Since water is essential to life, knowing what type of water you drink and how it affects your health is crucial. Yet, many bottled water and water treatment companies make claims that would make you question the different types of water.
Let’s take the example of spring water and purified water. Reading about these types of water would inevitably bring a plethora of questions:
- Is all spring water contaminant-free? Does it have healthful properties? Does drinking spring water mean you’re getting minerals and electrolytes essential for your body?
- Is purified water really pure? Is water meant to be pure? Does water being pure mean it’s healthy?
We’re here to clear the air. In this article, we’ll help you differentiate between spring water and purified water, explain what each water represents, and share their benefits and drawbacks backed by science.
Differences Between Purified Water and Spring Water
The main difference between purified water and spring water is that spring water gets filtered naturally by geographical formations with filtration properties like sandstone, limestone and clay, whereas purified water goes through human-initiated filtration and purification processes like reverse osmosis, distillation and deionization.
For water to be classified as spring water, it must come from underground aquifers and go through natural filters. That’s not the case for purified water. Any underground or surface water subjected to human-made filtration can be classified as purified water.
Of course, the fact that the water goes through different filtration processes means that the content of the water also vary drastically. For instance, limestone, a naturally-occurring filtering formation, is mineral-rich. Therefore, the mineral content of spring water is typically much higher than that of purified water.
Additionally, human-made purification methods, like reverse osmosis (RO), removes healthy minerals from the water as well as contaminants, which further increases the difference between the ingredients of spring and purified water. And this affects taste, too. While water rich in minerals is likely to have a bitter taste, purified water is tasteless (or has a more neutral taste).
Furthermore, purified water goes through various filtration stages (like RO, flocculation, disinfection, and so on, which we’re going to explain later), meaning that it’s free of contaminants no matter where the original water is collected from. This is not the case for spring water. Unprotected and untested springs are prone to contamination at some point, whether due to human and animal feces or improper industrial and agricultural waste practices.
Inevitably, the difference we just mentioned affects the reliability of these two types of water. While you can drink purified water without a second thought, you can’t do the same for spring water.
When you discover a new spring, for example, you need to check whether its water is tested and in line with the health standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by logging on to findaspring.com or sending a water sample to an EPA-certified water testing lab.
That being said, spring water mostly refers to a mineral-rich type of bottled water collected straight from a spring or an underground borehole and bottled without any human intervention (in terms of filtration). As such, this bottled water type is subjected to the regulations and guidelines of the United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and EPA, meaning that it inspires as much trust as purified water in terms of health.
Purified vs Spring Water Comparison Table
As we implied above, spring water might refer to either water that’s directly collected from its natural source, like a spring, or to a type of bottled water that companies brand as ‘spring water.’
In the table below, we’re referring to the latter: bottled spring water.
|Water Types/Characteristics||Purified Water||Spring Water (bottled)|
|Collection process||Collected from any surface or underground water source||Collected from springs or underground boreholes to where the water naturally flows over many geographical formations|
|Treatment Methods||Human-made filtration processes like reverse osmosis, flocculation, distillation, disinfection, etc.||It goes through geographical formations with natural filtration properties like clay, limestone, and sandstone|
|Contaminants||Ensured to be contaminant-free thanks to rigorous filtration processes it goes through||Ensured to be contaminant-free due to the natural filters the water passes through|
|Mineral content||Filtration technologies like reverse osmosis remove all the mineral content from water||Rich with minerals because the water collects dissolved minerals on its natural path|
|Taste||It’s tasteless (or has a neutral taste)||Mineral content might make it taste a bit bitter|
|Regulations/Standards||Regulated by the EPA and FDA||Regulated by the EPA and FDA|
Please note that regulatory authorities like EPA and FDA have no say over roadside springs. Although the water that comes out of such springs is still classified as spring water, there’s no way to ensure it’s safe for consumption without testing it. Hence, none of the spring water characteristics listed in the table above apply to roadside springs.
What Is Purified Water?
Purified water is water that’s been subjected to human-made mechanical and chemical filtration and purification before it’s considered ready for consumption. These processes remove contaminants from the water supply, from heavy metals like lead and arsenic to pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.
In addition to these, according to the EPA, purified water should have less than ten parts per million of total dissolved solids. On top of that, the quality of purified water is strictly regulated by relevant authorities.
