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Why You Shouldn’t Drink Too Much Purified Water

Our earth is becoming increasingly polluted.  An unintended consequence of this pollution is an increased hazard of consuming dangerous contaminants in drinking water.  Pollution in our earth’s air, land, and water resources inevitably comes back around to affect the health of our drinking water.

Purified drinking water is decontaminated water yet comes with its own set of health risks.  It removes contaminants yet undergoes a purification process that oftentimes re-contaminates the water with other unhealthy impurities.  Before drinking too much purified water, know the facts about its upsides and downsides and why you should avoid drinking too much of it. 

A woman holding a glass of water.

Using purified water as a replacement for tap water has been both advocated and discouraged for health reasons.

What is Purified Water and How is it Purified?

Purified water is water that has undergone treatment to remove impurities and contaminants.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all water contaminants fall into one of these four categories:

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

Many of these contaminants come from pollution created by human activity.  The majority of pollution created from human activity comes from a few different activities including:

  • Farming
  • Factories and mine production
  • Home and city building and services

Specifically, some of the most common contaminants including pesticides and fertilizers, feces, and heavy metals all make their way into our water systems as a result of our own doing.  In order to combat these issues, rather than stopping the activities altogether, we’ve developed different purification methods.

Each purification method is designed to remove a specific category of contaminants.  Most methods won’t kill off all contaminants, so, in order to totally purify the water, more than one method will need to be applied.  Water purification usually has four phases:

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

Pretreatment: Pretreatment is the process of preparing the water for the more thorough purification treatments.  First, large objects such as twigs or rocks are removed.  Then, sometimes, chemicals such as chlorine are added to the water.  The chlorine removes odors from the water and helps prevent pipe corrosion throughout the rest of the treatment process. 

Sedimentation: Next, small physical sediments such as dirt or sand are removed from the water.  The sediments settle to the bottom of a filter where they form a sludge-like substance.  Then, the sludge is simply removed from the water. 

Filtration: Filtration removes any remaining physical as well as some of the chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants.  There are a handful of different methods such as micron filtration and reverse osmosis treatments that are used for this step of the process.  

Disinfection: The final step in purification is disinfection.  Disinfection can be done in many ways including distillation, UV light treatment, ozonation, and chlorination.  This last step removes biological pathogens which cause countless diseases in humans. 

Just about all tap water from your city or well as well as bottled water undergoes some type of purification process to remove contaminants.  Depending on how concentrated the water is with contaminants determines how much purification it goes through. Typically, city water is more likely to be higher in pollutant contaminants as it usually comes from surface water. Well water, on the other hand, usually comes from groundwater and is naturally less prone to contamination from pollution.

The Upsides of Drinking Purified Water

The obvious benefit of drinking purified water is that it protects you from illnesses related to water contamination.  Chemicals, metals, and microorganisms are all capable of infecting you and causing illness.  Also, purified water tends to have a cleaner, softer taste compared to other types of water. Many of the different purification processes, in addition to getting rid of contaminants, also get rid of the water’s natural minerals. 

These minerals (also known as electrolytes) include calcium, magnesium, and potassium and they tend to give water a more bitter taste.  When they are removed through purification, the water tastes more smooth. Considering that purified water eliminates a lot of the toxins and improves the taste of water, it’s safe to say it presents some obvious benefits. Unfortunately, purified water also comes with a set of downsides as well. 


The Downsides of Drinking Purified Water

While purified water sounds safe and tasty to drink on paper, the true reality is slightly different.  This is in part due to the loose constraints that the EPA has for water safety standards.  The EPA’s water safety standards define:

  • What contaminants are/aren’t allowed in drinking water
  • What amounts of contaminants are allowed in drinking water

Yes, according to the EPA, there are acceptable levels of certain contaminants in drinking water.  In fact, the EPA has a list of contaminants in water that are allowed and in what amount they are allowed.   According to scientific research, consuming trace amounts of certain contaminants such as fluoride and chlorine doesn’t pose immediate harm to human health

Moreover, based on this evidence, the EPA justifies that these contaminants can remain in the water as long as they stay within specified amounts. However, while the EPA sets standards for water contaminants, that does not mean that those standards are always followed. 

