Is Bottled Water Better For You Than Tap Water?

In most parts of the United States, you can count on turning on the tap and enjoying a glass of cold water. But headlines about the contamination of drinking water in places like Flint, Michigan have reignited the debate over the benefits of bottled vs. tap water. Tap water may be on-demand in most places, but bottled water has its advantages, too.

Many people believe that bottled water comes only from pure, natural springs, making it better than tap water. But in reality, bottled water can come from underground sources — or even straight from the tap. According to Healthline, bottled water is overseen by the FDA and often has a label telling you where it came from. And even though people tend to believe that bottled water tastes better, blind taste tests proved that most people couldn't tell the difference between tap water and bottled water (via PubMed). Still, bottled water is widely available, making it a convenient choice.

But convenience has caused other problems. One study from researchers in New York found that out of 259 bottles of water sampled, 93 percent had microplastics in the water (via Frontiers in Chemistry). The energy use from the bottling, transportation, and refrigeration of bottled water is high, and only about 20 percent of plastic bottles in the U.S. are recycled. The rest go to the landfill or right into bodies of water. Perhaps the most surprising drawback to bottled water is that it can cost almost 2,000 times more than what comes out of your tap.

Is tap water the top choice?

One reason tap water is so cheap is because it's readily available from rivers, aquifers, and reservoirs. It's cleaned up at water treatment plants and pumped straight into homes and businesses. Tap water is regulated by the EPA and is tested daily for contaminants like bacteria and heavy metals. Because it does not require plastic bottles, it also has a much lower environmental impact.

For most of the U.S., tap water is convenient and safe. However, factors like surrounding industry or agriculture can create pollution in water supplies in some areas. Places with older plumbing may have unsafe levels of lead in the water.

So while tap water is more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and usually just as safe as bottled water, there are some reasons to stay away. If you have a compromised immune system or your water supply is contaminated from a natural disaster or nearby pollution source, bottled water is a safe and convenient alternative to tap.