Is Chlorinated Water Safe to Drink?
You won’t just find chlorinated water in your favorite neighborhood swimming pool. Public water companies will often add disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine to water to prevent contamination from disease-causing germs in your water supply.
But is chlorinated water safe to drink?
The short answer is: yes. The Environmental Protection Agency limits how much chlorine may be legally added to drinking water so that it remains safe for human consumption.1
Read on to learn more about how and why drinking water is chlorinated, and how to treat your own water at home with a water filtration system.
Understanding Chlorinated Drinking Water
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), chlorine and chloramine are the most common disinfectants used by water companies. Chlorination is the process of adding chlorine to water to kill parasites, bacteria, and viruses.2
Chlorine levels up to 4 milligrams per liter are considered safe, meaning “harmful health effects are unlikely to occur.”
If the idea of adding this naturally occurring chemical element to the water you drink on a daily basis is jarring, consider the germs and parasites this disinfectant kills.
The most common disease-causing germs that chlorine tackles are:
- Salmonella – The CDC estimates that this bacteria causes 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year.3 People can get salmonella from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps and salmonella can sometimes cause infection in your urine, blood, joints, and nervous system.
- Campylobacter – This bacteria causes around 1.5 million illnesses in the U.S. each year.4 Campylobacter can be found most often in raw or undercooked poultry as well as other seafood and meats. People can be infected by contact with animals or by drinking untreated water. Campylobacter is the most common cause of diarrheal illness in the U.S.
- Norovirus – This highly contagious virus causes vomiting and diarrhea.5 Individuals can contract norovirus from infected humans, contaminated food and water, and contaminated surfaces. The virus spreads quickly, and outbreaks are most common from November to April.
How Does Chlorine Fight Against These Germs?
Chlorine works to combat harmful microorganisms present in public drinking water by damaging their cell membranes.6 Once chlorine has penetrated the pathogen’s membrane, it can disrupt the cell’s respiration and DNA activity, causing the cell to die.
Chlorinating drinking water is a practice that first began in 1908, and has become more prevalent every decade since. By 1995, 64% of all community water systems in the U.S. were using chlorine to disinfect their water source.2
The reason chlorine is such a popular disinfectant is because it’s inexpensive and easy to implement, and chlorine can be added to a water source at any time during the water treatment process.6
Water companies regularly measure chlorine exposure added to your drinking source to maintain levels at or below the recommended 4 milligrams per liter.
Not only is the chlorination of drinking water common, it’s also required for many public water systems. These systems include:1
- Systems that use surface water as their source
- Systems that have treatment processes that expose water to open air
- Systems that use treatment chemicals for corrosion control (these can feed on micrograms and cause them to grow—chlorine halts this process)
If you believe you’re sensitive to chlorine, you can contact your healthcare provider or local health department to check in on the levels maintained by your water company and what adverse effects chlorine may have on your person.
While chlorinating water has been proven to be a safe, effective, and widely accepted practice, some people are still hesitant to drink water treated with this chemical.
If you are someone who is sensitive to chlorine, or if you do not like the taste of chlorinated water, you can always treat the water coming into your home yourself.
Water Filtration Systems: Removing Chlorination
Installing a water filtration system in your home can improve the taste and smell of your water if you do not like the slight chlorine taste often present in treated public water.
There are a number of options available to you if you’d like to eliminate the overall chlorine level from your drinking water. Pitcher filters will remove chlorine taste and smell as will activated carbon filters, or you can install more elaborate systems, like water conditioners or a full drinking water system.
Different water filters will serve different purposes. The CDC divides the types of filtration into three categories, all specializing in removing certain substances from water. These three types of filtration are:7
- Microfiltration – This filtration has a pore size of 0.1 micron and is highly effective in removing protozoa (single-celled microscopic animals) from your water. These pores are moderately effective in removing bacteria from water, and not effective in removing viruses or chemicals.
- Ultrafiltration – Ultrafiltration filters have a pore size of 0.01 micron and are highly effective in removing protozoa and bacteria (like salmonella and campylobacter) from your water. These filters are moderately effective at removing viruses and have a low effectiveness in removing chemicals.
