Whether steeping a nice cup of English Breakfast or quenching cotton-mouth from that hit of Unquestionably OG, you should always take your drinking water seriously.
These days, almost everyone knows the importance of staying hydrated, and that the average adult body is comprised of about 60% water—even more for those with lots of lean muscle—but too few actually think about the quality of their drinking water.
This guide will help you find the best-tasting and healthiest drinking water to stay hydrated…and explain why tap water ranks dead last.
- Best Sources of Drinking Water
- What’s Wrong with Tap Water?
Best Sources of Drinking Water
These are the best sources of drinking water, ranked from worst to first.
5 . Tap Water
As a kid, you probably drank straight from more faucets and hot garden hoses than you can count—and that’s perfectly fine.
Despite all the confusion and debate surrounding tap water, it is still good enough to drink. However, it does contain certain chemicals you might not want circulating through your body.
These include chlorine, fluoride, or possible contaminants from compromised water systems.
Additionally, most water treatment methods remove minerals crucial to your health and wellbeing—but more on that below.
4. Home Water Filters
One way to make tap water healthier—and tastier—is to use a water filter. You can use a pitcher system, like this one from PUR, or a large dispenser that sits on your counter or in the fridge, such as this option from Brita.
There are also faucet systems that allow you to filter one sink in your home, or whole-house systems that deliver clean water to every single faucet.
The drawback to filtration systems of any kind, however, is the price. Generally speaking, the more you want filtered out of your water, the better filter you’ll need…and the more money you’ll spend on it.
There’s also a time and effort factor involved, since you’ll have to replace filters regularly to keep particle-reduction optimal. Lastly, refilling pitchers or tanks can be tough to remember.
3. Bottled Water
Bottled water is good for on-the-go hydration, and is usually clean with a pleasant taste.
The cost adds up, though, as does the plastic. Filling landfills with that stuff is far from ideal, especially since it takes over 400 years for a single bottle to degrade.
What’s more, that plastic could be harming your health, one sip at a time.
A 2018 study found microplastic contamination in 93% of the bottled water brands it tested, sourced globally from multiple sources.
In terms of health consequences, experts continue to disagree about the effect these particles have on the human body. Most deem the research inconclusive thus far, but some studies indicate cumulative exposure can lead to toxicity, oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and neoplasms that may or may not become cancerous.
With that in mind, bottled water is generally fine to consume, and it’s certainly preferable to dehydration. Exploring more eco-friendly drinking water options, however, is a smart move.
2. Water Store Refills
While some might scoff at the idea of a water store, it’s a wise investment for your health.
Many use multiple processes, which allows you to select the kind of drinking water you’d prefer: alkaline, mineral, oxygenated, and more.
Each type of drinking water has unique benefits or purposes, and even a difference in taste.
As for price, this varies largely by establishment and state. Generally, water stores cost much less compared to purchasing comparable filtration systems for your home.
1. Aquifers and Wells
Undoubtedly, this is the best way to get your drinking water: straight from the source.
Aquifers provide clean water from underground sources, untouched by man and stocked with healthy minerals. Getting it can be a challenge, however.
Wells are the most common method for extracting water from an aquifer. Additionally, the water leaves an aquifer over time and goes into springs or streams.
Groundwater is usually safe, given how little interference and exposure it receives, but contamination is still possible. Oftentimes, trace amounts of fluoride, heavy metal, or household waste can sneak their way inside.
Runoff pollutants can also seep into the groundwater supply—even if you live in an isolated area.
These include pesticides, contaminants found in snow- or rainfall, and medications from yourself or any nearby humans, from anti-inflammatories to antibiotics.
While these usually exist in extremely small amounts, it’s a good idea to test well water periodically.
What’s Wrong with Tap Water?
Again, it’s important to note that most tap water is okay to drink, particularly when compared to countries lacking sanitation management.
The United States is far from the best, however, among countries with mass filtration systems. Switzerland, Norway, and several others have America beat on both water taste and quality.
Unsurprisingly, part of this comes down to pollution. The more pristine an environment is, the less runoff seeps into the groundwater, which means fewer contaminants overall.
What’s more, cleaner groundwater allows for less processing to clean it for consumption.
Another component is how, exactly, the United States cleans its tap water.
Most water plants utilize chemical filtration at some point during the purification process. Then chlorine or chloramine are added, along with fluoride, before it passes through your pipes.
Chlorine is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to tap water.
On the one hand, it keeps waterborne pathogens out of your drinking water. These can include hepatitis or dysentery, among others.
On the other hand, when chlorine mixes with even trace amounts of natural organic matter in a water supply, it can produce Trihalomethanes, or THMs. While boiling water can eliminate THMs, common filtration systems like pitchers or faucet systems cannot.
THMs are harmful to your health because they produce free radicals in your body, which can lead to cellular damage. This can cause inflammation, cardiovascular disease, neurological issues, and even cancer.
Several studies have found increased risk for colorectal cancer, in particular, among chlorinated water drinkers.
Most of the chlorine added to public water supplies will dissolve once it’s pushed through your faucet, however. Furthermore, a high-quality aerator will help remove it even more efficiently.
Chloramine is a chemical produced when chlorine and ammonia combine. It puts a coating on the inside of pipes, which reduces the amount of lead that is leached into the water.
It sounds like a good idea on the surface—but if you’ve ever smelled cat urine, attempted to buy ammonia and bleach at the same time, or watched King Of The Hill, you already know how volatile ammonia can be.
Chloramine exposure can result in respiratory issues such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or even pneumonia. One study found asthma and reduced pulmonary function were particularly common among indoor pool workers.
It’s important to emphasize that those results involve heavy chloramine exposure. Drinking tap water isn’t likely to carry the same risk, since the amounts are far smaller.
