Do I Need to Drink Filtered Water or Is the Tap Okay?

There are many different forms of drinking water: tap water, bottled water, filtered water, electrolyte-added water – the list goes on. But do we really need to spend money on fancy water, or is everything okay, straight from the tap? Here’s what you need to know.

Dear Lifehacker,

We have so many kinds of bottled water and filtration options. Although I prefer the taste to tap water, does that really matter? Does tap water pose any risk or can I drink it without worry?

Regards, Water Boggled

Dear WB! In general – at least in most parts of the United States – you can drink from the tap without any health risk. If you do decide to buy water, you should do so because you prefer the taste or because you are in a small group of people who put themselves at risk by drinking tap water (more on that later). But generally speaking, your tap water will serve you well. Here’s what you need to know.

Differences between water types

To learn more about the differences between types of water and their health benefits (or lack thereof), we spoke with Dr. Carly Stewart, a medical expert at Money Crashers . She explains:

There are three different types of drinking water : tap, filtered, and bottled . However, the differences between each type are less noticeable than you might think. For example, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, roughly 25 percent of bottled water is nothing more than bottled tap water. In addition, federal regulations governing bottled water producers are usually much less stringent than those for tap water.

Let’s take a closer look:

Tap water

And not all tap water is created equal. For example, “city water” regularly checked and processed in accordance with certain standards, and it may be added such additives as fluoride . Well water, on the other hand, comes from a well, a well, and does not undergo the same treatment and testing as its municipal counterpart. For this reason, people with weakened immune systems may be advised not to drink well water, although it is generally safe for everyone else.

Filtered water

Filtered water is exactly what it sounds like: tap water passed through some sort of filter that can eliminate many safety issues like bacteria, heavy metals, and pesticides. But it’s not as easy as buying a filter and automatically getting perfect water. You must first figure out what you are trying to filter out and then buy a suitable system. For example, if you want to get rid of bacteria, a point-of-entry aerator that uses high-pressure air jets to filter out contaminants that easily turn into gases will not work. Don’t waste your money on an expensive filtration system unless you know exactly what you want to remove from the water.

Bottled water

This brings us to bottled water. A 2019 study by the World Wildlife Fund found that bottled drinking water is no safer than tap water, but can cost up to 1,000 times more. And while most bottled water is filtered, the water you drink may come from a tap elsewhere. Therefore, before you spend money on what you already have in the house, check the bottle to see how the water is filtered. If not written, it might just be from the tap.

Health Benefits and Risks of Tap Water

Overall, tap water provides the same health benefits as any other type of water: it maintains hydration, aids blood flow, lubricates joints and other tissues, and is essential for many of the biological processes that support our lives. Although, as Stewart explains, tap water can contain fluoride in some areas, which can help with oral hygiene (but maybe not as much as we originally thought).

So what about health risks? As we mentioned earlier, if you draw water from a well, it can be unsafe for people at high risk of infection, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, HIV positive, or pregnant, Stewart explains. In such cases, she suggests consulting a doctor to determine the best water option.

We must also mention here that not all municipal water supplies are doing enough to keep local communities safe, including in places like Flint, Michigan and parts of New Jersey . Of course, these are different situations and cases when tap water is considered unsafe, but this is not the norm. Be sure to heed any local warnings regarding your water. For example, you may receive a notification that your area has a boil water recommendation that recommends boiling any drinking water before drinking, usually for a period of time after something like a break in the water main.

Bottom Line: Most tap water gets the job done.

What to do if you don’t like the taste of tap water

If you do not like the taste of tap water, but you will love filtered water in a bottle, you can think about how to reach out to a filtering device. While this will help get rid of many of the impurities, Stewart explains that it is impossible to get rid of everything:

If you don’t like the taste, a tap water filter device can help, as it removes certain contaminants such as pesticide and chlorine residues. However, there are some chemicals that the filter cannot remove, such as nitrates, and most household filtration systems are not designed to filter bacteria or viruses.

As a result, if a traditional filter doesn’t work (or you just find them terribly slow), you can try another solution, such as a filtered water cooler. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you might consider buying water flavors at the grocery store, or buying wholesale discounted water from stores like Costco.

You may also prefer a custom filter. For example, if you like Dasani water, you can filter the water in the same way. Reverse osmosis filters tend to produce a flavor that more people prefer. They cost a little more than your average spin-on filter or pitcher filter and take a little more work, but cost a lot less than buying bottled water in the long run.

Regardless of how you do it, most people do not need to get their water from any particular location. Drink what works best for your taste and your budget.

Love, life hacker

This story was originally published on 6/25/13 and updated on 10/17/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.


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