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7 Types of Bottled Water

Water, water, everywhere. Is one variety healthier than others?

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Photo Collage: AARP (Source: Shutterstock; Getty Images(2))

Standing in front of the water aisle in stores can feel overwhelming. Once we filled our glasses with the simplest drink that just flowed from the tap, but now the choices are dizzying: vitamin water, hydrogen water, sparkling water, electrolyte water.

Americans spent an estimated $49 billion in 2023 on bottled water and drank about 16 billion gallons, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. That’s a lot of bottled-up H2O.

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Though it’s true that staying hydrated is crucial to overall health — and many older adults are dehydrated — it’s not clear whether spending extra money on something that’s included in your monthly water bill can make you any healthier.

6 Risks of Dehydration

Older people are at higher risk of dehydration, due in part to decrease in thirst. In some older adults, the loss of just 2 to 3 percent of body fluid can cause physical and cognitive problems. One study found up to 40 percent of older adults may be underhydrated. Dehydration is linked to diabetes, heart failure and stroke and can lead to:

  1. Delirium
  2. Confusion
  3. Infections
  4. Falls
  5. Fractures
  6. Seizures

See also, Do You Really Need 8 Glasses of Water a Day?

How are all the drinking water choices different, and is one better than another?

Tap water

In general, the United States has some of the world’s safest drinking water. Some U.S. water is safe to drink directly from the source, while water from other sources must be treated before consumption because of potential chemical and bacterial contamination.

On April 10, the Biden administration finalized limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water, requiring utilities to reduce them to the lowest level that can be reliably measured. Government officials say these chemicals, called PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances), are linked to liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers. The administration has also proposed rules that would require cities to replace lead water pipes within 10 years.

An estimated 43 million Americans receive water from a private underground well. Well water can be cloudy, have a rotten egg odor from hydrogen sulfide, and leave rust stains. This water is not regulated, so homeowners are responsible for ensuring their supply is safe for drinking, usually through recommended annual testing.

Other than private well water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates and monitors public water supply and tests and treats the water.

Water that doesn’t taste or smell good may be confused with water that is not good for you. A safe amount of chlorine kills bacteria and viruses and keeps water pipes clean, but it doesn’t taste good. Chlorine can be removed with a filter.

“Water can sometimes have a bad smell, taste or appearance, but these features don’t usually last long or indicate a public health concern,” says registered dietitian Kourtney Johnson. “Chlorine, chemicals or a medicine-like taste or smell don’t typically mean there’s an immediate health threat.”

Tap water that doesn’t taste or smell good, as well as news reports of problems with the water coming from our faucets, may explain in part why millions of Americans turn to bottled water.

Bottled water

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates bottled water production and distribution. The FDA has set out Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) that require bottled water companies to maintain sanitary conditions throughout manufacturing and transportation, protect the approved water sources and test the final product.

Some sparkling waters, seltzer waters, tonics and club soda aren’t included as bottled water under FDA regulations. They are considered soft drinks.

Although experts say bottled water is generally safe, there are a few concerns.


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Filtered water may remove fluoride, which is safe to drink and helps prevent tooth decay. Sometimes, manufacturers will reintroduce minerals after purification.

Microplastics are substances used to give plastic bottles transparency, shape and flexibility. A possible link between plastics and disruption of the endocrine system and thyroid is under investigation.

“Growing evidence shows that microplastics negatively affect the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems, as well as bacteria found in the gut. The thyroid plays a role in regulating almost all organs in the body, and long-term exposure to plastics negatively affects its ability to regulate growth, development, metabolism and reproduction,” Johnson says.

Water Filters

Options to enhance the condition of your home’s well or tap water include:

  • A whole house filtration system. 
  • A filtered refrigerator water dispenser.
  • A filtered countertop water pitcher or faucet attachment.
  • A reverse osmosis system.

Here’s a breakdown on seven popular varieties of bottled water.

1. Spring water

Spring water originates from rainwater that moves underground and is filtered naturally by rock and minerals. After it is pushed up to the ground’s surface, the water is collected in springs. Per FDA regulations, when manufacturers bottle and sell it, it must have the same composition and quality as the spring water at its source.

The amount of minerals in spring water isn’t substantial, so it doesn’t provide additional health benefits compared with other water. However, many people enjoy the taste.

