Can you drink Scottish tap water?

Written by Chris Thornton | 8th of August 2023
Can you drink Scottish tap water? Kitchen tap.

Yes, the tap water in Scotland is safe to drink.

Scotland is famous for its lush landscapes, pristine lochs, and rugged coastline, but did you know Scotland has an abundance of freshwater? There are over 31,000 freshwater lochs, many of which are not used for human consumption. The most famous loch in Scotland - Loch Ness - contains more fresh water than all of Wales and England combined.

In many parts of the world, tap water quality varies, and it's essential to know if what's coming out of the tap is safe. In this article, we'll look at Scotland's water, how it's treated, and whether you can trust it as your daily drinking source.

Scotland's Water Sources

The country's tap water originates from various sources:

  1. Lochs: These are natural freshwater bodies often found in the highlands. Famous ones like Loch Lomond are just the tip of the iceberg; Scotland has thousands of lochs that serve as reservoirs, providing a significant chunk of its drinking water.

  2. Reservoirs: Man-made water storage systems, reservoirs in Scotland are typically built in upland areas, capturing rainwater and runoff from surrounding terrains. These structures help ensure a steady water supply, especially during dryer periods.

  3. Underground Springs: Groundwater sources, such as springs and wells, also contribute to the water supply. These sources tap into the water stored in underground rock formations, benefiting from natural filtration processes.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

Managing and protecting these water sources is a top priority. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) plays a pivotal role here. They monitor the quality and quantity of these sources and set guidelines to ensure they remain uncontaminated.

Scottish Water Corporation

Scottish Water is a statutory corporation responsible for providing drinking water to 2.4 million homes and 150,000 businesses across Scotland. Amazingly it supplies over 1.3 billion litres of water each day.

Scottish Water is also responsible for wastewater treatment, and all dirty water is treated before being released into the environment. This starkly contrasts the system used in England, where if water systems are overloaded, raw sewage is pumped into the rivers and sea!

Scottish Water is within public ownership and is accountable to the Scottish Government, and is overseen by the drinking water quality regulator - the Water Industry Commission for Scotland.

Clatteringshaws Loch, Dam. Local authorities provide clean drinking water via treatment works.
Clatteringshaws Loch, a freshwater reservoir.

Chemical treatments for drinking water in Scotland

Here is the typical treatment process of Scottish water.

  1. Initial Filtering Water is channelled to processing facilities and sifted through fine mesh barriers to eliminate twigs, leaves, and other debris.

  2. Air Infusion By introducing air, unwanted odours and specific gases are eliminated. Additionally, metal salts undergo oxidation, enhancing their filtration efficiency.

  3. Purification Process A specific chemical agent interacts with the water, creating large particles known as floc. As these particles settle, they drag down any floating impurities, effectively capturing bacteria and reducing watercolour. The resulting sediment, or sludge, is then separated, yielding purer water.

  4. Advanced Filtration This now-purified water undergoes an additional filtering process to catch any leftover impurities, setting the stage for the addition of disinfectants.

  5. Sanitisation Typically, chlorine is the go-to disinfectant. Its controlled use effectively counters bacteria, ensuring water safety. Historically, chlorine's use as a disinfectant traces back to the late 19th century, emphasizing its reliability.

  6. Balancing pH Levels The term "pH" reflects a substance's acidity or basicity. The pH level of the water is closely monitored to prevent it from being corrosive, which could damage metallic conduits, or from being overly alkaline, which could lead to pipe deposit build-ups.

This processed water is then directed through the extensive piping system, journeying to homes around Scotland. The result is crystal-clear, perfectly safe, and refreshing water, ready for consumption.

Chloramination in Scotland

The water supply in Scotland does contain chlorine to ensure the safety of the water; some areas have stronger concentrations than others. There has been some scientific evidence that drinking water containing chlorine can affect gut bacteria.

The continued use of chlorine in our supply is essential to keep the water clean. Still, perhaps we should be filtering our water at home before consumption to lessen the effects of the chemical on our bodies even more.

Water and sewerage services

In towns and cities across Scotland, all dirty water ends up at a sewage treatment plant before it is released into the environment.

In more rural areas, there is no primary sewage connection to remove dirty water directly. Many properties use septic tanks or biodigesters to hold the waste, which is then emptied every year or two by a large lorry and then deposited at a sewage treatment plant.

What does Scottish water taste like?

It really depends on the area and the way the water is supplied. The tap water is excellent at my home in Moray; it tastes fantastic directly from the tap - fresh, cold and no bitter aftertaste.

On the flip side, we holiday in Aviemore frequently, and the water there tastes horrible... I'm not sure why considering Aviemore is in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by freshwater sources. Perhaps there is a higher concentration of chlorine in the tap water.

Steall Waterfall.
Steall Waterfall near Fort William features the waters of Nevis.

Is fresh water Scotland's most important resource?

Many people often think that Scotland's oil fields in the North Sea are the most important resource to the country, but freshwater could be one of the most important resources in the future, particularly on a warming planet.

England, in particular, has a problem supplying enough freshwater and is looking to Scotland to provide its future water requirements. Some reports say England could run out of fresh water within 30 years.

When Boris Johnson was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he proposed a "super canal" leading from the Scottish borders to wind south through Newcastle and Leeds and then down to the west coast of England.

Many Scots are not happy with the idea of the water being taken south. Again using the oil as an example, Scotland has not benefitted from the mass oil and gas extractions taken from the North Sea in the same way as our neighbours in Norway. The Norweigan sovereign wealth fund now stands at $1.4 trillion; Scotland has no fund and a relatively high poverty level.

