Is Tap Water Safe To Drink in Cologne (Germany)?

Updated on September 21, 2023  

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Is Cologne Germany tap water safe to drink? It's a common question among travelers venturing to this vibrant city.

After all, it's easier and more convenient if you can drink straight from the tap, instead of having to purchase bottled water when traveling here. 

But while Cologne is undoubtedly a popular destination - it's essential to know the safety of the local tap water before gulping it down.

In this blog post, we'll delve into water sources, treatment processes, potential contaminants, and everything you need to know about drinking tap water in Cologne.

Quality Of Tap Water In Cologne, Germany

Sources And Treatment Of Tap Water

The source of tap water in Cologne, and how its treated, play a significant role in its safety and quality. These standards throughout Germany tend to be similar, and it's generally known that German tap water is one of the highest quality globally. [1]

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Source-wise, the majority of water in Germany is extracted from spring and ground sources, which tend to be safe.

In Cologne, most of the water comes from groundwater around the Rhine.

As far as treatment goes, water is generally purified through multiple stages:

Ccoagulation, sedimentation, filtration, and finally disinfection (with carbon, chlorine, ozone or UV light) to remove pathogens that may be harmful. 

Water treatment can vary by region in Germany. For instance, water from rivers and lakes needs more cleaning because it often has more dirt and pollutants than groundwater.

Tap water quality may vary around the country due to pipes and fixtures. Some older homes used lead pipes until the 1970s, which can lead to higher lead levels in tap water.

Testing And Monitoring Of Water Quality

The safety of Cologne's tap water is dependent on rigorous testing and monitoring.

It must meet Germany's stringent water regulations, which are some of the highest standards in the world when it comes to drinking water.

These standards span safety, smell, taste and even the color of the water! [2]

In Cologne, water quality is controlled all the way to the faucet, and the company RheinEnergie AG is responsible for this. [3]

Local utilities in Germany usually conduct various analyses at different stages, including real-time sensors, sampling raw water before treatment, assessing treated water before entering distribution networks, and even performing random tests throughout homes and businesses.

Compliance With EU Drinking Water Standards

Cologne's tap water is subject to strict compliance with EU Drinking Water Standards, ensuring that it remains both safe and reliable for consumption by locals and travelers alike. [4]

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Besides following EU guidelines, the German government has put in place a Drinking Water Ordinance as part of its laws. [5]

This involves taking proactive steps to provide very pure water using methods like filtering, disinfecting, and advanced purification techniques.

This means if you're in Cologne, you can confidently fill your bottle from any public fountain offering potable water, or request tap water in restaurants without worrying about getting sick. 

Is Tap Water In Cologne Safe To Drink?

Yes, tap water in Cologne is safe to drink. However, it's important to understand the potential contaminants and health risks associated with consuming tap water directly.

Potential Contaminants And Their Levels

In the past, tap water in Cologne has been found to contain contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, nitrates, and heavy metals. [6]

While these levels are typically low and comply with drinking water regulations, it's important to know they CAN still pose health risks if consumed at high concentrations over long periods of time.

Despite this, tap water in Cologne remains safe to drink and is regularly tested to meet the highest standards for drinking water.

Health Risks Associated With Tap Water Consumption

Although tap water in Cologne, Germany is considered safe to drink, it is important for travelers to be aware of potential health risks associated with consuming tap water.

Some contaminants can still be found in tap water even in locations with very stringent water purification processes. They include lead, chlorine, pesticides and other harmful chemicals that may cause illness or long-term health problems.

To ensure your safety when drinking tap water in Cologne or anywhere else in Germany, you can filter your tap water using a travel filter or buying bottled water.

You should also avoid drinking from unmarked fountains or sources where the quality of the water may not have been tested.

In restaurants across Germany, including those within the city limits of Cologne, it's common for diners to choose bottled mineral water over tap water. This is because both still and sparkling bottled mineral water are highly popular among both locals and tourists.

Drinking Tap Water In Cologne

Pros And Cons

While the tap water in Cologne is safe to drink and meets high-quality standards, there are still some pros and cons to consider when deciding whether or not to drink it.

One major advantage of drinking tap water is that it's much cheaper than bottled water and can help reduce plastic waste while traveling.

However, some travelers may prefer bottled water because of how it tastes, or they're concerned about potential contaminants in the pipes of older buildings.

But, if you're sensitive to mineral content or unfamiliar with a new source of tap water, you may experience stomach upset after drinking it.

Filtering Tap Water

If you prefer the taste of bottled water or are concerned about tap water quality, you may want to consider filtering your tap water in Cologne.

Hard water is a common issue in Germany that can leave a strange taste and limescale residue on surfaces.

I stumbled onto this simple and affordable portable filter, and it does improve the taste and quality of tap water whenever I travel. Although sometimes it's still more convenient to buy bottled water!

Bottled Water Options

If you prefer drinking bottled water over tap water, there are plenty of options available throughout Cologne.

Most hotels and grocery stores sell a variety of bottled water brands, including local German brands like Gerolsteiner and Apollinaris, as well as international brands such as Evian and Fiji Water.

However, keep in mind that buying bottled water can be expensive and has a large environmental impact due to the production of plastic bottles.

Tap Water In German Restaurants

While tap water in Germany is safe to drink, it may be a surprise to some travelers that Germans tend not to order it when dining out. This is because Germans generally prefer carbonated mineral water or other drinks with their meals.

However, if you do choose to ask for tap water in a German restaurant, don't be surprised if the waiter gives you an odd look, insists they don't serve tap water, or charges you for it.

It's important to note that this cultural preference doesn't have anything to do with the safety of German tap water – it just comes down to personal taste and tradition.

How To Ask For Tap Water In Germany

When in Germany, if you don't specify that you want tap water, you'll likely be presented with mineral bottled water.

In German restaurants, you can ask the waiter for "Leitungswasser bitte" which means tap water please.

However, keep in mind that most Germans don't drink tap water and may find it unusual if you do. If you're staying at a hotel or vacation rental, check with the front desk or host about the quality of the local tap water and if they recommend drinking it.

Despite these considerations, it's good to remember that German tap water is among the cleanest and safest in the world according to WHO standards.

Plus, choosing tap over bottled reduces your impact on plastic waste production.

Can I Drink Water From The Bathroom Sink In Germany?

If you're a traveler staying at a hostel, Airbnb or hotel in Cologne, you may only have access to the bathroom sink. Luckily, it's generally safe to drink the water from there.

However, many Germans still avoid drinking tap water altogether.

It may be psychological - since tap water, or Leitungswasser, means 'plumbing water' in German, which doesn't bring up a nice image.

There's also the matter of taste. Cologne's water hardness is said to be six times harder than average!

Conclusion: Should You Drink Tap Water In Cologne?

In conclusion, tap water in Cologne is considered safe to drink. The German government strictly regulates the quality of their tap water and it meets EU drinking water standards.

While Germans generally prefer bottled water or carbonated beverages, tap water is accessible and affordable for visitors.

One drawback is that Cologne's water may be too hard for some palates.

Filtering options are always available for those who want an added layer of protection.

Key Takeaways

  • Tap water in Cologne is sourced from groundwater around the Rhine and undergoes stringent treatment processes, meeting high drinking water standards, including those set by the EU.
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