fresh spring water directly from the mountains of Tyrol in Austria

Distilled Water vs Spring Water: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever walked down the bottled water aisle at a grocery store before, then you know that there are a plethora of drinking water options out there. Spring and distilled water are just two of the types of water available and they’re also two of the most popular. Some of the key differences between distilled and spring water include:

  1. The geological water source
  2. Applied purification processes
  3. Mineral content and hydration

So, what do these differences mean and what are the implications of these differences?

A bottle filled with distilled water for use in laboratories.

Distilled water is water that has been boiled into vapor and condensed back into liquid in a separate container

Distilled Water vs Spring Water

Before breaking down the key differences between distilled water and spring water, first consider the broad categorical differences between the two. Distilled water is a type of purified water that has gone through the distillation process for purification.  It can come from different geological sources including springs, wells, and taps.  In addition to distillation, it typically goes through other purification processes in order to remove as many impurities as possible.

While distilled water falls under the category of purified water, spring water is its own category of water.  It is the type of water derived from the earth’s natural water springs.  After being harvested, purification may or may not be applied.  Sometimes, spring water undergoes little to no purification in order to maintain its natural elements. 

Distilled Water

Distilled water gets its name from the purification process that it undergoes: distillation.  It is a type of purified water; purified water refers to water that has gone through at least one purification process to remove contaminants.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water contaminants fall into four categories:

  1. Physical
  2. Chemical
  3. Biological
  4. Radiological

Distillation removes about 99% of the dissolved materials in water.  Other purification methods are required in order to remove the contaminants that distillation cannot separate including volatile and semivolatile organic compounds.  Considering the effectiveness of distillation plus the other treatment processes that are applied, distilled water is considered to be one of the most purified types of water in the world. Moreover, distilled water falls under the umbrella of a type of purified water and is treated with distillation and other treatment methods to remove just about all of its contaminants.

Spring Water

Spring water gets its name from the geological location of where it comes from: natural water springs.  A natural water spring forms above ground when water moving underground in an aquifer faces pressure and is forced upwards to the earth’s surface.  When it reaches the earth’s surface, it forms a trickle of water called a spring. Moreover, spring water is groundwater that becomes surface water.   

spring water

1. The Geological Water Source

First off, we need to consider where distilled water and spring water come from.  All drinking water comes from one of two geological sources:

  1. Surfacewater
  2. Groundwater

Surface water is water that you see on the earth’s surface including lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans.  Drinking water is most often sourced from surface water.  According to the EPA, 68% of Americans get their water from surface water.   Groundwater is water below the earth’s surface that you cannot see. 

It is harvested via natural springs and drilling wells.  Groundwater makes its way into the earth when rain, snow, and surface water seep into the ground and move downward.  The water will continue to move downward until it reaches an aquifer and eventually is drilled for or forms a spring. Surface water and groundwater have major differences including:

  • Levels of contamination
  • Concentration of minerals

Surface water tends to have a higher concentration of contaminants compared to groundwater because it is more susceptible to contamination from each of the 4 types of contaminants.  Surface water is commonly contaminated by runoff from farms including that from animal waste, pesticides, and herbicides. 

It is also highly susceptible to contamination from numerous microorganisms (microbes) such as bacteria and viruses as well as chemical compounds that seep into fresh waterways from mining, construction, and other human activities.  Due to the high levels of impurities, surface water typically requires more decontamination than groundwater.

Groundwater also faces contamination, however, it is typically less concentrated with contaminants than surface water.  As groundwater makes its way deeper into the earth, it moves through numerous layers of dirt, clay, and rocks; these sediments act as a natural filtration system for contaminants in the water. 

The sediments are able to pick up on some but not all of the contaminants.  So, as groundwater makes its way into an aquifer, it probably has already had some of its impurities removed.  However, it still requires some technical decontamination once it is harvested from the ground.

Surface water tends to have fewer natural minerals than groundwater.  Most minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium, get into our water as the water seeps through rocks.  Rocks are high in minerals and, as the water grazes over them, it picks up many of the rock’s minerals.  Therefore, because surface water doesn’t seep down through the earth picking up minerals, it doesn’t have as many of them.

