​Where is the worst tap water in the UK?

By Bob Fear

​Where is the worst tap water in the UK?

The taste, smell and clarity of your tap water depends on where you are in the country. Your water might be hard or soft, or contain slightly different levels of impurities. 

While the levels of those impurities all fall well within current legal limits and are classified as safe, the overall quality of the water varies a fair bit across the four nations.

What makes water hard or soft?

Water quality will naturally vary across the UK because of its different sources. The further north or west you are, the more likely your tap water will be ‘soft’. It’ll usually come from surface water - rivers, ponds and lakes filled with rainwater.

The further south and east you are, your tap water is more likely to be ‘hard’ because it comes from groundwater. Groundwater is filtered through porous underground rocks like chalk and limestone, so there’ll be more minerals floating around in it. 

While natural minerals found in groundwater can be healthy (mineral water, anyone?) nasty old scale is formed when magnesium and calcium bond. Hard water may contain little white flakes and, depending on your taste buds, might seem a bit off.

However, if groundwater has only passed through non-porous rock, like granite, it can stay soft. So water in the far South West, where there’s a fair bit of granite, is more likely to be soft. One way or another, the water coming out of a tap in Inverness is going to be a wee bit different to whatever’s coming out of a tap in Ealing.

Where is the hardest water in the UK?

While Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales generally have soft water, here’s where you’ll find the hardest tap water in the UK:

Very hard tap water Hard tap water Moderately hard tap water Slightly hard tap water
Bedfordshire Berkshire Hampshire Cheshire
Buckinghamshire Bristol Denbighshire
Cambridgeshire Hertfordshire Flintshire
Essex Isle of Wight Herefordshire
Lincolnshire Kent Wirral
Norfolk Leicestershire Yorkshire
Northamptonshire Liverpool
Suffolk London
West Midlands

Where is the worst tasting tap water in the UK?

A panel of well-respected food and drink experts, including chef Tom Aitken and sommelier Richard Rotti, sampled the tap water from different UK water companies and decided who has the worst tasting water. Here’s how they ranked them according to taste, clarity and smell:

  1. Wessex Water
  2. United Utilities
  3. Yorkshire Water

Wessex Water, who supply Bristol, Somerset, Wiltshire, most of Dorset and parts of Gloucestershire and Hampshire, tasted the worst. 

The tap water from United Utilities, who cover North West England, proved almost as bad. They supply Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, most of Cheshire and part of Derbyshire. 

And the third worst proved to be Yorkshire Water.

How to improve your tap water

To stay healthily hydrated, the latest advice from the government and the NHS is to drink around six to eight glasses of water a day (or around 1.5 litres). 

If your tap water doesn’t meet your preferred standards of taste, smell and clarity then it’s tempting to opt for lots of bottled water. But, as well as being expensive, single use plastic bottles aren’t so healthy for the planet.

The most cost effective, convenient and eco-friendly solution is to filter your own tap water. A decent filtration system can remove the scaly bits from hard water as well as any dirt, rust, microplastics and any other unwanted nasties that might have snuck in.

It’ll also remove the chlorine added by the water treatment companies, which might improve the taste a bit. Fill up your reusable water bottle before you head out and you’ll be doing your bit for the planet, as well as your taste buds.



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