Why You Shouldn’t Drink Too Much Distilled Water
There are countless different types of water available. Distilled water is just one type and is most commonly known as a very safe, uncontaminated type of water to drink.
However, the side effects of the distillation process make distilled water less healthy than it might initially appear to be. Therefore, you shouldn’t drink too much distilled water in order to avoid certain health consequences associated with drinking too much of it.
What is Distilled Water?
Distilled water is one type of purified water. Purified water is water that has undergone a water treatment process to remove impurities and contaminants. Distilled water is water that has undergone the distillation process for purification. Distillation is one of many different kinds of water treatments used to purify water.
What is Purified Water?
Purified water is water that has been treated to remove contaminants. A water contaminant is considered to be any substance in water that is not a water molecule. Therefore, a contaminant could be anything from rocks to chemicals to microplastics to bacteria. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that all water contaminants fall into one of the following four categories:
While some of these contaminants are harmless, others are harmful to human health. Moreover, water undergoes purification in order to remove potentially dangerous contaminants. Many dangerous water contaminants infect the environment as a result of human activity. These contaminants seep into both our fresh water and groundwater drinking supplies. Therefore, it is crucial that we protect the environment from pollution in order to keep our drinking water safe.
How is Water Purified?
Water is purified in a series of steps. There are 4 main steps in the water purification process including:
Distillation is considered part of both the filtration and decontamination steps of the process because it is extremely effective at killing off numerous types of dangerous contaminants.
Pretreatment prepares the water to go through the more robust steps of the treatment process. Common steps during pretreatment include:
- Removal of physical objects
First, physical objects visible to the naked eye such as sticks, rocks, or grass are removed from the water. Then, chlorine is added to the water in order to prevent the water from corroding pipes during later steps of the purification process. Chlorine also removes any initial bad odors that the water has.
Sedimentation removes tiny physical sediments suspended in the water. Common sediments include small grains of dirt and sand. Once the sediments settle on the bottle of a water tank, they turn into sludge and are easily swept out of the tank.
Filtration is the process of removing remaining physical contaminants as well as some of the chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants from the water. It is most effective at catching larger organic and inorganic chemicals rather than teeny tiny microbial biological contaminants. Common filtration processes include:
- Reverse osmosis
- Micron filtration
- Carbon filtration
- Ion exchange
Disinfection removes any remaining contaminants leftover from the previous purification steps. Disinfection is particularly important to deactivate pathogenic biological contaminants such as harmful bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Each of these contaminants is a well-known cause of disease. Common disinfection processes include:
- UV light treatment
What is Distillation
Distillation is one type of water purification treatment. It is considered to be a part of both the filtration and disinfection steps of purification. It is also considered to be one of the most effective ways to purify water of contaminants. Distillation is one of the first water purification techniques ever invented. Considering that it started so long ago and is still popularly used to treat water today, it’s safe to say that it’s quite effective.
The key to distilling water is to boil liquid water until it evaporates into water vapor. Evaporation is what separates pure water from its contaminants. When water is heated up, it eventually changes from its liquid state to its gas state, which is water vapor. Once the water is in its gas state, it disconnects from many of its contaminants.
The distillation process starts by heating the water up to its boiling point in a tank. Once the water reaches its boiling point, it is held there as it begins to form into water vapor. The water vapor is then transported through a funnel into a condenser. Once the water vapor reaches the condenser, it is cooled back down and returned to its liquid state.
Water vapor that has been cooled back down into its liquid state in a condenser is considered decontaminated. Any of the contaminants that remain in the water after condensing are those that have higher boiling points than the water, which is not many of them.
What Contaminants Does Distillation Remove?
While distillation is very effective at removing many contaminants, it does not remove all of them. Therefore, before water is distilled, it should go through either additional disinfection or filtration process in order to remove the contaminants it cannot get rid of by itself.
