Let me guess. Your pipes have burst and your wife has sent you to the supermarket for clean water and you don’t know what to buy. Why are there so many kinds of water?!
Hang in there. Distilled and purified water are often used interchangeably, but they’re obtained through different processes, and you can do both at home. Purified water is made from many purification methods, the most common involving various types of filtration but also including distillation. Distilled water is the result only of the distillation process.
So, while all distilled water is purified water, not all purified water is distilled water. Still confused? Don’t worry. This comparison will give you an overview of what both terms mean, how purified and distilled water affect your health, and how you can use them to your benefit.
What Is Purified Water?
Purified is the term used to describe water obtained through any type of purification process, including reverse osmosis, ion exchange, chemical disinfection, coagulation, ultraviolet filtration, carbon filtration, or distillation—to name but a few. Each process removes impurities from water.
However, for water to be classified as “purified,” it needs to have less than 10 PPM of the total solid content after it is cleaned using any purification process. Purified water should comply with all the conditions set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for determining drinking water quality.
Your tap water is technically purified water because municipal authorities use one or more purification methods to remove all kinds of nasties, including metals, microorganisms, and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), from your water before sending it to your home.
However, water quality varies in different regions and can still be undrinkable regardless of local water treatments. Furthermore, if you get your tap water from a private well, it has not been treated and any number of contaminants can be present in your water. Setting up an appropriate purification system in your home can improve the quality of your drinking water and produce healthy, clean purified water.
Common Home Water Purification Methods
As I mentioned before, distillation is just one of many water purification methods. To truly understand how diverse the world of purified water is, you must have a basic understanding of the other types of home purification and the different mineral and chemical makeup they result in. Here are the three most common:
Reverse osmosis (RO)
RO is the most popular and a highly effective filtration system that uses water pressure to force polluted water through semipermeable membranes of micron size as small as 0.0001 micron.
Through reverse osmosis, you can remove bacteria, viruses, protozoa, chlorine, lead, arsenic, chromium, copper, iron, nitrate, radium, chlorine, sulfur, and minerals such as sodium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. RO combined with sediment and carbon filters can remove any kind of pollutant in water.
Carbon filtration can remove pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceutical residues, chlorine, chlorine by-products, phosphates, and hydrogen sulfide from water. It removes all the odors from water and improves its taste. The granular-activated carbon inside these filters traps pollutant molecules via chemical absorption.
Carbon filters are not capable of removing heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, or minerals from water.
Ion-exchange filters can remove a variety of pollutant ions by swapping them with other ions of the same charge. This solid and proven technology is used in water softeners to reduce the concentration of calcium and magnesium ions by replacing them with sodium ions.
Ion-exchange filters can replace many kinds of toxins, such as iron, manganese, sulfates, nitrates, arsenic, chromium, and selenium with other more desirable ions. Some designs can even tackle radioactive metals like boron and uranium in water.
Ion-exchange filters cannot remove bacteria, viruses, or protozoa.
Why Drink Purified Water?
Purified water is hands down the safest form of drinking water and there are a number of important factors that make it so. Here are the reasons why you should use purified water at home.
It’s free of contaminants and safe for consumption
The EPA defines purified water as water that is free of all kinds of pollutants that can harm the body. Although it may contain trace amounts of toxins, trace amounts are nothing to worry about because they fall within safe limits determined by the government.
Water treatment plants use a series of treatment processes, such as flocculation, coagulation, sediment filtration, and disinfection, to banish heavy metals, organic waste, chemical pollutants, and microbial contamination.
Countries such as Canada and Switzerland have the cleanest municipal tap water because they use the most advanced purification technologies. There’s no need to further purify water at home where tap water is monitored to such a thorough degree.
But in the US and other areas, you might need to install at-home purification systems to tackle potentially harmful impurities that your local municipality might fail to remove. You also might want to add purification to remove chemicals and compounds added by the municipal treatment process or accumulated en route to your home from old or broken pipes.
