In September last year, we published an expert roundup on the benefits of proper hydration and how to get access to clean drinking water.
12 doctors, 7 nutritionists and 5 other health experts agreed to participate and sent us their answers to these two questions:
Due to our experts having diverse backgrounds, we received many different and interesting answers which I would like to discuss in greater detail in this follow-up post.
First of all, these are the 10 most common answers we received:
As you can see, the top health benefits of drinking enough water throughout the day, according to our experts, are staying focused, detoxification and a healthy skin, followed by kidney protection, cardiovascular health and that it aids our digestion.
And there were many more benefits mentioned in the roundup – not because our experts didn’t know what they were talking about but because “there are just SO MANY benefits to drinking water”, as Dr. Taylor Arnold put it. Here is the full list:
What’s interesting is that the doctors weighted the top three health benefits differently than the other experts, which is something we had already pointed out in the original roundup:
In the top three positions were staying focused, a healthy skin and kidney protection (doctors) vs. staying focused, cardiovascular health and weight loss/healthy skin (other experts).
Again, first the most common answers given:
What we can tell right away is that the number one recommendation for getting access to clean and safe drinking water is using a water filter. Filter types that were mentioned are
Other answers included having your water tested and contacting your water utility/accessing the EWG tap water database for a water quality report which obviously entails using a water filter if need be. Above that, some experts explicitly advised against drinking unfiltered tap water.
And when you are on the go, sticking to glass or stainless steel bottles rather than plastic avoids chemical recontamination of your water.
Speaking of bottled water, the only type that came up in the roundup was bottled spring water (bottled in glass). Jerry Snider from All In Health and Wellness said that he personally stays away from bottled water due to the added sodium that many brands contain.
The second to last finding is that sugary beverages as well as tea and coffee containing caffeine might help to quench your thirst, but are not optimal for hydration as they might make you lose more water than you gain. The same goes for carbonated waters, although the problem here is that the bubbles may make you feel fuller or cause bloating that will prevent you from drinking enough. What you should try is filtered water infused with fresh fruit, vegetables or herbs. How much? At least eight 8-ounce glasses.
And lastly, water is only one half of the hydration equation, said Tim Skwiat. Consuming enough electrolytes, for example sodium, potassium and magnesium, is equally important for optimal body water balance.
Furthermore, Tim advised to add ¼ teaspoon of sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan salt to every quart of drinking water along with a teaspoon of magnesium citrate powder.
There are so many things to consider when trying to raise a kid in a safe environment. Clean drinking water, or rather tap water, is one of them.
There might be potentially harmful contaminants lurking behind the faucets in your home that you did not anticipate. In this post, we will discuss 10 of them. They are neither the most common, nor the most toxic, but they can have serious health effects nevertheless, especially in children.
Please note: Contaminants are sorted from A to Z.
|Tap Water Contaminant||People Served||People Served Over Health Guideline||People Served Over Legal Limit||Possible Health Effects||Effective Filtration Method(s)|
|Aluminum||67M||619,000||No limit||Harm to the brain and nervous system; impairment of brain development||Ceramic water filter|
|Arsenic||71M||71M||392,000||Bladder, lung, skin, liver, kidney & prostate cancer||Reverse osmosis, distillation, oxidation/filtration, coagulation/filtration, specialized adsorptive filter media, anion exchange, activated alumina|
|Atrazine||29M||14M||0||Hormone disruption e.g. harming reproductive system, delaying puberty and damaging testes; changes in nervous system, brain and behavior; cancer||Activated carbon filtration|
|Chromium 6||250M||232M||No limit||Stomach and intestinal cancer; harming liver and reproductive system; delaying skeletal development||Reverse osmosis, ion exchange|
|Copper||–||–||–||Vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease||Activated carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, ion exchange|
|Fluoride||212M||–||48,259||Dental fluorosis; harm to bones; bone cancer; effects on thyroid function and brain development||Reverse osmosis, activated alumina, distillation|
|Lead||–||–||–||Harm to brain and nervous system||Reverse osmosis, activated carbon, distillation|
|Manganese||77M||3.9M||No limit||Damage to brain and nervous system causing behavioral and attention problems, and impairing memory and intellectual capacity||Reverse osmosis|
|Nitrate||224M||188M||64,904||Oxygen deprivation in infants; cancer (colorectal, ovarian, thyroid, kidney, bladder and possibly other); harm to fetal growth and child development; adverse reproductive effects; changes in thyroid function||Reverse osmosis, distillation, ceramic water filter|
|Perchlorate||8.3M||924,000||No limit||Hormone disruption lowering the production of thyroid hormones which affects the metabolism and physical and cognitive development||Reverse osmosis|
*Estimates for the U.S. (from 2010-2015), people on private wells not included
The first contaminant we want to discuss that is commonly found in tap water is aluminum. Aluminum may be classified as a non-carcinogen, but it can harm the human brain and nervous system. In children, excessive exposure can impair brain development.
Despite this, no national drinking water standard exists for the regulation of the metal. A health guideline defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is set at 600 parts per billion (ppb). At this concentration, aluminum should not pose a significant health threat.
The main contributors to aluminum contamination of our water sources are metal refineries and mining operations. Small amounts are released at coal-fired power plants and incinerators.
How can you protect your family from aluminum in tap water? With the help of a ceramic water filter.
Arsenic is a human carcinogen and exposure increases the risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer. Research also suggests that the mineral causes liver, kidney and prostate cancers. Other health concerns for arsenic are harm to the skin, lungs, brain, nervous system, kidneys and other organs, and the promotion of cardiovascular disease.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the cancer-causing effects of arsenic are particularly severe during early childhood.
When you look at the above table, it becomes obvious that tap water contamination through arsenic has become a serious problem in our country. The EPA has set the legal limit to 10 ppb. However, a California health guideline allows a maximum of 4 parts per trillion (ppt).
The difference is that at 10 ppb, arsenic-contaminated water potentially causes up to 600 cases of cancer in 1 million people when consumed for a lifetime. At 4 ppt, this number is reduced to 1 cancer case in 1 million people.
Where does the arsenic originate from? It’s a naturally occurring mineral and leaches from rocks into groundwater. Other sources are industrial (including mining waste, metal production, burning of fossil fuels) and agricultural (e.g. contaminated soil and water in orchards and farm fields).
Effective treatment methods to remove arsenic from tap water are reverse osmosis purification, distillation, oxidation/filtration, coagulation/filtration, the use of specialized adsorptive filter media, anion exchange, and activated alumina (learn more here). Regular carbon filtration won’t suffice.
It is also important that you limit your dietary arsenic exposure. For example, arsenic naturally accumulates at relatively high levels in rice and thus can also contaminate rice-based processed foods. This is why you should not feed infants and children rice-based cereals, pasta or milk.
Atrazine is a hormone disrupter that likely harms the human reproductive systems, leading to an increased estrogen and prolactin production in females and changes in testosterone levels in males. Animal studies have shown that these hormonal changes can delay puberty, alter the development and function of the breast, and damage testes. The greatest risk of atrazine-induced health effects is during pregnancy and early childhood.
Other concerns are changes in the nervous system, changes in brain and behavior, and different types of cancer.
The federal legal limit for atrazine in tap water is 3 ppb. The California OEHHA has set a public health goal of 0.15 ppb.
