Hard Water in the UK – How Much of an Issue Is It?

Water hardness is one of those terms you hear fairly regularly, but might not necessarily know what it means. Essentially, as water falls as rain, it runs over rocks, picking up various mineral deposits as it flows. Where there’s a lot of naturally occurring calcium and magnesium, hard water forms, which means areas with a lot of chalk and limestone.

Tests carried out across the UK have revealed that the ‘M4 corridor’ has a consistently high frequency for hard water, including Bristol, Bath, Reading, Swindon and London. Hard water is also especially commonly found in the Home Counties, like Kent, Surry and Hertfordshire. 
What’s the big deal? Well, unfortunately hard water isn’t a phenomenon only of relevance to scientists; it’s easy to tell if you’ve got it in your home taps. Hard water tends to taste worse, and causes a much heavier build-up of scale, scum and the tendency to break taps and piping if it’s left unchecked. 
Img source: globiesfeed.com
There are differences in the level of water hardness, and it’s typically measured in terms of calcium carbonate (CaCo3), with soft being under 150mg/l, hard being between 150 and 300mg/l and finally very hard being over 300mg/l. The British Drinking Water Inspectorate has reported that drinking water in England is generally very hard. This is all down to the abundance of limestone and chalk in the British landscape. London, for instance, gets its drinking water from the Thames and the Lea, both fed by limestone springs and chalk aquifers. 
Coastal areas tend to have softer water, especially in Wales, but also in Devon and Cornwall. Some metropolitan areas built their own reservoirs in the 1700s to have a more local supply (Manchester, most prominently), which had the added side effect of making the water softer, as it didn’t come into contact with any limestone. 
If you don’t actually live in Manchester, or any of the softer regions, it’s not a death sentence; there are ways of dealing with the hardness of your water supply. You can outfit your house with full home filtration systems, which attach to the piping system just before the water reaches the house, or you can fit specific filters to your showers and taps. If you can’t manage this, don’t worry, hard water doesn’t present a health risk, it’s just not the best for the plumbing, so make sure you clean your system out as often as you can.  


Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

What to Consider when Buying a Water Cooler or Dispenser

Having a water cooler or dispenser at the home or office can be a benefit for many reasons. Apart from the obvious hydration and general health benefits, we have also talked before about how they can actually help to boost productivity. Choosing the right one, however, isn’t always as simple as it sounds. So, what are the important factors to consider?
The first thing to decide is whether you require a cooler or a dispenser. While both are capable of providing a refreshing drink, the difference between the two is, well, obvious really. While a dispenser holds the water within at room temperature, coolers actually chill their contents. Generally, coolers are the preferred option, although dispensers do usually have the benefit of not requiring any kind of power source.
Now we move onto the questions of free-standing vs. countertop dispensers. While free-standing units a far more commonplace in large offices, countertop dispensers do have a few key benefits. Firstly, they tend to be the significantly cheaper option (I shouldn’t have to tell you why…), and they do of course take up much less space. This could make them ideal for home use. The downside is that due to smaller compressors, they don’t tend to cool the water as much as free-standing dispensers.
The free-standing option, while more expensive and larger, is often preferred due to their typically larger tanks and better cooling performance. Generally, my advice would be to invest in the bulkier unit for buildings of any substantial size.
You should also take a peek at the product specifications if you’re torn between a few options. A good basic rule to stick by: larger compressors mean colder water. Unfortunately these specs aren’t always easy to find or understand, but it could be worth a bit of research to get the best performing model.
You can also get dispensers which include a tap for hot water. For me, this is largely unnecessary; the hot water is far from boiling temperature, making it less than ideal for many hot drinks, and separate dispensers for hot water tend to perform a lot better.
There are of course many more little variables if you look hard enough, but this should give you enough information to make a fully informed purchase. If you need a little extra help, some companies, such as

Borg & Overström, incorporate elements into their site to help you choose between their own selections.

Sam Bonson
Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.

6 of the Most Innovative Water Bottles Available

One of the most amazing things about technology is that even when you think something has been perfected in design terms, developments in other fields can still be applied. A water bottle is a thing that holds water, we’ve long known the best way to structure them, and for some time it’s been fairly evident which materials are the best.

