Bottled water, tap water, plastic, glass... I can't decide!
April 12, 2017 12:35 PM   Subscribe

So, I love bottled water. I also have concerns about the effects of drinking out of plastic bottles. (Yeah, I'm about 30 years too late worrying about constant exposure to the chemicals in plastic, but better late than never?) So my question is, can I just fill glass bottles and reuse them? Are there any special precautions I need to take? Is tap water as good as bottled water? Is there a good way to get affordable non-plastic bottled water? More details below!

-I live in Portland, Oregon and I *think* the tap water here is fine, but I also am not sure how it compares to bottled water. Is the tap here as healthy as bottled water, or would a bottled source be better for me? I realize some bottled water, like Aquafina, is simply water from public water systems that has been filtered. But other brands come from a natural spring. What is best?

-Is it safe and sanitary to clean out glass bottles and reuse them? Sometimes I buy Perrier, Voss or other glass bottled water, and I've started shaking up soap, rinsing them out, and then filling them with water and refrigerating. Is that okay? Or is it a breeding ground for bacteria?

-Is there a cheap way to get fresh, glass bottled water sent to me? Whenever I look it up, it seems pretty expensive -- I assume because it's heavy and glass can break. I prefer spring water, not carbonated water. But I'd love a way to get new bottles of water in glass regularly. I also don't have a car, although I could use a Car2Go or Lyft to transport a bunch.

-Bottled water seems to taste different than tap water. Is there a real difference or is it in my mind? Is buying bottled water the only way to get that taste?

Lately I feel like I just haven't been getting enough water because I can't decide if I should be drinking tap, drinking out pf plastic bottles, or whatever. I love water and I want to enjoy it in mass amounts with peace of mind.
posted by AspirinPill to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Here is the Portland, OR water quality home page. There is a yearly report.

Yes, you can clean out glass bottle and reuse them. I use a canning jar, which is designed to be boiled and is fairly sturdy. You can get packs of them from Target or Amazon in many sizes and shapes. My coworker uses an old jam jar; another uses an old Frappucino bottle. If it's glass, it's fine. You don't need to wash it more thoroughly than you would a drinking glass.

Only problem with glass: don't drop it! And if you clean out a jar in the dishwasher, remove the label before you do or the label paper can clog the dishwasher.

You may be able to get glass-bottled water via Amazon Fresh, or you could look into a filtered water cooler delivery, like you'd get in an office, that you could use to fill your own bottles. I think the taste of filtered office water cooler water is close to bottled water but fresher.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tap water through a filter like Brita for better taste and for the least environmental impact. Get a reusable insulated bottle for when you leave the house, wash that out regularly. I keep a couple of Corkcicle containers at work, and I use them in the car, too. Otherwise I pour into a regular glass and drink from that. If you don't want to store in the Brita pitcher, pour into a nice glass pitcher and keep in your fridge. Run it through the dishwasher once in a while.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also, in many cases, tap water IS bottled water. Many bottled water companies draw their supply directly from the public water supply, pay pennies or nothing, and then sell them at a markup. Seriously! Here's an article about public water being drawn for sale by bottled water companies during the California drought.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:48 PM on April 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

Bottled definitely tastes different from tap, but that doesn't mean that it's bad. I live in San Francisco, and I love the way our water tastes! You may have noticed that there is a variation in taste between different types of bottled water (I, for one, hate the taste of Aquafina). Other things that affect taste and perception of taste:

- Temperature
- Material, shape, and size of receptacle
- If bottled, how long ago it was bottled
- If tap, how long it has been sitting out
- Filtration system

I wonder if you could replicate your glass bottled water experience with a home filter and a reusable glass water bottle.

As to the "safety" of tap water, that's probably a complicated question. I drink the tap water in San Francisco and Marin counties, no problem. I lived in New Orleans and wouldn't drink the tap water there--it was gross tasting. I'm pretty sure that using a home filter (either a fridge filter like Brita or one you put on your tap) takes care of any of the nasties.
posted by radioamy at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2017

blnk frnk has the link I was going to post. I'm a big fan of tap water for cost and environmental reasons. Every liter of bottled water takes about 1.4 liters to make. And costs something like 2,000 times as much as tap water. My rec: find a glass bottle you like, get a bottle brush that fits in it, clean it a couple times a week, fill with tap water and enjoy. Get a Brita if you want.
posted by that's candlepin at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Well, I like the taste of my tap water, and I think it tastes as good as bottled water, especially when it is cold (I always keep some in the fridge). Looks like Portland's water safety is mostly good (check out the 2016 annual report PDF for details, especially if there is anything in particularly you're concerned about). You can filter your own water at home if you don't like the taste or if there are contaminants you're concerned about.