How does atrazine end up in our water systems? It is one of the most intensely used herbicides in the U.S. and enters supplies as agricultural runoff. What’s even worse: Suppliers are permitted to average atrazine measurements in water samples they collect throughout the year. In other words, the reported numbers underestimate atrazine peaks in spring/summer when the pesticide is applied in large amounts on farm fields.
The good news is that filtering atrazine from water is child’s play. All that’s needed is a high quality carbon filter.
Chromium 6 a.k.a. hexavalent chromium is chromium in its sixth oxidation stage. It has been linked to causing cancer (stomach and intestinal), harming liver and reproductive system, and delaying skeletal development. Infants and children are at greater risk from chromium 6 exposure than adults.
On a side note: Chromium 6 was found in water served to 250 million Americans between the years 2010 and 2015.
That said, there currently is no national drinking water standard for the chemical, believe it or not. There is only a 100 ppb limit for total chromium. This combines chromium 6 and harmless chromium 3. Needless to say that this standard is completely outdated.
The OEHHA’s health goal is 0.02 ppb for just chromium 6. This threshold is considered to cause no more than 1 case of cancer in 1 million people who drink water contaminated with chromium 6 their entire life.
Pollution sources: Industrial (e.g. coolant at electrical power plants), but also natural occurrences in some areas.
What’s needed to get rid of chromium 6 in tap water is an ion exchange water filter or a reverse osmosis system. Want more info? Follow this link: best-osmosis-systems.com/chromium-6-water-filters/
This one might surprise you but ingesting too much copper can cause vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea. Infants below the age of 1 are particularly susceptible. This is because their bodies have yet to develop the ability to regulate copper. Long-term exposure may also result in weight loss, liver cirrhosis and kidney disease.
As required per federal law, a water supplier has to get active whenever measured copper concentrations exceed 1.3 parts per million (ppm) in more than 10% of water samples collected in customers’ homes. However, this might not be enough to protect infants from copper toxicity which is why the Golden State has set the public health goal at .3 ppm.
By the way, most copper in tap water is leached from copper pipes in residential plumbing. High acidity and elevated levels of aluminum or chlorine can accelerate the corrosive effect.
What you can do to protect your family is flush pipes for several seconds before using the water. And you should not consume water that has been sitting in pipes for long hours or overnight. Because the longer the water stays in the pipes, the more copper it will dissolve (especially when they are new) – of course this only makes sense if you have copper pipes in your home.
You also shouldn’t use warm or hot water for cooking as it dissolves more copper. The same goes for preparing infant formula. In fact, nothing but filtered water is recommended here.
Copper can be removed from tap water using reverse osmosis, activated carbon or ion exchange.
Fluoride is intentionally added to the majority of water systems in the United States in order to reduce dental cavities in citizens. However, there are health concerns regarding long-term fluoride ingestion through drinking water: Dental fluorosis, harm to bones and bone cancer. What’s more, the National Toxicology Program is looking into negative effects on thyroid function and brain development in children.
The EPA has established a legal limit for fluoride in tap water at 4 ppm, although much lower amounts can already be too much fluoride for infants. The EWG recommends caregivers to mix baby formula with fluoride-free water.
4 treatment methods are suited for fluoride removal from water:
To learn more, check our fluoride removal guide on this page.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can affect the behavior and intellectual development in young children, and also impair their ability to concentrate. To make matters worse, these effects are permanent. The danger is highest during the first six years of life. This is because children’s brains are developing rapidly at that time and the blood-brain barrier isn’t yet formed.
Similar to copper, water utilities have to act when lead is detected at levels above 15 ppb in more than 10 percent of household water samples. Mind you, this action level is not a protective legal limit as in safe exposure level for children; it is based on mere practicability. Scientists agree that the ideal concentration of lead in drinking water is effectively zero. The OEHHA has defined their goal at 0.2 ppb.
If you wonder where the lead in our tap water comes from, old pipes and solder are the culprits. Before the 1930s, lead water pipes were used to build our water infrastructure. It is estimated that roughly 20 million Americans receive their water from a system that still uses lead pipes today. Lead pipes and solder can also be found in homes built before 1930. Actually, solder containing lead was used until 1986.
Apart from filtration – reverse osmosis, activated carbon and distillation all work – you should flush your water system before using any water for drinking and cooking if it has been sitting in the pipes for longer. Furthermore, only use cold water for cooking and, as always, don’t use unfiltered tap water when mixing baby formula.
Manganese exposure beyond a certain threshold can damage the brain and nervous system in infants as well as kids. This in turn can cause behavioral and attention problems, and impair memory and intellectual capacity.
And yet still, the EPA has not set a national legal limit for manganese in tap water up to this point. There is only a non-enforceable guideline of 50 ppb, but this is more about aesthetics since water can start to taste bad above that level.
The EWG considers 50 ppb of manganese in water for bottle-fed infants safe. The same could be true for young children, research suggests.
Manganese in our tap water, how did this happen? It’s a naturally occurring element, so it’s nobody’s fault.
A reverse osmosis system can help you eliminate it. Yes, there are other filter methods but RO is best for drinking purposes.
Health risks associated with excessive nitrate exposure include:
The current legal limit for nitrate in public drinking water is 10 parts per million. The standard was established to protect infants from methemoglobinemia, or blue baby syndrome, in which an infant suffers from oxygen deprivation in the blood. The standard does not address long-term, low-level nitrate exposure in drinking water, though.
The EWG health guideline of 0.14 ppm corresponds to a one-in-a-million cancer risk.
One of the uses of nitrate is as a fertilizer. This is how it ends up in our water systems – as agricultural runoff. Water in areas with intense agriculture usually has the highest nitrate concentrations. Nitrate in manure is another reason for this.
Urban areas may detect elevated nitrate levels in their water due to discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks.
The most effective way to have nitrate removed from your water? Reverse osmosis, distillation and using ceramic filter media. It is also important to cut back on red and processed meats.
Fortunately, perchlorate in tap water is relatively rare. It was detected in water served to 8.3 million U.S. residents in 2015. “Only” 924,000 of them received water containing perchlorate at concentrations above the health guideline.
What makes perchlorate dangerous? It’s a hormone disrupter. Blocking the thyroid’s ability to take in iodine, it can lower the production of thyroid hormones affecting metabolism and physical and cognitive development. Infants and fetuses are most at risk.
At this point, it probably does not come as a surprise to you that perchlorate in tap water is completely unregulated, at least on a national level.
Why is that? Rumors say our Department of Defense, military contractors and the aerospace industry have lobbied against regulation. After all, they use and release 90% of all domestically produced perchlorate. This is also why contamination around defense contracting sites and military operations can be high. To be fair, the chemical also occurs naturally.
In case there’s perchlorate in your tap water you can apply reverse osmosis purification and not have to worry about it anymore.
Have you ever put much thought into what type of drinking water you should give your cat or dog? It is one of the most essential nutrients after all and, just like us, our pets drink water every single day of their lives.
If you haven’t, we will discuss the different drinking water sources including their potential health implications in this post.
Please note: Some of the information on this site is based on the personal opinions of pet owners. You should consult your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet.
As a general rule, the best water for dogs to drink is water that you would drink yourself. If your tap water is clean and healthy and therefore good enough for you, the same probably goes for your dog (and for your cat, of course).
