The Difference Between Distilled Water, Spring Water, and Purified

A woman pours a glass of water from a glass bottle

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When a hurricane flooded our nearby water purification plant, our tap water was no longer safe for drinking, cooking—basically anything besides showering. And I had a newborn baby in the house, drinking a bottle of formula every three hours. Needless to say, I got acquainted with the water sold in the grocery store real fast. And the choices were downright overwhelming.

Where were the days of simply picking a few gallons of bottled water off the shelf? Why did I now have to choose whether I wanted drinking water or purified water? And what was the difference anyway? Wasn’t all bottled water the same? Turns out, not so much.

I did what any mother would do in my situation: I bought a half dozen gallons of each kind and lugged them all home. Something was bound to be good enough for my baby and the rest would have to be good enough for me.

The EPA’s website finally answered my questions—after a few quick clicks, I was a water connoisseur. Now I pass that wisdom on to you, my dear readers.

Drinking Water

Drinking water is just that: water that is intended for drinking. It is safe for human consumption and comes from a municipal source. There are no added ingredients besides what is considered usual and safe for any tap water, such as fluoride.

Distilled Water

Distilled water is a type of purified water. It’s water that has gone through a rigorous filtration process to strip it not only of contaminants but any natural minerals as well. This water is best for use in small appliances—like hot water urns, or steam irons—because it doesn't create the mineral buildup you get with tap water. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this water is not necessarily the best for human consumption, since all of the water’s natural minerals have been removed.

Purified Water

Purified water is water that comes from any source, but has been purified to remove certain chemicals and contaminants. Types of purification include distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration. Like distilled water, it has its advantages and disadvantages, the advantages being that potentially harmful chemicals may be taken out and the disadvantage being that beneficial minerals may be taken out as well.

Spring Water

Spring water is what you often find in bottled water. It’s from an underground source and may or may not have been treated and purified. Though spring water sounds more appealing (like many others, I imagine my spring water coming from a rushing spring at the base of a tall, snow-capped mountain), it’s not necessarily the best water for drinking if you have other options. Research from the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) found contaminants in bottled spring water such as coliform, arsenic, and phthalates. A lot of bottled water is labeled as spring water, but the source of that water is often a mystery (as this Environmental Working Group report makes clear). It is a topic that has been popular in recent years and has sparked plenty of controversy.

What's Best

So what did I choose when faced with the myriad of choices? I chose drinking water; but depending on where you live, you may make a different choice. Additionally, to cut down on plastic pollution, we would always recommend opting for water that comes in glass bottles when possible.

To check the quality of your local tap water, check with the EPA. EWG's Tap Water Database is an excellent resource as well.