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The Tidal Wave of Bottled Water

It used to be that water was a simple way of quenching your thirst. Now it is a designer beverage. But is there really a difference between tap water and bottled waters?

A Wide Selection

Walk into any supermarket, drug store, convenience store, vending area, or shopping mall, and you are likely to find an array of bottled water brands. It is estimated that Americans now consume more than 400 billion gallons of bottled water per day. Yet, many people are surprised when they find out exactly what is in bottled water.

The definition of bottled water is pretty straightforward: any water (generally containing no additives) intended for human use that is sealed in a bottle or other container. What is surprising, however, is the source of bottled water. Because, in addition to natural sources, such as artesian, spring, mineral, purified, and sparkling water, approximately half of all bottled waters originate in municipal water supplies.

Is Bottled Water Regulated?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies bottled water as a food and regulates it according to standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. According to FDA rules, bottled water products must be tested each year to be certain they are free of, or contain only trace amounts of, certain contaminants. These include:

In addition, bottled water is tested for aesthetic contaminants such as iron, zinc, sulfate, or chloride, as well as other physical characteristics which, though not posing a health hazard, can negatively affect the taste, odor, or appearance of the water. Many state environmental agencies and industry trade groups may also require testing.

Water is classified as "bottled water" or "drinking water" if it meets all applicable federal and state standards, is sealed in a sanitary container, and is sold for human consumption. Bottled water cannot contain sweeteners or chemical additives (other than flavors, extracts or essences) and must be calorie-free and sugar-free. Flavors, extracts, and essences derived from spice or fruit can be added to bottled water in small amounts. In addition, bottled water may be sodium-free or contain "very low" amounts of sodium. Some bottled waters contain natural or added carbonation.

So, Is Bottled Water Safer Than Tap Water?

Not necessarily. The requirements for testing of municipally supplied tap water are generally just as stringent as those required for the testing of bottled water. However, there may be other reasons to choose bottled water, such as:

What Are the Reasons Against Drinking Bottled Water?

There are a few reasons not to drink bottled water:

Are There Alternatives to Bottled Water?

Many people now opt for drinking water filtration systems (either filtered containers into which tap water is poured or filtration systems that are directly hooked to the tap). These systems, which are more economical than bottled water, generally improve the taste, appearance, and odor of tap water and may also remove some contaminants. A note of caution, however. In most (if not all) cases, such systems should not serve as a substitute for bottled water if your tap water comes from a private water supply system subject to little or no regulation or testing, or from a municipal water supply system that has temporarily become contaminated.

The Many Names of Bottled Water

Today's supermarket shelves offer an array of bottled waters. But what do the terms on the labels really mean? The International Bottled Water Association defines the following types of bottled water:


Environmental Protection Agency

Food and Drug Administration


Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


Bottled water and carbonated soft drinks guidance documents and regulatory information. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Updated April 27, 2015. Accessed April 21, 2016.

Bottled water: know the facts. Iowa State University website. Available at: Accessed April 21, 2016.

FDA regulates the safety of bottled water beverages including flavored water and nutrient-added water beverages. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Updated April 6, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2016.

Share of popular bottled water from municipal supplies up 50%. Food and Water Watch website. Available at: Updated April 7, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2016.

Types of bottled water. IBWA website. Available at: Accessed April 21, 2016.

Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 4/21/2016