Likewise, if your tap water is not safe but poses a health risk don’t give it to your little furry. Sure, most dogs could eat a pile of dirt and not get sick, but better safe than sorry.
On a side note: Your dog may not be drinking adequate amounts of water due to taste reasons. Some tap waters, for example, are high in chlorine content which creates an off-putting taste and odor.
Can dogs drink tap water? Yes, they can. But every tap water is different so it depends on where you live. For example, there might be chemicals like pesticides or herbicides in your water, or metals such as chromium 6. The age of the water system you are connected to and your home’s plumbing are important, too. Homes built before 1986 often have a lead problem due to pipes or solder containing the neurotoxin. Then there are factors like algae blooms in spring/summer if you get your water from a nearby lake.
You should also pay attention to water hardness which can cause urinary problems in dogs (learn more).
Bottom line: If you want to play it safe, have your tap water tested or check the annual water quality report for your utility.
There is a whole arsenal of contaminants that can make well water unsuitable to drink, for dogs as well as humans. Again, if you want to play it safe, have your water tested.
And just like tap water, well water can be high in minerals which, like we said, has been linked with urinary problems in dogs (more info below).
Both tap and well water (and other waters) can contain high amounts of hardness minerals, usually calcium and magnesium. In theory, if your dog drinks hard water over an extended period of time, conditions like urinary tract and/or bladder infections, cystitis, urinary obstruction, crystalluria and stone formation might result.
The good news is that you can easily test for hard water. Kits are available online and at your local hardware store among many other places.
Also, research suggests that problems usually only occur with extremely hard water. Water with normal hardness levels is unlikely to cause issues. What’s more, female dogs suffer from urinary problems more often than male dogs.
A conventional water softener exchanges hardness in water, that is calcium and magnesium ions, with sodium (sometimes potassium) ions rendering the water soft. How much sodium will be added depends on how hard the water is in the first place.
Although the level is generally relatively low and not a big deal, the sodium concentration can be too high to be considered healthy for dogs to drink – especially if your vet has prescribed a low-sodium diet which is often the case for specific breeds, elderly canine and those with cardiovascular or kidney diseases. In addition, some pets just don’t like the somewhat salty taste of softened water.
The exceptions to the rule are water softeners not based on ion exchange to make hard water soft. These so called water conditioners work salt-free and therefore don’t increase sodium levels.
Doing your own filtering or buying filtered water, you can be rest assured that what your dog drinks day by day is indeed safe.
As for the best filtration method, there is reverse osmosis and distillation that provide almost pure H2O. RO and distilled water can be great to treat urinary problems but may not be suited for healthy dogs in the long run (learn more here).
Carbon filtration gets you rid of most chemicals, some heavy metals, and bad tastes and odors. Then there are specialized filter media like activate alumina for more persistent stuff – think fluoride and arsenic. And lastly, UV light treatment kills waterborne pathogens.
Which method is best for you depends on the condition of your water, and also on your preferences: Do you want filtered water everywhere in your home or just at a single faucet? Do you prefer a filter pitcher over and under sink system? How about a faucet filter? And are you on a budget?
If you want to go the filtered water route, find out what’s in your water first. Then get the best filter for the job.
There are water fountains that use filters. This way your dog not only gets access to clean drinking water, he is also encouraged to drink more and stay well hydrated. Why? In general, pets – in fact almost all animals – prefer to drink moving over stagnant water. Just remember to replace the filter regularly.
As an alternative, you could also filter the water first and then pour it into a fountain.
The benefit of distilled as well as RO water is that it’s almost pure H2O. No microorganisms, no chlorine, no lead, no pesticides – you name it! So this is good. However at the same time, both waters lack all the naturally occurring, healthy minerals. This can cause low electrolyte blood levels in your dog and also lead to over-hydration or water toxicity among other conditions. We also read a report about dogs developing heart problems due to potassium deficiency, presumably because they were given distilled water exclusively.
It might also be that your dog simply does not like the flat taste of distilled/RO water preventing proper hydration.
On the other hand, highly pure water can aid in the treatment of urinary problems like infections, crystals and stones.
Bottom line: Some veterinarians don’t recommend distilled respectively reverse osmosis water for dogs, others do.
The question really is, Does your dog get all the salts and minerals it needs from its food? If so, distilled/RO water might be just fine. And there is definitely no need to worry about giving small amounts here and there.
One may also ask, Why do you want to serve your dog distilled/RO water? If there is a certain contaminant that you are worried about, maybe there is a better way to have it removed.
In our humble opinion, unless your vet has specifically told you to use distilled/RO water, stay away from it. If you insist on using it, consider remineralization. This will allow you to bypass all the potentially harmful contaminants and still make sure that your dog gets all the salts and minerals it needs.
Dogs, cats, humans – drinking bottled water is always a waste of money. Most is just tap water anyway and there is no guarantee that it is any better in terms of quality. On top of that, it creates a lot of plastic waste.
The only reason for us to buy bottled water is if you are on the go and don’t have another choice.
As the name suggests, mineral water is high in minerals. The mineral content might be too high actually and thus cause urinary problems.
Also see Hard Water
Giving a dog carbonated water can lead to gastric upset. If given too much, the dog’s stomach might flip a.k.a. bloat which is life-threatening. Bloating is especially a problem with dogs that can’t burp properly and larger breeds in general. Other reactions that dog owners reported are diarrhea and vomiting.
It’s not like your dog just farts a few times and no real harm will be done. Do NOT let your dog drink carbonated water!
Yes, they can. Smart Water is spring water mixed with electrolytes. And although dogs don’t need the extra dose of salts and minerals after physical activity as much as we do, if a dog has been vomiting or suffers from diarrhea electrolyte drinks can replace what was lost and help prevent dehydration.
By the way, an alternative to Smart Water is unflavored Pedialyte. Don’t use flavored Pedialyte or Gatorade as it contains artificial sugars.
As far as vitamin water is concerned, some vets say that it can improve your dog’s health, while others say it is unnecessary.
All in all, most dogs can drink water from questionable sources with no ill effect, so don’t worry too much. Just remember to watch for symptoms of illness and if you feel like there is something wrong consult a vet immediately.
As with dogs, the best drinking water for cats is water that would be healthy for yourself.
That being said, kittens on a wet-food diet get the bulk of their daily water intake through eating. So in this case you don’t have to worry about the water issue as much.
Still, remember that cats have a weak sense of thirst. And chronic underhydration can cause health problems, especially with the urinary tract. In other words, you have to make sure that your cat drinks enough water, even if not a whole lot is needed. A fountain can help you achieve that. Just like dogs, certain cats prefer drinking from a flowing water source. Some cats also like to drink straight from the tap. And generally speaking, cats always prefer water that tastes fresh.
Cats can drink tap water if the quality is up to standards. You can learn more about tap water quality issues above.
In a nutshell:
Consider having your water tested or check your municipality’s water quality report. Your cat may also not like the water if it’s high in chlorine. Above that, we read a forum message where a cat owner reported that his two cats kept getting sick due to tap water being treated with chloramine for disinfection. And lastly, you should pay attention to water hardness which can cause urinary problems.
It is interesting to note that cats are more prone to developing urinary issues than dogs when being given hard water.
