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john65pennington's avatar

Is rainwater safe to drink?

Asked by john65pennington (29070 points ) April 20th, 2010

My grandmother use to live in the country and they collected rainwater to drink. they were healthy people and to my knowledge never suffered any adverse effects from it. i can see my grandmother taking a dipper of water from an oak barrel and taking a drink. this was years ago. do people still do this today and is rainwater safe to drink?

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33 Answers

Rarebear's avatar

IMO, yes. As long as it’s directly collected, doesn’t sit a long time, and the container is disinfected.

lilikoi's avatar

Yes unless it is acid rain. Rain water is pure until it comes into contact with something that is not. This is why the material you use to make your catchment tank is so critical, and why people design in a ‘first flush’ to purge debris from their roof first before the tank starts filling up.

People still do rainwater catchment, all over the world. It is very popular on the Big Island in Hawaii for example. And also, roofs in Bermuda were designed specifically to facilitate rainwater catchment.

Think about how rain is formed, and you will be assured that rain water is even purer than bottled water and surface water.

john65pennington's avatar

lliloi, you are just a world of information. great answer. i learned something. thanks, john.

eden2eve's avatar

There would be several factors in this decision. How is the air quality where you live? Rain water will be affected by the quality of the air.

Do you have a clean container to collect the water? Is it protected from bugs and the elements? Has it been in the container for very long? I think that people were less concerned with some of these issues than we have become.

I don’t think I would want to drink water that ran off of my roof, unless I disinfected it first.

MissAnthrope's avatar

It definitely has a lot to do with air quality where you live. As the water falls, it collects particles of sulfur and carbon, which are what lead to acid precipitation. If the air quality is relatively clean (not a lot of motor vehicle traffic like Los Angeles and not a lot of factories like West Virginia), chances are the rainwater will be pretty pure.

Then there’s the whole collection/storage issue, as has been mentioned. I wouldn’t drink rainwater that’s come off the roof (bird and insect poop, amongst other things), and I definitely would want a cover on the container to keep out bugs and prevent mosquitos from laying eggs. Also, the longer it sits there, the higher chance there is for impurities such as algae and bacteria growth.

Trillian's avatar

I collect rainwater sometimes to wash my hair.

Nullo's avatar

In some places, it is illegal to collect rainwater. Check with your city/state government before proceeding.

Response moderated
john65pennington's avatar

Nullo, why? does this violate a local health code? never heard of this. john

wonderingwhy's avatar

@john65pennington if I remember correctly it’s typically a right’s allocation issue. I just read something about that in CO.

Here’s a link to one article.

Here’s a more general link.

OneMoreMinute's avatar

I would boil it and filter it before drinking.
I would be concerned about mosquitoes breeding and algae and vermin poop and bacteria.

Cruiser's avatar

Collect away, personally I would boil and or filter before drinking. Rain barrels are great for all other uses right out of the barrel.

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

YES!! i mean why not? I really like opening my mouth when its raining and the water just goes straight to my mouth :) I think itd the best water, its cold and chilly:)

mowens's avatar

I would do it anywhere, but Gary, Indiana.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Sure,but you must filter it first through your neighbor’s sweatsocks ! I wouldn’t drink rainwater

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I think most of the places (Western states in the US, in particular) where rainwater catchment was illegal have now had the laws reviewed and revised to make more sense.

This was a big issue in Colorado, for example, not too long ago, where any “interference” (including catching and re-using) rain (or any other drain) water was strictly and explicitly prohibited in the name of “water rights” for downstream users. Water rights in the dry western states are very jealously guarded!

I think that even Colorado has fixed the laws so that “reasonable” catchment from roofs of under a certain square footage are exempt from the prohibitions. (From some other reading I did on the topic, New Mexico has—finally—“required” catchment and cistern systems for new houses.)

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Considering the stuff that goes through our pipes, I’d venture to say that rainwater is probably safer than what comes out of your tap.

OneMoreMinute's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille Is this that same neighbor?

laureth's avatar

Safe is relative. Is drinking rainwater safer than dying of dehydration? Much safer. But is it safer to drink than water that’s been treated? Probably not.

Rain has in it whatever’s floating around in the atmosphere. I would feel like I’m drinking condensation from a smokestack. Maybe it was cleaner in your grandma’s day? There were fewer cars 50 years ago, but we also didn’t have the Clean Air Act back then, either.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

@john65pennington @wonderingwhy @Nullo: In many areas it is illegal to use the rainwater you catch even if it isn’t illegal to catch it directly. This is because once you use it for say, washing your hair, it goes down the drain where it goes into the city water system. Since the city water system bills the same number of gallons of sewer use as they bill for water use (without metering the sewer) you are guilty of defrauding the water company. You have fraudulent unpaid use of the sewer system and it is considered criminal. However, you aren’t even allowed to build a septic system, etc to dispose of the used rainwater because you are often forced to use the city sewer in areas where city water is available. It is therefore illegal to collect and use rainwater even without a direct law against the practice.

zophu's avatar

It’s customary to use filters and (maybe distillers?) when collecting rain water for drinking. Bird poop, bugs and algae are the problems, I think.

snowberry's avatar

I’d think twice about drinking rain water in cities with smog problems, even if your catchment was clean. Yuk.

