Before cool, crisp water flows through our kitchen faucet, it takes a journey through nature before reaching our homes. The water we drink every day originates from rainfall that turns into rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers.
During this process, it acts as a sponge, collecting sediment, unwanted chemicals, and even harmful bacteria. However, all people, plants, and animals need clean, healthy water to survive.
In today’s world, we are given a plethora of drinking water options, all seemingly the “healthiest choice.”
With so much conflicting information circulating on the internet, it can be confusing to decide what is truly the healthiest option. Even mainstream health information websites can feed us misinformation.
From tap water to alkaline water, deciding on something as simple as how to get your daily hydration needs can become an overwhelming task. So, what is the healthiest type of water to drink?
Filtered water is the healthiest type of water to drink because the water is filtered through reverse osmosis removing 99.9% of all contaminants such as protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. In essence, Reverse Osmosis is considered the Gold Standard of filtered water.
In this article, we will take a deeper dive into the truths behind different types of water, why filtered water is the best to drink, and the best ways to get filtered water into your home.
Potential Drinking Water Contaminants
First things first, it is important to be aware of any harmful elements that your drinking water could be a host to. There are several sources of contamination in water systems, here are the most common:
Agricultural Run-off and Local Land Use (farming chemicals, like pesticides and fertilizers, and livestock can absorb into the ground and be washed into nearby waterways)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) (potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in industrial waste)
Naturally Occurring Chemicals and Minerals (arsenic, radon, uranium)
Lead (a toxic heavy metal that seeps into drinking water from old infrastructure or industrial production)
Bacteria (caused by sewer overflows or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems)
How is Water Regulated?
Now that you know what could be contaminating your water, how is it regulated?
In 1974, the United States Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to protect public drinking water. Under the SDWA, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the quality of public drinking water through a set of standards.
States, local authorities, and water suppliers are required to follow EPA standards and regulations and are monitored by the EPA closely. The EPA sets treatment requirements for over 90 different contaminants, as well as maximum contaminant levels to ensure the safety of public drinking water.
However, these same public water system regulations do not apply to all drinking water. Privately owned wells or other individual water systems, and bottled water follow different standards and regulations.
Private well owners are responsible for their own water quality and contamination testing. As for bottled water, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures the safety and truthfulness of labeling, not the EPA.
What Type of Health Issues Can Be Related to Water Quality?
Each contaminant is toxic in its own way, Mmmmm; therefore, contaminated water can lead to several health issues, including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders.
Certain populations are at higher risk of getting sick from contaminated water, such as infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
While this may seem scary, there are federal laws in place to reduce certain contaminates to a safe level for human consumption.
Different Types of Drinking Water
As mentioned before, there are several types of drinking water. Listed below are the most common drinking waters found in homes and sold commercially as bottled water in your local grocery stores.
Tap water, as referred to as faucet water, running water, and municipal water, is delivered directly into a home via indoor plumbing through a water dispenser valve.
The EPA is responsible for regulating tap water quality through the use of disinfection, filtration, and bacterial/viral testing.
Well water is untreated groundwater that is essentially rainwater that has traveled through the soil and into an aquifer. An aquifer is the underground layer of permeable rock that contains water.
Well drillers drill down to the aquifer to install a pump system that carries the water from the ground to the home. Well water is typically “hard water,” meaning it picks up organic matter and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Hard water tends to stain sinks, tubs, toilets, and dinnerware. Although it is not a safety concern, the orange staining is a common nuisance and most likely requires a water softener and installation of a softening system to remedy the issue.
Well water found in private wells is less susceptible to pollution; however, it is at greater risk for contamination by natural elements, agricultural runoff, and septic tank overflow. Well water must be tested at least once per year.
Water coming from an underground source is called Spring water; however, it must naturally rise to the surface or be collected at the source to be classified as natural spring water.
It is considered pre-purified due to it traveling through limestone, sandstone, and clay. It is then collected for analysis and FDA testing before being bottled and sold.
Purified water has been mechanically filtered through various treatment methods such as coagulation and flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection.