Still, the studies for long-term, cumulative effects of chloramine via tap water are sorely lacking—so it might be preferable to err on the side of caution.
There’s a great deal of mixed info out there regarding fluoride, and you’ve probably wondered if it’s actually beneficial to your health…or if it’s made your drinking water a ticking time bomb.
Rest assured: like most elements in your tap water, fluoride is regarded as generally safe. Unless you’re part of the population segment that’s allergic or sensitive to fluoride, a few glasses here and there won’t hurt you.
With that in mind, it’s important to objectively decide if fluoridated water benefits your overall health.
Fluoride Vs. Fluorine: What’s the Difference?
First and foremost, take note that fluoride is not the same as fluorine, a highly reactive electronegative element. It’s often used in nuclear power plants, and used to be prevalent in everyday objects like fire extinguishers and refrigerators.
However, due to its contribution to ozone depletion, household use of fluorine has been banned since the mid-1990s.
While fluorine gas on its own is explosive and possibly quite dangerous, compounds containing this gas form many substances you can probably still find throughout your home: Teflon-coated pans, certain rain or snow boots—and, of course, the fluoride in toothpaste, mouthwashes, and most areas’ drinking water supplies.
Fluorine occurs naturally in the air, so you’re exposed to this gas in minute amounts regularly.
In large amounts, though, the gas can be deadly.
Fluoride is different from fluorine—it’s the negative ion of that element, and therefore isn’t as reactive. In trace amounts, it can be beneficial to dental health, and most people get some naturally through other means.
Simply put, toothpaste or some tap water isn’t going to kill you.
Where the concern arises, rather, is in how much fluoride you’re getting…and whether or not you actually need so much.
Does Fluoride Really Help Your Teeth?
The simply answer is yes: fluoride helps prevent cavities and tooth decay.
A more complicated and accurate answer, however, is that fluoridated water only reduces the rate of cavities by 25%.
Additionally, although fluoride may aid in the remineralization of bones and enamel, its cavity reduction comes down to bacteria inhibition.
This sounds like a good thing, of course…assuming it’s only affecting bad bacteria.
Recent studies show that your mouth, just like your stomach or skin, has a unique microbiome that not only impacts your oral health, but your gut and overall health, as well.
Since neurotransmitter synthesis begins in the gut, the health of your mouth directly impacts your gut-brain axis. Anything that throws that out of balance—from antibiotics, to mouthwashes…and yes, possibly fluoridated water—can affect your mental state and moods, in turn.
Other studies have shown a clear link between fluoride and impaired thyroid function. In fact, it’s recommended that individuals with hypothyroidism filter their tap water to remove the fluoride.
Even if you don’t have hypothyroidism, your levels can be negatively impacted by the fluoride in your drinking water: perhaps you’re in the “normal range,” but higher than your personal baseline.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Lastly, it’s important to remember the old adage: too much of a good thing…is a bad thing.
Excessive fluoride consumption can lead to fluorosis of the teeth or skeletal system, thereby weakening the very systems it’s meant to strengthen.
While dental fluorosis is very difficult to get, since fluoride simply doesn’t sit on the teeth that long, the skeletal version of this condition results from repeated, cumulative exposure to fluoride.
If your tap water is over fluoridated, that excess could build in your system over several years and cause stiffness, joint pain, or even ligament calcification.
Furthermore, some studies such as this one have linked fluoridated drinking water to increased osteosarcoma in adolescent boys.
Note that no clear-cut, consistent links exist between fluoride consumption and cancer risk. Generally speaking, conclusively determining fluoride’s long-term effects on health requires more research.
So when it comes to your drinking water, you might choose to forgo the unknown, or consume it and hope for the best—or even some of each, if you still want the dental benefits of fluoridation, but with less overall exposure.
Despite all the filtration methods, both physical and chemical, tap water can still be contaminated.
Like groundwater, runoff is a concern. Any pesticides, herbicides, or industrial waste that touches the earth can later seep into nearby water sources.
Similarly, pollutants in the air can result in contaminated rainwater, snow, or ice. These can enter water supplies, as well.
Although most filtration methods will eliminate these, there are always exceptions.
This is especially true when the filtration systems or pipe networks become compromised in some way.
Lead or mercury can enter water through natural sources in the ground, too, or from improper disposal of hazardous materials like batteries or paint.
Finally, bacteria and parasites can contaminate tap water if it comes into contact with animal or human feces.
Because pipes run underground, diagnosing a compromised system is tough. All too often, people don’t notice a problem until their water supply is polluted.
Removal of Important Minerals
Typical tap water filtration removes more than the bad stuff from our drinking water.
Three of the most common minerals filtered out of water—and three of the most crucial minerals the human body needs to function properly—include calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Magnesium alone is responsible for hundreds of enzyme reactions in your body. Most people don’t get enough through their diet, and have little to no knowledge of its role in overall health.
Besides nerves and muscle function, magnesium helps regulate your heartbeat, blood sugar, and bone and protein synthesis. It might even help people with anxiety.
Calcium is also critical for bone and nerve health, while iron helps our bodies store and utilize oxygen efficiently.
Of course, the verdict is still out on whether drinking tap water really matters when it comes to these minerals. A study by the World Health Organization noted that, even when these minerals are in drinking water, they aren’t chelated—which means they aren’t easily absorbed by the body.
In other words, try to get your mineral intake through a healthy, balanced diet, no matter what kind of water you drink.
The Final Word: What’s the Best Drinking Water for You?
Once more, it should be emphasized that any source of decontaminated water is probably generally safe for consumption.
Staying hydrated is critical to your health and wellbeing—so when you’re thirsty, it’s okay to drink what’s on hand, even if it’s not your usual preference.
But overall, well water or filtered sources are best for your everyday water consumption.