Should you drink tap water or bottled water?

This is the time of year, spring, when a lot of people switch to drinking bottled water instead of tap water. They do this because in their particular area the tap water seems to "go bad" ... usually it is a mild smell or a slightly icky taste. This makes people fear their tap water, so they go to the store and buy bottled water. What has happened in many cases is that the local municipal water supply has done everything it can reasonably do to clean up and make nice the water that comes out of your tap, but there is this slight taste or smell because in the spring, that is what water does in many of our sources, including wells, rivers, and reservoirs. It depends on where you live, and it probably depends on the year as well.

Your municipal water is safe. Tap water always has "stuff" in it that is not H2O, but in the spring, some of that stuff is a bit more detectable than at other times of the year.

People are making two mistakes. 1) Not drinking the tap water because they think it is bad for them. It may be unpleasant, and that may be a reason to not drink it, but it is not bad for you. And, 2) quitting tap water forever, switching to bottled water because they think their water has gone bad forever. Or they just get used to the bottled water and stick with it.

Peter Gleick has a lot of information about Bottled Water, some of which is on his new blog. The total amount of Carbon you are releasing into the atmosphere by drinking a liter of bottled water is something like an order of magnitude greater than for tap water, for example. You just shouldn't be using bottled water if you have a run of the mill municipal water supply.

Speaking of water, Skeptically Speaking just did a show on the topic:

Drinking Water

This week, we’re looking at the science and the history of the water that makes life and society possible. We’ll speak to law and environment professor James Salzman, about his book Drinking Water: A History. And we’re joined by Juewen Liu, chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo, to talk about his work using DNA to detect water-borne impurities that could make water unsafe.

Click here to get the podcast.

Photo Credit: Lightsurgery via Compfight cc


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.


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I don't drink bottled water. The Bay Area has some of the best water in the country. I am appalled by the number of people who drink bottled water here when our water is probably better and absolutely safer (more closely regulated) than any bottled water. Bottled waters are regularly recalled for contamination, there has never been an alert not to drink our tap water.

I have drunk bottled water, and thus have several bottles which I fill with tap water. I had one for more than 15 years before a friend cleaned out the car while on a trip, and threw it away, On the other hand, we had three windmills on the place, and the water from each one had a distinctive taste,

I grew up drinking windmill water. It was pumped into a metal house tank, with a closed lid. We changed out to a bigger house tank, and discovered an owl skeleton in the original one, We never noticed anything, so I wouldn't expect to notice much fluctuation in tap water taste.;-)

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 14 May 2013 #permalink

Well water in Indiana has more minerals than almost any other place in the country. I moved from well water to the city water and several months later my hair stylist was able to tell me how long ago I'd moved by touching my hair!

By LadyAtheist (not verified) on 14 May 2013 #permalink

A more bipartisan approach to Cap and Trade would be to make bottled water free , but levy as draconian tax on bottle caps , applying the proceeds to carbon credits.

Weird, I have been drinking tap water for decades all over Germany; I have never noticed any seasonal change whatsoever. There is obviously a regional difference, e.g. the low calcium, soft water at coastal areas vs. inner city water, but the concept of a seasonal change is completely new to me.

I lived and drank in upstate New York and Boston and did not notice it there. When I lived in the city of Minneapolis I did not notice it but others did, and that is where I first learned of it. Where I live now it is pretty distinct.

Lady atheist, we have a very reliable hard water detection system that tells when we forgot to put the salt in the softener, and it is blond and curly and attached to Amanda's head. (Her hair)

Boston area:

When I lived in North Cambridge there were periodic incidents of off water (taste, color) due to leaf sediment from the Fresh Pond reservoir. They were never considered health-threatening, but that and the general difference in taste was enough for us to get poland springs delivery (big bottles, with dispenser) primarily for tea making. I never noticed whether the changes were seasonal, as opposed to being more related to local weather events.

There may have been some potential issue with use of chlorine on the organic matter but I don't remember now, nearly 20 years later. I don't know what Cambridge's water distribution system is like so don't know if this was "the same" as (Cambridge) Harvard got.

Prior to that (Lexington) and currently (Bedford) I've never felt the need, although I can note that when I moved from Boston (Back Bay) to Lexington I found the water to be buffered more acidically (I had trouble getting the pH to stay up; I was keeping Lake Tanganyikan cichlids at the time).

By Uncle Glenny (not verified) on 14 May 2013 #permalink

I used to live a few blocks from Fresh Pond, which is the site of the first commercial ice harvesting industry in the United States. It is also where the fish Alewife got its name.

Much of the greater Boston water supply comes from the Quabbin. I'm not sure of the role of Fresh Pond over the last century.