Municipal authorities, water suppliers, and bottled water brands in the United States and Canada purify their water before supplying it to customers.
The EPA, for instance, ensures that the water quality is up to health and aesthetic standards with its National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations.
The FDA, on the other hand, is focused more on bottled water products with an emphasis on “standard of identity” (how the water is branded), “standard of quality” (the levels of contaminants and minerals found in water), and “current good manufacturing practice” (whether the bottle itself is up to sanitary standards).
How Purified Water Is Filtered
Considering all these standards, purified water is often rigorously treated in large tanks specifically designed for filtering water with the following techniques:
- Coagulation: The first step in large-scale water purification is to add a coagulant like ferric chloride or ferric sulfate to the water. This coagulant is a positively charged chemical that aims to neutralize the negative charge of chemical contaminants.
- Flocculation: The neutralized chemicals start sticking together in large clumps and form big particles referred to as flocs. The process itself is known as flocculation.
- Sedimentation: When the small, free-floating particles inside water form large particles in the shape of flocs, they can no longer float. So, they sink to the bottom of the tank due to their weight. This is called sedimentation.
- Filtration: Of course, not all contaminants can flocculate and sink to the bottom as sediment. The majority of heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, microbes, and some other chemicals remain free in the water. The water is transferred to another large tank in order to be freed from these elements. During this transfer, multiple filters, which we’ll mention later, are utilized to eliminate said pollutants.
- Disinfection: In the last stage of filtration, municipal water systems often pump chlorine or chloramines into their water supply. These chemicals disinfect water from any remaining bacteria. In some cases, fluoride is added to water to promote teeth health, especially in children and young adults. For bottled water producers, on the other hand, ozonation, rather than chlorination, is the preferred method of disinfection since it results in a less distinct odor and taste and is more effective at killing pathogens. That said, levels of chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, or ozone applied by bottled water brands or municipal water suppliers never exceed levels established by the EPA.
We said that multiple filters are employed to decontaminate water. Depending on the original state of the water, these filters might utilize the following technologies:
- Activated carbon filters: Activated carbon technology removes aesthetic impurities that affect the taste, color, and odor of water.
- Reverse osmosis: In reverse osmosis, the water is pushed through a semipermeable membrane with a microscopic pore size (more often than not, 0.0001-micron). Thanks to the membrane, many elements inside the water can’t pass through, including dangerous heavy metals like lead and healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium. The RO technology is one of the most efficient methods for filtering water, so it’s also used in many home water treatment units.
- Distillation: One of the most conventional water treatment methods, distillation, is still one of the most effective filtration techniques. In the distillation process, water is boiled until it’s all vapor. This vapor is then moved into another container. Since contaminant molecules can no longer find anything to cling to when the water is in its gas state, they remain in the first container as residue or evaporate. Then, the water is cooled and returned to its liquid state, but this time, with no contaminants.
- Ion exchange: Ion exchange is the main technology behind water softening units that removes hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium. Purified bottled water brands may sometimes employ ion exchange while producing their water because, as we said before, minerals can give water a bitter taste.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Drinking Purified Water
The main benefits of drinking purified water:
- The heavy filtration processes ensures there are no contaminants in the water. Heavy metals, like lead, arsenic, and copper, bacteria like E. coli, viruses, microbes, and chemicals that might pose a health risk are all eliminated.
- Bottled purified water is strictly regulated by the FDA, and it’s always in line with the standards set by the EPA under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. So, it’s completely safe to consume.
However, purified water has one major drawback:
- Lack of healthy minerals. Since the water is mostly filtered with technologies like reverse osmosis and ion exchange, chances are that it lacks healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium. Considering that these minerals play important roles in maintaining healthy blood pressure, nerve and muscle functions, and promoting bone and muscle health, their absence in our drinking water might result in related health complications. That said, water is not our only dietary source of minerals, and we can still consume these healthy minerals through a calcium- and magnesium-rich diet.
What Is Spring Water?
Spring water is water that flows to the surface of the Earth from underground aquifers and has been naturally filtered by geo-formations like sandstone, limestone, and clay. For bottled water to be classified as spring water, it should satisfy two conditions:
First, it shouldn’t undergo any mechanical and chemical filtration processes. Second, it should be collected directly from a spring or an underground borehole.