If you own a private well, on the other hand, your tap water might get contaminated due to aging pipes, cracked well walls, or surface runoff. A high-quality home purification system is the best way to get healthy drinking water from a private well.
At-home purification systems can purify your tap water by removing bacteria, viruses, VOCs, tannins, chlorine, sulfur, disinfection by-products, lead, arsenic, iron, copper, and radionuclides. Purification processes can also bring down the concentration of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and fluoride.
It’s healthy and tastes delicious
Naturally present minerals and electrolytes in tap water can improve its taste as long as they are present in safe amounts. Of course, some people don’t like the taste of minerals in water and think it tastes metallic. This is especially true for people with hard water, which is an excess of dissolved minerals. The difference in taste may help you decide which purification method is best for your home, since some remove most minerals and some don’t.
The purification systems that do not remove minerals from tap water or well water include activated carbon, greensand, UV, and gravity-based filters. Thus, water purified using these systems often tastes fresher and healthier.
The good-tasting minerals and electrolytes in some purified water include sodium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and bicarbonate. Your taste buds can quickly perceive the presence of minerals and give you a feeling of freshness. The presence of these electrolytes in tap water will vary based on location, and in some cases are only present in trace amounts.
Electrolytes and minerals in water help regulate your blood’s pH levels and improve heart and brain functionality. They also play a role in boosting the body’s immune system and helping regenerate body tissues. Consuming these electrolytes is imperative for the normal functioning of the body. However, it’s important to note that for people with a healthy, balanced diet, it’s not necessary to get these minerals from water.
Did you know that our brains associate certain emotions with the taste of what we consume? Properly purified water should taste refreshing, clean, and crisp. It will feel better to your taste receptors and encourage you to drink even more, helping you stay more hydrated and, ultimately, healthier.
It’s better for your home
Some purification systems have implications for your home beyond what fills your glass. For example, a whole-house reverse osmosis (RO) water purifier can prolong the life of your plumbing system, appliances, water softeners, and water heaters by preventing the buildup of dissolved minerals like magnesium, calcium, manganese, and iron. These minerals in excessive amounts can block pipes and showerheads, and stain your sinks, toilets, and laundry.
Installing an in-home purification system that removes minerals, such as RO, can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Why Not Drink Purified Water?
Although it’s the best form of water for drinking, there are still a few disadvantages to keep in mind.
In-home purification is costly
Though there’s some variation in price depending on method and model, good-quality in-home purification equipment doesn’t come cheap. You’ll have to invest in its installation, maintenance, and periodic replacement.
If your water is a deadly cocktail of a wide range of impurities, you may need to invest in more than one filtration system to achieve the desired purification level. Carbon and UV filters can cost you between $100 and $1,000. Reverse-osmosis systems and ozone filtration are more expensive and can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000.
It entirely depends on the number of impurities you need to remove, the size of your home, the required water pressure, and the brand you’re going with. But according to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of adding a water purification system to your home is around $2,000. And if you add the maintenance cost, the average sum increases by several hundred dollars per year.
Filtration units require regular maintenance and replacement of components like cartridges and filters. Irresponsible and careless disposal of filtration units leads to landfill that destroys the environment. Filters containing toxins should be treated as chemical or industrial waste and disposed of accordingly.
Moreover, filters that use backwash technology consume almost 30–50 gallons of water in each cycle to flush out the toxins from the tanks. This is a big waste of water unless you set up a system that reuses this water for gardening or cleaning your car.
Purification may not remove some toxins
If you use a purification system to get purified water, you should know that one filtration unit cannot always remove every last toxin from water. You should have your drinking water tested for contaminants regularly and find a filtration unit that is designed to tackle them specifically.
In other cases, if you’re not regularly maintaining your filter unit, it can malfunction and fail to remove all the contaminants in your drinking water.
Removal of beneficial minerals
If you’re on city water, your tap water contains fluoride, which the government began adding to water in the 1940s to prevent tooth decay. All private water systems are regulated to maintain a specific concentration of fluoride through water fluoridation. But when this water runs through an in-home reverse osmosis purification system, fluoride is removed along with other useful minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and bicarbonates. This water, although purified, is devoid of healthy minerals that are important for good health.
