June 26, 2023

Last Updated: August 8, 2023

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Distilled Vs. Purified Water: What’s the Difference?

By trk

Last Updated: August 8, 2023

Different municipalities have different purification methods they use on their drinking water, and some are better than others. But in truth, we don't really know how effective they are because the government tests for only about 90 contaminants in drinking water, and there can be literally thousands of different chemicals, toxins, and contaminants in your water that are NOT tested for. So we strongly recommend that no matter where you live--even if you have well water--that you use an additional purification method to have the cleanest drinking water possible.

In this short article, we’ll discuss different levels of water purification and what your best options are for the cleanest, safest water available. 

Distilled Vs. Purified Water Defined

To look at the differences between distilled water vs. purified drinking water, we first need to define what they are.

Purified water is water that has been processed to remove impurities such as lead, bacteria and other pathogens, and other chemical contaminants and toxins. The diagram above shows the basic steps that all municipal water goes through to become potable (i.e., safe to drink). 

Distilled water is simply a form of purified water that's had impurities removed by distillation.

Thus, all clean water has been purified. Distilled water is considered the cleanest possible water available.

The Spectrum of Water Purification

Water Purification Plant Diagram

Water purification plant diagram--but what aren't they getting out?

Water purification is best thought of as a spectrum. Tap water has the lowest level of purification of any potable water. So tap water won’t contain any pathogens--no worries about cholera, for example, in the Western world--but it might contain other things that aren’t being tested for. (And, most pathogens are removed by using chlorine, which itself is a toxin that should be removed after it's done its job--few, if any, municipalities do this.) 

APEC ROES-50 5 Stage RO Water Filter

Reverse-osmosis undersink filtration system.

Continuing on the spectrum, filtering pitchers and under-sink filters remove more contaminants from your water, improving both its taste and its safety. There are many ways to filter your tap water, but the best filter system is reverse osmosis because it's the most comprehensive, removing more than 99% of all contaminants in water.

At the top of the spectrum is distilled water, because distillation is the only process that results in completely pure H2O, with absolutely nothing else in it.

Distillation works by boiling water and collecting steam, which then cools into water. This process removes all chemicals that have a boiling point higher than water, which is pretty much everything. The only exception are some VOCs (volatile organic compounds), although large water distillation plants have other means to remove these.

The result is completely purified H2O: the cleanest water available.

Water Distiller

A countertop water distiller.

Why Go With Filtered Water Rather than Distilled Water?

You'd think that with distillation resulting in the purest water available that we'd recommend going with distilled water. But as great as it is, there are a few problems with distilled water.

Probably the biggest issue with distilled water is that if you make it at home, your only option is a countertop distiller, which takes several hours to make just a gallon of water. This isn't a great solution because it can't produce enough water for most families. (Although if you live alone, it can be a great option.)

A home distiller also will not remove VOCs that have a boiling point lower than water, which is a likely concern for most water sources. 

One way around this is to buy distilled water by the gallon: you can get it at the grocery store, it's cheap, and the VOCs have been removed. But this results in a lot of plastic waste and can be a pain to keep doing over the long haul. 

You can also have a water delivery service that brings you 5 gallon jugs on a regular basis. This can be a good solution (recycling the water jugs eliminates plastic waste), but you need to have a dispenser (which you can buy, or rent one from the water delivery company), and it can get expensive over time.

Also, because the distillation process is so thorough, distilled water is missing beneficial minerals and electrolytes found in regular drinking water. You may also taste a difference in distilled water, which is flatter than normal water and can sometimes take on the taste of its container. You can improve the taste by adding a pinch of salt or a few remineralization drops made for this purpose. But this can be a pain to do, as well as an added expense.

For these reasons, a good reverse osmosis filter, installed where you get your drinking and cooking water, is our recommendation for most households. It's almost as good as distilled water, with far fewer worries about having enough water for your families' needs. 

For more information, check out our review of the best water filters for the cleanest, safest water for your family.

Thanks for reading! 

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Distilled Vs Purified Water Pinterest

About the Author

The Rational Kitchen (TRK) is a collaborative effort, but the founder, editor, and writer of most of our articles is Melanie Johnson, an avid cook, kitchenware expert, and technical communications specialist for more than 20 years. Her love of cooking and the frustrating lack of good information about kitchen products led her to create The Rational Kitchen. TRK's mission is to help people make the best decisions they can when buying kitchen gear. 

When not working on product reviews, Melanie enjoys reading, playing with her dog Ruby, vintage video games, and spending time outdoors and with her family.

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