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Buying Bottled Water

Treating your tap water to a drinking water standard that you're satisfied with is not for everyone.  For some of us, it makes more sense to buy bottled.  But just because water is sold in a bottle does not mean it's better than what you can make yourself.

Types of Bottled Water

Bottled water is sold in all sorts of packages, but for this article, we'll focus on one of the most widespread and sustainable bulk packages: 5-gallon water-cooler sized bottles.

Bottled water exchanges can be found at many hardware stores and grocery stores.  The bottles can be reused over and over again, so typically the same location will accept empty bottles and offer a deposit refund toward the purchase of your next bottle.  When the bottles reach the end of their life, they can be recycled.

Different types of bottled water are labeled differently, and each label has a specific meaning.

Purified, demineralized, deionized, reverse osmosis, or distilled water

While the process for treating the water for each of these labels is different, the end result is bottled water that must meet the USP definition for purified water.  Essentially, that means water with only trace impurities—the naturally occurring minerals in the water source have been almost completely removed, pH must be between 5.0 and 7.0, and while the water does not need to be sterile, bacteria levels should be very low.

Spring Water

Spring water is simply ground water that has been put right into the bottle.  There's usually a step in the middle such as UV or ozonation to destroy bacteria, and possibly some mechanical filtration, but the minerals in the water that come out of the ground are what goes into the bottle.  By law, spring water must naturally flow out of the ground.  If it's pumped, it's well water, and can't be labeled spring water. 

Artesian or Artesian Well Water

Similar in quality to spring water, artesian well water is collected from a well drilled into an aquifer that is under pressure, causing the water to naturally flow out of the well.  Unlike spring water, artesian well water is allowed to use some mechanical pumping to draw water from the well.

Drinking Water

Unless it's labeled otherwise, drinking water could be from any source.  Usually, it's just filtered tap water.

Bottled Water Quality

You might think that bottled water quality is always going to be better than what you can make at home with your own treatment.  While there are FDA regulations in place to enforce some minimum safety standards on bottled water, the water may still be no better than what comes out of your tap.

The FDA requires the water to be tested for around 90 substances, but there are potentially thousands of man-made substances in the water supply that no one is testing for.  And as for the ones we are testing for, not all of the maximum allowable contaminant levels (MCL) give me the warm fuzzies.  For instance, these substances are allowed to be in your water in limited quantities:

  • Lead 0.005 mg/L
  • Arsenic 0.010 mg/L
  • Cyanide 0.2 mg/L
  • Toluene 1 mg/L

The bottling plant is responsible for completing testing regularly.  That means a full battery of tests at least once per year, and tests for microbiological contamination at least once a week.  The FDA can test the facility whenever they like, but they have no schedule for doing so.  If a contaminant level changes in the water supply of a bottling plant, it could be up to a year before anyone notices.

Because bottled water is not sterile, it's important that it's properly handled and stored.  Bottles of water stored outdoors or in direct sunlight will often grow algae inside of the bottle.  Check your bottles for any visible sediment before you buy, and don't buy from a place that is obviously mishandling their water.

Try not to buy bottles that look worn, dented, or scuffed.  A pinhole leak in a water bottle might not be immediately obvious, but could cause serious damage to your home if it slowly leaks its contents on to your floor.

Bottled Water Dispensers

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There are a lot of water cooler type dispensers available that heat and cool bottled water.  For home use, I think they're totally unnecessary.  Room temperature is usually perfect for drinking water.  Add ice if you want it cold.  Put it in a teakettle if you want it hot.

A simpler solution for dispensing water from a bottle is a dispenser crock.  The crock can sit on a counter or a stand, and requires no electricity.  There are quite a few attractive choices available in ceramic, glass, and stainless steel.

For a more minimalist approach, a simple stand and valve combination turns the bottle itself into a dispenser, or a water bottle pump can be used to dispense water from a bottle.

Even if your drinking water is purchased, you can still benefit from doing some simple water treatment to protect your plumbing and appliances, and make your water work better for you.  It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or require a lot of bulky equipment to make your tap water better.  If your water quality is unknown or varied, as is the case for many nomadic and tiny living families, it's important to have a fairly comprehensive water treatment plan.  The good news is that it doesn't cost a lot of money or require a lot of bulky equipment to cover all of your bases.  Check out our suggestions for your lifestyle on our welcome page to get you started.

If you'd like to learn more about water treatment, especially as it relates to small space and nomadic living, stay tuned to this space for some deep dives into specific products, water problems, and strategies for water management in small spaces.  If you have a topic you'd like to hear more about, you can reach me here.

Dan Greatley