These processes ensure the water is neutralized, filtered of unwanted particles, and clear of bacteria and viruses before companies can label the water as “purified”.
Distilled water goes through a process of boiling and turned into steam, then converted back into liquid water form.
The method of converting liquid water into gas helps remove heavy solids and allows the water to condense back into its purest and cleanest liquid state.
Filtered water is commonly sourced from municipal tap water. Then it runs through carbon filters to remove chlorine to improve its taste. After filtering, the water is ozonated, meaning it is treated with ozone gas to destroy protozoa and create sterile drinking water.
You may have noticed alkaline water becoming trendier over recent years. The theory behind alkaline water is that it will help balance your body’s pH and prevent it from becoming too acidic.
Ingredients like calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium, and bicarbonate are added to create alkaline water to be less acidic than regular water.
If water is below a pH level of 7, it is considered “acidic”. If it is above a pH level of 7, it’s “alkaline”. Although the EPA requires states to keep their public water pH levels around 6.5 to 8.5, several states fall below that at 4.3 to 5.3.
While there are several health claims behind drinking alkaline water – including increased energy, slowed aging, and improved metabolism – there is very limited research to support it.
Sparkling water comes in forms like club soda, soda water, and seltzer water, which are all infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure.
The carbonation gives you the “fizz” of soft drinks and sodas, but with fewer calories.
Sparkling water is equally as hydrating as still water, however, several products include added sugars and artificial sweeteners, so it’s important to scan the nutrition label before purchasing sparkling water products.
Tonic water, much like sparkling water, is carbonated soda water that includes dissolved quinine.
Quinine is a compound that gives tonic water its signature bitter taste. The FDA regulates the amount of quinine content in tonic water products.
Manufacturers will often include added sugars to balance the bitterness, creating a bittersweet taste. Tonic water was used in the early nineteenth century as a medicinal drink for various ailments, including malaria.
Different Ways to Filter Drinking Water at Home
Now that we’ve established that filtered water is the healthiest type of water, you may be asking yourself what method of filtration is right for you and your family.
There are several different ways to filter your drinking water, but what it comes down to is your individual needs, wants, and financial flexibility.
Below are popular methods for at-home water filtration:
Pitchers with Filters
Water filter pitchers have built-in filters that water passes through before being poured out for drinking or other use.
- PROS: Inexpensive, no installation required, very easy to use
- CONS: Vary by model and pore size, filters must be replaced regularly, slower filtering
Refrigerators today typically have a built-in filter that supplies water through the door and/or an automatic ice maker in the freezer.
- PROS: Come with many refrigerators so no installation is required, often improves the taste of the water, may also filter water used for making ice, easy to use
- CONS: Regular replacement of filters
Countertop Water Filtration
Faucet-integrated filtration systems are faucets designed with built-in filters and require installation.
- PROS: Can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water
- CONS: Often expensive, requires installation
Faucet Mount Water Filters
Faucet-mounted filtration systems attach to a standard faucet and you switch on and off between filtered and unfiltered water.
- PROS: Can easily switch between filtered and unfiltered water, relatively inexpensive
- CONS: Do not work with all faucets, may slow water flow
Whole House Water Filtration
Whole-house water treatment devices treat all water entering the house, whether it is drinking or non-drinking water.
- PROS: Treats all water entering your home, which may improve hard water and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- CONS: Often expensive, may require modifications to plumbing, may require professional maintenance, removal of chlorine may increase bacterial growth in all the pipes in your house
Water Bottle with Filter
A water bottle filter has its own built-in filter system which makes it very easy to use. There are different manufacturers of water bottles with filters, some bottle designs filter the water as you drink it, and other designs filter the water as you pour it into the bottle.
· PROSs: easy to use, inexpensive, no installation required
· CONS: must drink through a straw, vary by model, slower filtering, must be replaced regularly
Shower Water Filter
A shower filter is a water filtration system that eliminates chlorine and chloramine from the water, helping to protect your skin and hair from dryness and irritation. Chlorine is a common skin agitator that may develop blemishes, acne, and rashes.