Also see Soft Water
Most cats can sustain themselves on salt water (sea water), so giving them soft water is unlikely to cause problems under normal circumstances. However, it could be the case that your feline does not like the taste much.
Also see Filtered Water for Dogs
Can cats drink distilled water?
As for dogs, distilled water should only be the primary water source for your cat when recommended by your vet, for example in case of urinary crystals. Mineral intake gets restricted effectively preventing bladder stones from forming.
Other than that, you probably want to stay away from distilled water.
Can cats drink bottled water? It’s a waste of money, but they can.
Sparkling water is a big no-no. Too much carbonated water can lead to hiccups and stomach bloat.
As mentioned earlier, most cats can sustain themselves on salt water. Some, however, drink too much of it and suffer from elevated blood salt levels.
When you consider that cats can survive on salt water, pool water should not pose a problem; unless there is more in it than chlorine alone.
There are a bunch of water impurities that can cause your skin a lot of trouble aside from having an overall negative health impact. The following is a list with 6 of them. Some are basically omnipresent in U.S. tap/well water, others more unusual (thank god).
We explain what each contaminant can do to your skin and at the end provide useful prevention tips – mainly filtration advice – that will allow you to significantly reduce your exposure.
Chlorine is a very potent disinfectant which makes it a necessary evil to keep our tap water safe and clean. Necessary evil? That’s because chlorine is “extremely dying to the skin”, says Dr. Debra Jaliman, an American Academy of Dermatology Spokesperson in an interview with Insider. Chlorine strips away natural oils promoting premature aging.
What’s more, chlorine does not distinguish between good and bad bacteria. Thus, washing with chlorinated water may kill your skin flora which can result in skin diseases such as acne. Long-term exposure can cause irritation and itchiness.
When ingested chlorinated water damages the intestinal flora which plays a major role in the digestion of our food and the production of vitamins and other essential nutrients. Again, the result can be acne and irritation among other non-skin conditions.
Rashes may occur when skin comes in contact with water containing higher levels of chlorine – think public swimming pools (but also some tap waters). Symptoms include:
The common term for water containing elevated levels of calcium and magnesium ions is hard water. Hard water does two things:
What’s interesting is that “Patients with eczema are much more sensitive to the effects of hard water than people with healthy skin. This increase in sensitivity is associated with a genetic predisposition to a skin barrier defect brought about by [genetic] mutations (…)”
Acute exposure to pesticides used in American agriculture is known to cause skin irritation among a range of other health symptoms. One example for such a pesticide is Atrazine. Atrazine is one of the most widely and most heavily used herbicides in the United States.
In fact, it has been so intensely used that it found its way into the tap water supply of 29 million people receiving their water from 1,365 different utilities across 27 states (numbers from 2015). How did it end up there? Two words: Agricultural runoff.
That being said, it is unclear if Atrazine causes skin conditions when dissolved in much lower concentrations in water used for washing or drinking. And the same goes for all the other herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
What we know is that Atrazine, to stick with our example, is a hormone disrupter that harms the male and female reproductive systems. But that’s a topic for another day.
*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database
Chromium 6 can cause skin irritation and in some cases an allergic skin reaction (allergic contact dermatitis). These conditions are also what the EPA has calibrated the current legal limit for chromium 6 in public drinking water for. A maximum of 100 ppb are deemed safe.
However, this standard was established back in 1991. The health guideline defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is 0.02 ppb and relies on the newest scientific research. The standard is not based on skin conditions triggered by chromium 6, though, but rather general health implications.
How many Americans had chromium 6 in their tap water in the years 2010 – 2015? About 250 million, but none above 100 ppb.
*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database
Ingesting arsenic-rich drinking water over an extended period of time, research suggests at least 5 years, can cause skin lesions and pigmentation changes.
But is chronic arsenic exposure realistic at all? Unfortunately, it is. The main source of arsenic in water is contaminated groundwater, and it is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of numerous countries including the U.S. In addition, arsenic comes from industrial and agricultural sources. It was even once used as a pesticide, added to poultry feed, and used as a lumber preservative.
Altogether, over 70 million people in the country were served tap water with arsenic levels above health guidelines in 2015. For 392,000 people the legal limit was exceeded.
Please note: These estimates do NOT include people that have their own private well.
*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database
We mention bacteria last as research suggests that skin-related health symptoms caused by bacteria – that is total coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli and others – in water only seem to occur with sea water, but not freshwater. In other words: You have to go for a swim in the ocean to have a chance to catch a rash or itch. And the water has to have high levels of several bacteria.
Prevention is the best medicine. So if you suffer from acne due to high chlorine content or irritation because you live in a hard-water area etc., there are certain measures you can take that will hopefully bring relief:
The President of the United States nominates the Administrator of the EPA who, among other things, is responsible for the regulation of public drinking water. Does this mean that tap water quality is all about politics?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates our public drinking water a.k.a. tap water. The Administrator of the EPA, nominated by the President of the United States, is the organization’s head. This makes him responsible for enforcing our nation’s Clean Water Act among other environmental protection statutes.
Now, President Trump’s first EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, an American lawyer, lobbyist and Republican politician from Oklahoma, had sued the EPA at least 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General prior to his nomination. Having received major corporate and employee campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt opposed environmental regulations and the “EPA’s activist agenda”.
In other words: Pruitt had spent much of his energy denying Americans the benefits of clean air and clean water, fighting the very agency he then led between February 2017 and July 2018.
At least one of his lawsuits against the EPA – all of them failed by the way (as of June 2014) – aimed at blocking the so-called Clean Water Rule. The regulation which was initiated by the Obama administration as an update to the Clean Water Act should have provided clearer protection of our nation’s waters. The focus was to clarify water resource management under a provision of the Clean Water Act of 1972, for example in order to strengthen the categorical protections of wetlands to minimize flooding and aid pollution remediation.
These wetlands and other water bodies such as streams are significant for the quality of our public drinking water. Water relied on by as much as 117 million people would have been affected by the implementation of the rule. Water that if polluted can have detrimental effects on what comes out of our taps.
Unfortunately, parts of the political right see government regulation and protection of our waters as a burden on economic growth. And to not infringe landowner rights the Trump administration suspended the Clean Water Rule until February 2020.
Another of Pruitt’s dubious moves, this time as EPA Administrator, was to withhold a study from publication. It was conducted by the DHHS Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) on the dangers of two chemical water pollutants named PFOS and PFOA. The study suggested that both substances could be harmful to human health at far lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency previously deemed safe.
And although PFOS and PFOA had been detected in samples of water served to approximately 10 million Americans from 2010 to 2015, the study was published with delay due to the fact that the EPA administration feared a PR nightmare.
The good news is that by July 2018 Pruitt was under at least 14 separate federal investigations. Some had to do with conflicts of interests and management practices, others with his spending habits. He resigned eventually.
The bad news: Former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler started serving as acting administrator three days later and was confirmed as EPA Administrator in February 2019.
From 2009 until 2017, Wheeler had lobbied against the Obama Administration representing coal producer and tycoon Robert E. Murray. Unsurprisingly, Murray is a supporter of President Trump.
Coal mining can lead to increased concentrations of iron, manganese, aluminum, sulfate and overall acidity in nearby streams and rivers. This depletes the water’s ability to neutralize carbonate ions. As a result, the water becomes acidic and biodiversity decreases. Another consequence is contaminated drinking water.