One 2015 investigation by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that about 77 million Americans were drinking water that violated federal drinking water standards set by the EPA.  In addition to lack of compliance with standards, safe water is at stake due to:

  • States and cities failing to file water safety reports
  • Certain contaminants not being regulated

Not only do many states fail to comply with standards, but many also fail to report whatsoever what is in their water.  Also, many common toxic water contaminants such as perchlorate aren’t even regulated by the EPA.  Therefore, these contaminants can be in drinking water in any amount without any oversight by the government.

Considering that so many people’s water fails to make a healthy grade despite being advertised and assured as purified, it makes sense to have skepticism over water quality.  Moreover, in addition to a lack of transparency on water safety, you shouldn’t drink too much purified water for 3 particular reasons:

  1. Added chemicals
  2. Contaminants
  3. Little to no minerals

Chemicals Added to Purified Water

Two of the most worrisome phases of the water purification process are the pretreatment and disinfection steps.  During these steps of the purifying process, chemicals such as chloride and chloramine as well as fluoride are commonly added to the water.

Chlorine and chloramine are added infrequently to water during pretreatment and very frequently during disinfection.  It is important to disinfect water in order to kill potential disease-causing microbes, however, using chlorine or chloramine to do it can cause a whole other set of problems.  Some health problems associated with ingesting too much chlorine and chloramine include: 

  • Imbalance in gut bacteria
  • Disinfection by-products
  • Neurological damage

First off, chlorine and chloramine kill off harmful disease-causing bacteria in water.  They also kill the good kinds of bacteria found in your gut that you don’t want to get rid of.  These healthy gut bacteria help your body:

Secondly, when added to water, chlorine can react with certain organic materials to form disinfection byproducts.  These byproducts have been shown to increase your risk of developing certain cancers.  Additionally, while you would need to consume a considerable amount of chlorine, neurological disorders can occur as a direct result of chlorine contamination. Fluoride is another chemical commonly added to water during the disinfection process. 

The United States began adding mineral fluoride to its water supply during the 1940s as a means to help prevent tooth decay. While it was originally seen as a benefit, new research has uncovered numerous downsides to fluoride including its link to the development of dental and skeletal fluorosis. Moreover, this research has led to questions over whether the benefit of preventing cavities is worth the other downsides. 

Purified Water Isn’t Totally Contaminant Free

Unfortunately, water purification treatments aren’t 100% guaranteed to filter out toxic contaminants from your tap water.  One of the most outrageous and blatant examples of this is the situation that happened in Flint (Michigan) when government officials disregarded the health of their city’s water supply which led to heavy metal contamination in thousands of the city’s residents.  Metal contamination such as that from lead, arsenic, and copper are all extremely dangerous to human health. 

Lead is particularly dangerous and has been known to cause everything from developmental problems in children, premature births in pregnant women, and kidney failure in adults. Heavy metals aren’t the only contaminant that makes it past water treatments, though.  Other contaminants that have slipped through treatment and been found widely across the United States include:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Atrazine
  • Nitrates

Each of these contaminants should never make it through a water purification system.  However, given lack of compliance with regulations, little to no regulation, and/or ineffective purification methods, they regularly slip through. So, water that undergoes purification for the purpose of removing contaminants is commonly, still infected with many contaminants. 

Lack of Healthy Minerals

Water is loaded with dietary minerals that your body needs in order to be healthy.  Groundwater is particularly high in these minerals.  While they tend to make your water taste more bitter and alkaline, they are very good for your health and an essential part of a  good diet.  Some of the health benefits of these minerals include:

Additionally, minerals, being electrolytes, promote optimal and sustained hydration during physical activity.  As you exercise, your body loses a significant amount of minerals that need to be restored in order for your body to keep up its many automatic functions including:

  • Managing blood pressure
  • Regulating muscle contractions
  • Controlling blood pH  

Most of these essential minerals are removed from water during the purification process.  Therefore, if you’re used to drinking purified water while exercising, making the change to mineral water or using mineral drops could help make your workouts more effective.