Bathtub Bulb Water Filtration
Much like a shower water filter, a bathtub filter helps to remove chlorine, hypochlorous acid, and sediment from the water running through the bath faucet.
Different Types of Filtered Water to Drink
Depending on what type of filter you choose for your drinking water from the list above, each method requires a specific filtration system.
Different filtration systems produce different results in your water. While some focus more on removing unappetizing tastes and odors from your water, others go a little further with their purification processes.
Three most common filtration systems you will find:
Activated carbon filtered water chemically bonds with and removes contaminants as it moves through the filter.
The effectiveness of activated carbon varies significantly. While some designs are only certified to remove chlorination byproducts to improve taste and odor, other designs remove cleaning solvents, VOCs, and pesticides.
Activated carbon filtration is very efficient at removing metals such as lead and copper, but on the flip side, it does not remove nitrates, bacteria, or dissolved minerals.
Ion exchange filtration removes minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium, to treat hard water, so as expected, water softeners typically use this type of filtration process.
In addition to calcium and magnesium, ion exchange filtration also removes fluoride, and some types even remove radium and barium. However, the levels of other contaminants remain unchanged.
There are a couple of variables to be mindful of if using a water softener. One is if the water contains oxidized iron or iron bacteria, the ion-exchange resin will clog and lose its softening ability.
The other is for individuals with certain health conditions that are required to maintain a low-sodium diet – as regular consumption of softened water is not best advised for these individuals.
A reverse osmosis filtration system involves several water treatment methods. The initial treatment typically includes one or more activated carbon and sediment filters, discussed above, which capture and removes chlorine, VOCs, and other contaminants.
Then the reverse osmosis process allows tap water to pass through a semipermeable membrane. This blocks any particles larger than water molecules from being filtered through.
As a result, reverse osmosis filtration systems remove many contaminants such as arsenic, chloroform, and pesticides, as well as foul tastes, smells, and colors.
Two Types of Reverse Osmosis Systems:
- Point of Use (POU): Also referred to as “point of service” or “single tap”. POUs are located at the faucet and only treat that tap, whether it be a kitchen sink, shower, washer, or fridge.
- Point of Entry (POE): This type of system will treat the water at the point of entry, the main water line. This is an ideal option for a home with water softeners, hard water, or chlorinated water.
Is reverse osmosis water good for you?
The overall health benefits of reverse osmosis drinking water all fall on its level of purity. It is one of the very few drinking sources that contains zero minerals, impurities, bacteria, and/or parasites. Reverse osmosis water filters out pollutants through a membrane filter which stops solids and prominent microbes from passing through.
Due to its highly involved filtration method, reverse osmosis water contains fewer contaminants, has a lower level of sodium, contains no parasites or bacteria, and is even a safer option for patients with cancer to drinking.
Five Additional Benefits of Reverse Osmosis Water:
- Impressive filtration: Reverse osmosis eliminates harmful levels of molecules – such as phosphate, lead, arsenic, mercury, fluoride, chloride, cyanide, and ammonia – which can cause organ complications, cancer, reproductive issues, eye problems, and more.
- Lead removal: The EPA recommends zero presence of lead in public drinking water due to its harmful effects on health including nerve damage, fertility issues, muscle damage, developmental problems, and brain damage.
- Reduces sodium levels: There are several ways sodium can sneak into our drinking water, including natural processes, water treatment methods, and ion water units. The EPA recommends no more than 20 mg of sodium in water sources, which can account for up to 10% of a person’s daily sodium intake. Reverse osmosis systems are a useful solution for those that follow a low-sodium diet as they filter out salt caused by natural and man-made processes.
- No parasites or bacteria: Experts recommend installing a reverse osmosis filtration system if you live in an area that has a dirty water system, as it removes several waterborne parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium, a type of parasite that affects the small intestine and causes fever, cramps, and diarrhea.
