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I have heard (particularly but not exclusively from my friends who grew up in Asia, where the situation may be different) that you should not drink water from a sink in the bathroom.

Why?

They believe the water from a water fountain is safe and good for drinking. However, they believe the water from the sink in the bathroom (I'm not sure why this specifically) comes from some sort of dirty water source, which is apparently still fine to wash your hands with.

It all sounds a bit strange to me; honestly, it seems more expensive to build and maintain two sets of pipes than you would save by using less purified water in some areas. But what do I know? Maybe they're right.

To be clear; this is all taking place on a college campus in Maryland, but I suspect the answer is probably the same across most of the US (possibly across the world, but I don't know).

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    Some drinking fountains have filters, in which case there may be less chlorine or other non-water substances. – DavePhD Jun 12 '15 at 19:22
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    Sometimes, faucets do not contain potable water, but are considered adequate for washing. They're pretty common at campgrounds and RV sites. But they do tend to be clearly labeled. Anecdotally, crud in a faucet aerator is often less visible than a dirty drinking fountain spout. – Sean Duggan Jun 13 '15 at 2:05
  • Remember, they are coming from places where tap water isn't safe to drink. If they put in a drinking fountain in such a place (they're very rare) it will have the necessary equipment to make the water safe. (It might still taste pretty bad, though.) – Loren Pechtel Jun 14 '15 at 1:24
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Since the question refers to a college campus in the USA, I will quote information from UC Berkley.
DO NOT GENERALIZE TO OUTSIDE THE USA.

[Question] The only tap water source available to me is the restroom sink. Is it okay to drink water from there?

[Answer] Drinking fountains and sinks are all part of the same plumbing system. Drinking fountains, however, may feature chillers or filters to improve the temperature and taste. It’s okay to drink water from the restroom sink if there is no drinking fountain or kitchen sink available. There is no significant risk of water contamination from restroom faucets.

(Personally, I would add that nowadays many of the restroom sinks provide only a blend of hot & cold water, which are separately supplied, whereas the drinking fountains are only connected to cold water. Hot water leaches more contaminants such as lead from pipes. See New York Times article.)

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If you Google "tap water in Asia", the first few results you get are travel-related websites that tell you to not drink tap water there. From the first:

"Don't drink the water" is one of the most common warnings about travel in Southeast Asia and unfortunately it remains the case that drinking tap water in many Southeast Asian countries is a pretty bad idea.

So tap water, even if it comes from a kitchen sink, is not necessarily safe to drink in Asia. It makes sense that your friends who grew up in Asia would be wary of drinking tap water. Just remember that, as @DavePhD said in his answer, this is not the case in the US.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • The advice, "Don't drink the water" doesn't usually apply to the locals. Their immune system is often adapted to combat the pathogens that are found in the local tap water. So they will be fine drinking the water direct from the main but are likely to avoid drinking bathroom water for the reasons in my answer. – Lefty Jun 16 '15 at 22:17
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    ...but would a water fountain be any different? Is it common practice in Asia that public fountains are connected to a better quality water supply than sinks? – Philipp Jun 17 '15 at 11:39
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    The references are not authoritative, please provide better ones. – Sklivvz Jul 8 '15 at 11:39
  • Yeah and people say not to drink the water in counties with very safe drinking water too. There's no reason why you should believe random travel blogs have factual information. – Sam I Am Jul 8 '15 at 19:33
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In the UK, water to the cold tap in the kitchen sink (and of course to a drinking fountain) should be supplied direct from the main. It was common in older properties to supply water to other taps from a header tank. This tank could collect dead insects or worse.

The easiest way to be certain is to follow the pipework. Failing that, a pressure gauge should tell you. Under normal conditions the mains pressure will be higher than from a tank (it has to be in order to fill it). A power shower will increase the pressure.

If you live in an old house in the UK it is very likely that brushing your teeth in the bathroom will cause you to ingest unwanted organic matter.

NOTE

The reason for having a tank is to prevent sudden loss of pressure when for example the toilet is flushed or more than one tap is used simultaneously. It also acts as a reservoir in case the main water supply fails for any reason.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Can you add sources to this answer? – HDE 226868 Jul 7 '15 at 19:22

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