those 20L blue container/drums ourselves or whatever we find available in that location (the more hassle free to get are usually 5L-7L bottles pretty much everywhere around the globe).

As a rule, just avoid buying bottles at the hotel or restaurants for tourists, where the prices are way inflated. Otherwise, they are fairly cheap compared to our prices back home (in Europe).

PS. We stayed in a 5 start hotel in my wife anniversary for a couple of days two weeks ago in Manila, and we bought a 2-liter bottle of water in a supermarket that we left in the room. The hotel left a lot of complementary bottles seeing that bottle, which was a nice gesture of them.

PPS Concerning the quality of bottled water, we usually aim for bottles that state "mineral" water. Beware that Coca Cola/Pepsi/Nestlé owned water brands (that are found in pretty much any continent/country) are usually distilled/boiled/"purified"/"mineralized" tap water (e.g. Nestlé, Dasani and that Aquafina brand in the comments). We only buy those latter brands when not getting any bottle of mineral water, the price difference is not that significative.

see Pepsi Admits Aquafina Bottled Water Is Plain Tap Water

Pepsi released a statement admitting that Aquafina -- its brand of bottled water -- is not purified or sourced from some majestic mountain stream, it's just plain old tap water.

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    @Willeke Common logic should not be much different in India. This is not rocket science. The OP has also stated there are blue drums there also... Travelled people cannot them aplly their knowledge of years when going to other countries then, thats a new one. I also did this when I was an expat in Africa. This is a global world, some places more developed than the others, but still a global world. Your knowledge is not reset once you switch countries. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 8 at 10:16
  • Speaking from experience, this answer is applicable to India as well. – RedBaron Apr 8 at 12:14
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    Tap water straight from the plant is fine to drink almost anywhere, which is why it's OK to put into bottles. It's the sketchy plumbing between the plant and your home/hotel tap that can literally kill you, particularly when there's sewage leaking into it. – jpatokal Apr 8 at 14:40
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    Aquafina IS NOT tap water. Aquafina is bottled at Pepsi plants. Making soda-pop requires extensively filtering tap water: microbes (we're about to make sugar water, hello), hardness (so it won't flatten), particulates (nucleation sites), and minerals (for taste). Aquafina benefits from all this, it is simply Pepsi without syrup, sweetener or carbonation. Don't take my word for it, ask any shop with a soda fountain to show you the filtration. – Harper Apr 8 at 20:10
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    If Pepsi had access to pure mountain mineral water, the first thing they'd do is filter out the minerals. The minerals would make the Pepsi flat and taste funny. – Harper Apr 8 at 22:24
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Don't reuse disposable plastic water bottles. This is a practice can cause significant health risks, even in a First World country with a reliable supply of tap water.

These bottles were designed by their manufacturers to be used once, then thrown away, and all of their safety testing is designed around that assumption. As a result, the plastic begins to rapidly degrade when the bottles are reused, and this can cause two main health risks: first, the tiny crevices and abrasions that form in the plastic as a result of this degradation can serve as breeding grounds for bacteria - and washing the bottle in water hot enough to kill them just accelerates the process of this degradation. Secondly, the degradation of the plastic can release potentially-toxic chemicals into the water inside it that can be harmful for your health.

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    snopes disagrees, at least for the Secondly, the degradation of the plastic can release potentially-toxic chemicals into the water inside it that can be harmful for your health. part – WoJ Apr 8 at 12:58
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    ... and Wikipedia references do as well , with the first part – WoJ Apr 8 at 13:01
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    Bottled water has a long shelf-life. If we buy bottles of water today and you leave yours sitting in the cupboard for a year and I drink mine and refill the bottle, why does my bottle "rapidly degrade" but yours doesn't? – David Richerby Apr 8 at 13:21
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    Do not believe all scare mongering media pieces. Be careful but do re-use bottles if you can get clean water to fill them. Keep waste down. – Willeke Apr 8 at 14:47
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    Do not reuse water bottles if they have been in the hot sun for too long, for instance inside a car (or if they are damaged, or you have reasons to believe their cleanness has been somewhat compromised). Otherwise, reusing them a couple of times and using a bit of old, common sense of when disposing of them does not hurt. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 8 at 18:17
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Going against the grain here: Water is not the only place where bacteria live, so if you haven't been to a country before, that usually means you will stumble across some new ones. You cannot avoid touching door handles, and you wouldn't lick them anywhere else in the world, so you will have moderate exposure anyway.

Make sure your vaccinations are adequate and leave some time before the trip for the immune system to get back to normal. Your doctor should also be able to give you additional information I might have forgotten.

Take it easy during the first week, leave some room to acclimatize yourself in a low-stress environment and expect to get slightly sick whatever you do, so prepare for that:

  • paracetamol against fever/headaches
  • loperamide against diarrhea
  • dissolvable electrolytes (to replenish after diarrhea)
  • something to wash down the taste of the electrolytes except if you believe bad taste is an important part of medicine

Delhi is in a malaria zone, so NO aspirin/ibuprofen/diclofenac!

Regarding water, I just went with bottled water for the first week, and then started refilling from public taps at train stations (but buying a new small bottle every morning), had no issues there.

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    Could you clarify what you said about no aspirin/etc. because Delhi is in a malaria zone? I wasn't sure if you meant they aren't available (less likely) or that you shouldn't take aspirin (somewhat more likely), or something else (quite possible). – Kelly S. French Apr 9 at 18:32
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    @KellyS.French, the immune system response to malaria depends on platelets, but aspirin counteracts platelet coagulation, so taking aspirin is a bad idea if you may have been exposed (which you only know about if the immune system has already failed to suppress it). – Simon Richter Apr 10 at 10:27
  • Ibuprofen and Diclofenac are supposed to be safer, but IIRC these are still somewhat similar pathways, so I'd be wary there. I am not a doctor however. – Simon Richter Apr 10 at 10:29
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OK, maybe we did things a little differently, but we travelled for over 5 months in India and maybe bought about 5 bottles of water the entire time. We had a Steripen Ultra, which we charged once every 5-7 days, then sterilised water from taps in a 1l nalgene bottle. Some restaurants provide hot water (very common in Kerala, even train stations had boiling water dispensers), some provide "filtered", but you can't be sure filters are effective.

We got sick 3 times, one virus, no obvious source, one was food poisoning and one was after holi festival (crazy streets, lots of strangers spreading colour on our face). AFAIK it was never the water. Definitely treat the water, but India has a huge plastic problem, try and reduce your footprint as much as possible.

Also, give the water a smell test, if it smells off (some Mumbai water smelt foul), then go out and buy some.

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    This must be the worst advice ever. – BЈовић Apr 10 at 7:34
  • I know what "obvious source" the virus might have come from. – Eric Duminil Apr 10 at 13:36
  • Do you know what a Steripen is? It's a UV water treater and considering I survived 11 months barely buying any bottled water, it's very effective. Also the virus was more likely caught from someone on a bus, same way you'd catch a cold. – Oliver Houston Apr 11 at 22:12
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I don't know what country you're from, so I don't know the availability of Sawyer filters where you're at. In the US you can purchase them in places like Walmart, Amazon or more upscale places like REI. For about $20 USD, you can filter thousands of gallons of water (for their 0.1 micron filter, they advertise 100,000 gallons of water with appropriate maintenance (basically back flushing with clean water)). We keep one in our camping equipment.

If you're worried about heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals and other similar contaminants, look at their S1 & S3 filter bottles. They're more expensive, and don't last as long, but they're very good at filtering out the pollutants as well as bacteriological contaminants.

protected by JonathanReez Apr 9 at 23:40

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