Filtered Water vs. Tap Water – Is There a Big Difference?

As we all know, water is an essential drink that helps us to function optimally and provides us with many health benefits. Up to 60% of the human body is water so we just can’t live without it.

In fact, we can survive for up to a month without food but it takes only about 3 days for a person to die from lack of water so it’s important to drink as much as you can to keep yourself healthy and happy.

But the big question is: which kind of drinking water is the best?

With all the different kinds of water available, it can be difficult to know which ones are the best for us to drink and whether they make a difference at all.

In this article, we’ll be talking about two of the most common types of water: filtered and tap water, looking into each type in a little more detail and checking out the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Filtered Water

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Filtered water is usually sourced from the municipal tap water and then run through filters to remove chlorine and other contaminants such as bacteria, pesticides and heavy metals.

Filtering water can remove contaminants, bad odors and tastes. In commercial settings, the water is ozonated and then bottled and shipped off to market after the filtering process.

There are several common types of filters, which include the following:

  • Activated Carbon Block (ACB): This is the most common and relatively inexpensive type of filter. Most filters use activated carbon filters, with multi-stage filters typically using more than one ACB filter. ACB works via adsorption, attracting and holding onto contaminants that pass the medium.
  • Cation Exchange: This is what we commonly know as filtration of water through resin beads. When water runs through the resin beads, the negative ions in the water trade places with the positive ones in the beads. This filtration method is typically used to soften water, rather than to purify it. It removes the hardness ions from the water, effectively softening it. Having calcium and magnesium in your water isn’t a big safety concern but they can damage your plumbing system.
  • Aeration: This type of filtering forces the water that enters your home through high-pressure air jets. If there are contaminants in the water that easily become gases such as fuel by products or radon, they will evaporate. However, aeration doesn’t eliminate contaminants like pathogens or heavy metals.
  • Distillation: This is one of the best ways to completely remove almost all contaminants in your water. Distilled water is often called the purest water of all. When water is distilled, it’s boiled into steam and then condensed back into water, killing all pathogens and removing contaminants in the process. Distillation is typically used in point-of-entry systems or countertop devices.
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO): Reverse osmosis is one of most costly yet effective methods of filtering water which uses pressure to force the water through a semi-permeable membrane. This process removes all contaminants in the water and is recommended for anyone with a compromised immune system since it removes more pathogens than other ways of filtering, although it does let some impurities, like solvents and VOCs, to get through. Unfortunately, for every 1 gallon of water that’s purified, about 4 gallons go waste with this system.
  • UV Disinfection: This process uses ultraviolet light to microbiological impurities in water. It destroys bacteria, viruses and parasites in water, but the downside is that it doesn’t remove contaminants like chemicals or metals.

Because no single filtration method removes all contaminants in water, using a combination of methods is the most comprehensive solution. Municipal water treatments typically run water through at least 5 stages of filtration, in order to remove all the impurities in it.

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Benefits of Filtered Water

  • Removal of impurities in water

Filtration removes impurities and dangerous contaminants in the water like chlorine, heavy metals and by products of disinfection. Some water filters are made to ensure that while the impurities are filtered out, important minerals like fluoride, calcium, zinc and magnesium are retained in the water. Water filters are also a great solution for preventing limescale build-up, especially if they target hardness minerals.  

  • Enhances smell and taste of water

Filtering water removes chemicals that impact the taste and smell of water, most notably chlorine. Activated carbon is especially effective at removing the impacts of chlorine from water, with some filters certified to filter up to 99% of chlorine. This effectively enhances the smell and taste of water.

  • Boosts health

Drinking purified water helps support the immune system and improves mental health function. It also has other health benefits like skin hydration, weight loss, digestion, detoxification, nutrient absorption and can even reduce the risk of cancer.

  • Reduces acid reflux

Alkaline water filters are found to reduce acid reflux or heartburn. This is because alkaline water changes the pH level of drinking water, neutralizing the acidic build-up that’s responsible for the uncomfortable, burning sensation that you feel.

Disadvantages of Drinking Filtered Water

  • More costly than tap water

Installing a water filter in your home can be rather costly depending on the type of filter your purchase. There’s also the cost of replacing the filters regularly which means that in addition to the initial cost, you will have regular expenses for ongoing maintenance.