The UK taking Scotland's water is seen as further asset stripping of another of Scotland's resources.

Risks to Scotland's water

Pollution is the main risk to the future status of Scotland's water purity and environment. Currently, the biggest polluter of Scottish waters is the Faslane Naval Base/ HMNB Clyde, located on the shores of Gare Loch in west Scotland. The UK's nuclear submarines are based at Faslane and incredibly regularly discharge liquid radioactive waste directly into the loch, which includes cobalt-60 and tritium.

The MOD intends to increase its dumping from 33,000 mega becquerels annually to 175,000.

The Scottish Government is committed to removing nuclear weapons from Scotland but is currently powerless to do so as part of the United Kingdom. This is why some Scots seek independence from the UK.

Scottish Whisky

Scotland's most famous export is, of course, whisky! This is down to the fantastic water we have in Scotland, which is ideal for the whisky-making process.

I live in the Moray area, which has the highest concentration of whisky distilleries anywhere in Scotland. Many distilleries can be found along the banks of the River Spey. I can highly recommend walking alongside the distilleries at Aberlour to Linn Falls and Glen Grant Gardens.

Linn Falls, cold water.
Linn Falls supplies water to Aberlour Distillery.

FAQs on Scottish water

Here are a few frequently asked questions about water in Scotland:

Is it safe to drink Scottish river/loch water?

It depends if the water is fast flowing and at an elevation above human and animal habitation; for example, high in the mountains, the water can be safe to drink (don't risk it).

Water from lower areas is unsafe to drink, even in fast-flowing rivers. Imagine all of the runoff from fields full of animals; or commercial or residential septic tanks; all that dirty water will eventually return to the rivers. Rivers can be teeming with bacteria, viruses and parasites. Blue algae blooms can also be common, which are highly toxic.

Stagnant water is also prone to Legionnaires' disease, a deadly form of pneumonia.

Despite Scotland's renowned reputation for clean water, I would not recommend drinking river or loch water without some form of purification first.

Is it safe to drink from a hotel tap in Scotland?

Generally, drinking hotel tap water is safe, but it depends on the hotel. Some older buildings will have rooms supplied via a water tank. If water tanks have not been used in a while, they can contain stagnant water. It's best to ask at reception if you intend to drink water from your ensuite bathroom, but generally, you will be fine, especially in newer buildings.

If you decide to drink from your hotel bathroom, consider just using the cold tap as this is more likely to be taken directly from the fresh water source instead of a heated tank - a possible breeding ground for bacteria.

Why does Scottish tap water taste different?

The taste of Scottish water depends on the area you live and what processes have been done to the water. There are local differences in the composition of the water with trace amounts of iron, copper, manganese and zinc, which will affect the taste and odour. Scotland is famous for having nice-tasting water, but it does vary significantly by location.

Are chlorine and fluoride used in Scottish drinking water?

All areas use chlorine to kill bacteria to keep the water system clean. Fluoride is not currently used within the Scottish water network. If you want to avoid these chemicals, bottled water is your only choice, or use a special filter to extract the chemicals.

Should I drink bottled water in Scotland?

I would say no. The water quality is perfect from the tap, and buying overpriced bottled water is the most expensive way to drink water in Scotland... plastic bottles are also terrible for the environment. Purchase a refillable water bottle and fill it from the tap or from the many filling stations that can now be found around Scotland.

If you don't like the taste of the water in your particular location, you can flavour it with a little diluting juice. Drinking tap water is much healthier and environmentally friendly.

Water refill station.
These free water refill stations can be found all over Scotland. Image:

Is Scottish tap water hard or soft?

The water in Scotland is considered soft due to its lower concentrations of limestone, chalk, gypsum and other minerals. This is good because hard water can damage pipes and household appliances, and the taste is unpleasant.

If you are in a hard water area, I can recommend this water filter Jug by Phox.

Why is Scottish Water so clean?

Scottish Water is clean due to many factors, mainly the numerous freshwater sources filled by springs and high annual rainfall. The way water and sewerage services are handled in Scotland also contributes to the pure water.

What is the Scottish Gaelic word for water?

"Uisge" is the word for water in Scots Gaelic; in Doric, people will often call it "watter".

Who is Scottish Water owned by?

Scottish Water is publicly owned and accountable to the Scottish Government.

Does Scotland have desalination factories?

No, we have enough fresh water and do not need to convert seawater into drinking water. Desalination could be one potential answer to the rest of the UK's drinking water supply problems.

Where does Edinburgh get its water?

Glencorse Reservoir provides fresh water for Edinburgh, which is processed before it reaches the public.

Glencorse Reservoir water supplies Edinburgh. Scottish cities.
Glencorse Reservoir provides fresh water to Edinburgh.

Key information on Scottish water

  • Water from taps is safe to drink in Scotland.

  • Scotland has the most freshwater in the United Kingdom.

  • "Scottish Water" is the corporation in charge of water supply and waste water treatment.

  • This corporation is publicly owned.

  • Water is sourced from lochs, underground springs and reservoirs.

  • The water is filtered and cleaned before it reaches the public.

  • Hotel bathroom water is generally fine to drink but check with reception.

  • Do not drink from Scotland's rivers or lochs.

Loch Garten
Loch Garten is one of the most beautiful freshwater lochs in Scotland.


Scottish tap water is safe to drink, but do not drink from any untreated water sources, such as rivers and lochs, no matter how fresh or clean it looks.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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