After tending to your garden in the summer heat, it’s tempting to turn on your garden hose and have a quick sip. After all, it’s the same water you drink from your tap indoors—isn’t it? Is it safe for you to drink from a garden hose?
Drinking from garden hoses is generally unsafe, as garden hoses may contain phthalates, tap water contaminants, and physical contaminants like insects. The hose nozzle, typically made of metal, can also rust, posing a health risk. But there are ways to make this water safer to drink.
Something as simple as taking a cooling drink from your hose pipe in summer may hold hidden dangers to your health. This article will address the risks of drinking from garden hoses and discuss ways to make the water in your garden hose safer to drink. If you’re someone who enjoys taking a sip of water from the hose after tending to your garden, you’ll want to read on!
Risks of Drinking From Garden Hoses
Though drinking from the backyard garden hose is a pleasant childhood memory for many, taking a sip from a garden hose can be risky. After all, these helpful gardening tools aren’t suited for contact with food or beverages, so most aren’t food-safe.
Before you wipe your sweaty brow and lift your trusty garden hose to your lips, you’ll want to consider the following dangers:
Contaminants in Tap Water
You’re accessing tap water when you connect your garden hose to your outdoor faucet or kitchen sink faucet. Though most tap water in the United States is safe to drink, some areas have poor-quality, contaminant-ridden tap water.
Some of the most notable examples include Midland, Texas, and Flint, Michigan.
The public water supplies in these areas suffer from various problems, rendering them unsafe for public consumption. If you live in an area with bad tap water, you’ll want to avoid drinking from an unfiltered garden hose.
Still—what, exactly, causes tap water contamination?
Most water purification facilities in the United States use chlorine to kill bacteria in local water supplies. But chlorine alone may not be enough to sanitize this water and make it safe to drink.
Some of the most common tap water contaminants that are resistant to chlorine-based treatments include:
- Certain viruses and bacteria
- Some pharmaceuticals
- Fertilizer runoff
- Heavy metals like lead and mercury
These contaminants can make you sick and lead to long-term health problems. Therefore, you may want to test your tap water to determine its quality.
How to Test Water Quality
Tap water test kits are readily available online, making it easy to determine your home’s drinking water safety. The Varify Complete Water Test Kit (available on Amazon.com) is a top-notch option, as it tests for a variety of potential contaminants.
Kits such as these usually follow a simple process as follows:
- After receiving your test kit, you’ll fill the included vial with water from your home’s tap. Fill the vial with water from your outdoor faucet for the most accurate reading possible.
- Remove a test strip from one of the sealed pouches, insert it into the vial, and hold it there for two seconds.
- After removing the strip, tap it to shake off any excess water gently.
- Hold the test strip by its bottom portion and compare the readings to the color-coded chart on the outside of the test strip container.
This test will reveal the levels of lead, mercury, nitrites, and nitrates in your water. You can use a separate container to test for bacteria levels. Test your outdoor faucet’s water multiple times a week to assess its quality accurately.
Chemical and biological contaminants like fertilizer and viruses aren’t the only things to watch out for when drinking from a garden hose. Physical contaminants, like insects, can also risk thirsty gardeners!
Though you might see your garden hose as a helpful tool to keep your plants well-hydrated, insects and spiders might see it as a potential home.
Unfortunately, insect infestations inside garden hoses are a relatively common problem, and they can make drinking from a garden hose quite unsafe.
Some of the most common critters that inhabit the inside of garden hoses include:
In many cases, you might be unaware that these creatures have taken up residence inside your garden hose, primarily if you haven’t used your hose in several weeks or months. But as soon as you get ready to drink from the hose, they’ll make their presence known.
Naturally, some of these insects are more dangerous than others. For example, spraying a colony of black ants into your mouth likely won’t result in anything more than a briefly terrifying experience.
But if your garden hose contains fire ants, you might end up with dozens or hundreds of burning stings on the inside of your cheeks, on your tongue, and across your sensitive gums. Accidentally dislodging a paper wasp can be even more painful, as can contact with a sopping wet black widow spider.
Still, the most common types of insects you’ll find scurrying around inside your garden hose are ants. Ant colonies can thrive inside garden hoses, as the inside of a hose provides a protected area for ants to build nests.
This inside of a garden hose also simulates underground conditions, providing shade to ants on hot days. But the most common time of year when ants invade garden hoses is the winter, as ants search for an unfrozen area protected from snowfall to continue building their nest.
If you’ve never seen just how many ants can end up living inside your garden hose, check out this brief video:
Hose Materials Impacting Water Safety
Did you know that your garden hose might contain dangerous chemicals and heavy metals? Because manufacturers did not design garden hoses for drinking, many contain elements you wouldn’t want to consume.
Some of the most common chemicals and contaminants found in garden hoses include:
- Bisphenol-A (BPA)
Consuming these chemicals can pose a wide range of risks ranging from increased cardiovascular disease risk to severe liver damage.
Some potential dangers of contaminants and their side effects include the following:
Though lead is most dangerous in children’s hands, as it can significantly impact their development, it can also cause unwanted side effects in adults.
Common symptoms of lead poisoning include:
- Pain in the joints
- Fertility problems
These symptoms can worsen if your exposure to lead-contaminated water is prolonged.
