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Purified vs. distilled vs. regular water

What’s the difference?

This article investigates the differences between purified, distilled, and regular water to find out which is the best for hydration.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on November 24, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on November 18, 2022.

Optimal water intake is essential for your health.

Every cell in your body needs water to function correctly, so you must continuously hydrate throughout the day.

Most people know how vital water intake is, but some are confused about the best type of water to drink.

This article investigates the differences between purified, distilled, and regular water to determine which is the best for hydration.

What is purified water?

Purified water is water that has been filtered or processed to remove impurities like chemicals and other contaminants.

It is usually produced using groundwater or tap water.

Through purification, many types of impurities are removed, including:

Several methods are used to purify water commercially and in the home.

In most Western countries, public drinking water is purified to make water safe for human consumption.

However, standards for drinking water worldwide vary and are typically based on governmental or international regulations.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.

In countries that purify public drinking water, various treatment methods are used to make water safe, including:

It’s important to note that water may be treated differently depending on the area and quality of the local water.

Summary: Purified water has been processed to remove contaminants like dirt and chemicals. In many countries, tap water is purified to make it safe for human consumption.

Health benefits of purified water

While tap water is safe to drink in many areas, it may still contain trace contaminants.

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For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets legal limits that are considered safe for consumers for over 90 contaminants in drinking water.

However, the Safe Water Drinking Act allows individual states to regulate their own drinking water standards as long as they meet the EPA’s minimum requirements for contaminants.

This means that some states have more stringent drinking water regulations than others.

Although measures are taken to ensure that public drinking water is safe for consumption, it can contain trace amounts of contaminants that could negatively impact health.

For instance, the heavy metals lead, and copper is highly toxic to health. They can cause stomach distress and brain damage when ingested over time.

These heavy metals have been known to leach into drinking water, even in countries where public water sources are closely regulated.

By using in-home water filters or drinking purified bottled water, drinking water undergoes another level of purification that can remove metals, chemicals, and other contaminants, depending on the type of purification system used.

Water purification systems like charcoal filters remove chlorine, a common chemical added to the public water supply as a disinfectant.

Several studies have linked chlorinated water to an increased risk of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer.

Another benefit of water purification is that it removes unpleasant tastes associated with chemical treatments, organic matter, or metal plumbing, leaving you with fresh, pure-tasting drinking water.

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Summary: Water purification removes contaminants that may remain in drinking water and improves water quality and taste.

Potential downfalls of purified water

While purified water has many health benefits, it also has potential drawbacks.

For example, fluoride is a mineral added to public drinking water supplies in some countries to improve dental health and reduce dental decay.

Although this practice has led to decreased tooth decay in children, especially in at-risk areas, some argue that fluoridated water is not worth the potential health risks associated with its use.

Excessive fluoride levels can be toxic to both brain and nerve cells, and long-term exposure to high fluoride levels has been linked to learning, memory, and cognitive deficits.

However, experts argue that the level of fluoride found in drinking water is safe and beneficial in reducing tooth decay, especially in children who are only exposed to fluoride through drinking water.

Research on the safety and efficacy of fluoridated water is ongoing, but those who drink purified water should be aware that some purification systems remove fluoride from drinking water.

Some other disadvantages of purified water include:

Summary: Water purification may not remove all contaminants from drinking water, and certain purification systems can be costly and involve upkeep. Certain purification methods remove fluoride, a mineral added to drinking water, to improve dental health.

Distilled water is a type of purified water

Distilled water has gone through the process of distillation to remove impurities.

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Distillation involves boiling water and collecting the steam, which returns to water upon cooling.

This process effectively removes contaminants like bacteria, viruses, protozoa like giardia and chemicals like lead and sulfate.

Because distilled water is exceptionally pure, it is commonly used in medical facilities and laboratories.

Though distilled water is not as ordinary as other types of purified water, some people choose to drink it because it is free of contaminants.

Benefits of distilled water

Water distillation is an effective way to remove contaminants from drinking water.