  • More maintenance

Water filters require regular maintenance which can be a hassle. It’s important to keep track of usage to make sure you’re changing the filters on time or you’ll be drinking poor quality water. When it comes to cleaning water filters, be prepared for more hassle. Your filter needs to be cleaned regularly, tank and all, to ensure your water is clean and stays clean.

  • May remove healthy nutrients

Some filtration processes, especially like reverse osmosis and distillation, remove everything from the water, including healthy nutrients like calcium and magnesium. While these nutrients can be taken in via other methods, like food and supplements, it’s still something to consider.

  • Breeding of bacteria

Activated carbon filters don’t kill bacteria, so they can actually become a breeding ground for all types of microorganisms. 

Tap Water

Tap water

Tap water is potable water that’s delivered directly to your home, transported by a network of pipelines from the source. Simply put, it’s the water you get coming out of your kitchen faucet.

Tap water is generally safe to drink. Since the U.S Government updated its guidelines for tap water, the quality of tap water has improved greatly in the last few years and the risk of bacteria and getting infections from tap water is low.

However, there are many common contaminants typically found in tap water. These can get into water via old pipes and fixtures or from the treatment plant itself. A perfect example of heavy tap water contamination is the Flint water crisis, where lead leeched into the water supply from the water pipes. Note that these scary stories are rare and in general tap water is considered safe.

Most city water is free of bacteriological contamination but will have chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine added to the water. Private water sources, like well water, may have pathogens as well as impurities like iron. Testing your water is the best way to know what’s in it.

Let’s have a quick look at some of the most common substances found in tap water.  

  • Fluoride

Fluoride is a mineral that’s naturally found in many places and is known to protect your teeth from decay. However, high content of fluoride in your water can be a reason for serious health issues including thyroid and neurological problems. Since fluoride is also a neurotoxin, it can damage the functions of your brain if taken in high doses.

  • Lead

One of the major concerns with drinking tap water is lead contamination. About 30% of plumbing infrastructure in the U.S. consists of lead piping, plumbing components or service lines which are well over 50 years old. As the plumbing corrodes, lead can leach into tap water in high concentrations to affect liver function, fertility and many more issues.

  • Chlorine or Chloramine

Chlorine is a chemical element that’s used to sanitize tap water. While chlorine levels of up to 4 milligrams per liter is safe for drinking, excess chlorine consumption can cause a wide range of health issues including skin and eye irritation, wheezing, sore throat, chest tightness  and cough.

Benefits of Tap Water

  • Cost effective and convenient

Tap water is the most cost-effective and convenient way to stay hydrated since it’s readily available.

  • Health benefits

Just like any other type of water, tap water also provides the same health benefits. It lubricates your joints and other tissues in the body, keeps you hydrated and is important for many of the biological processes that are necessary to keep you alive.

  • Environmentally friendly

Tap water doesn’t impact the environment in a negative way compared to bottled water. Interestingly, most bottled water is simply filtered tap water only at a cost of over 2000% times higher.

Risks of Drinking Tap Water

  • Bad taste and odor

Tap water can sometimes taste strange due to certain contaminants and chemicals like chlorine or lead.  However, just because the water may taste strange, doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe to drink.

  • Not for those with weak immune systems

Tap water isn’t recommended for people with compromised immune systems due to the contaminants or chemicals that it may contain but it is generally safe to drink for everyone else.

  • Heavy contamination may occur

We’ve already mentioned this, but we’ll say it again. With tap water, there’s no protection against any possible contamination. While rare, such events do occur, which means that you could be exposed to dangerous levels of contamination without realizing it. While this has happened in places like Flint, Michigan and more recently in  Newark, New Jersey, these are very rare.

Tap Water vs. Filtered Water

From the discussion above, it’s clear that filtered water is undoubtedly the safer option when it comes to drinking water.

While tap water has its benefits, there’s always the risk that unwanted contaminants are present in the water. Filtration is the best way to purify your water, making it safe to drink. However, using a combination of filtration methods may be the best option for a comprehensive solution.

If you’re not sure what type of filter to choose, we’ve covered that in this step-by-step guide on how to choose a filter for your home.

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