Some debates are destined to go on forever. Jordan vs LeBron; McCartney vs Lennon; Moore vs Connery (vs Craig). But when it comes to distilled water vs purified water, certain facts are as clear as a mountain stream.
It’s not that one type of water is better than the other. Different people have different needs, though. The type of clean water you prefer depends on your practical and nutritional needs.
You know you’re supposed to drink plenty of it. Healthy adults should drink anywhere between 2.7 to 3.7 liters (91 to 125 ounces) of water per day.1
Not everyone relishes the taste of unfiltered tap water, though. And in some places, purification of tap water is a necessity. But which purification process should you choose?
Contaminants In Drinking Water: Why Purification Can Be Necessary
Several kinds of contaminants may be present in drinking water, including:
- Physical contaminants, like soil and sediment
- Biological contaminants, like viruses, bacteria, and protozoa
- Chemical contaminants, like nitrogen, bleach, and pesticides
- Radiological contaminants, (ionized chemical contaminants that emit radiation)
Not all of these contaminants are necessarily harmful when consumed in small enough amounts, but many are.2 Clean drinking water often requires some kind of filtration system.
And different purification processes remove different contaminants from your drinking water. Sometimes, distillation is an ideal purification process — but it’s by no means the only one.
Purification And Distillation: What’s The Difference?
One thing to keep in mind is that purification doesn’t refer to a single process. It’s an umbrella term that refers to several different methods. There are many ways to purify water, and the distillation process is just one of them.
Other methods of purification include:
- Carbon filtration systems
- Reverse osmosis systems
- Water softeners
Each removes contaminants. But each one is more effective against some contaminants than others.
The Process of Distillation Explained
Distillation is a process by which water is heated until it boils. The water vapor is collected as it condenses, leaving behind many contaminants. Distillation units effectively remove both biological and chemical contaminants. The result is pure water.3
Soft Water vs Hard Water
You’ve probably heard the term hard water used in relation to stains on tile. It just means that the water contains high concentrations of dissolved solids like calcium and magnesium.4 When the distillation process separates those minerals from water, it becomes soft water.
Soft Water Is Demineralized Water
The distillation process doesn’t just remove contaminants from your drinking water. It also removes essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and sodium.
You likely get most of your essential minerals from other sources.5 But if you prefer to drink pure distilled water, it’s important to be aware of the mineral deficit.
Is Boiling Water The Same As Distillation?
Boiling water is an effective purification method, but it is not the same as distillation. When you boil water, you will kill any biological contaminants that could cause infection. Dissolved solids like magnesium and calcium have a higher boiling point, though, and will remain in the water.6,7
The minerals themselves may not be harmful. Other contaminants may also remain, though. Boiling alone will not remove chemical contaminants or heavy metals from your drinking water.8
Distilled Water: It’s Not Just For Drinking
Other forms of purified water may be just as safe to drink. Distilled water has many other practical uses though. When it comes to certain other applications, only distilled water will do.
If you use a neti pot to clean out clogged sinuses, you should always use distilled water. It will ensure that no harmful bacteria find their way into your nasal passages.9
Distilled water is also great for cleaning, since a lack of mineral content means it won’t build up white limescale residue on your tiles and fixtures.
Other Paths To Purification
Distillation and boiling aren’t the only ways to get clean water. Depending on your needs, they may not even be the best water purification methods for you.10 Purification takes many forms.
Carbon Filtration Systems
A filter like activated carbon can help capture contaminants in drinking water. There are three levels of filtration processes:
The finer the water filter’s pores, the greater the number of contaminants absorbed. While nanofiltration may remove some chemical contaminants and viruses, microfiltration will not. Microfiltration can remove other biological contaminants, though.11
Activated carbon will remove many biological contaminants from your drinking water. It attracts contaminant molecules to its surface, absorbing them as water passes through the semipermeable membrane of the filter.
Most water pitcher filters use activated carbon filtration. They are effective at filtering out:
- Heavy metals including lead and mercury
- Chemicals including chlorine and pesticides
Carbon filtered water is not demineralized water. It also doesn’t catch all the bacteria and viruses that may be present in water.12
Reverse Osmosis Systems
Reverse osmosis is another purification process in which water is filtered through a semipermeable membrane — sometimes several. You can find reverse osmosis systems in many under-the-sink water filters.13
The pore size of a reverse osmosis filter is approximately 0.0001 microns. That’s even smaller than the range required for nanofiltration. This means that most contaminants will be unable to pass through. (That includes minerals like magnesium and calcium.)14
Their name says it all. Water softeners reduce the concentration of minerals in tap water, creating soft water.15
Water softeners work using a process called ion exchange. Minerals like calcium and magnesium are positively charged ions. As they pass through a water softener, they bond with the negatively charged ions within, creating deionized water. DI water is free of hard mineral content.16
Some water softeners may also remove heavy metals, chemical contaminants, and even radioactivity. Deionization does not filter out protozoa, bacteria, and viruses, though.17
Distilled Water vs Purified Water: Which One’s Right For You?
When deciding on what kind of purification unit you want in your home, know that it is possible to use more than one. Some filter out contaminants that others don’t. Some make your drinking water taste better than others.
Your filtration needs may differ depending on where you are. In North America, most tap water has been pre-filtered.
Purification methods can differ from region to region, though.18
Whatever filter you choose, be sure to research its NSF International certification. An NSF rating means that the product meets certain standards of clean water.19
And always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper filter maintenance. If not maintained, filtration systems can lose their effectiveness over time. (For example, you should flush out water softeners on a regular basis.)20
Whether you choose distillation, another purification, or even a combination of methods, you’ll have peace of mind. You’ll know exactly what goes into — and comes out of — your drinking water.
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