Levels of pesticides and other chemicals in public water sources like tap water will depend on your geographic location and the agencies regulating your country’s drinking water safety.

Distilled water is essentially free of contaminants like pesticides and bacteria, which could be especially helpful to those with weakened immune systems.

For example, those with HIV/AIDS and certain cancers are at an increased risk of becoming sick from impurities in food and water and may benefit from drinking distilled water.

What’s more, like other purification methods, distilled water effectively removes chlorine from drinking water, improving the taste of water while decreasing your exposure to chlorine.

Potential risks of distilled water

While distilled water is the purest type, it’s not necessarily the healthiest.

The distillation process is very effective at removing potentially harmful contaminants, but it also removes the natural minerals and electrolytes found in water.

Along with unwanted impurities, beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium are left behind as the steam rises during the distillation process.

Distillation typically removes around 99.9% of all minerals found in tap water.

Though water is not typically thought of as a source of minerals, any factor that leads to a decreased intake of essential micronutrients could negatively impact your health.

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For example, drinking water that’s low in calcium and magnesium has been associated with an increased risk of fracture, preterm birth, and heart disease.

However, it’s important to note that tap water is not a significant source of mineral intake for most people, and drinking distilled water should be relatively safe as long as a well-balanced diet is followed.

Like other purification methods, distillation removes fluoride from drinking water, which may put those who choose to drink distilled water at an increased risk of cavities.

This makes it essential for those who drink distilled water to maintain proper dental hygiene.

Summary: Distilled water is purified water that is essentially free from contaminants. The distillation process removes fluoride and natural minerals found in drinking water.

Should you choose purified water over regular water?

In most cases, public drinking water sources like tap water are safe due to the strict contaminant limits set by regulatory agencies.

However, drinking water can become contaminated by natural sources or human activity, affecting water quality.

For this reason, investing in an in-home water purification system may be a good idea, especially for those immunocompromised and more susceptible to becoming ill from contaminated water.

When water contamination is an issue, especially in developing countries lacking proper sanitation, choosing bottled or purified water is always the safest option.

Many purification systems, including charcoal and UV filters, remove impurities that may survive the initial, large-scale purification process that most tap water goes through.

That being said, drinking tap water is relatively safe in countries where public drinking water is regulated for quality and safety.

If you question the quality of your tap water, you can test the water by purchasing a home test kit or contacting a water testing agency in your area.

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Summary: Though tap water is safe in countries where drinking water is regulated, water purification may be necessary for areas where water contamination is an issue.

How to purify your drinking water

Most public drinking water sources are regulated for safety, but some people use home water purifiers to further improve water quality.

Household water treatment units can improve the taste or odor of tap water and remove specific contaminants.

Point-of-use treatment systems purify only the water used for consumption (drinking and cooking). Point-of-entry treatment systems typically treat all of the water entering a home.

Point-of-use systems are less expensive and, therefore, more commonly used in households.

These filtration systems attach to the faucet or sit under the sink and also come in free-standing water pitchers with built-in filters like the popular Brita water filter.

Some refrigerators also come with built-in water purification systems.

Most in-home water filtration systems use the following purification techniques:

Depending on the type and model, prices can range from $20 to hundreds of dollars.

No matter what filter you choose, look for brands with certifications from regulatory agencies like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and NSF International.

These agencies certify that home water purification systems meet or exceed national drinking water standards.

Home water purification systems must be appropriately maintained. As a result, following the manufacturer’s recommendations for upkeep, including filter replacement, is essential to ensure that your water is adequately purified.

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Summary: There are many ways to purify your drinking water, including charcoal filters, UV light filtration systems, and reverse osmosis systems.

Summary

Access to clean drinking water is vital to health.

While most public drinking water sources are closely regulated and safe to drink, many prefer purified water.

Purified water is relatively safe and may reduce exposure to certain contaminants found in tap water.

Remember that water quality can vary depending on where you live. This should be the determining factor when choosing to drink purified water or tap water.

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