With those boxes ticked, many companies have elected to design water bottles with outlandish new innovations. Some are terrible, others are utterly nonsensical, but some are fantastic. Here are 6 of the best ones.
Grayl Water Filtration Cup

The issue with many home water filters, Britta or otherwise, is that they aren’t exactly portable, or suitable for a single serving. If you want a supply of filtered water to carry around with you, this might be the answer. The Grayl comes in two parts – the outer ‘cup’ and the mesh filter. You fill the cup with water, and then push the mesh filter in and lock it off. This process removes 99.99% of the bacteria present in tap water. The actual filter uses a kind of triple layer effect – an ion-charged mesh to deal with bacteria, a carbon layer to extract metals and chemicals and an anti-microbial layer to stop mould or mildew building up between uses.

Permafrost Hydra Bottle

One of the most irritating things about carrying water in the summer is the need to cool it. Freezing it overnight means it’s a pain to carry around, and it’s initially too cold to drink comfortably. Later in the day, once it’s all melted, opposite issue. Simply dumping ice in has the same issue on a smaller scale. The Permafrost Hydra Bottle sidesteps this issue using a layer of refreezable gel. Empty it, leave it in the freeze overnight and suddenly you’ve got a cooling layer which keeps your water cold for hours, and that you can hold in your hand without the cold coming through.

 Hydracoach

You can read all sorts about exactly how much water you should be drinking, but without a way to actively keep track of it, it’s not a great deal of use. This is where the Hydracoach comes in. You can actually use it to calculate and program your own hydration requirements, shown by a digital heads-up display on the front of the bottle. This way, you always know how much water you’ve had, and how much more you’ll need to meet your daily quota. For people who exercise regularly, this is a serious game changer.

Lightcap

This clever little number is an ideal addition to any hiker/camper’s kit bag. During the day, it absorbs solar power as you’re carrying it around, keeping yourself hydrated, and then at night it transfers all that power into light energy, serving as an LED torch/nightlight. Not only does this mean that you aren’t fumbling around in the dark for your water, but you can also use it to check other things which would usually require a battery powered torch.

Infusion Pro

Fruit infusion is the next big thing. Rather than using fruit flavoured powders or syrups, which are packed full of sugar and preservatives, many people have turned to bottles with a compartment for fresh fruit, allowing the natural flavour to seep through to the water without any of the chemical contamination. There are dozens of different ones on the market, but the Infusion Pro tends to be considered as the best. It’s dishwasher safe, resistant to condensation, and the infuser module is on the bottom, allowing the flavour to stay consistent regardless of how much you’ve got left to drink.

OKO Level 2
Gimmicks are one thing, but it’s important to remember that the quality of the water is what you want to be focusing on, and the OKO might be the MacDaddy of them all in this regard. The cap (plastic, but completely BPA free) contains two filters – carbon and electro-absorption. The bottom line is this bottle is so good at filtering water on the go that it can do this.
Add to that a light, easy to carry design and an attractive range of colours and you’re onto something really quite special.  

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Distilled or Deionised Water: Understanding the Differences

Filtration, whether through distillation or deionisation, is the demineralisation of water to achieve a pure substance. These processes both eliminate ionic impurities from water; however there are very specific instances in which one is used over another. To understand the difference, we must learn about both processes.

getholistichealth.com
Distilled Water
Distilled water is often found on the shelves of grocery stores and is best used for laboratories, batteries, small appliances, engines, and other mechanical works. It’s generally not advised to drink this type of filtered water regularly as it is demineralised, in other words, stripped of necessary components of optimal functioning in the human body. The filtration process is called distillation and is usually done by boiling the water until it becomes steam which is then condensed into water free of impurities. This process requires a lot of energy. Water that has been distilled is considered to be pure, mistakenly leading people to think of it as good drinking water.
How it works:
Img source: survival-mastery.com
The boiling point of water is 100°C or 212°F, while other substances (impurities) have lower or higher boiling points. Many of these impurities will boil off quickly, evaporating before the water. Once the water has evaporated, remaining substances of higher boiling points will follow. Theoretically, because of the varying boiling points, water is separated from impurities. This does mean, however, that certain organic substances of similar boiling points can be found in distilled water if not filtered out afterwards.
A handy tutorial for at home distillation can be found here.
Deionised Water
Deionised water is any water (tap, spring, distilled, etc.) that is run through electrically charged resin. An ion exchange bed eliminates virtually all impurities, yielding demineralised, perfectly clean water. This type of water is a bit special; used in microelectronics (to dissolve drugs in medicine), manufacturing plants, beauty care products, washing liquids, acid batteries and laboratories.
How it Works:
To remove the total dissolved substances (TDS) from water by deionisation, an ion exchange takes place. Water passing through an ion exchange bed with both positively (cation) and negatively (anion) charged ions allows for selective replacement. When non-water ions, TDI’s, are attracted to the positively or negatively charged resin magnet, a water ion is released. That’s put simply.
Img source: soulwaterfilter.com
So, let’s get into it. The two types of resins used to attract TDI’s are composed differently. Positively-charged cation resin “is typically made from styrene containing negatively charged sulfonic acid groups,” drawing out calcium, magnesium, and sodium along with other impurities. Comparatively, negatively-charged anion resin is made of styrene containing “positively charged quaternary ammonium groups,” drawing out bicarbonate, chlorine, and sulphate along with other impurities. In order for the exchange of ions to be successful, the magnetic resins are loaded with hydrogen ions. Once the undesirable TDI attaches to the magnetic resin, a hydrogen ion is released to replace it. Once filtered, several following cycles are recommended to catch any TDI’s that have slipped through.
To get deionised water at home, a deionising water filter containing negatively and positively charged resins is all you’ll need.
Concluding Thoughts

