Do You Drink Bottled Water?

Many people are focused on becoming healthier, and it seems that everyone has a different idea of how to do that. Opinions on bottled water differ greatly.

Some people promote drinking tap water because it is more regulated than bottled water, and therefore must be safer. Some recommend distilled because all the impurities have been boiled out of it. Other say ionized alkaline water is the healthiest alternative. They all have what sounds like solid science backing them up, but they can’t all be right.

For me, tap water is out. I don’t live in town. I live out in the country, and we get our water from a water well. The water is piped up from about 300’ below the surface. When we first built our home, the well water tested as pure as tap water, but after the drought of 2010, it became contaminated with iron bacteria. Now I must have a chlorinator, an iron filter, and a water softener to keep the mineral deposits and the yucky orange iron bacteria from ruining my pipes, toilets, and appliances. All that water treatment helps my home stay functioning, but I don’t want to drink the stuff. So, I drink bottled water.

But walking around with bottled water in my hand means there is always someone that wants to tell me why the brand of bottled water I’m drinking is bad, and why I need to switch to what they drink. One of the main reasons people prefer one brand over another is the pH of the bottled water. So, I decided to see exactly how important that really is.

pH tells us how acid or base a substance is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. The middle of the scale, 7, represents neutral. Anything less than seven is acidic, and any number greater than 7 is alkaline. If you look at the chart at the beginning of this post, you’ll see that at 14 you find substances like lye and liquid drain cleaner. At zero, the opposite end of the scale, you find battery acid. Pure water is considered neutral at seven.

The pH scale is logarithmic, which means that every one-unit change on the scale represents a ten-fold change in acidity. For example, let’s say we have three bottles of water:

Bottle A = pH 7; Bottle B = pH6, and Bottle C = pH5

Bottle A is neutral at a pH of 7. Bottle B, at pH6, is ten times more acidic than Bottle A. Bottle C, at pH5, is 100 times more acidic than Bottle A. (Brian Oram, n.d.)

It adds up fast, doesn’t it? Maybe this is worth paying attention to after all. But what changes the pH of water? It turns out that the answer to that is almost everything.

The bedrock and soil composition where the water originated is a factor. Some rock types, like limestone, can neutralize the acid in water, while others, such as granite, have no effect. If there is a lot of plant life in a pond, lake or river, it affects the pH. As the plant life decomposes, carbon dioxide is released. The carbon dioxide combines with the water to form carbonic acid, making the pH of the water more acidic.

Another factor is the dumping of chemicals into the water. Even something as simple as shampoo rinse water will affect the pH. Other factors are acidic rain, or run-off from some types of industry, such as coal mining.

Obviously, no bottled water company that wants to be successful is going to use run-off from a coal mine (pH of 2) as their water source. But they don’t have to. If you have a cup of pure water (pH7), all that’s necessary to change the pH is set the cup on the counter open to the air for a few minutes. The carbon dioxide in the air combines with the water and lowers its pH.

“The chemical formula for water usually is written as H2O, but another way to consider the formula is HOH, where a positively charged hydrogen ion H+ is bonded to a negatively charged hydroxide ion OH-. This means water has properties of both an acid and a base, where the properties essentially cancel each other out.” (Anne Marie Helmenstine, 2017)

That’s pretty interesting, isn’t it? The reason pure water is neutral is that it’s balanced. One acid molecule and one alkaline molecule. But as we’ve already seen, it doesn’t stay that way long. So, maybe what we need to do is get the pH values for all the available bottled water and then just drink it fast before it gets too acidic. Yeah, right.

There are all types of YouTube videos and charts available on the Internet giving us the pH values for different bottled water brands, but they aren’t scientific. You don’t even have to take the lid off the bottle for the pH to change – all you have to do is change the temperature.

“Pure water is simply called ‘neutral’ or a measurement of seven. At 25°C (77°F), water is as close as possible to the perfect measurement of 7.00. However, once the room becomes cooler or warmer, the pH will change. Studies show that at 10°C (50°F), water will have a score of 7.27. At 20°C (68°F), it goes down to 7.08. At 50°C (122°F), water sinks to a score of 6.63, and at 100°C (212°F) it will have a score of 6.14.” (Edelman, n.d.)

None of the pH tests of bottled water that I’ve seen on the Internet gave any indication of the temperature of the samples or how long the water had been sitting exposed to the air, so they aren’t reliable. I like Dasani water, and I have found multiple testing sites listing it with a pH of 4.5 and multiple sites listing it with a pH of 7.2. A pH of 4.5 is five-hundred times more acidic than 7.2. That’s just crazy. Surely, there can’t be such disparity if all the testing is scientifically accurate.

Is distilled water any better? Not really. Distilled water is neutral when it is first taken out of the distiller because the ions were removed in the process, but once it is exposed to air, it becomes ionized again. You can boil it again to remove the carbon dioxide, but who wants to stop and boil their water every time they want a drink? And, unless you want to drink it boiling hot, it may ionize again by the time it cools.

So, what should we do? The good news is that for most of us, this really isn’t that big a deal.

“Water found in nature will generally have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5, depending on geological and atmospheric conditions. According to the University of Massachusetts and the Water Systems Council, the pH of drinking water is not a health issue. Water’s pH value can get neither high enough nor low enough to pose a hazard. However, if the water is contaminated, the pH may be significantly higher or lower. But it’s the nature of the contaminant, not the pH value that determines whether the water is unsafe to drink. Lemon juice, for example, is extremely acidic, with a pH of about 2, while milk of magnesia is quite alkaline, with a pH between 10 and 11 – yet both are safe to consume.” (Merritt, 2015)

See what I mean? Unless you run around with a pH testing kit, you might as well not worry about it. Sure, more acidic water is harder on your teeth than alkaline water. If your kidneys are impaired in some way and not functioning at their best, then you’re better off drinking a neutral water (Fiji is reportedly close to neutral in most testing situations). But for most us, it’s not a problem.

So, you get to decide for yourself whether you want to drink tap water, distilled water, ionized alkaline water, or bottled water. The type of water we drink is not as important as how much water we drink, but that is a topic for another blog. Enjoy whatever type of water you decide to drink today.

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