Quenching Curiosity: Water Fountain Forensics Reveal Bacteria in Public


In our daily hustle and bustle, how often have we paused to refill our water bottles at a public fountain, taking that thirst-quenching gulp without hesitation? It’s a good time to reconsider this seemingly innocent act as we enter the cold and flu season. At WaterFilterGuru.com, we dove deep, swabbing a variety of popular public water fountains to uncover the unseen world of microorganisms that might be hitching a ride with every sip.

📌 Key Takeaways

  • Malls have the dirtiest water fountains.
  • An airport water fountain has over 50,000x of the bacteria of a toilet seat.
  • A dog park water fountain has 3x the bacteria of a kitchen sink.

Exploring the Bacterial Ecosystem

Bacteria are a natural part of our ecosystem, but understanding the types and quantities, especially in places we source our drinking water from, is crucial for informed decision-making. Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of bacteria we found from our swab test.

Bacteria analysis of public water fountains inforgraphic

For starters, airport water fountains housed a staggering 30 million colony-forming units (CFUs) of Gram-positive rod bacteria. Dog parks, gyms, and malls all showed the presence of 30 million CFUs of Gram-negative rod bacteria on their fountains. Shopping malls took it a notch higher with an additional 300,000 CFUs of type II Gram-negative rod bacteria, making them the germiest water fountains of the entire study.

Meanwhile, water fountains at a serene neighborhood park revealed 4.5 million CFUs of Gram-negative rod bacteria and 300,000 CFUs of the type II variant. But what about those modern refill stations that promise clean, filtered water on demand? Shockingly, these stations weren’t completely exempt from bacterial presence either. Our tests highlighted the existence of 4.8 million CFUs of Gram-negative rods and 700,000 CFUs of bacillus.

Not all bacteria are harmful, but many can be. So, the next time you’re out and about, remember these figures and ensure you drink wisely.

Comparing Microbial Loads

When comparing public water fountains to everyday household objects, you might think our homes would harbor more germs, given the constant human interaction and the fact that public spaces are frequently sanitized. But our recent research might turn that notion on its head.

Bacteria comparison of water fountains and household objects infographic

Shockingly, the water fountain at the airport had bacteria counts soaring to over 50,000 times that of a household toilet seat. Yes, you read that right. Think your pet’s tennis ball toy is a playground for germs? Think again. We found that a public water bottle refill station was a staggering 300 times germier.

For those who frequent gyms, before you hydrate post-workout, consider this: The gym water fountain we tested had 20 times the bacterial count of your pet’s dinner bowl. Malls, bustling with shoppers touching a plethora of surfaces, revealed water fountains with bacterial loads 12 times higher than that of a toothbrush holder.

Even outdoor spaces weren’t cleaner. Park water fountains had a bacterial presence nine times greater than the reservoir of your morning coffee machine. And for dog lovers who often find solace in dog parks, a startling find emerged: Water fountains at these parks had three times the bacteria of a regularly used toothbrush holder.

These revelations emphasize the need for vigilance and regular maintenance of public water sources, sanitizing high-touch surfaces more often. While some bacteria are harmless, knowing what we’re potentially ingesting makes a compelling case for being cautious and possibly rethinking how we hydrate on the go.

Reflections on Hygiene

In light of the revelations from our research, it becomes abundantly clear that our routine acts of hydration come with unforeseen risks. The invisible microbial world thriving on public water fountains is a stark reminder of the importance of clean water and rigorous hygiene. While many of these bacteria are benign, the sheer volume and variety we’ve uncovered underscore the significance of ensuring that the water we consume is pure and safe. After all, clean water is not just about taste or clarity; it’s about safeguarding our health.


WaterFilterGuru.com collected samples from surfaces for the purpose of this study; each surface was swabbed once, and the CFUs per swab were averaged for each surface type. A lab conducted three-gram and stain culture swab tests across different types of water refill stations.

There is a number of total bacteria that can be counted on the surface of the culture plate before the colonies begin to overlap. The counts were made in the 1:100 000 dilutions and a comment was included indicating counts could actually be higher. It’s possible that we could have gained further insight into CFU levels with a larger sample size of surfaces. This content is purely exploratory and future research should approach this topic in a more rigorous way. Bacteria definitions were sourced from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov and britannica.com.

About WaterFilterGuru.com

WaterFilterGuru.com is on a mission to help consumers find information, products, and solutions to address their water quality needs because everyone should have clean and safe access to such a vital resource.

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