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

@john65pennington: to answer your original question you should take samples of the water that you would be drinking and then I would send it in to a testing lab. The cost is minimal and you will know for sure if it is safe to drink. If ANYTHING changes send in another sample.

Nullo's avatar

@john65pennington Best answer that I got was “water treaty,” and it pertained to the southwestern quarter of the United States.

mattbrowne's avatar

Relatively safe, but on average tap water is safer. We use rainwater in our garden.

zotl's avatar

Yes it is safe to drink rain water that you have collected as long as you dont live next door to a coal power plant or chemical factory. I grew up drinking collected rainwater that we stored in a large cistern. This was on a barrier island in southern Florida where city water is not an option. The collection system had screens to filter out bugs or debris and there was a plain cartridge filter on the line going into the house. We added chlorine to the tank periodically. Also if you tank is exposed to sunlight it must be painted to prevent sunlight entering and helping algae grow. Rainwater has a distinctive taste, tap water tastes horrible in comparison IMO.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@zotl just out of idle curiosity, what do you think is going to come out of the sky next door to a coal power plant or chemical factory?

Do you know what comes out of the stacks at those plants? Those billowing white clouds? They’re mostly steam. Most of the coal burned as fuel in the US has a proximate analysis that shows it to be between 10 – 25% moisture (water).

MissAnthrope's avatar

@CyanoticWasp – Pollution comes out of those stacks; sulfur, nitrogen, etc. make up the remaining 85–90%. A lot of them, thankfully, are adding scrubbers to the stacks to clean up some of the particulates, but it’s not enough to deem it “clean” by any means. If you don’t believe the stacks release a lot of pollution, take a look at WV. Loads and loads and loads of power plants, chemical plants, all sorts of plants with stacks. Despite the fact that WV is about 80% forested, the state has one of the worst air qualities in the nation.

Pollution Locator, State Report (note high percentile for Nitrogen and very high for Sulfur)
Most Polluted Cities (Note WV makes an appearance in the top 20 of all three pollutants, despite the others above it being more urban with higher populations and more cars on the road)
Distribution of Environmental Burden in WV (note the part where it says facilities per square mile and that it’s nearly 1! That’s nuts.)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@MissAnthrope I don’t deny that coal and chemical plants cause pollution. I work in the coal-fired power generation industry, but I’m not naive and I’m not a shill. The rainwater from “next door to a coal plant” isn’t going to be significantly different than the rainwater a hundred miles away. I doubt if anyone without very precise measuring equipment could tell the difference.

Although sulfur and nitrogen (as well as carbon dioxide—can’t forget that) and even mercury (and other things you don’t want to know about) are all emitted from power plant stacks, they certainly don’t share equal billing. Most of the remainder of the emissions from coal plant stacks, after water vapor, are carbon dioxide. Yes, sulfur and nitrogen oxides are also components, and pollutants, but rainwater falling through those at the plant location aren’t going to be distinguishable from rainwater far away. That was my only point.

zotl's avatar

My point about living next to a coal power plant or chemical factory has nothing to do with rain falling through the emissions. It has to do with emission precipitates that accumulate on your roof and will be washed right into the water storage tank. Also your claims about the emissions mostly being steam are erroneous. It is common practice for those plants to fail to do proper maintenance on their scrubber systems until it is inspection time.

Like someone else said the only way to be sure is have the collected water tested periodically.

Aster's avatar

I wouldn’t drink rain water. If you let it evaporate you’ll see sand or dirt in the bottom of the bowl or whatever you were using to collect it. Plus, is there not pollution “up there?” So you’d have to analyze what’s in pollution and decide. Even so , I could probably choke some down rather than drink our horrible tap water that tastes like Clorox that someone used for their potty. So we have a water filter under a sink and it’s really good water. And that is adjacent to a very cold bar fridge! So the tap water is put in a bottle and then into that fridge. yum.

Ron_C's avatar

We live in North West Pennsylvania and like mentioned here, the water quality depends on air quality. We get occasional acid rain caused by power plant exhausts in the mid-west. That lowers the pH of rainwater and affects crop and tree growth. The change in acidity would make we wonder what materials were absorbed by the water vapor.

I would filter it before using it and check the pH.

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