I generally just rinse out the water bottles I keep in the fridge, but I also don't actually drink directly out of them (I pour the water into glasses). If I were putting my mouth on the bottles I would wash them more often. I also use dishwasher-safe carafes (I only use narrow-necked bottles because they work with a sodastream), so they are easy to wash (even if you don't have a dishwasher, carafes are easier to wash).

I have absolutely reused glass Gerolsteiner bottles for drinking water outside of my home, although I prefer to use stainless steel or plastic because I don't want to break the bottles.

Water bottles are not breeding grounds for bacteria or mold any more than, say, tupperware is (less so, because bacteria mostly need food, and water is not food).

I think you're overthinking this big time! It's just water!
posted by mskyle at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

To be clear, I have already looked up Portland's water quality report. It just doesn't really mean anything to me, and I have no clue how it compares to bottled water, hence me asking about it.

And my concern about reusing glass bottles of water is that it's difficult to clean inside of them. Running a dishwasher doesn't work on them the way it does, say, a plate. Putting a glass bottle in the dishwasher only seems to clean the outside, and then inside just fills with a mix of dirty and clean water. Bottles of water also don't air dry well either -- when I've tried, either facing down or up, the moisture just sits inside. So after I rinse them, I think my only option is to refill them without drying first.

I want the healthiest, cleanest water possible... which I know seems super obvious, but it's gotten to the point where my uncertainty about this is holding me back from enjoying water the way I should! So I just need to clarity on a concrete direction to go for all my water needs.

>Also, in many cases, tap water IS bottled water.

I addressed this in my question. Some are. Some are not. I am curious about the bottled water that is not.
posted by AspirinPill at 12:57 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

i live in a suburb in the bay area, and the water where i live tastes horrible to me, akin to drinking from a swimming pool. i tried a brita filter, and the chlorine taste was still there.

so for home, i buy the big bottles of water from trader joe's and drink those. at work, i have a bpa free camelbak bottle. i also have a couple glass bottles, but they were heavy, which made them awkward to drink out of for me.

my mother got a couple of BPA free big plastic jugs somewhere, and she refills them at a 'water store' in her town - her town's water is not good either. if you own your home and have a way to put in a water line, you might be able to get a filtering system that's also a cooler/heater, like this, and use glasses.
posted by koroshiya at 1:04 PM on April 12, 2017

to expand on the tj's water, it's spring water, as opposed to purified water. i just like it because it doesn't have an additional taste/aftertaste to me, like aquafina/dasani does.
posted by koroshiya at 1:05 PM on April 12, 2017

You could get a baby bottle steam cleaner to sterilize the bottles, but I don't think you need to if you have a bottle brush and rinse them well. You could also swtich to a wide-mouth jar style of glass container, which cleans easier in the dishwasher and dries perfectly.

Also, it's worth noting that Portland doesn't flouridate their water. I am of the opinion that this is a mistake, but the water is still safe. It meets or exceeds the EPA water standards. Have you tried calling the city number or emailing the city? It seems like they could explain the report for you.

You could independently test the water coming from your own taps if you want to be really sure. The city can likely refer you to someone who can do this.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

It is practically impossible to know how bottled water compares to tap water, because public water agencies are required to post detailed reports (such as that linked) and private companies aren't.

Tap water does taste different, because it picks up minerals on the way through the pipes, especially from the pipes in your home. This adds trace amounts of metals and other stuff which gives it a particular taste. Generally, you can say that tap water tastes "hard" and bottled water is "soft." A Brita-type filter should fix that for you if it bothers you. I prefer the taste of hard water and a lot of people do like it, it's an acquired taste of a kind.

Some cities treat their water with chlorine to kill bacteria. That makes it safe but can make it smell like swimming pool. Chlorine evaporates if you leave it to sit for a bit but that might be more than you care to do. Again, a filter can help (partly because if you let it sit in your fridge overnight in the pitcher the chlorine evaporates some).

For cleaning? A bottle brush. Magic wand.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:07 PM on April 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think maybe you just need a wide-mouth glass water bottle? I have one from Lifefactory, but I think there are several good brands out there. Mine has a silicone sleeve that protects it when it inevitably falls. You can get a variety of lids to fit your sipping needs. The key for me is that it feels very clean after I run it through the dishwasher. The wide-mouth allows for a very thorough cleaning and keeps there from being water trapped inside like you describe for small-mouth bottles. This paired with a Brita filter for your water might work for you.
posted by LKWorking at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Re the cleaning of bottels - you´re overcomplicating this. Wash with hot, soapy water every now and then. Rinse thoroughly. Drain as best you can, dry outside and place in cupboard without closing the bottle. The residual moisture dries just fine. That's how I wash all my drinking bottles. I also just keep a Brita filter in my fridge and thus always have tasty, cold water. I drink from a glass at home but take bottels to work/my clients.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:25 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Portland water is pretty damn good, and very safe. There are some theories out there that our water quality is part of why coffee and beer (both highly dependent on water quality) as industries, took off around here. Our water is great. It's really good. In the summers, during drought years they switch to partial well water, and that's (still perfectly safe!) but different tasting (some people notice, some don't, fewer care).

