If you are opting for bottled water — be it for reasons of convenience, safety, or even style — it’s worth understanding that there are a number of different types. Tap water is just tap water but bottled water comes in endless varieties that we’ve categorized into a few main types.
Types of Bottled Water By Taste
When we buy bottled water we mainly concern ourselves with the aesthetic qualities of that water. In other words, how does this water taste and feel in our mouth. These don’t have anything to do with the underlying qualities or the “type” of water, but they are quite important to us.
The aesthetic types include:
- Still – Also known as flat
- Sparkling – Also known as fizzy, bubbly, effervescent, or with gas
- Flavored – Flat water with some sort of taste element to it, like fruit juice
- Flavored Sparkling – Sparkling water with flavor added, like LaCroix, Spindrift, or flavored Perrier
Of course, if you are reading MyTapWater.org you might be concerned more with the health qualities of water. In this case what might matter more is how the water in the bottle got there.
Types Of Bottled Waters
Water comes from different places, different sources, and is processed in different manners before we consume it. This is true of bottled water, just like tap water, except that with bottled water we are often presented with 5 or 10 different options right in front of us each time we buy.
The types of bottled waters include:
- Artesian Well
- Naturally Sparkling
If you want a stricter set of bottled water types, there are definitions provided from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s important to note that the FDA does not consider anything with added ingredient to be water, except for a limited amount of antimicrobial additions and/or fluoride (also as an optional addition with a set limit). If something has additions, like fruit juice, they may be labeled with phrases containing the word “water” — like tonic water or seltzer water — but they aren’t regulated by the FDA as water.
The FDA’s water types are:
- Artesian well water: The FDA defines this as bottled water that is collected from an underground aquifer. The water may come from rain or a ground source (like a river), it filters through layers of clay, porous rock, sand, and gravel. Sometimes ground above the aquifer pushes down on it, creating pressure, and making the water get to the surface using “artesian pressure.”
- Mineral Water: This is a type of water that originates underground. The FDA says it must have at least 250 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (TDS). The solids will include elements and minerals that are naturally occurring and cannot be added during or before the bottling process. The minerals you’d find in mineral water like San Pellegrino include calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, and others.
- Spring Water: This is water that, through natural means, comes to ground level. This water must be collected from the source of that spring or a drilled hole (a “tap” or “bore”) that gets to the spring source. The resulting water has to have the same composition as the water coming from the spring as if it flowed to the bottle naturally.
- Well Water: This is water that was brought to the surface from an underground aquifer or similar source using a pump.
- Purified Water: Water that has been treated in some way. This include municipal water.
Municipal Bottled Water
The FDA also notes that some bottled water is simply tap water that has been placed in a bottle. This is considered to be “municipal bottled water” and it’s the same as the types above because it’s been treated more extensively before being placed in a bottle.
This might seem like a rip-off, but if you are buying bottled water for the convenience or for emergency use and a lightweight container with a low price is key, then municipal bottled water will be a fine option.
Types Of Purified Bottled Water Treatments
Another set of types of bottled water has to do with how the water is treated before bottling. If you have spring water or artesian water it may be barely treated at all but if you have muni bottled water then it might be purified in some way. Methods for treatment include:
- Reverse Osmosis: Just like with a home RO filter, water is pushed through a permeable membrane to remove unwanted minerals and contaminants.
- Distillation: Distilled water is boiled, becoming water vapor. This process leaves contaminants with a higher boiling point behind. The steam is then condensed and turned into pure water.
- Ozonation: Water is treated with ozone gas in order to disinfect it. This is similar to a chlorine treatment but doesn’t affect the taste.
- 1-Micron Filtration: Water is pushed through an extra fine (1 micron) filter that allow water molecules to pass through but virtually nothing else.
Bottled water that has been treated by distillation, reverse osmosis, or another suitable process may meet standards that allow it to be labeled as “purified water.”
Bottled Water Safety
Bottled water doesn’t have all the same standards as tap water but there are standards in place to protect bottled water buyers.
Bottled water has different conditions used in its production so safety standard can vary. For example, lead is limited to 5 parts per billion (ppb) in bottled water, but 15 ppb in tap water where lead pipe use is more common and some lead is unavoidable in most areas. Bottled water laws are set out in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, which has a section specifically addressing bottled drinking water.
This CFR covers all the FDA’s bottled water rules mentioned in this article. One example is where the CFR states:
When bottled water comes from a community water system… the label shall state “from a community water system” or, alternatively, “from a municipal source”…
This is why waters like Dasani clearly state that they are bottled using water from municipal sources somewhere on the package.
Shelf Life Of Bottled Water
The FDA does not require waters to have a printed expiration date (aka an “expiry) on them so technically water doesn’t have an expiration date. Even so, some manufacturers will print an expiration or “best by” date on their water. It’s best to follow this timing in order to get the safest and best-tasting water possible.
If now date is printed on the water you should try to consume your bottled water within a year of its production date. If this isn’t available then within a year of buying the water is the next best thing.
The FDA recommends not to consume bottled water that is over 2 years old.
These timeframes are made in the expectation that the water is kept out of the heat and out of direct sunlight. Both of these can rapidly degrade the containers and make the water unfit for drinking much more quickly than it otherwise would.
How To Choose Your Bottled Water
Knowing what you now know, you can make an informed choice about what water you drink.
You should first choose your bottled water based on the type of taste you want. Are in the mood for something sparkling? Something very fizzy like a Perrier or lightly fizzed like a Gerolsteiner sparkling water?
Next you have the type of water. The vast majority of bottled waters you’d fine in most countries are very safe, so you don’t have to worry so much about the safety, but you might be in the mood for something with a stronger taste. In this case you’d choose a mineral water, which derives flavor from its high level of total dissolved solids. You might be in the moody for a wonderfully salty Vichy Catalan bottled water or perhaps an Evian, which has a very distinctive flavor.
Lastly, but not least important is the container. Glass containers are heavy and don’t affect the flavor of the water at all. Plastic comes in a huge variety, so you might find that some containers leave a plastic-y taste to water while some do not. This is more common with “low-grade” plastics like HDPE (high-density polyethylene) but won’t happen as much with a harder plastic, for instance PET (polyethylene terephthalate).
- Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants – ResearchGate
- Keeping Bottled Water Safe – FDA.gov
- Water Recalls – Recall.Report
- San Pellegrino Ingredients List – San Pellegrino
- Bottled Water Safety – CDC