Tap water is something that most of us are lucky enough to have access to. However, while it’s certainly a privilege to quite literally have clean water on tap, that’s not to say that tap water is completely free from harmful contaminants.
Bottled water, on the other hand, is considered a step up from tap water. If you’re really privileged, you’ll be able to justify spending money on bottled water whenever you want – perhaps even as an alternative to drinking tap water. But how much better is it than tap water?
In this bottled water vs tap water guide, I’ll be looking in detail at tap and bottled water, sharing the bottled and tap water pros and cons, and concluding with my opinion, based on my research, on which is best.
Table of Contents
🧴 Bottled Water Overview
Bottled water is drinking water that’s sold in plastic bottles that are sealed under sanitary conditions. There are many different types of bottled water – but no matter what you’re drinking, it’ll be “better” than tap water.
What do I mean by “better”? Usually, bottled water comes from springs or underground aquifers, as opposed to our tap water, which usually comes from a treatment center, and before that, a reservoir.
The natural water source of bottled water affects its taste and quality. For instance, bottled mineral water will usually have been produced by natural springs, where water flows through layers of rock that give it an appealing mineral taste.
You might also find bottled purified water, which has been treated to remove all the bad stuff you might find lingering in your tap water. Carbonated bottled water is another popular option.
You can find bottled water in pretty much any supermarket around the world. It can be pretty pricey – it depends what brand you go for, or the type of water you prefer.
Most bottled water contains minerals, and tends to have a more appealing taste than tap water. If you consider yourself a bit of a water snob, you might not want to drink tap water because you don’t like its taste. Buying bottled water might encourage you to drink more water and stay hydrated, which is key for good health.
Convenient for All Occasions
Bottled water is generally more convenient than tap water. No matter where you are, you can quench your thirst at any time if you have a bottle of water to hand. You can drink bottled water in a location that doesn’t have access to tap water, too.
Great Shelf Life
Most bottled water companies advise drinking their product within 1-2 years. That means you can store water bottled for pretty much as long as you like before using them. You could save money on bulk-buying bottled water for less in the knowledge that you’d have plenty of time to enjoy it.
Safe, Healthy Option
If you’re buying bottled water from an established manufacturer, you know for certain that it’s safe to drink. Most bottled water is treated to remove trace contaminants, and options like bottled spring water contain healthy minerals, helping you to meet your RDI (Reference Daily Intake).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers bottled water a food product, so it’s tested and regulated to meet safety standards by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Costlier Than Tap Water
Comparing bottled water vs tap water, bottled water will always cost more than public drinking water. You can spend just pennies on quenching your thirst from your faucet, while bottled water can cost hundreds of dollars per year.
Not Environmentally Friendly
As we continue to understand the importance of looking after the environment, most of us want to cut down on our plastic use wherever we can.
That’s hard to do if you’re getting through a small pile of single-use water bottles per day. Bottled water will always be bottled, and plastic is the cheapest material for the job. Recycling your bottles helps, but doesn’t completely solve the issue.
May Still Pose Health Risks
While bottled water is safer and contains fewer contaminants than municipal water, it may still pose some health risks.
For instance, BPA (Bisphenol A) – which has been linked to health effects like cancer and infertility – can accumulate in bottled water. The materials used in the water bottles themselves may also leach into your water.
Bottled Drinking Water Controversy
According to the Beverage Marketing Association, around 50% of bottled water products are essentially just bottled tap water.
That means you might be paying a premium for something you’d be able to drink for pennies at home.
Additionally, the Environmental Working Group found that bottled water manufacturers failed to disclose to consumers important facts about the safety of products, including contaminants, on their product labels. Some bottled water manufacturers don’t even reveal information about the treatment and purity of their water.
🚰 Tap Water Overview
Tap water, as we all know, is the stuff that comes out of our taps. This water is considered drinking water and is perfectly safe to drink – though it can contain trace amounts of contaminants that adhere to the safety regulations set by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Your local authority is responsible for treating your home’s water and making sure it’s safe for public drinking. This usually involves filtering out sediment and using a disinfectant, like chlorine, to kill harmful pathogens.
The quality of your tap water will depend on a number of factors, including your local area’s water source and treatment processes. You can search online for your area’s Water Quality Report if you want to know exactly what’s in the water you’re drinking (it’s mandatory for all water utilities in the U.S to provide this information, as per the EPA safety regulations).
Comparing bottled vs tap water, perhaps the biggest benefit of tap water is its affordability. We’re incredibly fortunate to have access to public water at such a low daily cost. If you exclusively drink tap water, you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars every year.
More Environmentally Friendly
Drinking water that comes straight from your tap doesn’t need to be packaged, like water in a bottle, as the expectation is that you’ll consume it almost immediately. Considering you’re not contributing to plastic waste when you drink tap water, you can say you’re doing your bit for the environment.
Less Likely to Contain Microplastics
Again, because drinking public water from your tap isn’t bottled, you have a much lower BPA and microplastics risk from drinking it. This is a definite advantage from a health perspective. You’ll also enjoy the health benefits of staying hydrated whenever you have access to water from your faucet.