Distillation does effectively remove:
- Certain inorganic compounds
- Hard water minerals
- Trace amounts of metals
- Some organic compounds
First off, distillation does effectively get rid of certain inorganic contaminants including heavy metals such as iron and lead. It also gets rid of inorganic nitrites and nitrates. Nitrites pose particularly dangerous health risks and most commonly enter waterways through pesticide runoff from farms.
Second, distillation effectively removes natural hard water minerals including calcium and magnesium. Unlike dangerous metals and nitrites, these essential minerals pose no health risks to humans yet are commonly removed in order to decrease water hardness.
Third, distillation importantly removes microorganisms from water. These microorganisms, or microbes, are pathogens that are known to cause numerous diseases including E. coli. They are typically too small of organisms to be picked up by filters, so distillation or a different disinfection process is essential to remove them.
Lastly, distillation removes trace metals and some organic compounds. Whether or not distillation removes an organic compound depends on its boiling point. Organic compounds with boiling points lower than water will vaporize with the water and remain contaminants even after distillation. Organic compounds with boiling points higher than water will not vaporize with water and will be separated from the water molecules during distillation.
In conclusion, each of these contaminants is removed during distillation because they don’t vaporize with the water molecules. Once the water boils and evaporates, the contaminant molecules separate from it and are no longer considered contaminants.
Distillation does not remove:
- Large non-volatile organic compounds
- Other inorganic compounds
These contaminants aren’t removed during distillation because they do vaporize with water. Because they don’t separate from water vapor, they are carried over with the water to the condenser and remain as contaminants. In order to remove these contaminants from water, they must go through an additional filtration or disinfection process.
Benefits of Distilled Water
The most obvious benefit of drinking distilled water over other types of water is that it is very safe to drink. Scientific studies have shown that distilled water gets rid of as much as 99.5% of water contaminants. If you live in an area in which pollution is high, distillation could help ensure that large amounts of pollutants are removed from your drinking water.
It is also beneficial in terms of:
- Decreasing your chemical intake: Typically, water that goes through distillation for disinfection doesn’t have additional chemicals such as chlorine or fluoride added to it. As a result, distilled water is an incredibly pure water type and doesn’t add any chemicals into your body.
- Cleansing the body: Because distilled water is so pure and free of chemicals, it helps cleanse impurities from your body without adding any additional ones in. Drinking water, in general, helps remove toxins out of your system, and distilled water is particularly effective at doing so.
Risks of Drinking Too Much Distilled Water
The risks of drinking too much distilled water have less to do with what’s in the water and more to do with what isn’t in the water. Although distillation is a very effective process to remove harmful contaminants, it also removes the natural minerals that your body needs in order to be healthy. The loss of these minerals comes with a handful of damaging effects.
1. Distilled Water is Low in Essential Minerals
The natural minerals in water are some of the healthiest minerals in the world. Some of the most abundant minerals in water include potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Each of these minerals is essential for maintaining numerous human body functions including:
- Nervous system regulation
- Bone growth
- Blood pressure stabilization
Mineral deficiencies are a common result arising from drinking too much distilled water. If you plan on drinking distilled water regularly, it is a good idea to take a mineral supplement or add mineral drops to your water in order to restore the mineral balance. A lack of minerals could result in numerous health problems, so it is crucial that you either get them from water or supplement.
2. Distilled Water is Less Hydrating Than Other Waters
Water minerals are also commonly referred to as electrolytes. Perhaps you’ve heard of electrolytes from commercials for sports drinks. These advertisements really aren’t lying: water high in electrolytes is more hydrating than regular water and is better to drink during physical activity. When you exercise, your body is depleted of water and electrolytes.
In order to keep your body running at its highest levels, you must restore both the water and the electrolytes. Water low in electrolytes, such as distilled water, won’t rehydrate your body like regular water or mineral water that is high in electrolytes. In order to keep your body optimally hydrated, distilled water is not the best option. Rather, mineral or electrolyte water is best for hydration particularly when you’re exercising.