As already stated, distilled water is not a good choice for drinking water and neither should deionised water be imbibed. Since it is corrosive, it can damage tooth enamel and soft tissues, and is not treated to remove disease-causing pathogens. The special nature of deionised water and its specific uses make it abundantly clear that it is not intended for drinking. 

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.
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  • 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. 
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  • 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.
Img source: fotolibra.com
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).

Tap Water: What’s in it Really?

Depending somewhat on location, tap water contains a variety of substances, many of which are said to be harmless in small quantities. The difficulties only arise over time, as more and more of these trace amounts of chemicals build up in the body, bringing about health issues. These chemicals range from chlorine to fluorine, and are wilfully added to make drinking water safe. The addition of these chemicals eliminates bacteria and microorganisms from inhabiting drinking water. That’s reassuring! Right?


Quite; until you learn that water from the tap travels through pipes that have been in use since 1859 in Britain, the first country to industrialise. With technological advancement comes waste, and plenty of it. Water-borne diseases, like cholera and typhoid, were a real risk for the Victorian Londoners of the 19th century, with 10,000 deaths from cholera in just one year. Joseph Bazalgette crafted an underground sewage system, freeing up the Thames from being a literal river of excrement. Thanks to Bazalgette and John Snow (not the GoT character, but the Victorian-era doctor who ultimately unearthed the true cause of cholera), the Houses of Parliament funded the underground sewer project which was completed in 1870.

So, with that brief history lesson fresh in mind, let’s get back to the crux of the matter: tap water. It travels through underground pipes, courtesy of Bazalgette, and pops out of your home tap seemingly clean, clear, and fresh. Don’t be fooled.

Chemicals added at the source, pipes shedding all sorts of nasty chemicals and microbes into the water; let’s name a few of those contaminants to familiarise ourselves with the risks.

This outlines only the very basics of what contaminants are found in plain tap water. Ideally, a full-home water filter using reverse osmosisis the best way to filter out toxins, catching fluoride, chlorine, lead, pesticides, nitrates, and more in its semipermeable membrane. For those on a budget, Britafilters are a great option. Brita carbon filters reduce the presence of chlorine, lead, pesticides and fine solid particles like rust or sand. Not necessarily the most effective filter, it misses fluoride, bacteria and viruses, or nitrates.
A safe bet, if investing in a filter seems too much of a commitment, is to stick to bottled water. Even then, it’s important to choose the correct type. If the idea of fresh water, filtered before bottling is appealing, stick with spring 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).

Water Recycling – How Does it Work?

Recycled water, sometimes referred to as reclaimed water, is sewage that’s been treated so that it can be reused, either industrially, in aquifers, for irrigation, or even to drink. The notion of drinking water which used to be sewage might seem disgusting, but it’s an extremely effective process and one that’s becoming more and more important as water waste becomes a more pertinent issue.

It’s no easy feat to turn once heavily contaminated water into something clean again; you need more than a beaker and a circle of filter paper. It varies from plant to plant, but there are a number of steps to the process. Sewage water is often referred to as blackwater, while the runoff from sinks, showers, baths, washing machines and the like is known as greywater, with the key distinction being that there’s no poop in greywater. Sorry, faecal matter. 
Greywater is easier to treat, and with the right facilities it can even be recycled at home. It has to be used quickly though, as pathogens can develop in it if it’s left to stand for even a few days. It can be filtered biologically or mechanically. Constructed wetlands or garden walls can do the job, but if you want to do it on a smaller scale, you can use a membrane bioreactor. This is essentially a membrane which will not allow solids or micro-organisms through.
Speaking in mechanical terms, you can use sand filtration, lava filtration or a UV radiation system. With blackwater, things are bit different. The water is piped in through sewage systems and then treated at facilities, in 5 basic steps. 
Firstly it goes into a primary treatment tank, where it will sit for 24 hours while a colony of bacteria develops and starts munching away at all the larger contaminant particles. Once settled, it’s pumped into a second tank where it will be aerated (churned up using air and water), separated from the sludge and finally clarified and chlorinated. It can then be used for ground irrigation.
There has been a lot of question about any health risk which might stem from using reclaimed water. Studies have shown that the biggest issue with reclaimed water is the by-products left over from the recycling process, chlorine in particular. It is generally agreed though that reclaimed water used for irrigation or agriculture carries no greater health risks than portable water. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Where is the Purest Water in the World?