On the flip side, groundwater is high in natural minerals.  Water that is high in minerals is often referred to as hard water whereas water with fewer minerals is soft water.  Typically, the deeper into the ground that the water is harvested from, the harder it is.

Distilled water falls underneath the umbrella of purified water which comes from both surface water and groundwater sources.  It can come from a spring, drilled well, surface water, or simply from straight tap water.  However, it is most likely to come from wells and surface water rather than springs and other underground sources. As a result of where it is sourced from, distilled water is:

  • More likely to be contaminated with impurities before it is treated
  • Less likely to be high in natural minerals

These two factors put distilled water and other purified waters at a disadvantage to spring water; increased potential for contamination plus the removal of healthy minerals puts distilled water at a disadvantage to spring water health-wise. Spring water is geologically sourced from natural springs.  Natural springs, being created from groundwater, as a result, is:

  • Less likely to be contaminated with impurities before it is treated
  • More likely to be high in natural minerals

These two factors put spring water at an advantage over distilled water in terms of health and safety.

2. Differences in Applied Purification Process

Next, we need to consider the water purification processes that both distilled water and spring water go through.  Purification processes are typically longer or shorter depending on where the water was geologically and geographically sourced from.  Geologically, groundwater usually requires less purification than surface water.  Geographically speaking, when water is sourced from areas in which air, water, and land pollution is high, it requires more purification.

The purification process usually includes the following steps:

  1. Pretreatment
  2. Sedimentation
  3. Filtration
  4. Disinfection

The pretreatment process involves preparing the water for the more thorough steps of purification.  It includes getting large sediments such as rocks and sticks out of the water.  It is more likely that surface water would be contaminated with these large sediments than groundwater. 

Prechlorination is also a step in pretreatment; it involves adding chlorine to the water in order to prevent corrosion in pipes or odor issues with the water.  However, prechlorination is less likely to be applied to water these days because it may cause the formation of disinfection byproducts that are harmful to human health.

Next, sedimentation is the process in which tiny sediments suspended in the water begin to settle.  Small particles of dirt, sands, and even minuscule rocks are all common.  Once they settle, they form a sludge at the bottom of a filter that is then easily removed.

Third is the filtration process; there are many different types of filters and filtration processes available.  Filters help remove any remaining physical particles as well as chemical, radiological, and some biological contaminants.  Many of these filtration processes also remove healthy minerals from water.  A few of the most popular filtration systems are:

  • Sediment (micron) filtration
  • Carbon filtration
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Distillation
  • Ion exchange

Lastly, disinfection processes are applied to water.  These processes are typically there to remove any last pathogen causing biological microbes that are too small to be trapped by filters.  The most common disinfection processes include:

  • Distillation
  • Chlorine disinfection
  • Ozone disinfection
  • Ultraviolet disinfection

Distilled water is often considered the purest water type because distillation is a very effective purification process.  The distillation process thoroughly removes numerous contaminants from water including:

  • Natural minerals
  • Organic and inorganic compounds
  • Biological microbes

The distillation process heats water up to its boiling point and then holds the water there as it forms into vapor.  Then, the vapor is collected and cooled back down into its liquid form. On the downside, distillation, unfortunately, removes the healthy, natural minerals from water. 

On the plus side, it removes some of the most dangerous water contaminants including metals like lead and nitrates as well as pathogenic microbes. Distilling water does not remove all inorganic contaminants and non-volatile organic compounds.  Therefore, in order for distilled water to be fully purified, it needs to go through an additional process to remove these contaminants. Moreover, distilled water is some of the safest water that you can drink due to its very thorough decontamination process.

Compared to distilled water, spring water typically does not have as many purification processes applied to it.  True spring water is bottled right at its source and goes through little to no treatment in order to keep it as natural as possible.  Bottling at the source, however, does not always happen with spring water. 

More often than not, the water is taken from the spring to a treatment facility where it undergoes light purification including going through carbon filters.  Also, in order to prevent contamination during the transfer process, the water is loaded into trucks that are treated with chlorine and ozone.  Therefore, spring water, while more natural than other types of water, is not always 100% free of treatment or bottled right from the spring.