- Safer for patients with cancer: due to the absence of parasites and other harmful microbes, reverse osmosis water is safe for individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing radiation therapy. In addition, reverse osmosis water is provided on demand, so cancer patients can use it for cooking and avoid using tap water which may contain bacteria or other harmful compounds.
How to Get Reverse Osmosis Filtered Water at Home
There are two ways to get reverse osmosis filtered water into your home – purchasing or renting.
Both come with their advantages and disadvantages, and again, your decision will depend on your own individual needs, wants, and financial flexibility.
Reverse osmosis filtration system installation can cost on average between $500 to $2,800.
While experts recommend getting a professional to install your reverse osmosis filter, you do have the option of installing it yourself. However, then you will be responsible for any water damage if it is not connected properly.
Hiring a professional may be an added cost of $100-$300 for small units or up to $1,000 for large units, but it comes with a professional’s warranty. You will typically receive notices when it is time to change your filters. If you own the RO system, having a professional come to your house to change your filters typically comes with another added cost.
Leasing a reverse osmosis system typically comes with a monthly cost ranging from $18.00 – $35.00 per month.
Installation, filter changes, and annual sanitation are typically free of charge but depends on the company. The company may also give the option of rent-to-own which includes a new warranty at the time of purchase.
How to test your water quality at home
If you’re curious about the quality of your drinking water at home, one of the easiest ways to test it is by using an at-home water test kit. There are several options available online, but they all typically follow the same instructions:
Fill a test container with a water sample, dip a test strip in, swirl the container, and wait a few minutes with the test strip resting in the water sample.
After removing the test strip from the water, you will compare the color changes on the strip to a color chart that is provided in the kit.
Another option is having your county health department test your water for bacteria or nitrates.
If that is not an option, you can also get your water tested by a state-certified laboratory.
To find one in your area, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/labs.
EWG Tap Water Database
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability.
EWG water quality standards go beyond the federal and EPA regulations and are based on scientific evidence, legal standards, and health advisories.
The Tap Water Database found on EWG’s website applies “no compromise standards for water contaminants that have no federal legal limit that have legal limits too weak to ensure safe water quality.”
To find more information about EWG online, visit their website at EWG Tap Water Database
Doctors Data Assessment
The Doctors Data Assessment is a comprehensive drinking water analysis that tests primary and secondary heavy metals in your drinking water, as well as fluoride and pH levels.
The test is simple and involves a sample of your tap water being sent into the Doctors Data lab to be assessed and analyzed.
Once you receive your levels back, you can compare your findings to EPA regulations and acceptable water quality levels and guidelines This will help to determine if any environmental toxins are present in your drinking water.
If your drinking water does not come from municipal water systems, you most likely have a private well water system.
Private well systems are not tested or regulated by the EPA; therefore, the responsibility of testing the quality of your water falls on you. Even if you currently have a safe drinking water supply, regular testing is valuable.
It is recommended to get your water tested at least yearly. To do so, contact your local township or municipality.
Signs when water testing is recommended:
– Recurrent gastrointestinal illness
– Scaly residues, and soaps that don’t lather
– Stained plumbing fixtures and laundry
– Corrosion of pipes or plumbing
– Gas drilling operation nearby
– Odor of gasoline or fuel oil
– Dump, junkyard, landfill operation nearby
– Salty taste, seawater, or heavily salted roadway nearby
– Water appears cloudy, frothy, or colored
– Water softener is needed to treat hard water
– Unpleasant taste or smell
– Nearby areas of intensive agriculture
– Coal or mining operations nearby
– Radon indoors
– Rapid wear of water treatment equipment
Our bodies are composed of about 70% water. It is important to keep yourself well hydrated, especially if you are in extremely warm temperatures, exercising, working hard, or if you have diabetes.
Water is calorie-free and carbohydrate-free, which is ideal for someone who has diabetes. It is also the perfect beverage for anyone who is trying to lose some weight.
I recently listened to Cindi Lockhart, a registered dietitian from the credentialed Lockhart Wellness Solutions, LLC, on how water, even though essential, is often overlooked.
I learned so many new things about the differences of various types of water, it inspired me to write this article!