Is Ottawa tap water safe to drink? (2023)
If you’re visiting Ottawa, you’re probably wondering Is Ottawa tap water safe to drink? or Can I drink the water in Ottawa Canada?.
Yes, you can drink tap water in Ottawa.
It’s legally safe to drink.
However, depending on the location you are in, there are some risks of contaminants and even lead in the water due to corrodes ancient pipes.
I’ve lived in Ottawa for years, and while I know I CAN drink the tap water straight from the tap, I don’t. Some locals do, especially if they aren’t aware of any of the contaminants or in an effort to save money.
I opt for a filtered water bottle and a Britta for my fridge so I can drink the water knowing it’s been purified.
As a visitor, you can buy a filtered water bottle (I never travel without mine!) to avoid plastic bottles killing the planet.
Other options include boiling the Ottawa tap water before drinking it (although this requires a stove, and then waiting for it to cool down if it’s a hot summer day) or using a water filter like a Britta (although these are quite large).
I’ve found that using a filtered water bottle is the simplest way to make the water safe to drink in Ottawa and other Canadian cities.
There are many different types of water filters on the market, so find one that suit your needs best!
Don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about Ottawa’s tap water and how to avoid getting sick in Ottawa. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to confidently and safely stay hydrated while you enjoy the best things to do in Ottawa.
Is Ottawa tap water safe to drink?
Yes, the tap water in Ottawa is safe to drink. It meets all of Health Canada’s standards for drinking water quality.
However, there are some contaminants in the water that can cause illness if you’re not careful.
The main concern is with lead, which can be found in old pipes.
The other concern is with bacteria, which can make you sick if you drink it. Boiling the water for 1 minute will kill any bacteria that might be present.
Most locals – even your hotel staff – will tell you that Ottawa tap water is completely safe to drink.
They’re usually right.
But if you have a sensitive stomach or are immunocompromised, you really don’t want to take the risk.
Even I got a rumbly tummy after years of living here and using ice at a friend’s house that came from Ottawa tap water.
Do locals drink the tap water in Ottawa?
Yes, most locals in Ottawa drink the tap water.
However, 80% of them (based on a survey of my friends across the city and its suburbs) filter the water before drinking it. Some have a fixture on their sinks, and others use a filtered water storage container in their fridge.
If they’re in a pinch, they may take a swig from the tap directly without a filter. But most of them don’t risk it.
They mostly claim it tastes better as well once it’s filtered.
I’m not sure if this is the placebo effect, but I 100% agree that filtered water tastes better!
Should you drink the water in Ottawa?
No, I would not recommend drinking the tap water in Ottawa unless it has been filtered first.
There are too many potential contaminants – even in small amounts – that can make you sick.
It’s just not worth the risk, in my opinion.
The good news is that there are many easy ways to filter the water so it’s safe to drink.
You can buy a filtered water bottle, use a water filter pitcher, or boil the water for 1 minute.
All of these methods will make the water safe to drink in Ottawa.
Contaminants in Ottawa Water
The most common contaminant in Ottawa’s tap water is organic solutes from fertilizers. These can cause algae blooms in the water, which make it quite musty and smelly.
This happens more in the suburbs and countryside of Ottawa.
The concern in the downtown core of Ottawa is chlorine and chloramine.
Chlorine is used to help filter the water of viruses and bacteria. In the final purification process, they add ammonia to react with the chlorine to form chloramine.
Chloramine is considered safer for public consumption and is approved by Health Canada.
However, it still produces trihalomethanes (THM), which are chemical compounds that can be associated with cancer. The City of Ottawa and Health Canada have mandated on the maximum amount allowed to be safe in Ottawa’s drinking water.
But you never know for sure how much is in each cup.
Is there lead in Ottawa water?
The City of Ottawa claims that the drinking water they supply is lead-free, and that any lead in water comes from private pipes.
However, it’s hard to be 100% sure of where the contaminants can arise from.
To help remove the issue of lead pipes, the city introduced a Lead Pipe Replacement Program that helps people living in homes built before 1955 get a rebate for replacement pipes or get water filter kits. They will even test your home’s drinking water for lead for you.
In 2019, a study across Ottawa found that only 10% of the city was at risk of lead in their drinking water (however, this was “above legal limits”. More homes may have had traces of lead within legal limits. Recently these were lowered, so more homes may now be considered “above legal limits”).
