Are Drinking Fountains Sanitary?


Drinking fountains (also known as water fountains) are a common resources for water drinking on campus. Most drinking fountains located close to the lecture rooms, which are much convenient for students to use them. I personally brought my own water bottle or mineral water with me to classes, but there would always be times I totally forget about it. During those moments, the only water resources I could drink from is the drinking fountains (and they are everywhere in the building!). However, I sometimes would think about if it’s really sanitary to use a public drinking fountain, since it has already been used by so many people before I did. Maybe I’ve been worried too much, but I decided it might be a good idea to do my blog research on this topic.

A drinking water survey report written by senior students from Vassar College listed that, most students on campus drink water from the water fountains (69.1%) instead of buying bottle water (27.3%). Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 4.20.18 PM

(Image produced from the water survey report linked in the blog. Clink on the image if you want to have a better view of it)

This shows that the drinking fountain is a popular resources compared to the others. However, when the survey asked about “sources of concern with regard to fountain water” the responses that contain the most percentage is “metals”, which is an interesting thing to discuss about.

There are different causes that make the water from a drinking fountains not safe, the metal contamination from an old pipe would be one of those. An article said that some of the high schools have old pipes, so the metal might flake into the water causing a contamination. Marc Edwards, a civil engineer at Virginia Tech explain that although people know there might be the possibility of lead contamination, most schools don’t even test their pipes because it is expensive for the remediation. The article also said that the cost shouldn’t be an excuse, because there are always cheaper solutions that can solve the problem, such as putting filters on the drinking fountains.

Another problem with drinking fountain is that they have already been used by many people in public before you did. Some of the people might even be sick! What Diseases Can You Catch from a Water Fountain mentioned that the handles of a drinking fountain are the most contaminated surfaces compare to the other parts. They are contaminate with influenza A and norovirus. This is reasonable, consider the surface of it would always remain moist , which increase the growth of bacterial. So how can we prevent this? The article also mentioned several points to reduce the risk of contagious of disease or contracting germs, which I summarised below:

  1. Run the water a little bit before start drinking it, because you don’t want to contaminated the illness by someone else
  2. Your mouth shouldn’t touch any of the surface areas
  3. Do not touch the base of the drinking fountain
  4. Wash your hands after using it would be a good idea to remain sanitary

I’m sure you started to think about which type of water supplies would be safer for us to drink. The article I mentioned above suggests that it would be better to fill out water bottles with filtered water on your own, but I think it would be an exaggeration to avoid drinking fountains completely. First of all, all those research paper written about water from drinking fountains would cause illness are related to kids or elementary school students. As a college student, I think we already have the immunisation towards those diseases. Also, some article conclude that bottle water aren’t as purify as we thought as well! As Andrew mentioned in class before, sometimes we need to know all the cause and benefits, not just focusing on one point. So if we view this issue in a broader perception, drinking from a drinking fountain or from bottle water doesn’t make any differences at all. Just take care of yourself, and choose the one you like.

4 thoughts on “Are Drinking Fountains Sanitary?

  1. Michael A Lupo

    This post really relates to me because I personally hate drinking from water fountains. I don’t know what it is about them or why my mother steered me away from them when I was young, but it has stuck with me to this day. This always seems to be problematic in my everyday life however. I am one who will normally bring a water bottle with me no matter where I go, but like all humans, there are times when I am forgetful and leave my water at home. These are the days I always seem to be the thirstiest. I now have to decide weather or not I want to drink from the public water fountain or wait until I can get to a vending machine or back home. Now, thanks to the information found within your post, I will definently be avoiding water fountains more than I ever have before. The thought of a sickly person putting their mouth on the spigot as well as metal flake from old pipes flowing into my mouth makes me cringe. While googling this topic to further inform myself, I happened upon another blog post from a previous SC200 student. Her post hits on a lot of the same points yours does, and helps drive me further away from public water fountains. I am thankful that my mom was informed enough to train me to steer clear of these fountains and I will try to pass this information down to others so they are informed about the sanity of these fountains.

  2. David Louis Haselkorn

    While looking through the blog posts, this one caught my eye. I tend to be germaphobic at times and water fountains are something that really puts me on edge. I like to drink a lot of water each day and sometimes I don’t have enough of my own bottles and am forced to use the water fountains around campus. The article you had was very informative and along the lines of my thinking. My phobia of water fountains began when I was at camp. It was at Caldwell College and they found e.coli. It was something that has scarred me for life and really made me stay away from fountains as much as possible. My father is a doctor and he says it’s better to avoid fountains and drink from your own bottle. There’s many things in the water and bacterias on the fountain itself. You can read more about other water fountain related issues here.

  3. Mary M. Brown

    This was a very informative blog post! I’ve always been a little freaked out by the thought of using a drinking fountain, but it is nice to know that they really don’t seem all that different from purchasing a water bottle to drink from. However, there is a pretty neat alternative around campus: refillable drinking stations like this . They actually filter the water, and you can fill up a reusable bottle for free, as many times a day as you want. So it has satisfies two benefits: it costs you nothing and it is more sanitary! here is a list from George Mason University listing the top five reasons to use these filling stations.

  4. Danielle Megan Sobel

    During my senior year of high school, I worked on a statistics project that closely resembles the graph, and conclusive bullet points you found. I found this blog post very interesting. My research question for my project was actually very similar to what you measured in your blog, “Which type of water is the cleanest to drink and what is the preferred type of water to drink for young adults ages 16-18.”

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