The natural filters that spring water passes over or through, especially limestone, are usually rich with minerals and electrolytes. The water’s flow dissolves these minerals into itself on the way, which is why spring water is actually mineral-rich water.
Here are some of the most important minerals found in spring water and why they are important:
- Calcium: Calcium intake has seen a significant decrease among US citizens over the last couple of years. As it’s a mineral that plays a huge role in maintaining bone and muscle health, consuming enough calcium becomes a major health concern. Although there are food items that are calcium-rich, scientific studies show that our bodies absorb calcium from water better and more efficiently.
- Magnesium: Similar to calcium, magnesium intake has significantly decreased in recent years. This mineral helps us regulate blood pressure, biochemical reactions, and nerve and muscle functions.
- Potassium: The potassium intake of an average American is below what the National Institutes for Health recommends. One of the greatest sources of potassium is actually spring water.
- Phosphorus: As a vital electrolyte, phosphorus has a significant role in muscle contractions, kidney function, and nerve signaling.
- Chloride: Chloride is another electrolyte that helps us with digestion and nerve actions. Also, it helps oxygen flow through our bodies, which, combined with the muscle functions phosphorus helps boost, makes spring water the preferred choice of athletes.
- Bicarbonate: Bicarbonate is a mineral that gives water its alkalinity. As such, it also helps us maintain the pH level of our blood. Since alkaline water functions as an antioxidant, it fights against the external toxic compounds within our bodies, like cigarette smoke and air pollutants. This is another reason why spring water is often considered one of the healthiest types of water.
- Sodium: Sodium is a vital mineral, too, but unlike the other minerals we mentioned above, almost nobody suffers from sodium deficiency since our main source of sodium is salt, which is everywhere in American cuisine and food items. On the contrary, people with heart conditions are encouraged to follow low- or no-sodium diets since sodium may trigger heart attacks and cardiovascular problems.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Drinking Spring Water
Thanks to the fact it’s mineral-rich, spring water has many benefits:
- The water goes through natural filtration on its way to the Earth’s surface, so there are no added chemicals like chlorine or ozone in it.
- Like purified water, the FDA and EPA strictly regulate bottled spring water, ensuring it’s contaminant-free and totally safe for consumption.
- It can help us maintain a healthy level of calcium and magnesium in our diets. Since the diets of most Americans don’t meet the recommended levels for these minerals, spring water emerges as a vital source of nutrition.
- Spring water contains vital electrolytes. As electrolytes play a significant part in athletic functions like muscle contractions, the flow of oxygen, and sweating, spring water is quite beneficial for athletes and physically active people.
- The alkaline character of spring water makes it a good antioxidant, especially in this age when air pollution is at its historical peak.
Whether it’s in a bottle or obtained directly from a roadside spring, spring water also has cons:
- Despite the clear stance of the FDA on the matter, stating that spring water should come from a spring or borehole and shouldn’t be subjected to any mechanical or chemical interference whatsoever, it’s very difficult to ascertain whether all bottled spring water meets these criteria.
- Bottled spring water is expensive.
- Since spring water is high in mineral content, it might taste bitter.
- Water directly obtained from unregistered and untested roadside springs might have contaminants due to human, animal, agricultural, or industrial waste.
Is Spring Water Better Than Purified Water?
Although we’re inclined to answer this question with a heartfelt “yes,” it ultimately depends on many factors. Still, the fact that spring water is naturally alkaline, mineral-rich, and goes through a natural process of filtration is enough for us to choose it as the better option of the two.
However, if you’re on a low- or no-sodium diet, drinking spring water might not be ideal for you.
Also, if you already follow a mineral-rich diet, you might not want to pay extra for spring water, which is more expensive than purified water.
Spring water comes directly from the Earth, filtered through natural geographical formations like sandstone, clay, and limestone, and thus is alkaline and rich in minerals. Purified water, on the other hand, is filtered by mechanical and chemical processes that remove all kinds of impurities and healthy minerals.
While purified water might have disinfecting chemicals like ozone and chlorine, that’s not the case for spring water. However, the mineral content of spring water might render its taste a bit bitter.
Whether one is preferable to the other ultimately depends on what you need from your water. If you want to increase your mineral intake, spring water is the obvious choice.
However, if you already consume a healthy amount of minerals and want water that’s sodium- and taste-free, purified water is the better choice.