Ultimately, any consumption of lead is unsafe. So it’s best to not drink Ottawa’s tap water unless it has been filtered properly.
Ottawa’s drinking water purification system
Ottawa filters water from the Ottawa River.
The city uses a “multi-barrier approach” that involves physical and chemical filtration to remove algae, bacteria, viruses, and any other suspended particles. It also shifts the “tea” colour of the river to a more palatable clear colour.
Is Ottawa’s drinking water hard or soft?
Ottawa’s drinking water is considered soft, due to the natural softness of the water from the Ottawa River.
This means that is has lower levels of calcum and magnesium.
While hard water isn’t unsafe to drink, it can be harder on pipes, causing lead leaks.
Wells in Ottawa have higher levels of hard water, which usually require special water systems in homes to prevent scale build up and lead in the tap water.
What happens if you drink the tap water in Ottawa?
If you drink the tap water in Ottawa, you may experience gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea.
These symptoms are usually caused by bacteria or viruses that have gotten into the water.
In some cases, people have also reported skin irritation and rashes after coming into contact with the water if there has been a high level of chloramine in their shower’s water.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution and filter your water before consuming it, or use boiled water if you’re unsure.
If you do experience any symptoms after consuming Ottawa’s tap water, be sure to see a doctor and let them know what happened.
What to do if I’m sick in Ottawa?
If you are sick in Ottawa, I recommend visiting a pharmacy first. They can advise on whether you need over-the-counter medications or should seek medical attention from a doctor.
If you are very sick, see a doctor immediately.
There are walk-in clinics across downtown Ottawa.
The nearest emergency room is at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. But be prepared for long wait times.
When my puppy nearly broke my finger, I was waiting for 6 hours. When I had severe dehydration, I was there for closer to 7 hours before being seen.
A walk-in clinic can be much faster.
🇨🇦 Ottawa Travel Tip: Most people think that Canadian hospitals are free to everyone. This isn’t true. If you don’t have an Ontario health card, you will have to pay for medical care. This is why it’s vital that you get travel insurance before coming to Canada. Our healthcare system is expensive if you’re not a citizen.
FAQs About Ottawa Tap Water
Can you brush your teeth with tap water in Ottawa?
Yes, you can brush your teeth with tap water in Ottawa.
The fluoride levels in the water are actually quite high, so it’s actually good for your teeth!
Don’t swallow the water and you’ll be alright.
If you do worry about a risk of lead, then filter the water before you use it to brush your teeth.
Can you shower in Ottawa water?
Yes, you can shower in Ottawa water.
The chlorine levels in the water make it safe to shower in.
If you have sensitive skin, you may want to use a shower filter to remove any impurities from the water.
Hard water in areas like Merrickville can be very good for skin and hair. But it isn’t good for your tummy, so keep your mouth shut!
Can I open my mouth in the shower in Ottawa?
No, I would not recommend opening your mouth in the shower in Ottawa.
While the water is safe to shower in, it is chlorinated and can cause gastrointestinal issues if swallowed.
It’s best to avoid swallowing any water, just to be on the safe side.
Can I cook with tap water in Ottawa?
Yes, you can cook with Ottawa tap water if you boil it first.
For example, I use tap water when I boil corn or make soups.
The boiling water will kill any bacteria or viruses that may be in the water.
You can also use a water filter to remove impurities from the water before cooking with it.
Are salads safe in Ottawa?
Yes, salads are safe to eat in Ottawa.
If you have a very sensitive stomach, you may want to clean your produce in a vinegar solution rather than with tap water.
But locals all use tap water to rinse their fruit and vegetables – most with no issues.
Can I drink ice in Ottawa?
Yes, but I don’t recommend it.
While filtered water is safe to drink, the ice cubes may have been made with tap water.
And as we know, swallowing tap water can cause gastrointestinal issues.
If you must have ice in your drink, then make sure to use bottled or filtered water to make your ice cubes.
Or better yet, just enjoy your drink without ice and know your tummy will be fine!
Be sure to order it this way at restaurants, as they’ll typically add ice and serve tap water as a default.
Can you drink the water in Ottawa hotels?
Yes, but I don’t recommend it.
Most hotels in Ottawa are old. They have a higher risk of having lead pipes or other contaminants in the water.
It’s best to stick to bottled or filtered water in hotel rooms.
Since I don’t want to pay $10 for a bottle of water, I always bring a filtered water bottle with me whenever I go to a hotel so I know I can drink tap water safely.
