Filtered Water From Your Tap is Healthier Than Most Bottled Water. Here’s Why + a Quick Comparison of Popular Filters.

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I’m noticing more and more reports lately that cities are finding harmful pollutants in their drinking water, even after it’s been processed by the local water company. It’s scary to think about what we might be drinking — and it’s not uncommon to think that switching to bottled water will solve the problem.

Unfortunately, it will not. (Though there is light at the end of this tunnel, I promise!)

Just like tap water, it has been shown that bottled water is also contaminated with toxins. But since many of the contaminants found in bottled water are not regulated by the FDA, they do not have to be included in the bottled water company’s quality tests. This incomplete reporting can make bottled water appear safer than it really is.

You may have also heard that some bottled water is simply filtered tap water. But while each city’s local water company has to disclose the results of their water tests to consumers, these bottled water companies do not have to reveal their results.

Let’s restate that for clarity:

  • A local municipality tests its water and finds that it is contaminated with some unsafe toxins. By law, they report it to their local consumers.
  • A private company bottles that town’s tap water and sells it to consumers around the country. Their tests may find the same contaminants, but there is no law forcing them to report it to their consumers.
  • Consumers think they are making a safer decision by drinking the bottled water without realizing it came from the same tap. Maybe the bottled water has been further filtered to remove the contaminants. Or maybe it hasn’t. There’s no legal way to tell.

Fortunately, independent studies are conducted periodically by concerned groups, which help to expose the contaminants in bottled water. Even better, water purification technologies have become ever more effective and affordable, making it easier and healthier to filter our own water at home.

Let’s first check out what the studies are finding, then we’ll compare a few of the more popular filters.

What’s in bottled water?

At least two independent studies (by EWG and a German study) have found pesticides, VOCs, bacteria, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and more in popular brands of bottled water.

The German study also noted that if the plastic water bottles are “exposed to high temperatures, they can become contaminated by the degradation of the material from which the bottle was made.” A recent 2018 study has also found particles of polypropylene and nylon that they believe may have leached from the bottle cap.

Of the 259 total bottles processed, 93% showed some sign of microplastic contamination… Data suggests the contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself. (source)

While our larger concern may be the health issues, we can’t discount the fact that bottled water is also incredibly expensive, costing up to hundreds of times more than tap water.

Drinking from plastic water bottle

Ultimately, what is the clean water solution?

It’s simple. A quality water purification system can help to remove unwanted contaminants from your tap water. Pour that water into your own glass bottle and you’re good to go. While these systems can be more expensive up front, they are far more cost-effective in the long run, not to mention healthier, compared to bottled water.

You can check out my in-depth article that compares popular water filtration technologies to decide which may work best for your home. But for now, let’s quickly summarize the options.

Water purification systems for your home

  1. Reverse osmosis (RO) removes almost everything from your water. Bacteria/microorganisms, arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates, some pharmaceuticals, and perchlorate are all filtered out. In fact, RO filtration is so comprehensive that ALL minerals are removed, including beneficial minerals. For this reason, a good RO system will put calcium, magnesium, and (sometimes) other minerals back into the water. That said, they don’t re-introduce everything. A common solution is to supplement with drops of seawater. The sea’s natural mineral bank more than restores what the RO system has removed. (Check out Aquasana’s RO filters.)
  2. Activated Carbon: The efficacy of activated carbon filters varies greatly. Some – which typically come in the form of the granulated carbon – only remove chlorine. These are meant solely to improve taste and odor. Others – typically in the form of a carbon block – also remove solvents, pesticides, VOCs, mercury, lead, asbestos, some radioactive contaminants, large parasites, and some pharmaceuticals. (Check out Aquasana’s carbon filters.)
  3. Ceramic + Activated Carbon + Silver: Ceramic alone can block only solid contaminants such as cysts and sediment. But when combined with carbon and silver (a powerful antibiotic) the system also removes bacteria and parasites, chlorine, some radioactive contaminants, some pharmaceuticals, most solvents, pesticides, chemicals, and some heavy metals. (See how Berkey Water Filters work.)
  4. Water Softeners remove barium, radium, mineral salts (that can build up in pipes and fixtures), and other electrically charged molecules (ions). The softening process typically uses sodium to replace minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. As a result, water softeners are not recommended for those seeking to lower their sodium intake. (They’re also not advised for watering plants and gardens.) If you’re worried about excess sodium intake, you might be interested in Aquasana’s sodium-free water softener.
  5. Distilled water machines heat your water enough to vaporize it. The process leaves most minerals, heavy metals, and chemical contaminants in their liquid states in order to separate them from the steam. The machine then condenses the steam back into the water. The process is highly effective at removing most bacteria, viruses, and chemicals, however (like reverse osmosis) it also removes beneficial minerals and is therefore not recommended to drink regularly without re-mineralizing the water. (Check out this stainless steel water distiller on Amazon.)

Which filter should you choose?

If you’re not sure which purification system to choose — or whether you even need one — you might consider testing your home’s tap water (it’s easier than you might think). This way, you can see which contaminants are present and make the most informed choice.

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