- Nanofiltration – Nanofiltration filters have a pore size of 0.001 micron and are highly effective in removing protozoa, bacteria, and viruses (like norovirus). Nanofiltration is moderately effective in removing chemicals from water.
If you are primarily looking to tackle the chlorine levels in your water, you’ll want to invest in a filtration system that uses nanofiltration.
Water Filtration Benefits
Whether you invest in a filtration system that specifically tackles chlorine levels, or one that addresses other substances often present in public treated water, you’ll still benefit from treating your water at home.
Common benefits of water filtration include:8</s
- Protect against contaminants – Common contaminants in tap water—even after water is treated—include microbes (viruses, bacteria, parasites), disinfectants, disinfectant byproducts, heavy metals, and more. Disinfectant byproducts (DPBs) are the result of chlorine reacting with organic materials in water. DPBs are more of a concern for water systems that use water from rivers, lakes, and streams, which are more likely to contain organic materials.9
- Get better tasting coffee – Is it better to drink soft or hard water? When brewing coffee with a water that has a high level of mineral content (hard water), you’ll find that this water has a harder time picking up the flavor of the coffee you’re brewing. Water treated with disinfectants may also alter or mute the flavor of your favorite bean. Filtered water that removes these minerals and disinfectants gives you the strongest, purest cup of coffee.
- Make better ice – When mineral-heavy water turns into ice, these minerals may leave behind deposits on your ice maker, building up over time and wreaking havoc on your ice machine. Not only does filtered ice taste better, it will help your system run more smoothly.
- Keep your energy bill down – The minerals found in hard water leave behind deposits when heated up and used. These deposits build up everywhere, in your sinks and bathtubs, and even in your heating system. When the heater has to heat the water through a layer of mineral deposits, this decreases the system’s efficiency and costs you more on your utility bill.10
- Cleaner hair and skin – Hard water makes it more difficult to remove soap residue. When showering with hard water, this can leave some soap remaining on your skin and hair. This results in hair that is thin, easily tangled, and frizzy, as well as skin that is dry and irritated. Filtering your home’s water system prevents this hair and skin damage, leaving you fresh and clean.
The Taste of Fresh Rayne, Not Chlorine
To reiterate the initial question: Is chlorinated water safe to drink?
Yes, adding chlorine to water sources is a widely accepted practice that has been in use for more than a century. Local water companies are diligent when checking chlorine levels, making sure they are at or below 4 milligrams per liter.
Although this water is safe to consume, some people do not like the taste or smell of water treated with chlorine and may opt to install their own home water filter to alleviate this.
Water treatment company Rayne Water has been helping the residents of California, Nevada, and Arizona filter their water since 1928. Rayne Water has a variety of filtration systems available, from reverse osmosis to water conditioners to salt free systems. Want to improve your water quality or perhaps just curious about how to remember to drink water? Check out Rayne Water and discover the water system’s we offer today or other interesting facts surrounding Los Angeles water quality.
- Minnesota Department of Health. Drinking Water Chlorination: Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/water/factsheet/chlorination
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Water Disinfection with Chlorine and Chloramine. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/water_disinfection.html
- CDC. Salmonella. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/
- CDC. Campylobacter. https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter/index.html
- CDC. Norovirus. https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/
- Safe Drinking Water Foundation. What is Chlorination? https://www.safewater.org/fact-sheets-1/2017/1/23/what-is-chlorination
- CDC. A Guide to Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use
- Rayne Water. 4 Reasons to Install a Water Kitchen Filtration System. https://www.raynewater.com/blog/4-reasons-to-install-a-water-kitchen-filtration-system/
- Minnesota Department of Health. . Disinfection and Disinfection Byproducts. https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/water/factsheet/ddbp.html
- Rescue Air. How Your Water Quality May Be Affecting Your HVAC https://www.rescueairtx.com/blog/2019/august/how-your-water-quality-may-be-affecting-your-hva/
- CDC. Choosing Home Water Filters & Other Water Treatment Systems https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/home-water-treatment/water-filters.html