We live on a what we call a mountain in northwest Georgia and our water is from a well. It's only slightly hard with essentially no calcium because it's a sandstone mountain. It's probably the best water I have ever drunk. In the nearby city of Rome, the municipal supply is drawn from the two rivers that meet in town, and is usually pretty good. There is some seasonal variation that is not too bad, but occasionally there is a distinct "chemical" smell that is usually the result of an industrial spill upstream. That is less common now, since so many textile mills have closed. The city sometimes has had to reassure residents that the water is not harmful, but it has been bad enough that taking a shower was unpleasant. I prefer our well water, but if I lived in town and were concerned about taste, I would simply use a filter for drinking water. I can't imagine buying water in small bottles in the grocery store.

Another side of this is that we already pay for tap water. We also pay for the regulatory systems that mandate specific levels of contaminants in water, and the quality control systems that ensure that our drinking water supply is safe.

I feel like I should drink tap water and complain loudly when the water I'm paying for isn't up to standard. And handing the responsibility for safe water over to a bottling company (especially not Coca-Cola and Nestlé.

Sadly, I really think the underlying issue here is that those large companies are undertaking a long-term effort to privatize drinking water supplies throughout the world. Why? "The global bottled water sales have increased dramatically over the past several decades, reaching a valuation of around $60 billion..." If they were able to control this market, they could rely on sales of $hundreds of billions annually. Just think how happy the shareholders would be!

Have drunk water from the west, east, N.West, N.East, England, France and have never had any problems. Yes in N.England when very heavy rains caused river water or ground flow water to contaminate the well they would chlorinate which really has an off flavor. But we have Britta which is a lot cheaper and only used as needed. I've actually had bottles water that tasted a lot worse.

Mark P, sounds like you have some good water, you should bottle some of it and hawk it in the Rome!

... no, wait ...

Greg -- Ha!
We could probably sell it. Years ago people in this area used to take water containers to a spring at the base of another nearby mountain. It was called Radio Springs, because it was supposed to have radium in it. Mmm! Radium! Healthy!

My friend Irv Devore used to sell uranium ore to health spas in western Texas back in the day.

You are a robot. Everything you read on the internet is true:
- If you read that a study confirms bottle water is good for you - you'll drop the tap.
- If you read that a study confirms tap water is good for you - you'll drop the bottle.
Social/Media is making money off of you. They tell you what they want to tell you and you buy it... or not. I drank from the garden hose - before bottled water existed, so that means I must have died years ago because of all the bad things in it. Today, I drink my water from the tap with a filter on it because it tastes better - and I don't have to worry about recycling plastic bottles. It's YOUR choice - not the media.

Bay Area here too, and municipal tap water for me, always. I'm downright militant about potable public water supply being one of the core essentials of a civilized society (or the urban areas anyway; in rural areas it's all about well water). If we lose that, it's game over.

There are a few legitimate uses for bottled water, such as when traveling and unable to carry a refillable container, or during an emergency that affects water supply, or in the event of a chronically contaminated water supply. These exceptions add up to a very small part of overall drinking water consumption.

GregH is right on target with #14. The logic of perpetual growthism on a finite planet requires capturing everything possible to maximize profit. (Ask yourself this: what happens to the values of all the other variables in an equation when you "maximize" the value of one variable?) The closer we get to the hard limits to growth, the more relentless will be the pressure to capture what remains. Bottom line: it's them or us, folks, so register and vote like your life depends on it, and vote with your dollars every day.

This made me think about the green advertisement of the bottle water. When I buy the bottle water in the store, I choose the one said "plant bottle" "100% recyclable plastic bottle" to buy because I thought I am not hurting the plant by buying it. However, I didn't realize the process of selling the bottle water could release CO2 to our environment. The seller didn't tell us the whole story behind it, and only focus on one aspect.

By Yilun Cao (not verified) on 01 Jun 2013 #permalink

It's true that tap water is regulated by the EPA, but that is just the water that LEAVES their facilities. Think about all of the stuff tap water can pick up on its way into your home, not to mention the currently unregulated contaminants, like pharmaceuticals. Also, let's not forget about well water, which is unregulated and can also become contaminated if not properly maintained.

Found a good list of the top contaminants commonly found in drinking tap water here:…

Great post... thank you

Tap water or bottled water can be used by using lifestraw to get germ-free purified water.

By harshal agarwal (not verified) on 13 Sep 2013 #permalink

My tap water was dirty so now i only drink bottled water not tap. Even when i go to someone elses house i dont drink the tap water because ive just gone off it

Even small things can affect the world in big ways. Something as small as bottled water, does not seem as harmful as it really is. Nevertheless, the fact is that bottled water can be vicious to our world in many ways. We humans have a responsibility to keep our Earth a safe, harmless place for all of us to live in. There is much we can do to accomplish this. We can use glass or metal for water bottles. We can also regulate the water and bottles extra to check for bacteria to secure our health. At last, we don’t have to change anything but just recycle as much as possible to reduce landfills. Bottled water already has an impact on the world environmentally, economically, and also biologically. All these reasons are interconnected in some way and contribute to harming the Earth. As of now, these reasons might not have as big of an effect, but in the future they will become destructive for our world.