Can I drink coffee in Ottawa?
Yes, you can drink coffee in Ottawa.
The boiled water is safe to drink, so there is no risk of getting sick from drinking coffee made with tap water.
The same goes for tea!
Can you swim in the Ottawa River?
Yes, but I don’t recommend it.
The Ottawa River unfortunately often gets contaminated by bacteria such as E.coli.
The further you get from the downtown core of Ottawa, the safer it is to swim in.
But if you go somewhere like Lemieux Island, you will definitely want to check online with the City of Ottawa for “Do Not Swim” advisories.
Places like Mooney’s Bay, Petrie Island, and Westboro Beach are often considered safe.
But the best beaches in Ottawa are typically further from downtown, further from the rapids where the water is faster moving and doesn’t get algae blooms.
Should I get travel insurance for Ottawa?
In an article all about Is Ottawa tap water safe to drink I have to mention travel insurance in Ottawa.
I believe travel insurance is a MUST anywhere – but especially in Canada.
If you aren’t a citizen, it can mean the difference between a $5 prescription fee and a $5,000 hospital visit if you get sick in Ottawa.
Although Canada is notoriously safe – both for health and physical safety – things happen.
I’ve ended up in the emergency room twice in the last 12 months thanks to my puppy and a severe case of stomach flu – which was actually made worse by drinking tap water when I was so delirious I forgot to filter it.
If you’re visiting Canada, I recommend getting travel insurance through World Nomad.
You can get a FREE quote today, with plans averaging $7 a day.
The Standard Plan covers general travel, including lost luggage or travel delays. Or the Explorer Plan, which is perfect for adventurous activities like the Interzip Rogers or white water rafting on the Ottawa River.
Wrap Up: Is Ottawa Tap Water Safe to Drink?
Yes, you can drink the tap water in Ottawa – but I recommend filtering it first.
The best way to do this is with a water filter for your home or a filtered water bottle that you can easily carry with you throughout the city and refill from public taps.
I carry mine with me EVERYWHERE. It filters out over 99% of bacteria and microplastics so I can be sure I’m keeping hydrated without polluting my body.
You may not think it, but Ottawa gets HOT in the summer, so you’ll be chugging your water bottle repeatedly. It’s best to get a filtered bottle so you’re not running into Tim Hortons for a 500mL plastic bottle every five minutes, and quickly blowing your museum budget on plastics.
It sucks to get sick when you’re traveling. So protect yourself by not drinking the tap water.
Instead, save yourself the money and the stress by getting a filtered water bottle so you can enjoy your visit to Ottawa!
Ottawa Travel Planning Guide
🚑 Should I buy Ottawa travel insurance?
100% YES! — There’s a misconception that Canada has “free healthcare” for everyone. Nope! Only Canadians. So you’ll need to get travel insurance to visit Ottawa. I recommend this one.
💧Can you drink the tap water in Ottawa?
Yes – ish — While you can technically drink the tap water in Ottawa, as a local I don’t recommend it. Old hotels especially can have some nasty things in their pipes. Instead, get a filtered water bottle. (Read more)
🚙💨 Do I need to rent a car in Ottawa?
Yes — Renting a car in Ottawa is one of the best ways to get around! You’ll be able to see more of the city and beyond, like the epic hiking trails. I recommend Discover Cars for the cheapest rates possible.
📲 Do I need to know French in Ottawa?
Nope! — The primary language of Ottawa is English. While French is also spoken and on some signs, you can easily get by without knowing any French. (Read more)
🏩 What’s the best way to book my Ottawa accommodations?
For Ottawa hotels, Booking is the best site. If you’re considering an Ottawa Airbnb, don’t forget to also check VRBO, which is often cheaper than Airbnb. My #1 hotel recommendation in Ottawa is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.
✈️ What’s the best site to buy Ottawa flights?
For finding cheap Ottawa flights, I recommend Skyscanner. You can even set a price alert to find out when flights are on sale.
🎫 Do I need a Visa for Ottawa?
Likely Not — U.S. and most European Passport holders don’t need a Visa to visit Canada.
📍 Where is Ottawa? And what’s nearby?
Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, located in Ontario. It’s right on the border of Quebec. It’s about 2 hours from Mont Tremblant, 3 hours from Montreal, or 5 hours from Toronto. You can take a road trip to get to other places or fly.