Of course this is mere speculation, but we find it highly unlikely that Andrew Wheeler will set any new regulations on coal producers considering that he is buddies with one of them. In addition, Xcel Energy, a company which operates 18 coal power plants is another of Wheeler’s former clients.
It is also questionable whether or not Andrew Wheeler will take other steps necessary to improve tap water quality in our country. Under the guise of transparency, he argued in favor of a rule proposed under Scott Pruitt that would prohibit the EPA to work with studies that do not make raw data publicly available. This, however, would limit the research available to the EPA by a large extent and thus undermine its regulatory role.
Instead, Wheeler endorsed the use of double-blind studies and named the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a role model. This is only one instance where our current EPA chief has demonstrated his ignorance. Because what may be possible in drug trials is not necessarily feasible in the kind of research the EPA does. After all, the organization’s work revolves around tracking and measuring environmental impacts.
This is probably why the proposed rule was rejected by numerous large medical and scientific entities including the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Lung Association, Nature journal as well as Cell, and a group of former EPA administrators.
One last comment, and this might be a little off-topic, but does it come as a surprise to you that both Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler reject the idea of human-made climate change?
It is hard to think of anyone who would be less suited than Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler to hold the office of the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which is bad since we desperately need new rules to govern, control and improve the quality of our tap water.
But it is what it is and we must work with what we have, and that is very efficient and affordable home water filtration technology:
Bottom line: If we cannot trust the EPA to provide us with healthy, safe and delicious tap water, we will take care of it ourselves.
Pure H2O that contains zero minerals or any other kind of impurity is completely tasteless. This is why even only tiny amounts of salts or chemicals in water causing the smallest change in taste can be noticeable.
It is also why we have so many waters that taste different, because water is never 100 percent pure – far from it.
Of course, it can also happen that you perceive a bad, weird or funny flavor that you have never tasted before. Is there something wrong? Today’s post explains why some waters taste the way they do and what you can do about it.
When we talk about bad taste, we first need to differentiate between tap, well and bottled water, as they are all prone to their own common contamination issues.
In other words, the potential bad taste of water depends on where it originates from.
It Might Be You
It could be that you are the “reason” for the problem at hand. You might have a bad cold which influences your perception of taste. What’s more, people that just had their wisdom teeth removed might suffer from an impaired sense of taste. Fortunately this is only temporary in most cases. Water and other liquids tasting bitter is something that some chemotherapy patients experience.
So generally speaking, you might have to deal with taste issues due to physiological reasons. By the way, pregnancy is another one.
Furthermore, we have to remember that taste is subjective at least to some degree and you simply might have a very keen sense of taste. It’s also entirely possible that a certain water tastes weird to you, but someone else likes it and vice versa.
With all that said, below is a list of flavors that your water might have. We provide possible explanations for each (exempt physiological and health-related causes) and also what you can do about them. At the end you will find some general advice to follow.
Chlorine or bleach is probably the most common flavor in tap water. Some people may also describe the taste as “chemical”.
As already mentioned, municipalities use chlorine or chloramine to disinfect their water supply. This step is essential to make the water safe to drink. However, in excess amounts chlorine in particular makes water taste and smell like a swimming pool.
Chlorine taste can also be the aftermath of shock chlorination of a well.
The good news: Chlorine taste and odor can easily be removed with a basic carbon water filter – unless you are dealing with chloramine; here you will need catalytic carbon. Both filter types are available in many different forms and sizes, either for the point of use (e.g. under sink water filter) or the point of entry (whole house water filter).
With chlorine, heating the water for several minutes (distilling also works) or simply letting it sit for a while helps too. And so does adding Vitamin C – think fruit infusion. Vitamin C is also great for neutralizing chloramines. Another viable but less common alternative is UV light treatment which reduces chlorine and chloramines into easily removable byproducts. Chloramine removal through boiling is also possible.
Water that tastes bitter is often acidic and thus high in dissolved metals, first and foremost copper and zinc, as acidity accelerates corrosion of pipes and fittings. We recommend you have your water tested ASAP, especially the water pH. Corrosion could result in elevated lead levels which is highly dangerous.
Copper and zinc can also come from an aging water supply system, an old water tank or heater, or from a wrong combination of plumbing materials.
In general, the bitter taste will likely be most obtrusive in the morning when you first open a tap. This is because the water has been sitting in the line all night. Run the tap for some time to draw fresh water in.
If you are on well water, naturally occurring iron and manganese are probably the culprits. The latter is responsible for a bitter metallic taste. Another possible cause is high sulfate content. (Source)
What can you do?
Also see 2. Water Tastes Bitter
A metallic taste indicates the presence of metals such as iron, copper, zinc or manganese.
They may be naturally occurring, originate from an aging water system or wrong combination of plumbing materials, or enter your water due to corrosion if the pH is outside acceptable ranges.
Also see 2. Water Tastes Bitter
The taste of water high in iron content can resemble blood.
Water with a lot of calcium may remind you of milk, but this is only speculation.
Water that tastes like plastic is usually bottled water stored in plastic containers. Simply put, tiny plastic parts leach into the water over time. This is all the more noticeable in hot weather which amplifies the process.
Our only recommendation is to stay away from bottled water that comes in a plastic container.
If it’s tap water that tastes like plastic it most likely has to do with plastic piping. It’s the most popular plumbing material today since it is so cheap and easy to install. If installed only recently, chances are that the taste will disappear with time (flush thoroughly). If not, have a plumber check the pipes.
In case the taste reminds you of an antiseptic your dishwasher or washing machine might be causing the issue. Were they installed properly? They should also have a check valve to prevent backflow.
Algae blooms or bacterial growth in the water system you are connected to or your own plumbing can result in dirty tasting water.
For more information check 11. Earthy, Musty, Moldy Water.
But maybe the most obvious answer is correct: There actually is dirt a.k.a. sediment in your water. If so, you should see tiny particles floating in your glass. The solution? Get a sediment filter.
Calcium, iron or imbalanced water alkalinity or pH levels can have a sweetening effect, believe it or not. The same goes for certain types of plumbing.
Try flushing your system. If that doesn’t help look into the various water treatment methods mentioned in this guide.
Sour water is acidic, so water with a low pH. Acidity not only accelerates corrosion of pipes and fittings causing leaks, it could also elevate levels of toxic lead. Have your water tested ASAP!
For more information check 2. Water Tastes Bitter.
Soapy water is a rare phenomenon and may be caused by:
An earthy, musty or moldy taste is often an indicator for seasonal algal blooms in the source water. Now, due to the fact that municipal water gets proper treatment no algae will make it to your home, but the taste may linger for a while.
Other possible explanations are bacterial growth or decaying organic matter within the water system and water bodies as well as the soil the water filters through in case of well water. Or it’s the well itself and thus time for another shock chlorination to get a start fresh.
A third possibility is infestation of your own plumbing system or fixtures. Check if every outlet in your home has the same dirt-like taste or if it’s an isolated problem. It might also be that the resin bed of your water softener needs cleaning, or your tank water heater.
The fault lies within your entire plumbing? Flush with bleach solution and make sure to soak faucet aerators for 15 minutes. If it’s a single source remove the aerator and clean it. A bath in bleach solution or vinegar may be necessary.
