Just a couple years ago, when Hurricane Irene flooded our nearby water purification plant, our tap water was no longer safe for drinking, cooking — basically anything besides showering. And I had a newborn baby in the house drinking a bottle of formula every three hours. Needless to say, I got acquainted with the water sold in the grocery store real fast. And the choices were downright overwhelming.

Where were the days of simply picking a few gallons of bottled water off the shelf? Why did I now have to choose whether I wanted drinking water or purified water? And what was the difference anyway? Wasn’t all bottled water the same? Turns out, not so much.

I did what any mother would do in my situation: I bought a half dozen gallons of each kind and lugged them all home. Something was bound to be good enough for my baby and the rest would have to be good enough for me.

The EPA’s website finally answered my questions — after a few quick clicks, I was a water connoisseur. Now I pass that wisdom on to you, my dear readers:

Drinking water — Drinking water is just that: water that is intended for drinking. It is safe for human consumption and comes from a municipal source. There are no added ingredients besides what is considered usual and safe for any tap water, such as fluoride. (Incidentally, my tap water in New Jersey didn’t even contain fluoride — a necessary mineral for a child’s growing teeth and gums. We had to give our kids fluoride supplements.)

Distilled water — Distilled water is a type of purified water. It’s water that has gone through a rigorous filtration process to strip it not only of contaminants, but any natural minerals as well. This water is best for use in small appliances — like hot water urns, or steam irons, because if you use it, you won’t have that mineral buildup that you often get when you use tap water. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this water is not necessarily the best for human consumption, since all of the water’s natural, and often beneficial, minerals are absent.

Purified water — Purified water is water that comes from any source, but has been purified to remove any chemicals or contaminants. Types of purification include distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration. Like distilled water, it has its advantages and disadvantages, the advantages being that potentially harmful chemicals may be taken out and the disadvantage being that beneficial minerals may be taken out as well.

Spring water — This is what you often find in bottled water. It’s from an underground source and may or may not have been treated and purified. Though spring water sounds more appealing (like many others, I imagine my spring water coming from a rushing fresh spring at the base of a tall snow-capped mountain), it’s not necessarily the best water for drinking if you have other options. Studies done by the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) have found contaminants in bottled water such as coliform, arsenic and phthalates. Much of bottled water is labeled as spring water, when in fact it is coming from a municipal source and is nothing more than glorified tap water. This topic has been a popular one in recent years, sparking much controversy.

So what did I, the eco-expert, choose when faced with the myriad of choices? For my family, I chose drinking water, but depending on where you live, you may choose differently. To check the quality of your local tap water, check with the EPA. To check the water quality of your favorite bottled water, check out the Environmental Working Group’s report on bottled waters.

— Chanie

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