Note that only reverse osmosis and the distillation process are capable of removing minerals and electrolytes from water. Some latest reverse-osmosis systems come with an in-built remineralization filter that adds the removed minerals back to the drinking water.
The damages of bottled purified water
In some regions, due to the absence of drinkable groundwater, people use purified bottled water to fulfill their needs. According to a poll conducted by the Water Funder Initiative, about one-third of Americans use bottled water. Although it’s a safe form of water and preferred over tap water in many places, its financial and environmental costs are often overlooked. There’s a shocking difference between the costs of tap water and purified bottled water.
Let me paint a picture: 1,000 gallons of tap water equals 6,397 bottles of water. In the US, a medium-sized family pays an average of $0.002 per gallon for tap water while one gallon of bottled water costs about $9.60! These estimates prove that bottled purified water is a thousand times costlier than tap water.
Not only that, but using plastic bottles to distribute purified water is wreaking environmental havoc. Almost one million plastic bottles are sold every second, and only 20% of the plastic is recycled, leaving 80% of single-use plastic for landfills. According to the Pacific Institute, we drill almost 17 million barrels of oil to produce plastic bottles that fulfill the needs of Americans. And the environmental damage associated with drilling for oil is devastating on its own.
Unless it’s extremely necessary and the only source of drinking water in your region, try not to use bottled water.
What Is Distilled Water?
Distilled water, as the name suggests, is created by distillation—a process that vaporizes water and condenses it back to liquid. This method can remove almost 100% of contaminants and foreign matter in water.
Contaminants in water have a higher melting and boiling point than water molecules. Upon boiling, water molecules are quickly converted into vapors, whereas materials with higher boiling points are left behind and separated from pure water.
Distilled water is free of all contaminants, but here’s the catch—it’s also free of natural minerals and electrolytes. And this is what distinguishes it from purified water. Purification methods, such as reverse osmosis, remove healthy minerals and electrolytes from the water to varying degrees, and some latest RO systems are more likely to leave behind beneficial minerals than others, but distillation takes it a step further and removes everything, 100%, including the good stuff.
Why Drink Distilled Water?
Still, drinking distilled water is not without its benefits, especially for people who, for whatever reason, need water that contains no additives, minerals, or contaminants.
Completely free of contaminants
Distilled water is free of 99.9% of contaminants and minerals. It is essentially the most effective way to remove almost all types of hazardous compounds in water. Moreover, distillation effectively removes all kinds of questionable odors and tastes in drinking water.
This is why distilled water is so prevalent in labs and hospitals. Its high purity also makes it useful in the cosmetics and automobile industries.
Suitable for a weak immune system
Compared to other types of water, distilled water is less likely to cause complications in immunocompromised patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other conditions. Distilled water is free of chemical contamination that could trigger infections in patients going through a medical treatment, such as an organ transplant or dialysis.
Elderly people and babies born with weak immune systems can benefit from drinking distilled water. For example, if you mix baby formula in distilled water, your kid will get the most out of the solution.
Other uses at home
Have a sore throat or blocked sinuses? Use distilled water with a neti pot. It’s free of irritants that can cause congestion, inflammation, or infection.
In that same vein, using distilled water in humidifiers will keep the toxins out of the air you breathe.
Washing your face and hair with distilled water is a good way to prevent any damage caused by excess minerals and salts in water.
Steam ironing using dirty water can stain your clothes. Distilled water will free you from the fear of spoiling your white outfits.
Why Not Drink Distilled Water?
While distilled water is super clean, there are a few important reasons why it can never replace purified water.
Devoid of essential minerals and electrolytes
Distillation eliminates all essential minerals and electrolytes, including phosphorus, bicarbonate, potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium present naturally in water. Your body needs these minerals in appropriate amounts to function properly. If you fail to fulfill your daily intake of essential minerals, you can develop severe health issues.
