Tap Vs. Bottled Water

Is Tap Water Just As Safe As Bottled Water? The Answer May Surprise You.

Bottled water represents more than a $10 billion dollar industry annually and in recent years its growth has exploded, making it the fastest-growing beverage across the country behind only carbonated soft drinks.  In fact, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola have their own brand of bottled water.


Not that many years ago, most Americans got their drinking water straight from the tap, whether from city water lines or from a well. Now bottled water is hot commodity at supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores as fewer people are drinking water from the tap. Americans are consuming more than 7.5 million gallons of bottled water each year, according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). The question that remains is if bottled water is better for you than water from the tap?


First consider that both bottled water and tap water are regulated, however each fall under a different governmental agency.  Whereas the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) governs tap water standards, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a packaged food product.  The role of the FDA is to monitor and inspect bottled water products and the processing facilities under its food safety program. When the FDA inspects these water-producing facilities, they verify that the water supply is from an approved source, inspects equipment and assures that the company properly analyzes their source water and product water for contaminates.  The FDA usually adopts all water standards from the EPA for municipal systems, so the FDA requirements for bottled water usually mirror those set forth by the EPA for municipal systems.


According to the EPA, 90 percent of water systems in the United States meet standards for tap water quality. Municipal water systems must meet approved quality standards to safeguard the public from contaminants.  The EPA requires water suppliers to test water samples against their set standards and require by law that water suppliers report any breach in the limits set forth by the agency to news media. Water suppliers are also required to send annual reports to their customers.


Those with private well however, are of the greatest concern for potential contaminants. Citizens with well water should have annual samples checked for potentially high levels heavy metals that exceed recommendations. Also, citizens who live near farms or industrial areas should also consider having their water tested regularly.


The EPA states that tap water is usually just as safe as bottled water, despite the popular misconceptions in the last few years that bottled water is more pure. Often times, bottled water is nothing more than municipal water bottled from another city or town and labeled for sale under a company brand name. The EPA states that while most bottled water must meet required levels, sometimes, bottled water may not receive the same stringent testing that is required of municipal water sources. Consumers should verify the source of the aquifer. 


The truth is that in almost every situation, tap water is just as safe and certainly much cheaper.  In some circumstances, however bottled water can be the best choice. Acidic water can leach lead from older pipes found in some homes and minerals found in water can discolor clothing. Often times, irons or water humidifiers call for distilled or purified water rather than tap water. Distilled water is boiled to vapor, which leaves most minerals and contaminants behind and then recollected from condensation. However, distilled water is usually not the best choice for drinking water because of its bland taste. Actually, it’s the mineral content in water that gives water an individual flavor.


Another advantage to tap water is fluoride found in most municipal systems. While many bottlers now add fluoride, having it in your water is essential for healthy teeth and preventing tooth decay.


Pay attention to your drinking water regardless of the choice between bottle or tap. If you choose bottled water, check the label. The source of the water is usually placed on the label of every bottle. Bottled water can be from artesian well, mineral water, spring water, well water or may come from just another municipal system with an extra purification process. Many grocery stores sell store-brand water bottled from another municipality. While still subjected to the same EPA guidelines and FDA approval, it is still just another city’s water.


If you choose to drink your water from the tap, make sure to check your water system’s annual report, which you should get through the mail. If not, call your utility department and ask for a copy. 


So why does your faucet water taste different than bottled water? Water from municipal sources usually has chlorine added and straight from the tap, it often is responsible for any odd taste. If your water seems otherwise clear, try placing water in a pitcher uncovered in the refrigerator overnight and taste the next day. This can help alleviate the taste of the chlorine. 


Another popular option can be adding a water filtration system. These attach to your faucet and can be purchased from a retail store for usually around $25.00. These filters can eliminate any remaining contaminants and improve the taste considerably.


If your home has old pipes or you believe your water is acidic, have samples tested. You can actually test the pH of your water yourself using a kit from a company that sells swimming pools or in the aquarium section of a pet store. If your water appears cloudy, it can be simply from air bubbles.


Chances are your city’s water supply is perfectly safe to drink straight from the tap. Some consumers will take comfort in using a faucet filter from companies like PUR or Brita while others feel better about drinking bottled water. Whatever type of water you drink, make sure that you consume enough to replenish that which is lost each day.



FDA regulations on bottled water

EPA on safety of tap water

International Bottled Water Assocation website