Bottled Water: Understanding the Differences

There are some pretty specific guidelines that must be adhered to when labelling bottled water for sale; for example, both mineral and spring water must originate from a natural, protected underground source, be bottled at the source, and be safe to drink without further treatment. Compare this to distilled water, purified water stripped of contaminants and natural minerals, or purified water, which can come from any source and undergoes treatment to eliminate chemicals and minerals, and you’ll be a bit more enlightened when it comes to purchasing bottled water.

Spring Water
When an underground aquifer is so full that is virtually overflows above ground, a spring has been formed. This primary spring has certain physical characteristics in its water that should be present in any bottled water collected from it. And thus, we have spring water.
Originating from underground, trace minerals are picked up by the spring as it makes its way to the surface. Rocks that the spring comes in contact with, the length of time spent in contact with said rocks, and the quality of water that replenishes the aquifer are all variables that will affect the quality of the water, including what minerals are present. So, with that, here’s what you can expect to find in your spring water:

  • Bicarbonate: this is an important factor in maintaining bodily health and is found in all organs. It can help with digestion, lessen fatigue, and can be found from tens to hundreds of mg/L in still water. 
  • Sodium: a necessary element to bodily functions, sodium facilitates communication between the brain and central nervous systems/muscles by generating electrical signals. Sodium levels are dependent on the brand of spring water.
  • Calcium: the highest concentrated mineral in the human body, it depends on calcium for bone and dental health as well as other minute functions. The level of calcium in water, while present, varies greatly with some brands offering 40% of the recommended daily intake and others with 21.8 mg/L. 
  • Magnesium: responsible for our body structure and function, this mineral is mostly stored in the skeleton with the rest residing in muscle and cells/cell tissues. The recommended amount per day is around 400 mg/day which can be difficult to achieve without the proper diet. Small amounts are found in bottled waters, though finding a magnesium-rich brand is quite difficult.

The standards for spring water, as laid out in the U.K. include a hygiene and treatment standard. Generally, the main body of water can be harvested from several wells or sources so that if one is polluted, another source can be used without the risk of cross-pollution.
Natural Mineral Water
Similarly to spring water, mineral water flows to the surface from an underground source; but, in order to be labelled mineral water, the source must be shown to be protected and pollution-free. Only after two years of repeated testing by the right authorities can natural mineral water be bottled and sold.
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Mineral water is required to have a stable and characteristic mineral composition, meaning that keeping land pollution free is of the utmost importance. Mineral water, unlike spring water, cannot undergo treatments that alter its chemical or microbiological composition. Only the removal of undesirable qualities is allowed (iron or manganese removal) or the addition of carbonation. A label on the bottle will tell consumers the exact mineral content and amounts.
Each source for mineral water varies greatly in content because of the specific requirements for proper bottling. Taste too is unique to brand, influenced by the natural filtration process. Some sources of mineral water yield already carbonated water upon reaching the land surface thanks to contained gases, known as effervescent or sparkling. This type of water is generally considered the “healthiest” due to its largely untreated nature and mineral content.
Distilled Water
There are guides online to making your own distilled water. Basically, you boil water on the stove to remove impurities and then condense the steam into a clean container for storage. There’s a bit more to it than that, but it gets complicated. That has to be a sign that it isn’t fit for human consumption, right? Distilled water is actually water at its purest, but it isn’t a good choice. Distilled water is ideally used for aquariums, small appliances (humidifiers or irons), in laboratories, to top off lead batteries, and for use in boilers; because of the lack of minerals and ions found in tap water, distilled water is preferable for these applications.
Purified Water
This type of water is exactly what you’d think based on the name: water from any source that has been purified. Water can be collected for treatment from a spring or surface source, or from the tap. Initial quality, before treatment, isn’t quite as important since the cleansing processes remove most impurities; distillation, deionisation, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration eliminate harmful chemicals (yay) but may also remove beneficial minerals (boo) depending on the process.
Purified water is more pure than spring, filtered, or tap water thanks to the additional purification methods.  To be classified as purified, water must be free of impurities or below 10 parts per million. That standard is quite strict. Purified water, next to mineral water, is another “healthy” option, assuming that the brand does not filter out all minerals from their water. Since the purification methods can be applied to any type of water, home systems are more appealing. Check it out here.
Filtered or Drinking Water
Usually, filtered water refers to municipal water that has been run through carbon filters. This removes chlorine, essentially making it into a fancy tap water. You’re better off getting a Brita filter.
If you’ve paid any attention at all while reading, you’ve learned that natural mineral water is considered the best because of its mineral content. Distilled water is preferred for machinery, aquariums, and the like because it has a complete lack of minerals/chemicals/ions which can shorten the life of machinery or interfere with aquatic life. Basically, in fine-tuned instruments, non-distilled water would tamper with things. The human body does not operate this way. Minerals found in water are a part our daily required intake and, most of the time, the amount contained in bottled water is less than our daily required allotment. Please, don’t choose distilled water if you have mineral or spring water on hand.

The counter argument to this is that distilled water beats out water that contains heavy metals and toxic compounds. It is possible to distil sea water as well, which obviously is the right option if you’re stranded at sea or on an island. Being stranded in suburbia does not make distilled water preferable or necessary in any way. Yes, it’s technically pure, but you’re depriving the body of crucial elements to survival by choosing to drink distilled water.

Jacqui Litvan
Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor’s degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).