You should also consider having your water tested for microbes.
A water filter system based on activated carbon will most likely be able to take care of the taste issue. Reverse osmosis works, too. Although funnily enough, if you already have a filter system installed it could be the root of the problem in case it has been neglected for too long. Mold, mildew, bacteria and the like might have accumulated in the filter itself and/or other parts so that you need to do some cleaning and replace the cartridge.
High concentrations of chloride, sulfate or Total Dissolved Solids make water salty.
Saltiness may also come from road salt, or salt water or sewage getting into the water supply. Especially the last two causes need to be addressed immediately.
A reverse osmosis system can handle saltiness with ease. And although in most cases the water will be safe to drink, it is important to have it tested for the above reasons.
If you have a water softener installed in your home it might use too much salt. Check the settings. There could also be something wrong with the regeneration cycle or the unit is malfunctioning in another way. Time to investigate!
A new, bad or strange taste respectively aftertaste doesn’t necessarily implicate that there is something wrong with your water. But it is definitely an indicator that you should pay attention. It could be a sign for potentially dangerous contamination that needs to be taken care of.
Stop drinking the water immediately. Then try a different water source. Maybe you can visit one of your neighbors? If it’s only your house where the off-taste appears you need to check your plumbing as well as your septic tank and private well if applicable. Consult a licensed plumber if need be. You should also consider having your water tested.
If the whole neighborhood has the taste, reaching out to your local municipality should bring clarity. Their annual water quality report might also point you in the right direction. And again, think about having some individual testing done.
Testing or not, if you cannot identify and remove what’s causing your water to taste off your only option is to filter. Unless you know that it’s only a temporary issue and you have a suitable alternative for the time being. If it’s a permanent thing then you need to act.
On a side note: If you recently moved to a new location it might be that you just need some patience to get used to your new water. Like we said, different waters taste different.
Fortunately, most taste issues can be resolved with the right filter system. The impurities in question will be removed and you get access to delicious, odor-free water. On top of that, you will have peace of mind knowing that you are not ingesting noxious water day after day.
As for what type of water filter to choose, there are plenty of options and it really depends on what contaminants you are facing.
Some contaminants can be boiled out of water. Volatile substances dissipate if you let the water sit.
Fruit infusion or adding lemon or lime juice to your water can help, too. And so does cooling. But you have to be certain that the underlying contamination issue does not pose a health threat.
Everyone knows that, compared to plain tap or well water, bottled water is hundreds of times more expensive. Above that, you have to go to the store to get it which involves heavy lifting, it produces a tremendous amount of plastic waste, and some bottled water is just municipal water filled into a bottle.
And yet still, bottled water is a multi-billion dollar industry. Why? Maybe because consumers want to have certainty that the water they drink is safe, healthy and delicious.
But wait a minute; you can achieve that with the help of a water filter! And you wouldn’t have to go to the store. And there would be significantly less plastic waste. But water filter vs bottled water – which is the better choice from a cost perspective? Let’s find out!
The U.S. bottled water industry which includes both carbonated and non-carbonated water sold in bottles or via water dispensers is a 63.6 billion dollar industry. This is how much revenue was made in the year 2018. For 2019, 67.6 billion dollars are estimated. The market is expected to grow 5.5% per year until 2023.
The volume of bottled water sold in 2018 amounted to roughly 54 billion liters, that’s about 14.27 billion gallons. Thus we get a price per liter of $1.18 USD. However, this includes both “at-home” water and “out-of-home” water. At-home covers all retail sales – think supermarkets. Out-of-home means sales to hotels, restaurants, bars, cafés, etc.
Differentiating between the two is rather important. Why? Because the price per liter for at-home water was $0.72 USD, whereas the price for out-of-home water was $4.41 USD (both for 2018), so much more expensive.
(*All numbers according to statista.com)
For our calculations further down below we will use $0.72 USD per liter respectively $2.73 USD per gallon as our basis unit price. Depending on which type and brand of bottled water you choose, you will pay some more or a little less.
By the way, neither flavored bottled water nor vitamin waters are part of this statistic.
If you have your own private well then all your household water is free, obviously. Finding a cost estimate for tap water is a little more complicated.
According to a report (Water and Wastewater Annual Price Escalation Rates for Selected Cities across the United States) provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, the average (mean) rate for tap water per 1,000 gallons was $3.38 USD in 2016. This average was calculated based on the water rates of 63 selected cities across the U.S which were part of the survey. The lowest rate was about $1.00 USD (Rochester, MN) and the highest about $7.50 USD (Lubbock, TX) per 1,000 gallons.
If you currently live in Marietta, GA you will have to pay about $5.00 USD per thousand gallons. Residents of Los Altos, CA will have to pay more than $7.00 USD.
Why Water Rates Will Continue to Increase
It is estimated that expanding, maintaining and repairing our water infrastructure will cost us more than a trillion dollars over the next 25 years. This huge amount of money must be generated somewhere…
Lastly, we have to estimate the cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining (mainly filter cartridge replacements) a water filter. Now, it doesn’t make sense to try and find an overall estimate here, as this will largely vary depending on what kind of filter you are eyeballing. Instead, here is a list with standard price ranges for the most popular filter types.
We’ve also listed costs for installation and maintenance. Especially the initial financial burden of setting up a water filter can be high. That being said, a high quality product will last for many years to come. And whereas bottled water is an ongoing expense, the real savings of switching to filtered water become evident in the second year and every year after that.
|Filter Type||Purchase Price Range||Installation Cost||Annual Maintenance Cost||Total Cost (First Year)|
|Reverse osmosis systems (see reviews)||$150 – $500||Free* – $300 (400)||$60 – $200||$210 – $1,000|
|Whole house water filters (see reviews)||$300 – $1,000+||Free* – $500+||$100 – $300||$400 – $1,800|
|Regular under sink filters (see reviews)||$50 – $200||Free* – $300||$20 – $150||$70 – $650|
|Countertop water filters (see reviews)||$50 – $120||–||$70 – $130||$120 – $250|
|Faucet water filters (see reviews)||$20 – $50||–||$20 – $40||$40 – $90|
|Water filter pitchers (see reviews)||$20 – $50||–||$60 – $150||$80 – $200|
*DIYers that are ready to take on a new project can save a few hundred bucks by installing their water filter system themselves.
Alright, time do to the math!
To find out if filtered water or bottled water is more affordable we are going to do 3 examples calculations based on real-life parameters. In each case, we are going to assume that a family of 4 consumes 4 x 80 ounces = 2.5 gallons of water a day or 912.5 gallons per year. This means that the cost for bottled water for a whole year is:
912.5 bottled water gallons x $2.73 USD/gallon = $2491.13 USD
Our family would spend almost $2,500 USD on bottled water in one year.
Let’s see how well our water filters do…
For our first calculation example we purchase the popular Aquagear water filter pitcher which retails at around $70 USD (we know, this one is way above average) and includes 1 filter cartridge. Aquagear replacement filters cost $50 USD and last for about 150 gallons each.
