Over the past few years, bottled water consumption has grown significantly because it’s considered safer and better tasting than tap water.
In fact, in the United States, each person drinks approximately 30 gallons (114 liters) of bottled water per year (
However, due to environmental concerns and potential health effects, many people are starting to wonder whether tap water is better.
This article compares tap and bottled water to help you decide which to drink.
Tap water, also called municipal water, comes from large wells, lakes, rivers, or reservoirs. This water typically passes through a water treatment plant before being piped into homes and businesses (2).
While contaminated drinking water is an issue in some regions, tap water is generally safe, convenient, and environmentally friendly.
Safety may vary based on your location
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States has one of the world’s safest drinking water supplies (
U.S. public tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is responsible for identifying and setting legal limits for potential contaminants in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (4, 5).
Currently, the EPA has set legal limits on over 90 contaminants, including heavy metals like lead and microbes like E. coli (6).
Nonetheless, drinking water contamination can still occur. For example, certain regions may have greater exposure to toxins, such as industrial pollutants or bacteria from agricultural runoff (
Additionally, old plumbing may introduce contaminants like lead, and natural disasters like floods can temporarily pollute public water systems (
Many public health organizations also claim that the EPA’s current limits on certain toxins aren’t stringent enough.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), U.S. water regulations haven’t been updated in almost 20 years. As a result, certain toxins may be harming vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women (8).
While the EPA requires water utilities to provide annual quality reports, the EWG’s Tap Water Database also allows individuals to view contamination reports for their local water supply.
Furthermore, home water filters may improve the safety of your tap water (
Keep in mind that the EPA only oversees public water sources. If you get your water from a private well, you’re responsible for getting it tested for safety.
Tastes just as good as bottled water
Bottled water is often said to taste better than tap water.
Yet, in blind taste tests, most people can’t tell the difference between tap and bottled water (
In general, tap water tastes the same as bottled water. Still, factors like mineral content or the type and age of your water pipes may affect the flavor.
Environmental impact is much lower than bottled
Before it reaches your house, water is stored in a treatment facility in which it undergoes several processes to remove potential contaminants. During disinfection, chemicals may be added to kill off any remaining microbes and protect against germs (
Then, after you drink water from a glass, you’ll likely wash the glass either by hand or in a dishwasher.
All of these steps utilize chemicals and energy, thereby resulting in an environmental impact. Still, the overall environmental effects of tap water are significantly less than bottled (11).
Furthermore, tap water doesn’t require plastic or other disposable containers that may end up in landfills.
Inexpensive and convenient
Tap water’s biggest benefits are perhaps its low cost and convenience.
It’s simple to fill up a reusable bottle with tap water before heading out the door. Tap water is also available at restaurants, bars, and public drinking fountains — and is almost always free.
While quality may vary by region, tap water is generally safe, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly.
Bottled water comes from a variety of sources.
Some products simply comprise tap water that’s been bottled while others use fresh spring water or another source.
Bottled water from underground sources generally features a label that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as (12):
- artesian well water
- mineral water
- spring water
- well water
While some people believe bottled water to be safer, better tasting, and more convenient than tap water, several concerns surround its safety and environmental impact.
May contain microplastics
Unlike tap water, which is regulated by the EPA, bottled water is overseen by the FDA. The FDA’s safety and quality requirements for manufacturers include (
- the use of sanitary conditions for processing, bottling, storage, and transport
- protecting water from contaminants, such as bacteria and chemicals
- implementing quality control to further protect against chemical and microbial contaminants
- sampling and testing both the source water and the final product for contaminants
While bottled water is occasionally recalled due to contaminants, it’s generally considered safe.
However, some products may harbor very small pieces of plastic called microplastics (
Animal studies and other research suggests that microplastics act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, promote inflammation, result in negative health effects, and accumulate over time in organs like the liver, kidneys, and intestines (
A 2018 study tested 11 widely available bottled water products from 9 countries, concluding that 93% of the 259 bottles sampled contained microplastics. This contamination was due in part to packaging and the bottling process itself (
Differences in taste
Most people can’t distinguish bottled water from tap water in blind taste tests (
Still, the taste of bottled water varies greatly depending on the water source and packaging. For example, mineral water has a distinct flavor depending on the types and levels of minerals present.
Some people also prefer carbonated or flavored waters due to their unique taste.
Less environmentally friendly than tap water
One of the main drawbacks of bottled water is its environmental impact.
From treating and bottling to transportation and refrigeration, bottled water requires large amounts of energy.
In fact, bottled water production in the United States used 4 billion pounds (1.8 billion kg) of plastic in 2016 alone. The energy input required to produce that amount is equal to 64 million barrels of oil (19).
Furthermore, it’s estimated that only 20% of plastic water bottles in the United States get recycled. Most end up in landfills or bodies of water (
This is particularly problematic, as plastic bottles have been shown to release toxins as they degrade (
To minimize the ecological footprint of bottled water, some municipalities around the world have banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.
Additionally, some companies have researched making bottles with biodegradable materials, which may have fewer environmental effects (
Expensive but convenient
Studies reveal that one of the main reasons consumers choose bottled water is that it’s convenient (
Whether you’re traveling or out and about, bottled water is available at many stores.
However, that convenience comes with a hefty price tag.
One gallon (3.8 liters) of tap water costs roughly $0.005 in the United States, while the same amount of bottled water, obtained from combining single-serving water bottles, costs around $9.47 (18).
This not only means that bottled water is pricier than milk and gasoline but also nearly 2,000 times more expensive than tap water (18).
Still, some individuals may find the cost is worth the convenience.
Bottled water is convenient and generally safe, but it’s more expensive and less environmentally friendly than tap water. What’s more, the microplastics in some products may pose health risks.
Overall, both tap and bottled water are considered good ways to hydrate.
However, tap water is generally a better option, as it’s just as safe as bottled water but costs considerably less and has a much lower environmental impact.
Plus, with a reusable water bottle, tap water can be just as convenient as bottled. You can even add fresh fruit to create your own infused, flavored water.
If safety or water quality is your main concern, consider purchasing a filtration system or filter pitcher instead of regularly buying bottled water.
All the same, there may be times when bottled water is better, especially if your drinking water supply is contaminated.
Additionally, certain populations, such as those with compromised immune systems, may need to purchase certain kinds of bottled water or to boil tap water before drinking it (
As it’s less expensive and has a lower environmental impact, tap water is generally better than bottled. Nonetheless, certain circumstances may make bottled water a necessity.
Although both tap and bottled water have pros and cons, tap water is generally the better option. It’s less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and less likely to contain microplastics.
Furthermore, most people can’t taste a difference between the two.
You can use a home filter to increase water quality, or boost its flavor with slices of watermelon or cucumber.