Over the past few decades, bottled water has become more and more popular. With its popularity, however, came the dialogue about its actual quality – is bottled water actually good for our health? Is it actually unhealthy? Is there any significant difference between bottled water and the tap water we all have at home? Are we actually just paying several hundred percent more for the same thing when we choose bottled water over tap water?

All these are perfectly valid questions that deserve precise answers. As the dialogue about water has become more and more intense, the amount of misinformation has only increased.

Bottled vs Tap Water

Bottled water companies are insisting that their products are of the highest quality and that the process that water goes through is designed to drastically increase its quality and health benefits. They are also categorically denying that the plastic bottles have any negative effects on the water’s quality.

At the same time, proponents of bottled water claim that there is no difference between bottled and tap water, as well as that the processes that bottled water goes through in the factories of its manufacturers is superficial and have no meaningful effect on its quality. They also claim that the chemicals that exude from the plastic of the bottles into the water have a drastically negative effect on the water’s quality.

So, which is it and what are the facts? It is not an easy task to differentiate between the actually scientific information and all the pseudoscience that either side potentially has at its disposal. But let’s try nevertheless.

​An Overview Of The Situation

One of the key things that everyone must consider before comparing bottled and tap water is that the quality of both is entirely dependent on their distributors. Different brands of bottled water use different sources for their products, as well as different processes in their purification and bottling.

Water Purification Facts

And the same goes for tap water – while all tap water is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), tap water comes from the municipal supply and is managed by each municipality individually. So, depending on where you live the tap water can be “harder” or “softer” as well as be poorly or better managed and purified.

This is why there are entire countries where tap water is generally deemed “not suitable for drinking”. And while the U.S. is obviously not one of these countries, there are cases in different cities and states in the U.S. where tap water has been found to have unacceptable contaminations (like the Flint Water Crisis, for example).

In other words, regardless of the data we’ll provide next, remember that even some of the general differences between tap and bottled water are highly dependent on the situation. So, you shouldn’t just look at the big picture, but also pay attention to the particular brands of bottled water you are buying, as well as the particular city, state or country you live in.

​What Are The General Differences Between Tap Water And Bottled Water?

If we put aside the smaller or bigger differences between the different brands of bottled water and the different municipalities that provide tap water, there is a number of general differences that we can summarize between the two:

Bottled Water Tap Water
Regulated By? FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Bottled Water
Source The water is taken from either natural sources or public sources (i.e. tap water) and goes through a purification process, before it’s bottled and distributed to stores. Water is taken from natural sources, goes through a purification process and is delivered through a system of pipes and pumps.
Method Of Consumption Purchase it from the store. Delivered to your home at nearly 1000 times cheaper price per gallon.
Does It Contain Chlorine? No. In most developed countries – not anymore. In some developed countries like the U.S. – yes.
Does It Contain Fluoride? Usually not. In most developed countries – not anymore. In some developed countries like the U.S. – yes.
Does It Contain Any Other Chemicals? Some brands add “enhancing” minerals and flavors that are supposed to increase the quality and taste of the water, but are usually insignificant or deemed “pseudoscience”. Not explicitly, but depending on the natural source of the water it may contain different types of natural, but insignificant and harmless contaminants.
What About Contamination From The Distribution Method? Plastic water bottles have long been blamed for exuding plastic into the water. And while this is disputed by bottled water brands, the science is pointing towards that more and more. Especially in warm and hot temperatures, bottled water can be dangerous for your health for that reason alone. “Delivered through a system of pipes and pumps” may not be a sentence that inspires a lot of trust – after all, when we talk about pipes, we imagine rusty and dirty pipes. However, the EPA is enforcing very stringent rules on the quality of the system, so the tap water suffers no additional contamination while reaching our homes.
What Is The Cost? From several hundred times to up to a thousand times more expensive than tap water. In the U.S. – about 1 cent per gallon.
Convenience Probably the biggest reason why bottled water has become so popular is its convenience – whenever you are outside and you get thirsty – the nearest store always has bottled water. The low cost as well as the fact that tap water is available in any home, makes it very convenient. The fact it is less available outdoors, however, is what helps bottled water be so frequently purchased.
What Are The Environmental Effects? The bottled water industry is one of the biggest enemies of any environmental initiative. Plastic bottles are made of ~47 million gallons of oil per year and more than 80% of them are not recyclable. This industry produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste each year. The process of acquiring, purifying and distributing tap water is very environmentally-friendly.
How Stringent Are The Regulations? Less stringent. More stringent.


Tap Water

So, as you can see, there are some pretty significant differences between tap and bottled water. For starters, bottled water is significantly more expensive. So, while the individual bottles themselves aren’t stunningly expensive, if you buy bottled water fairly regularly and you sum up all the separate prices, you might end up with one large sum of money that you are paying for water.

Add to that the fact that a lot of bottled water sources come directly from public water supplies (i.e. – simple tap water) and the “purification process” it goes through is usually the same process that tap water has already gone through (and is therefore pointless) or is simple pseudoscience – you’re not only paying a ton of money for water, but you’re paying it for the same water that comes through your sink, only maybe slightly flavored.

On the other side of the debate, the U.S. is one of the few remaining developed countries that still put chlorine and fluoride in tap water. The effects of these two chemicals are intended to keep the water clean of any other contaminants while they themselves are being used in low enough quantities so as to not be harmful to us. And on paper this is true, but the levels of fluoride and chlorine are such so that they are on the verge of having an actually harmful effect on the human body. So, especially for people that drink a lot of water (athletes, people with physical conditions, people that live in hot and / or dry places, etc.) this can be understandably worrying.

If you are looking for ways to deal with the fluoride and the chloride in tap water, as well as to improve its taste, boiling it for 10-15 minutes and leaving it in the fridge is the good ol’ way, but for something more modern, you can use different countertop water filters, under sink filters and refrigerator water filters to deal with this as well.

Something that you can’t deal with, however, is the plastic that is often exuded from the plastic bottles into the water. Bottled water brands maintain that they use the highest quality plastic there is and that this is a myth, but especially in warm or hot conditions, it is a scientifically tested fact that the plastic contaminates the water. As a result, you should never drink bottled water that has been left in the sun, in a car, or even just in any unrefrigerated place for too long. And, if you consider the fact that you buy the bottled water from convenience stores and not directly from the manufacturer – you have no guarantee on how exactly the bottles were stored.

And, if you are environmentally conscious, you probably know that the bottled water industry is one of the major environmental threats of the 21st century. Add these factors together and you can see why water filtration bottles are becoming so popular.

Lastly, there is the fact that the regulations on tap water by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are much more stringent than those on bottled water by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). So, while bottled water contains less fluoride and chlorine, with it you are never really certain what you are drinking (and whether or not you are drinking the bottle itself).

Aquagear Water Filter Pitcher Review

​Should You Buy A Water Filter?

After being bombarded with so much info it may be a bit confusing to decide what exactly your best course of action is. There are a lot of objective negatives that can be told about bottled water, but tap water – especially in the U.S., compared to other developed countries, as well as in many developing countries – has its downsides as well. Especially in the event of natural events and disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, tap water can become significantly unsafe.

So, in our opinion – if you are living in a city, state or area, where the tap water is proved to be of high quality, sticking to tap water is both the cheapest and healthiest thing you can do, especially with the help of high quality whole house systems, faucet water filters or refrigerator water filters. And by utilizing small glass bottles (or thick plastic bottles) you can also make sure that you are never left thirsty while you are outside. However, if you live in an area where tap water is of questionable quality or some recent events have made tap water undrinkable – bottled water can be your savior.

Resources:

​NYTimes​​​

WebMD