Whether you call them "drinking fountains," "water fountains," or "bubblers," there's no denying that public fountains are uber popular and useful during the summer. However, as a camp counselor; and general germaphobe, I often wonder if a water fountain is the cleanest way to stay hydrated in the heat.

So, I decided to do some digging to see if it's worth filling my Camelbak in public water fountains. We all need to drink lots of water in the summer, but we should be doubly cognizant of where this water is coming from. Drink up!

Benefits to Water Fountains

beer, coffee, alcohol
Emery Sereno

The biggest selling point of a public water fountain is its focus on sustainability and environmental consciousness. With public water fountains; people can, in theory, save on the plastic that would be used to buy a disposable water bottle.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in landfills every day. Sometimes, if this plastic isn't disposed of properly, it can find its way into forests or waterways and potentially harm the animals that live there.

Refillable water stations, like water fountains and these at Duke University, have the potential to save thousands of plastic bottles from making their way into the environment. This past year on my floor in my dorm; I had a water refill station, which I used multiple times a day with a refillable bottle.

But Are There Still Risks?

Molly Gallagher

As environmentally conscious as water fountains are, it turns out that, as per usual, Mom knows best. These things are nasty. Multiple studies have been done in the past few years proving that water fountains should definitely be lower down on your list of options when you need to quench your thirst.

Though definitely not the first to start this clean water movement, a 2007 experiment and subsequent study by a then thirteen-year old boy proved that the toilets at his middle school had cleaner water than four other water fountains in the school.

More recently, a 2010 study based in Toronto found that water fountains and water coolers based in Toronto City Hall were dirtier than a dog bowl left outside of a popular coffee shop.

This study used a "hygiene meter" commonly used in food processing plants and hospitals (which generally don't have water fountains, btw), and concluded that, due to the growth of bacteria, additional DNA testing would be needed to figure out just how harmful this bacteria was to the people who used these water fountains.

So What Does This Mean?

wine, beer
Laura Bailey

Well ,why the heck are water fountains so dirty? The quality of the fountain will obviously vary from facility to facility, but it really does boil down to the fact that these public water fountains are so, well, public. With the amount of people using the fountains, they're bound to get stained and grimy, like the one described in this NPR interview.

The older the fountain is, the more likely it is that the water pressure would get weaker, thus forcing the user to get their mouth closer and closer to the spout. If someone sneezes or coughs while getting a drink, forget about it.

Even kids have begun to not trust the water in these water fountains, which is leading to some serious health issues. According to a 2014 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information database, students are so grossed out by tap water, that they're avoiding most tap water in favor of sugary drinks like soda.

ice, wine, soda, liquor, alcohol, beer
Herman Li

The students' complaints make sense, in a way. Tap water, or fountain water in general, has a tendency to just sit there. In contrast to the toilets tested in the 2007 experiment, the water in fountains isn't continually flushed and refreshed, which leads to bacteria growth.

Bottled sodas and juices, and even bottled water, seem cleaner because it is sealed and has been exposed to fewer people before consumption

At the end of the day, water fountains are good enough when you're really in a pinch, but shouldn't be your go-to resource for water when you're out and about. Avoid putting your mouth on the spout in the meantime, but you should really just bite the bullet and buy a Brita.