Garden hoses made of PVC typically contain phthalates. These are chemicals often added to plastics and plastic-based polymers to increase their durability.
Contact with materials containing phthalates may not produce any noticeable reactions, but consuming these chemicals can result in:
- Liver damage
- Decreased fertility
- Kidney damage
For this reason, it’s crucial to avoid drinking from PVC garden hoses. Not only does this material often harbor phthalates, but it can also contain BPA.
Most plastic food containers and beverage bottles are now BPA-free, despite the FDA’s assertion that low levels of BPA are virtually harmless.
This change stems from the fact that consumption of BPA is linked to an increased risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
However, you should remember garden hoses aren’t safe food and beverage items. As such, there are few restrictions on them concerning their BPA content.
Hose Nozzles Containing Rust
Because garden hoses constantly contact water, manufacturers typically outfit them with anti-rust fittings. But these fittings can eventually develop rust, especially if they’re damaged by impacts or exposed to high-moisture environments for prolonged periods.
Naturally, drinking from a rusty hose connector can be an unpleasant experience. But consuming small amounts of rust isn’t particularly harmful.
However, rusty metal is a haven for the bacteria that causes tetanus. If you’re drinking from a rusty garden hose nozzle and have a mouth sore or blister, this bacteria can enter your bloodstream and cause tetanus infection.
Symptoms of Tetanus Infection
Contracting tetanus can be a terrifying experience, and it’s something you should avoid at all costs. After all, some of the most common symptoms of tetanus include:
- Muscle spasms
- Rapid pulse.
In extreme cases, individuals who’ve contracted tetanus may need hospitalization to continue breathing normally. Immediate medical care is required in all cases, as tetanus infections can worsen without antitoxins and antibiotics.
Adults should receive tetanus booster shots every ten years, but many choose to forego them due to the comparatively low risk of developing tetanus. Still, if you’ve been drinking from a rusty garden hose, you might want to make getting a tetanus shot a priority.
Precautions for Reducing Exposure to Contaminants
Though drinking from the average garden hose poses several risks, there are ways to make this drinking water safer.
Let’s touch on each solution to help you select an option that suits your budget and preferences:
Invest in a Water Filtration System
You might be familiar with faucet and water pitcher filters, but did you know that you could install a home-wide water filtration system?
Whole house water filtration systems help remove contaminants from the water throughout your home, including the water in your bathrooms, kitchen, and backyard faucet. Some also soften water, removing minerals that can cause limescale or calcium build-up on showerheads, kitchen faucets, and garden hose nozzles.
If you’d like to significantly improve the quality and taste of your garden hose’s water, a whole-home filtration system could help. But these systems aren’t cheap.
Most whole-house water filtration systems cost between $500 and $3,500, depending on the model and capacity of the system. The average price of one of these systems is about $2,000.
Keep Your Garden Hose Out of the Sun
Whole-home water filtration systems can be expensive, but fortunately, there are other ways to make garden hose water safer to drink. One of the most straightforward solutions is to remember to put your garden hose away after each use.
When you leave your garden house outdoors, insects can climb inside via the hose opening. Additionally, harsh sunlight can heat the hose materials, allowing them to leach chemicals that contaminate the water running through it.
Another downside of leaving your garden house outside is exposure to rust formation. Though many garden hoses have brass or stainless steel couplers and connectors, these components can rust after prolonged exposure to moisture.
Remembering to coil your garden hose and store it inside a secure storage shed or on a shady outdoor shelf can help you avoid these issues. Attaching end caps to your hose’s couplers when not in use is also an excellent idea, as these prevent bugs from creeping into your hose.
Purchase a Non-Toxic Garden Hose
Investing in a non-toxic garden hose is yet another way to make your hose’s water safer to drink. Remember, even hoses kept in cool, sheltered areas can leach chemicals into the water flowing through them.
Choosing a phthalate-free, lead-free, and BPA-free hose ensures that your post-gardening sips of water are far safer.
Allow the Water to Run Before Drinking From the Hose
No matter your home’s water filtration system or garden hose material, you’ll want to let the water in your hose run for several seconds (if not a full minute) before taking a sip. Doing so can ensure that any insects or arachnids hiding inside the hose are flushed out.
If you’re unsure whether any insects are living in your garden hose, take a white washcloth or dishcloth and lay it on a garden paver or back patio tile. Aim the garden hose at this cloth and turn on the water to create a low-pressure stream flow.
Run the water for a full minute. Your water is likely safe if the water runs clear and the cloth remains white. But if you notice tiny black or brown specks spilling onto the fabric, the hose is likely contaminated with insect remains and feces.
One of the best ways to flush insects (and their droppings) out of a garden hose is to increase the flow rate of the water running through it. You can twist the outdoor faucet knob to its maximum point to increase the flow rate and flush out the inside of your garden hose.
Drinking water from garden hoses can be dangerous, as this water may contain physical, chemical, and biological contaminants.
For example, the cool inside of a garden hose may harbor insects like ants, spiders, and even wasps. You may swallow these bugs when taking a sip from the hose, especially if you don’t let the water run for a few seconds before drinking.
But the more common threats posed by garden hose water are chemical contaminants. Home water filtration systems and non-toxic garden hoses are the best solutions to keep you safe when drinking water from your backyard hose.