Can Be Filtered
While public water supplies don’t provide contaminant removal of the same high standard as most bottled water products, you can filter it yourself at home. There are hundreds of at-home water filtration options nowadays, so you don’t have to resort to drinking bottled water if pure, safe drinking water is a must for you.
Tastes Good to Most People
Many people enjoy the flavor of municipal drinking water, even though it isn’t quite as high-quality as bottled water. In fact, most of us couldn’t accurately guess what we were drinking if we were asked to blindly compare water from a bottle and a ground water faucet source.
Doesn’t Taste As Appealing
Bottled water gives you so many options: spring water; water from an artesian well; even flavored water. Tap water, on the other hand, comes as it is. You could add your own flavorings and mineral drops, but it’d take extra effort.
Contains Traces of Contaminants
While bottled water is generally filtered, public water doesn’t undergo the same level of filtration. This means that, while public water consumption is completely safe and mandated by the EPA, this water may contain traces of impurities like lead, nitrates and arsenic, which you’d prefer not to put into your body even at safe levels.
Faucet water that has been treated with chlorine chemicals will also contain small amounts of this chemical and its byproducts. People with compromised immune systems may have to opt for bottled water or consider water systems to filter public water if necessary.
Not As Convenient
If you only drink water from a tap, you’ll need to make sure you have a big supply of it prepared in advance if you’re taking a trip away from home.
Not all public places have facilities for filling up your water, and the water you find in public restrooms isn’t always suitable for drinking. You may need to choose bottled water when you simply don’t have access to tap water.
In the event of an emergency, like a natural disaster or a public water crisis, contamination of your home’s water may occur. Luckily, in the U.S, it’s highly unlikely that you’d ever unknowingly consume contaminated water from your faucet. However, there’s still a small possibility.
How Can I Purify Tap Water?
As I mentioned in the benefits of public water, there are hundreds of options for producing filtered tap water at home.
Two of the most popular choices for purification are reverse osmosis systems and distillers. Both reverse osmosis and distillation can remove more up to 99.9% of all TDS (total dissolved solids) from drinking water. This makes them a great option for anyone looking to drink the purest public drinking water without having to pay more for water from a bottle.
There are plenty of water filter systems that aren’t quite as effective as purification, but can still remove the most common contaminants from public water. Countertop filters, pitcher water systems, under-sink filters and whole home water systems all offer a high level of filtration, with the best systems being capable of producing the same high quality of water you’d find in plastic bottles.
Of course, water systems that filter or purify your home’s water come at a cost, but most are more affordable to buy and maintain than bottled water.
🆚 Tap Water vs Bottled Water: Which is Better?
Both might have their pros and cons, but in my eyes, there’s an obvious winner in this tap water and bottled water battle: tap water.
Bottled water might be more convenient, yes, and it’s nice to have it as an option if you ever find yourself in a location that doesn’t provide free public water. If you do choose bottled water, it’ll still keep you nice and hydrated – perhaps even more so, if you prefer its taste to tap water. You also have the reassurance of it being regulated by the FDA.
However, tap water is better from an environmental standpoint and much cheaper than bottled water.
Interestingly, in blind taste tests, most people couldn’t taste the difference between tap and bottled water, either – so don’t be so quick to choose bottled water for flavor alone.
Plus, you can get the convenience of bottled water by using a reusable water bottle to store your tap water. When it comes down to it, municipal water has all the benefits of bottled water, but without the environmental impact.
You might not be 100% happy with tap water quality, but there’s plenty you can do about that. I would recommend installing one of the filtered water systems mentioned in this guide. These systems are designed to remove common contaminants from public water sources, such as chemicals, heavy metals like lead, and even some pathogens like bacteria.
In all, I’d say that tap water and bottled water both have their places, but in today’s world, there’s no reason for anyone living in the U.S to feel that bottled water is the only way to access high-quality, clean drinking water.
❔ Frequently Asked Questions
Is all bottled water equal?
No. All bottled water products are equal in their environmental impact, but some may be healthier than others. Spring water, water from an aquifer, flavored water and so on will all taste slightly different. They’ll all have their own groundwater source, too. I would recommend checking out the information available by various bottled water companies and taking note of any difference between them if you’re trying to find the healthiest for your family.
Which is best: well water or bottled water?
Well water is generally classed as tap water, as it comes out of your home’s faucets. Well water would be a better option for consumers living in more remote parts of the U.S. In its raw, untreated form, this water isn’t suitable for consumption. But once you’ve removed the contaminants with a filtration system, you can easily get your water from your well tasting as good as water from bottles – especially if you don’t use chemicals to treat it.
Is municipal drinking water really that bad for you?
No. Consumption of public water is highly unlikely to cause any health concerns, as it legally has to comply with EPA regulations. However, you may still wish to know about the impurities found in your drinking water.
There are only a few instances where you may need to protect your family from contaminants in your water, rather than doing so out of choice. If your water travels through lead pipes to reach your home, or your local authority is dealing with a water crisis, consider alternatives immediately.