The costs for 1 year of filtered water using the Aquagear pitcher are:
1. Initial purchase = $70 USD
2. # of required replacement filters: 912.5 gallons / 150 gallons = 6.08 ≈ 7
1 filter cartridge included: 7 – 1 = 6
6 x $50 USD = $300 USD
3. 5 tap water gallons ≈ $7 USD (worst case)
4. Total cost = $70 + $300 + $7 = $377 USD
In example 1, our family would spend less than $400 USD on filtered water for a whole year. For every year that follows, the annual costs would drop to $377 – $70 = $307 USD since there is no need to purchase a new filter pitcher every year.
Cost savings year 1:
$2491.13 – $377 = $2114.13 USD
Cost savings every following year:
$2491.13 – $307 = $2184.13 USD
More than 2,100 dollars in cost savings! And keep in mind that we chose one of the most expensive filter pitchers. Also, we would barely use the 6th replacement filter cartridge.
For our next calculation example we purchase the iSpring RCC7 5-stage reverse osmosis under sink drinking water filtration system for roughly $185 USD. The first set of filters is included which should last us 1 year. Annual filter replacement costs total at $60 USD.
One more important detail is that, without an additional pump, a reverse osmosis system wastes 3 to 4 times the amount of water that you can later actually use.
The costs for 1 year of filtered water using the iSpring RCC7 reverse osmosis system are:
1. Initial purchase = $185 USD
2. 5 tap water gallons ≈ $7 USD (worst case)
3. Wastewater ≈ $7 USD x 4 = $28 USD (worst case)
4. Total cost = $185 + $7 + $28 = $220 USD
In example 2, our family would spend approximately $220 USD on reverse osmosis water for a whole year. For every year that follows, the annual costs would total $60 + $7 + $28 = $95 USD since there is no need to purchase a new RO system every year, but only the replacement filters.
Cost savings year 1:
$2491.13 – $220 = $2271.13 USD
Cost savings every following year:
$2491.13 – $307 = $2396.13 USD
Almost $2,300 USD in cost savings in the first year and nearly $2,400 USD each following year – this is simply mind blowing!
In our last example we buy the iSpring WGB32B-PB, a 3-stage whole house water filtration system that comes with a specialized lead reducing filter. Cost: About $450 USD for the system + $50 USD for replacement filters in the first year. To this we have to add $400 USD for the installation done by a licensed plumber. The annual filter costs starting in year 2 are $225 USD.
The costs for 1 year of filtered water are:
1. Initial purchase + replacement filter set + installation = $450 + $50 + $400 = $900 USD
2. 5 tap water gallons ≈ $7 USD (worst case)
3. Total cost = $900 + $7 = $907 USD
Our family would spend a little more than $900 USD on a professionally installed whole house water filter for lead free drinking water. For every year that follows, the annual costs would total $225 + $7 = $232 USD.
Cost savings year 1:
$2491.13 – $907 = $1584.13 USD
Cost savings every following year:
$2491.13 – $232 = $2259.13 USD
$1,584.13 USD savings in year 1 and $2259.13 USD every year after that. What’s more, we have access to filtered and more or less lead-free drinking water everywhere in our home!
Looking at our calculation examples above, it becomes more than obvious that filtered water has a tremendous cost advantage over bottled water. $2,000 USD and more in potential cost savings for a family of 4 every single year – enough said!
It is also worth mentioning that the more water you drink, the sooner you will break even and the more savings you will make each year.
The following infographic outlines the quality of drinking water – that means tap and well water – around the world.
You might find this information useful if you are a passionate globetrotter and want to know where you can drink straight from the tap without thinking. Or like us, you simply find it interesting to learn in which parts of the world such a fundamental part of human existence as clean drinking water is still not self-evident (sadly).
After all, at least 2 billion people worldwide are using a drinking water source contaminated with feces; feces that cause diarrhea, cholera, polio and other diseases resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
We acquired the data for our infographic from 2 sources:
The infographic lists the population percentage with access to contamination-free water supplies for each country in the year 2017. In this case, contamination-free means “compliant with standards for faecal contamination (E. coli) and priority chemical contamination (arsenic and fluoride)”. This is simply the definition that the JMP has used in the WASH report.
Of course, there are many more potential water contaminants that might do you harm when ingested – so be aware!
Interestingly enough, there are discrepancies between the WASH report data and what the CDC recommends.
Because for some countries where 98–99+% of the population has access to contamination-free drinking water (according to the WASH report), the CDC does not deem the water safe and recommends sticking to bottled water.
Maybe this is because the CDC relies on data that is outdated or different. Or maybe they just take a more conservative approach? We don’t know.
What we know is that when you are in doubt about the quality of your drinking water, either stick to bottled water or use a filter if possible. The best way to get access to clean drinking water is through a reverse osmosis system. There are even portable RO systems, some suited for traveling.
Enough said, let’s get on with the infographic!
CDC recommendations: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
If you are into home water treatment or just pay attention to the quality of water that you drink then you have probably heard about reverse osmosis. You might even have a filter system installed under the kitchen sink in your home.
But how does reverse osmosis work, actually?
Although the name sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Are you ready to go back to chemistry class?
According to Merriam-Webster, reverse osmosis is “the movement of fresh water through a semipermeable membrane when pressure is applied to a solution (such as seawater) on one side of it”.
In other words, reverse osmosis (RO) is a technology to treat water and remove almost all impurities from it.
Furthermore, it is considered one of the safest water filtration methods which is why many bottlers in the U.S. rely on it. (Next time you go grocery shopping take 5 minutes of your time and check out some of the bottled water labels. Look for hints such as “Purified by Reverse Osmosis”.
RO is an abbreviation and stands for Reverse Osmosis.
Simply put, reverse osmosis water, or RO water, is water that was purified by the use of reverse osmosis. Like we said, it’s almost pure H2O with only tiny bits of foreign particles.
Pureness is also the reason why RO water is being used in medical applications (e.g. dialysis and injections) and other industry processes, and why it’s suited for drinking and cooking.
In the end, how pure reverse osmosis water really is depends on a variety of factors, such as the treatment equipment and the condition and quality of the feed water. As a general rule, feed water that contains more impurities prior to the purification will also contain higher amounts afterwards, compared to feed water that was cleaner in the first place.
It is also relevant what types of contaminants are present. For instance, large bacteria and viruses can be removed much easier and more effectively than small ions like fluoride.
How about actual numbers for purity levels? Somewhere between 85 and 98 percent contaminant removal is realistic. Thus, RO water is not 100 percent pure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe. The remaining solutes are unlikely to cause health problems.
By the way, these numbers are for the reverse osmosis process alone. A reverse osmosis water system for home use comes with additional filter stages that allow for up to 99% contaminant reduction rates.
Pro tip: Look for models with reduction rates certified by independent 3rd party organizations such as NSF. Need help? View our reverse osmosis system reviews.
Reverse osmosis is most commonly used to desalinate sea water in areas where fresh drinking water is hard to access. It is also used to recycle commercial wastewater. There are RO systems for homes, for commercial use, and large plants for industrial applications. But how exactly does reverse osmosis work?
Osmosis & Reverse Osmosis Process Diagram
Reverse osmosis is the opposite of a natural process called “osmosis”. If you remember your chemistry, osmosis occurs when a solvent moves from a low concentrate solution to a high concentrate solution through a semipermeable membrane; semipermeable meaning that only some substances can pass through it.
This process continues until both solute concentrations on either side of the membrane are equal. The movement of a solvent to equalize solute concentrations creates osmotic pressure.