A reverse osmosis water filter.

Reverse osmosis (RO) is a water purification process that uses a partially permeable membrane to separate ions, unwanted molecules and larger particles from drinking water.

How to Effectively Purify Water at Home

Despite the fact that the water coming out of your taps may not necessarily be thoroughly purified, you can make up for those deficiencies by effectively purifying your tap water at home in a few simple steps.    

1. Use a filter: First, use a household filter to remove dissolved solids and pollutants from your water.  You can use a charcoal (carbon) filter, micron filter, or reverse osmosis filtration system.  

2. Distill or boil water: Because most water filters aren’t able to catch the smallest particle contaminants, distilling or boiling water is necessary.  If you don’t have a home distillation system, boiling water works well too. To boil your water for disinfection, bring it to a rolling boil and keep it there for at least one minute.  Then, allow it to naturally cool and add a pinch of salt to restore the good taste.

3. Add minerals (optional): Unfortunately, distilling water is very effective at dissolving all the healthy minerals in water.  There are a couple of ways that you can re-add the minerals into your water including:

  • Using a reverse osmosis system
  • Adding Himalayan sea salt
  • Adding mineral drops

Some reverse osmosis systems not only filter your water but re-add calcium and magnesium minerals after filtration.  A less expensive, more practical option is to add a pinch of mineral-rich Himalayan salt to your water or a couple of drops of liquid minerals.  

Healthier Water Options

It’s important to drink water that has been purified to remove contaminants and is free from dangerous added chemicals.  However, most regular purified water from both the tap and bottles doesn’t exactly meet the mark.  The next time you reach for drinking water, try one of these safer and healthier options:

1. Natural spring water: Natural spring water tends to be lower in contamination while being naturally very high in minerals.  Spring water comes from groundwater that makes its way deep into the earth, moving through multiple mineral-rich layers of rocks, clay, and soil sediments.  As it moves downward, the water pulls some of the minerals out of the sediments and carries them with it.

Eventually, the water lands in an aquifer where it faces pressure and is forced up towards the earth’s surface where a spring is formed.  From there, the water is either filtered then bottled directly from the spring or undergoes light treatment and is bottled from there. The naturally high mineral content, low contamination, and little treatment make natural spring water one of the healthiest water options available.

2. Mineral water: Mineral water is another healthy water option and is, overall, very similar to natural spring water.  Unlike spring water which naturally penetrates the earth’s surface, mineral water is typically harvested through a borehole from a deep aquifer.  The water in the aquifer is highly mineralized and is protected from pollutants that don’t penetrate very deeply into the earth.

Not all mineral waters are equal, though.  Some are natural, meaning the minerals in the water were found there as is.  Others are artificial, meaning that the minerals in the water were added after water filtration.  Both options pack the same minerals, however, one is more natural than the other.

3. Reverse osmosis remineralization filters: Like just about all filtration systems, reverse osmosis filters remove the good, healthy minerals from water.  About 92% to 99% of the minerals are removed on average from reverse osmosis filters. In order to get purified water that contains little contaminants without removing all of the water’s minerals, you can purchase a reverse osmosis system that has a remineralization filter.  A remineralization filter re-adds essential minerals back into the water following filtration.  You can either purchase a reverse osmosis system with a remineralization filter or purchase a separate remineralization filter to add to your existing system.

Should You Drink Purified Water?

Purified water, while it does have the potential to cause health problems from chemicals and contamination, is generally regarded as safe for you to drink.  However, if you want a healthier, more natural option, then try spring or natural mineral water.  Both of these options are higher in natural mineral content and less likely to be contaminated with pollutants, chemicals, and other impurities.

Bonus tip: If you want to disinfect your water without adding unnecessary chemicals, check out our top picks for the top UV light water purifiers

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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.