While there’s an argument to be made that you can replenish your minerals through healthy food and supplements, one should not dismiss the fact that water plays an essential part in our diet. In fact, some studies show that drinking water with low mineral and electrolyte content can lead to fatigue, tiredness, muscle weakness, and heart disease. If you’re a gym rat, you must consume a balanced amount of electrolytes to maintain body fluid levels and replenish the lost minerals through excessive sweating.
For those of you with aquatic pets, distilled water in aquariums is a bad idea unless you plan on adding minerals and supplements to the tank. Your fish friends need nutrients in the water to thrive, just like you.
Distilled water can absorb minerals from the body
Some researchers suggest that since it lacks minerals, distilled water tends to absorb a small amount of minerals from its surroundings. It can even zap your vegetables of their vitamins and minerals if you cook with it. So, drinking distilled water with an unbalanced diet can pose serious health risks, especially in children who need minerals and supplements to grow their bodies.
If you’re a healthy adult and properly monitoring your diet, distilled water is safe to consume.
Distilled water is super bland
Distilled water is free of minerals and electrolytes, which is why it tastes flat and boring. If your water doesn’t taste fresh, it can discourage you from keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Some people believe that coffee made in distilled water results in the best taste, but that’s not true. The Specialty Coffee Association of America says you need some mineral content in water to brew the best-tasting coffee.
Distillation is expensive
In-home distillation systems are very expensive and can cost $5,000 or more. Besides the hefty up-front cost of the equipment and installation, the system operates on a lot of power. Not only would it break your bank, but it’s also not very eco-friendly.
Which One Is Best for You: Purified Water or Distilled Water?
It’s totally up to you to decide!
If you live in a region where the city water doesn’t have many problems, your tap water is safe to drink. It undergoes multiple treatments and is stripped of unwanted toxins and materials before being supplied to your home.
If you’re concerned about your water quality, however, getting an in-home purification system is the best choice. Filtration units such as carbon filters, ultraviolet systems, and reverse osmosis can efficiently bring metals and VOCs to safe levels. Depending on which purification method you choose, you can even control the level of beneficial minerals in your water while still removing dangerous contaminants. Purified water easily takes the lead over distilled water on this front.
But if the groundwater in your location is a hazardous mixture of dozens of toxins, for example if you’re off the grid or if you have a well that needs updating, the purification system may fail to perform its job. You might need to opt for a distillation system to tackle the excessive contamination.
Drinking distilled water is safe as long as you diligently fulfill your daily mineral needs from other healthy sources. You should note that distilled water is purely H2O, free of all the useful minerals that give water its fresh and healthy taste and improve the functioning of your body. Although it’s not harmful to consume, it doesn’t provide any nutrients to your body and is very flat and bland.
Distilled and Purified Water: Final Thoughts
Ultimately, distilled and purified water are similar but not the same. You want your water to be as clean as possible, and municipal water treatment techniques don’t always achieve that, so you may need to take matters into your own hands. There are downsides, however, to water that’s too clean, especially for drinking and cooking.
The decision largely depends on the quality of tap water in your area, whether well or municipal. Have your water tested, and if there’s anything in your tap water that you don’t want to consume, in-home purification systems can easily take care of them.
In case it’s contaminated to the extent that filters are rendered useless, or if you’re for some reason frequently conducting science experiments at home (I won’t ask) you can go for distilled water, but don’t forget to fulfill your daily mineral intake.
Whatever method you choose, drinking clean water is essential for humans to thrive, so ensure your water is as clean and safe as you can. Good luck and bottoms up!
If you’re looking for more information on different types of water filters, you can check out our articles on “Faucet Filter vs Pitcher Filter,” “Difference Between a Water Softener And a Water Conditioner,” “Is Reverse Osmosis Water The Same as Distilled Water?,” “Water Softener vs Water Filter,” and “Berkey Vs Reverse Osmosis: Which is Best For You?” to understand the differences and benefits of each system.