In reverse osmosis the exact opposite happens. External hydraulic pressure is used to overcome the osmotic pressure and the flow of the solvent, usually water, is reversed. The solvent molecules now move from the high concentrate solution (feed water) to the low concentrate solution (permeate). The aim is to separate the solvent from the dissolved solids resulting in purified water.
However, not all water can be purified. No matter how efficient, every reverse osmosis application produces wastewater. The remaining concentrate a.k.a. reject which now contains all the impurities either goes down the drain or is fed back into the water supply for recycling.
Not sure if you fully understood how this works? Try this 90-second YouTube video:
A reverse osmosis membrane rejects contaminants based on their size and ionic charge – the larger or higher, the better.
Compared to micro and ultrafiltration membranes, an RO membrane has much smaller pores that water molecules can diffuse through. However, the majority of impurities can’t and are flushed down the drain. Thin-Film Composite (TFC) RO membranes that are commonly found in drinking water purification system reject particles – that includes salts, heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, chemicals and organics – down to a size of 0.0001 microns.
That being said, there is a key difference between reverse osmosis and “regular” filtration and that is the predominant removal mechanism. Regular filtration works by size exclusion. This simply means that if a solvent is too large it will be filtered out. Theoretically speaking, you can achieve perfect exclusion here given that membrane pores are small enough.
Not so with reverse osmosis, because it involves a diffusive mechanism so that filtration efficiency also depends on solute concentration, water pressure and water temperature. Higher water pressure means higher filtration efficiency, while lower water temperature results in lower efficiency.
FYI: The ideal pressure for operating a point-of-use home RO system is around 60 psi. In case pressure drops below 30 psi, it’s generally considered insufficient and should be increased using a pressure pump.
The majority of commercially manufactured RO membranes are TFC, cellulose acetate (CA) or cellulose triacetate (CTA) membranes.
On the one hand, TFC membranes are more durable than CA and CTA membranes and also have higher rejection rates, 98% on average for the common contaminants.
On the other hand, CA and CTA membranes are better at tolerating chlorine, but more susceptible to fouling from bacteria.
Each membrane is made up of a flat sheet rolled around a perforated core tube where the permeate water is channeled into. A membrane flat sheet has 3 layers: First, the active barrier skin about 0.2 microns in thickness, followed by 2 support layers about 100 microns in thickness that strengthen the very thin barrier layer.
Some people falsely believe that, apart from producing soft water, their water softener would also protect them from harmful contaminants. Truth is, it has virtually zero effect on water quality in terms of purity.
Others are convinced that a water filter makes a great choice for treating hard water issues. Wrong again.
As there seems to be a lot of confusion about when to use a water softener and when a water filter, we are going to point out the difference between the two, and explain under what circumstances one is to be favored over the other.
Hard water does not pose a health risk. Quite the contrary, its high mineral content is healthy for our bodies. This is why with water softening, the overarching goal is NOT to remove certain contaminants.
Rather, the purpose of a softening unit is primarily to prevent the build-up of limescale in your plumbing system and household appliances to protect them from premature wear out.
This can be achieved by either
The latter is also called “water conditioning“. It has the advantage that no sodium is added to your water.
Both methods will increase the lifespan and efficiency of pipes, water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, etc. while lowering maintenance and repair costs. However, time has shown that the former is far more effective and thus the go-to approach.
Also, water softeners are point-of-entry systems, meaning that they connect to the main line and soften all water in your entire home.
To answer our opening question, yes, a softener does filter water. However, “all” that is removed are hard water ions. Softeners were not designed to make water potable by filtering microorganisms, heavy metals, chlorine and other chemicals, fluoride – you name it.
|Contaminant||Removal – Yes/No?|
|Sediment||Partially, but will cause damage to system|
|Taste & odor||No|
|Iron/rust||Partially, but will cause damage to system|
Will a water filter soften your water? Not really, at least not effectively and/or efficiently enough.
However, if you are concerned about certain contaminants or impurities such as lead, mercury or pesticides for health reasons, or you simply want to improve water aesthetics, a filtration system is the right choice.
The group of water filters includes reverse osmosis (RO) systems, activated carbon (most common) and other media-type filters, and microporous filters among others.
Depending on which type you choose, contaminants get trapped in a filter e.g. by adsorption, ion exchange or micron filtration and later removed via backwashing or cartridge replacement. Or they are flushed down the drain right away.
Whereas water softeners need to be plumbed in, the majority of filters are point-of-use devices that e.g. install under a kitchen sink or attach to a faucet. This means that they provide filtered water at a single outlet only which is why they are much smaller and less costly. (Of course there are also whole house purifiers.)
Bottom line: Especially if you use your water for drinking you should consider adding a filter system to your home. It will provide great-tasting water and protect the health of your family.
Every water softener is a water filter, but not every water filter is a water softener.
|Contaminant||Removal – Yes/No? (+ Preferred Methods)|
|Hardness||Partially, but will clog filters|
|Taste & odor||Yes (carbon media)|
|Chlorine||Yes (carbon media)|
|Chemicals||Yes (carbon media)|
|Fluoride||Yes (RO or activated alumina)|
|Lead||Yes (RO or activated carbon)|
|Waterborne pathogens||Yes (RO)|
Water softener vs water filter – the decision as we now know depends on the condition of your water:
A water softener protects your possessions, a water filter protects your health.
Now, to identify a hardness problem you could look for marks that hard water leaves in your home. These include stains on sinks, tubs, glasses and cutlery, scale deposits in pipes, and flaky skin and brittle hair that your family is struggling with.
In addition, excessive chlorine can easily be spotted due to its characteristic taste and smell.
However, dozens of partly dangerous contaminants that could be present in your water right now cannot be perceived with your eyes, nose or mouth. What’s more, in order for a water softener to work efficiently you need to know the exact mineral composition and concentrations.
That’s why thorough testing is the name of the game. Luckily, you don’t have to commission these tests yourself. Somebody already did that for you – for free!
Because every utility in the United States has to annually provide a quality report listing all contaminants that were found in their water the previous year. All you have to do now is find out where you receive your water from and request a copy of the latest report (not possible if you are on a private well).
Alternatively, you can have your water tested at a certified laboratory or invite a local treatment company to your home. Talking to an expert has the benefit that you can pick his brain about particular water issues. Just don’t let him talk you into buying something that you don’t want or need.
Your last option would be to pick up a kit and do the testing yourself. But this is only really recommended to measure calcium levels for hardness. DIY-testing for a broad range of contaminants lacks precision and is not economic.
If you struggle not only with hard water but also impurities that you want to get rid of, then the answer is yes.
The right whole house filter system supplies water safe for consumption including showering, but only reduces hardness to some extent which is not sufficient to rule out scaling.
A softener takes care of the hardness but does not supply water that meets drinking water standards.
So if you have the money, why not use both a softener plus a filtration system? In fact, this is pretty common among home owners.
By the way, this is also our recommended order of setup:
By pre-softening the water you will also protect the delicate RO membrane at the heart of the system from fouling. The same applies to filter cartridges that contain carbon or other filter media.
Above that, adding a pre-filter before the softener is a great way to trap sediment that would otherwise accumulate in the softening system.
All in all, using a combination of both a water softener and filter is a win-win for sure!