2. Mineral water

To be labeled mineral water, this type of bottled water must contain at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. It differs from other types of bottled water due to minerals and trace elements that are present at the water source. Minerals cannot be added later, according to FDA rules.

3. Alkaline water 

Multiple brands manufacture alkaline water, which is altered to a higher pH. Alkaline water can be more expensive than other bottled water, but studies have yet to prove its health benefits. Some claim it can neutralize acid in the bloodstream, give better workout recovery and help prevent disease. A 2021 Iranian study found it may improve bone density in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. The science on these claims is limited, and studies are generally small or in animals, not humans. Larger studies are needed to evaluate any potential health benefits.

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“The body does an incredible job at keeping our pH within a very tight and controlled range. Consuming more alkaline water will not shift your pH outside of its normal range,” says Jen Hernandez, a registered dietitian who specializes in helping people with kidney disease.

Some suggest drinking alkaline water may help those who suffer from acid reflux, but Hernandez is skeptical.

“Adding this type of water into a very acidic environment, like the stomach, which is supposed to be producing acid to help us with digestion and breaking down foods, is almost counterintuitive,” Hernandez says.

4. Water with vitamins

Some manufacturers enhance water with vitamins. This water usually comes in sugar-sweetened and sugar-free options. In some brands, a 20-fluid-ounce bottle has up to 27 grams of added sugar (50–100 percent of the daily recommended limit), so those watching sugar content should check labels. Sugar-free options use stevia, monk fruit or artificial sweeteners.

Vitamin-infused waters may contain more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamins B and C. These are water-soluble vitamins, meaning that the kidneys will excrete any excess in your urine.

“So you’re just going to pay for expensive urine at that point. ... Your body is going to say, ‘I don't need this quantity,’ ” Hernandez says. “It is ideal to get our vitamins from foods as they provide many other benefits and nutrients.”

5. Electrolyte water

Sports drinks are intended for athletes who lose a lot of fluid and electrolytes through sweat. Such drinks often aren’t necessary for moderate exercisers or sedentary people. Electrolyte water may be beneficial short-term under certain circumstances, such as when people are exercising for long periods, have prolonged exposure to heat or are ill with vomiting and diarrhea. Experts say regular water is usually sufficient for meeting moderate exercise hydration needs.

6. Hydrogen water

Hydrogen water is plain water with hydrogen gas added to it. The water can be bought with the hydrogen in it, or people can purchase hydrogen tablets to add to water at home.

Hydrogen water is gaining interest due to its potential health benefits. A 2024 review of studies found that it may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as improve physical endurance. Most studies have been small, and research is mixed. Further rigorous research is needed to confirm any benefits.

7. Purified water

Plain bottled water is not merely tap water in a bottle, although some bottled water does come from municipal sources. To be labeled purified, the water goes into a production plant and through a process that can include distillation, deionization or reverse osmosis, according to the International Bottled Water Association. It is then sold in individual, sanitary, sealed containers.

Is one type better?

Most people get the electrolytes and minerals they need from food, not fluids. The amount in drinking water is relatively low and not enough to meet our dietary needs.

Is there a best daily drinking water? Some say the right water is the one you will drink. Many people enjoy the taste and convenience of bottled water and prefer it to tap water.

On the other hand, purified, highly regulated, readily available tap water is likely coming from your kitchen faucet. With additional home filters, cost-effective tap water is an excellent daily drinking choice, and there are no toxins from plastic bottles.

Having a pitcher of filtered tap water on the counter at home, in sight as a reminder, can be great for hydration needs, Hernandez says.

Hard Water Vs. Soft Water

Many households have soft water, but it isn’t a requirement. A water softener removes the water’s hardness, caused by calcium and magnesium, and replaces it with sodium.

Some may wonder if their soft water tastes salty. Some sources say that’s a myth; others say people with very discerning taste buds may notice it.

The amount of sodium in one 8-ounce glass of softened water is about 12.5 milligrams (the recommended daily intake is 2,300 mg). Soft water is safe for the general public, but those with strict low-sodium diets may need their doctor’s guidance on water selection.

To avoid drinking soft water, you can switch to a nonsalt-based softening system (using potassium instead) or add a reverse osmosis system to your kitchen supply. Other solutions include having the water softener hooked up to your hot water to reserve for laundry, bathing and cleaning.

Video: 5 Signs of Dehydration

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