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Drinking water in Istanbul

We spent 5 weeks in Turkey a few years ago and are returning in the spring. My RS Istanbul guide book says not to drink the water or even brush your teeth with it. What happened? That certainly wasn't the case when we last visited.

Posted by
3551 posts

Best heed the advice given. It is never worth a minut chance of illness. Bottled water is readily available if purchased from safe establishments.

Posted by
1205 posts

I went on the RS Istanbul tour about 5 yrs ago and was also told by our guide and our hotel to only drink bottled water and to brush our teeth with bottled water. I was told that It is not that the water is bad, it is because the pipes that the water flows through is old and makes the water undrinkable. Our guide said, she buys water for her home too. It is ok to wash with the water, just don't drink it.

Hope this clears this up for you.

Posted by
6113 posts

I visited Istanbul about 10 years ago and we were advised not to drink the tap water.

Posted by
2483 posts

Yes, same for me. I was on the RS tour of Turkey in 2018 and we drank bottled water only. I forgot one morning when I started brushing my teeth, had to throw out that toothbrush!
Our guide explained the people who live there have become accustomed to the water so they can drink it. It’s visitors who cannot tolerate the organisms in the water. This made sense to me but a doctor or scientist out there could chime in.

Posted by
7050 posts

I wouldn't drink the tap water (old pipes, cannot flush toilet paper in toilets, etc. plus cost of bottle of water is negligible and tastes better) but I think the toothbrushing using bottled water may be overkill unless you're very sensitive or older or have health issues. I think it's a conservative precaution measure in case you swallow some water by mistake, which frankly could happen in the shower as well (there's no real difference). Last time in Istanbul in 2015, I brushed my teeth in the sink as usual and nothing bad happened.

Posted by
15634 posts

I was on one of the RS tours 6 years ago and that was the advice then. Further, it was recommended not to eat raw fruits and vegetables from street vendors. Restaurants and hotels have filter/purifier equipment and use only processed water for cooking, including washing raw food. Stick with fruit you peel yourselves - bananas, oranges . . .

Posted by
1501 posts

I concur with the advice given above.
I recommend traveling with pepto bismol tablets (or an off brand). If you take 2 chewable tablets prior to eating a risky food, it decreases the likelihood of bacteria attaching to the gut and causing illness.
I did this and did eat fresh produce from markets and street vendors. I had no GI distress.

Posted by
21 posts

Just back from Turkey. Sadly everyone drinks bottled water. Water is clean but the pipes are so old not a good idea.

Posted by
231 posts

Just got back from RS Turkey tour. The problems with the old pipes is real. The other problem is water reliability. The water is heavily chlorinated (so most of the germs are killed at the treatment plant). However, because of unreliable water delivery, our guide told us that most hotels use water storage tanks, just in case there are water delivery problems. Those tanks are not cleaned or inspected that often, so who knows what is growing there. We used bottle water for everything short of showering and washing hands. Bottle water is really cheap, if you buy in bulk at a grocery store. I bought 5 liter bottles for as little as 3 lira, or about 75 cents. Used it to refill all the smaller water bottles that we used.

Posted by
231 posts

To elaborate on what Dave said, our guide said that some places in Turkey have water that's perfectly safe to drink and other places don't and it puzzles him as to why some towns have safe drinking water and others don't. Among other things, he suggested that some towns have officials who get better financing from the central governement and therefore might have more money to spend on sanitation. But on tour, he recommended staying away from drinking hotel tapwater for the reasons David gave - except in Cappadocia, where he felt better about the way our hotel stored its water.

Another option for treating water is to boil it, which is what I did for water we were rinsing glassware and toothbrushes with in Cappadocia, where our guide said it was probably safe to drink the tap water anyway. Here's the latest from the Oct 2019 Wilderness Medical Society Clinical Practice Guidelines for Water Disinfection for Wilderness, International Travel, and Austere Situations (which relies on CDC and WHO recommendations). Boiling obviously won't help the taste and won't get rid of heavy metals, but I doubt that bottled water in most countries (including the US) meets stringent standards for heavy metals. All but one of our hotels on our RS Turkey tour had an electric hotpot that probably had a capacity of a liter or so; as long as you have the time to let the water cool down, boiling would reduce the amount of plastic-encased water you'd have to get. Even my little immersion heater brought water to a boil very quickly - it's the cooling that takes time.

As enteric pathogens are killed within seconds by boiling water rapidly at temperatures >60°C (140°F), the traditional advice to boil water for 10 min to ensure potable water is excessive. The time required to heat water from 55°C (131°F) to a boil works toward disinfection; therefore, any water brought to a rapid boil should be adequately disinfected. Boiling [bring to a rolling boil] for 1 min is recommended by the US CDC to account for user variability in identifying boiling points and adds a margin of safety. The boiling point decreases with increasing altitude, but this is not significant compared with the time required for thermal death at these temperatures.

Rolling boil = seeing lots of bubble breaking the surface of the water.

BTW, if you are immunocompromised, boiling is a better way of getting rid of germs than drinking bottled water, as the latter can still contain the Cryptosporidum parasite.

Finally, use lots of hand sanitizer. You will be touching money, hand rails and all kinds of other things handled by thousands of other people, which in my mind is as big a risk as drinking tapwater. And be sure your vaccinations (flu in season, tetatus, typhoid and hepatitis A) are up to date. Typhoid and hep A vaccines are multi-dose vaccines need to be given over time, so don't wait until the last minute to get those.

C of David and C.

Posted by
1977 posts

We drank bottled water everywhere, the hotels all had free water in the rooms.

Posted by
99 posts

Same thing with us. When we visited Turkey last year, we have been told not to use the water from the tap for drinking. So, we ended up buying the water and was not expensive at all. We drink bottled water at home too, so it was not really a big deal. We used the water in Turkey for showering,washing face and brushing teeth.

Posted by
25 posts

Well thanks everyone for your input. When we visited in 2010 we traveled throughout the country for five weeks and not a problem or a warning. However, we'll drink bottled water because you are correct, not worth getting sick. Thanks again.

Posted by
2 posts

We were in Edmonds last weekend for the RS Reunion weekend and spoke with a couple of his tour guides from Turkey. One of them put it this way: Water in Turkey is perfectly fine to drink...for Turks. They are used to the bacteria in the water and can drink it without problems. However, she pointed out that we (in US) have not developed that resistance and she recommended sticking to bottled water while in Turkey. As environmentally unfriendly as bottled water is, it is a price worth paying to stay healthy. One option is to purchase larger bottles. 4-liter bottles are available in Europe and, I assume, Turkey as well. It cuts down on the plastic usage a bit. When we go in October, I plan on taking a Life Straw with me as added protection. It's small, light-weight, and should catch most pathogens.