3. Distilled Water has a Low pH
Another consequence of drinking water low in electrolytes is a low blood pH. Distilled water is less alkaline than other types of water, meaning that it has a lower than average pH. The pH of distilled water is 7.0 whereas other water is closer to 7.5. While that may not seem like a big difference, drinking water with a lower than average pH can cause a disease called acidosis. Acidosis is when your body’s blood pH falls below 7.35 to a more acidic level. Some consequences of acidosis include:
- Muscle cramping
- Organ failure
Therefore, drinking too much distilled water over a long period of time could lead to acidosis. If you’re going to drink distilled water, be sure to keep your blood pH level stable by intermittently drinking other, less acidic forms of water.
4. Distilled Water Has a Flat Taste
The best way to describe the taste of distilled water is flat. The decreased acidity of the water due to lower concentrations of minerals is what causes this flat taste. While some might like this taste, it tends to be unappealing to most people. Rather, mineral waters with a more soft, smooth taste tend to be more popular. If water taste is something you value, then you might want to avoid drinking distilled water.
Healthier Alternatives to Distilled Water
Although distilled water is overall a very safe drinking water option, it isn’t the healthiest water available. If you want to get the most hydrating, nourishing, and safe water, opt for one of these types of waters.
1. Natural Spring Water
Natural spring water comes from groundwater aquifers. The water in the aquifers faces pressure and, as a result, is forced upward towards the earth’s surface where it forms a spring. Then, the water is either taken to a treatment facility for light treatment or bottled at the spring. Spring water is, overall, one of the most healthy waters because:
- It’s high in healthy minerals
- It’s less likely to be contaminated by pollutants
- It has few chemicals added to it
Because spring water is a very natural water that undergoes little processing and tends to come from cleaner water sources, it is one of the best drinking waters you’ll find.
2. Mineral Water
Mineral water comes from springs or drilled wells that source groundwater. It is overall very similar to natural spring water; what makes it different though is its high mineral content. In order to be qualified as mineral water, the water must contain at least 250 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids. So, mineral water is basically spring water with higher mineral content.
While sometimes water is naturally very high in minerals, that isn’t always the case. In many mineral waters, the minerals are artificially added. In these cases, the minerals are exactly the same as the ones found naturally in water, however, the water must overall undergo more processing in order to be infused with minerals. Opt for natural mineral water over artificial mineral water for an overall less processed water.
3. Groundwater Sourced Water
Whenever you can, try to drink water that is sourced from groundwater rather than surface water. Groundwater tends to be healthier than surface water as it:
- Contains fewer pollutant contaminants
- Has less added chemicals
- Contains more essential minerals
The overall quality and safety of groundwater are greater than that of surface water.
How to Safely Distill Water at Home
You can purchase a water distiller for your home’s water system to enjoy the perks of distilled water on a regular basis. Unfortunately, though, distillation systems tend to be more expensive than other home water purification systems. If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money on a distillation system, you can try distilling water virtually for free using a stovetop pot.
Due to the many downsides associated with regularly drinking distilled water, you might want to consider only making it every once in a while or during cases of water safety emergencies. To distill water at home, follow these simple steps:
- Fill a large stovetop pot one-third of the way with tap water and place a small bowl inside of the large pot. The small bowl should float in the water in the pot.
- Turn your stovetop onto high heat and place an oversized pot lid upside down over the large pot.
- Bring the water to a boil and boil until all of the water has evaporated out of the large pot.
- Once all of the water has evaporated out of the large pot, turn off the heat and allow the water vapor to cool back down into a liquid.
If you’ve done the process correctly, then the water vapor should have condensed back down into a liquid form within the small bowl. Check out this video for help on setting up your stovetop distiller.
The Bottom Line
Distilled water is not necessarily unhealthy but you should avoid drinking too much of it to avoid potential health risks. The de-mineralization of the water is the key to most of the health problems it causes. For a drinking water option that is decontaminated yet still packs in essential minerals, opt for spring or mineral water rather than distilled water.
Bonus tip: Check out our guide to spring water versus distilled water where we break down their key differences and share why spring water is an overall healthier drinking water choice.