The fact that true spring water goes through little treatment poses a risk for contaminants to make it into your drinking water.  While groundwater springs are overall less prone to contamination than surface water sources, there is still the risk of dangerous impurities slipping through when little purification is applied. So, spring water goes through less treatment than distilled water which can be both good and bad.  Little treatment ensures that the water’s natural minerals remain but also leaves room for other contaminants to infect your drinking water. 

3. Differences in Mineral Content and Hydration

The mineral content in distilled water and spring water is the third major difference between the two.  Mineral content is dependent on the geological source and applied purification process of the water.  Both of these factors determine the final mineral content of the water. 

Groundwater and water that undergo less purification are higher in minerals than surface water and water that undergo more extensive purification. Minerals in water are very good for your health; calcium, magnesium, and potassium are all essential elements in a healthy diet.  Some health benefits of the minerals include:

  • Good bone health
  • Stable blood pressure
  • Good nervous system health
  • Boost hydration (electrolytes)

One of the less talked about benefits of drinking water high in minerals is the extra boost of hydration it provides.  Minerals are also known as electrolytes which help control numerous automatic body functions including:

  • Muscle contraction
  • Blood pressure
  • Maintaining blood pH

Electrolytes help to increase your hydration at times when your body is losing a lot of water, such as while exercising.  The electrolytes quickly restore the minerals in your body so that your body can continue to function at its highest levels. In terms of the difference in taste caused by minerals, higher concentrations of minerals tend to make water taste more bitter. 

Therefore, people tend to prefer the taste of less hard water over very hard water. If you’re using either distilled or spring water for something other than drinking such as cleaning or bathing, consider how differences in minerals affect those activities.  Typically, the harder water is, the more likely it is to:

  • Clean less effectively
  • Deteriorate pipes and appliances
  • Reduce the quality of clothes

Minerals in water, while healthy for you, tend to make everyday activities more difficult.  First off, cleaning with hard water is less effective because minerals in water do not react well with soap.  When the soap and minerals mix, the minerals prevent a lather from forming a leave behind a film-like residue on the surfaces that are cleaned.

Limescale on a tap

Hard water causes the formation of limescale in pipes and appliances.

Overall, whether you’re cleaning your countertops, bathtub, or even your body, the residue will make them feel dirtier than perhaps before you even cleaned. Secondly, water higher in minerals is more likely to corrode and degrade pipes.  Over time, minerals build up in clumps causing blockages. 

As a result, your pipes will begin to corrode and your water pressure will decrease.  If you have very hard water running through your home’s pipes, it’s a good idea to get them inspected every so often in order to prevent severe problems from arising. Third, using water high in minerals to clean clothes can deteriorate the quality of the clothes faster than if you would have used soft water. 

Minerals leave behind stains on items coming out of the wash and leave fabrics feeling stiff and uncomfortable.  On the other hand, soft water improves the look and feel of your clothes. Distilled water loses just about all of its minerals during the distillation process.  If you’re trying to get a lot of dietary minerals out of your water, then distilled water isn’t for you. 

However, if you like water with a very flat taste, then go for distilled. Additionally, using distilled water outside of drinking such as for cleaning or bathing is very helpful.  Because its mineral content is so low, the water is softer and less likely to leave mineral stains, soap scum, or clogs in pipes and faucets behind.  

Spring water should technically be very high in minerals, especially if it is bottled right from the source.  However, since that is not the case for most spring waters, it typically does not have as many minerals as it is marketed to have.  Yet, spring water, even after minimal processing, still does have higher mineral concentrations than most other waters. These minerals are great for your health and keeping you hydrated but not so great for cleaning or uses outside of drinking.  

Should You Drink Distilled or Spring Water?

After considering the differences between distilled water and spring water, you can make a more informed decision about which one you should drink. Overall, distilled water is some of the safest water to drink, has a very flat taste, and is good not only for drinking but for bathing and cleaning as well.  On the other hand, spring water is better for your health and hydration yet and undergoes less processing making it a more natural water option.

Bonus tip: Water distillation is safe and simple when you use one of our top picks for the 10 best at-home water distillers

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Joshua Perkins

Joshua spent ten years as a water systems technician in California before settling down with his wife and two young children in Nashville in 2018. Through all of his experience, he learned the benefits and shortfalls of so many different types of water filtration systems, from pitchers to whole-house installations. He started Water Filter Authority in 2019 to empower other families to make the right decision for their long-term health and wellness.