Tap water in China is unsafe. Unlike most western countries where safe tap water is readily available, in most parts of China, although the water looks clear, it is not safe to drink unless boiled. Even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, tap water is not well filtered, sterilized or purified, and can carry harmful contaminants such as sediment, rust, bacteria, viruses, chlorine or other heavy metals. Illnesses such as diarrhea from drinking dirty water can ruin your trip. In China, tap water is not drinkable, but it is safe for washing.
If you shower, brush your teeth, wash your face, hands or clothes under running water, there should be no problem. You can wash clothes as easily as any Chinese. If you’re worried, you can brush your teeth and gargle with hot or bottled water. Also, even if you’ve washed the fruit in tap water, you should always peel it.
For drinking water, people can easily buy cheap and safe bottled mineral water for only 2 yuan. Quality mass brands include nongfu spring, nestle, aisbang, evian, kunlun mountain, wahaha and so on. There are also a variety of bottled teas and juices to choose from. Alternatively, you can use the boiler provided in your hotel room to boil the tap water and wait for it to cool down before drinking. You can also put boiling water in a thermos and take it with you when you leave the hotel.
Some hotels have water dispensers for both hot and cold water, and others have heaters or thermos. You can use the heater to boil the water, or you can use the hot water directly from the thermos for free. A good hotel can offer high quality bottled water at the lowest price.
In most Chinese restaurants, water is free before meals, and some even serve tea or soup. Because the Chinese believe that drinking cold water may be bad for health, the water provided is usually boiled and hot or warm. Most restaurants also have bottled water or other drinks on their menus. But you have to pay, and the price is usually higher than in the supermarket. Note that some restaurants may sell cold drinks, but no ice.
Only a few tourist attractions, such as Shanghai Disneyland and west lake in hangzhou, offer free drinking water. Most places have stores or suppliers that sell bottled drinks, but the prices may be higher than those sold outside. In some mountainous areas, prices are several times higher than in supermarkets because of transport difficulties. Therefore, it is recommended that you buy water before you go to the scenic spots, especially when you travel to mount emei, mount hua, mount huangshan and other places.
There are stores selling bottled drinks at airports and train stations, though prices may be slightly higher than elsewhere. If you bring a container, you can also use a hot and cold water dispenser. There are also drinking fountains on the train, but you need to bring your own glass or bottle.