Water purity isn’t a fixed value, it depends heavily on what you’re planning to use it for. Obviously tap water and most bottled water goes through some form of purification process before it ever reaches us, ditto for bathwater, but natural water can actually be incredibly pure from the outset. Water trapped in glaciers is often incredibly pure, because it’s stored so deep that no contaminants from the ground or the air have been able to reach it. You would think, then, that said ice is the purest natural water source on the planet, and yet.
A few different places reputedly have sources of spring water which is, somehow, even purer. A study by the University of North Texas, the University of Magallanes and the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Chile (and breathe) in 2015 found that the cleanest water on the planet may well be in Chile. 
The Ukika River – Img source: anasaziracing.blogspot.co.uk
Across 10 days, they took samples from natural waterways near Puerto Williams in Chilean Patagonia, and found that despite their equipment being capable of detecting chemical compounds in water as accurately as 2 parts per million, they still didn’t pick anything up. Further analysis in a lab confirmed the water’s purity. The actual sources of the water included the Bronzes River, the Ukika River and the Bass River, all of which are part of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, which could now end up being one of the most important water sources on the planet.
Only 0.003% of all the water in the planet is thought to be unpolluted, but Cape Horn is not the only site. In 2011, a geochemist named William Shotyk published the results of tests he’d been running in his groundwater observatory in Elmvale, Ontario. Examining water from the artesian wells he constructed, he found that the water contained less lead than the cleanest layers of the arctic ice shelf, 5 times less at least. Said ice water has been trapped in the shelf for over 8,000 years, just to lend some further perspective.
In this case, Shotyk claims that the water’s purity owes to the fact that the ground the rainwater moves through to reach Elmvale is rich in iron oxide and aluminium oxide, both of which will pull contaminants out, a job also done by tree roots and the bacteria which grow on them. 
This is a fairly consistent rule of thumb, certain conditions in the surrounding eco-system can result in remarkably pure water, and more pure than anything you’d get in a bottle. Other instances of this have been recorded in China, Western Australia and Upstate New York. While the supply of pure natural water may be dwindling, finding out more about the mechanisms behind it can help us learn how to preserve it. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

 

The Dangers of Drinking Distilled Water

Distillation is a very particular form of water purification, primarily used to desalinate seawater. We’ve been doing it in one form or another for more than 1,800 years, as in the simplest terms, it’s just a case of boiling water in one container, then trapping and condensing it in another.

Distilled water is used in chemical processes when something purer than deionized water is needed. It’s also used in cooling systems for cars, topping off automotive batteries, and more specific requirements like cigar humidors and certain types of beer brewing, Pilsner in particular. 
Is it safe to drink, though? Well there’s certainly nothing stopping you, distilled water can be bought by the bottle in shops around the world, and there are certain brands of water which are very open about their use of the process (Glacéau Smart Water, for example).  In those cases though, minerals and other components tend to be added to the water after it has been distilled. Were you to drink water that had been distilled, but nothing else, it would not contain any of the naturally occurring minerals you get from standard drinking water.
Beyond that, it’s still very much an open debate. The theory goes that distilled water is uniquely capable of cleansing your innards, pulling out all the toxins which normal water simply flows past. It is pretty well accepted that this is true in the short term, but long term consumption is thought to carry a lot more risks. Distilled water will absorb anything that it comes into contact with in the open air, meaning that it picks up trace amounts of carbon dioxide when it is first exposed. This can gradually raise body acidity, which as I’m sure you can understand is not a good thing. 
Distilled water can also cause you to lose minerals through urine, which can lead to all sorts of unpleasant complications in the long term, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and, in particular, osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a deterioration of bone strength, particularly in the spine, hips and forearms. It usually manifests in old age, but with increased mineral loss it can happen a lot earlier, resulting in a significant drop in quality of life, and a much higher risk of paralysis from spinal injury.
It’s not just distilled bottled water, either. Distilled water is an active ingredient in all soft drinks, as if you needed another reason to avoid those. Water in the human body should contain calcium and magnesium, the things that distilled water tends to pull out. Cells, tissue and organs are at far higher risk of significant damage when the body has a pronounced mineral deficiency. In short, if you’re going to drink distilled water, it’s best to make sure that it’s been supplemented with minerals after the fact; otherwise you’re taking a highly unnecessary health risk. 

Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

Water Filtration: How Does it Work?

All the water on our planet follows the same cycle, some aspects of it vary depending on where the water is, but the basic process is the same – evaporation, condensation, precipitation and infiltration. This process is what keeps our planet alive, to some degree. The water carries nutrients from the sea to the land, and vice versa.

When you start to think about drinking it, however, this brings problems. Water picks up an awful lot of extra baggage when this happens, and most of it would likely play havoc with our soft, fragile digestive systems. This is why, after years of dysentery, typhoid and cholera, people started to develop methods of cleaning the water before it reaches our mouths.
This started in the 17th century, when Francis Bacon attempted to remove the salt from seawater using a rudimentary sand filter. It didn’t work, and it wasn’t until 1804 that their use became more widespread. The original ‘slow’ sand filters worked by allowing a ‘biofilm’ to form over the top of a layer of sand, and as the water passes through it, contaminants are absorbed by the various different kinds of bacteria, protozoa and fungi present in the biofilm. Slow sand filters are typically vast underground chambers, with the water fed in through a piping system.
Although science leapt forward dramatically since slow sand filters first appeared, they are still used in many parts of the world due to their low energy requirements. Even in urban centres like London and Warsaw, they still exist. There are two other main forms of sand filtration now – gravity and upflow – both of which require chemical aids in order to work. Whilst sand filtration is still used all over the world, a number of other methods of water filtration have been developed. There are four main types, which are as follows:
Reverse Osmosis
Img source: pentair.com

Much like sand filtration, reverse osmosis means pushing the water through a membrane which will pull all the nasty stuff out and leave you with something which is safe to drink. Osmosis is the process of separating a concentrated solution from a less concentrated one though a membrane, with the end result being that both solutions have the same concentration.

Reverse osmosis simply moves in the opposite direction, with the membrane serving to reduce concentration, rather than even it out. The key difference between this process and sand filtration is that you need to apply pressure to force the water through, which means you need power. Reverse osmosis pumps use up a lot of power and create a lot of waste water, so they’re not massively prevalent.
Activated Carbon
This is the most common household type of water filtration. Activated carbon granules are created by burning wood in a low oxygen environment. This makes the granules far more porous than they would otherwise be, and have lot of nooks and crannies which can trap the molecules you want to remove from water before you drink it.
This is fine for chemical contaminants, including the trace amounts of chlorine often present after waste-water is purified, but anything ‘hard’ like limescale is a problem, as is sodium, fluorine and a few other things. Activated carbon filters also wear out quite quickly.
Distillation
This is a comparatively basic, but effective process of filtering water. Boiling water will naturally remove a lot of the unwanted material, but evaporating it and allowing it to condense into liquid again will remove even more. Distillation is often used in chemistry to test how certain compounds react when they change state.
This process is particularly good for removing heavy metals from water, as they have a higher boiling point than the water, meaning that as the water evaporates, they get left behind. Anything with a lower boiling point, however, sticks around. A lot of heat is also required to distil water, which obviously means a lot of energy usage.
Ion Exchange
This process involves splitting atoms into ions, which are then trapped and replaced by non-contaminating ions. If that sounds heinously complicated, it’s because it is. Ion exchange filters contain zeolite beads, crystals made up from sodium, silicon and oxygen which have cavities in which molecules can be caught inside. In this instance, they contain sodium ions, which attract magnesium and calcium ions after they’ve been split, replacing them with the sodium ones.
This kind of ‘soft water’ process is used in dishwashers to reduce limescale build up, since it is carbon based, and is also used in some cases for drinking water, but it’s worth bearing in mind that sodium is still a form of contaminant so the process isn’t exactly 100% clean. The sodium ions also have to be replaced fairly often.

As you might have noticed, all these forms of filtration are good at removing certain things, but not others, which is why many systems operate using a combination of two or more, to maximise effectiveness. In truth, tap water in many developed countries is of a far higher standard than it used to be, so mass water filtration is more important in places where there’s less money or resources to actually do it. A lot of work is being done in Africa to find solutions to this problem, as many waterborne diseases are still rampant there. Elsewhere though, many have argued that bottled water is not only needless, but environmentally unsound.


Callum Davies
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.