Is it safe and sanitary to clean out glass bottles and reuse them?
Yes. Wash them out, and let them dry on a rack. If anything crufty is in the bottle, use a bottle brush to get at it. These can be found very cheap at brew stores.

Is there a cheap way to get fresh, glass bottled water sent to me?
There are several services in Portland that offer this, but none in glass. But all of them store their water in food-grade plastics that don't degrade unless you're abusing them in odd chemical or environmental ways. It's quite safe to store water in the types of plastic that water is stored in. Most grocery stores sell filtered water by the jug, but this is just filtered tap water (similar to a Britta filter)

Bottled water seems to taste different than tap water. Is there a real difference or is it in my mind? Is buying bottled water the only way to get that taste?
You're just tasting different ratios of minerals in the water. If you want to be a water nerd, that's fucking super cool. You can actually find the type of water you like, get a sample and then contact the folks over at Everpure to design a house-level filtration system that will subtract and add in mineral content to your water to make it match your desired output. Cafe's use these to make sure their water is optimized for coffee extraction (especially in places with super hard or soft water). People get nerdy about much stranger things, for SURE. This option is not what I would call easy or cheap, but if you're anxious about your water quality, this is kind of the 'big guns' as they were.

I love water and I want to enjoy it in mass amounts with peace of mind.
If you don't want to become a water nerd, consider Portland water safe. Then drink the fuck out of tap water. Add steps only as they don't detract from your hydration enjoyment.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:32 PM on April 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

-Bottled water seems to taste different than tap water. Is there a real difference or is it in my mind? Is buying bottled water the only way to get that taste?

Different brands may have different minerals added to provide an improved taste. I don't buy much bottled water, but when I do, I like the taste of Dasani.

Here's an article that discusses the different mineral contents of various commercial waters.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:34 PM on April 12, 2017

I use distilled water to make tea and soups but only because to me they taste better that way. I literally did a blind taste test to compare distilled to tap, so do that and you'll have no doubts as to whether you have a preference (everyone's taste buds are different).

If you like distilled water, you can reuse glass containers without washing them since there is literally nothing in distilled water to contaminate the glass. I do wash mine but rarely and I only use baking soda and vinegar, since the whole point is to avoid chemicals.

Whole Foods sells giant 5-gallon glass jugs and water refills; refills are about half the price of any bottled water, whether online or in store. I've researched all the online options to death - Amazon, Jet, etc. and they all suck; locally, I've only found Whole Foods to offer glass/distilled - my local water delivery companies also deliver distilled water but in 1-gallon plastic jugs so not as good IMO, plus they tend to be a bit more expensive.

Personally, I wouldn't even bother with spring water... too many variables. For example Evian is supposedly contaminated from Chernobyl and Fiji is supposedly contaminated from Fukushima.

Keep in mind tap water is sometimes better - for example our pediatrician told me to stop giving my son distilled water and give him tap water instead, for the fluoride content.
posted by rada at 1:38 PM on April 12, 2017

Tap water does taste different in different places. It's part of the experience of traveling, to taste the different waters. But the truth is if I stay anywhere for even a couple of days, and max a week, I get used to the water and it just tastes normal again. So if you do want to transition over, try to switch to just local tap water for at least a week and then check in with yourself about the taste.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:04 PM on April 12, 2017

Any natural spring that is used for bottled water could be used for tap water - it's usually just limited by private ownership of land or limited quantity. This is just to clarify that the sources between drinking and bottled water are functionally similar, and really just depend on what's accessible in the town (for tap water) or near the company (for bottled water).

It is practically impossible to know how bottled water compares to tap water, because public water agencies are required to post detailed reports (such as that linked) and private companies aren't.

This is very true. Also, it really depends on where the water is collected: spring water varies a lot depending on the surrounding geology. It might end up with a lot of minerals and metals as a result. Without knowing this, it's hard to make a true comparison, although a lot of the taste differences that you note are due to differences in pH, hardness, and mineral levels. Water taste is totally a personal preference though - some people like soft water (like your Portland tap water), some people like hard water, some people like water with lots of minerals or salts, some people like distilled water (which lacks nearly all minerals).

You may have to do some blind taste tests to figure out what you like best, although there's research to support that people tend to like the water they're used to.

It's also true that water quality is publicly posted for municipalities and not for bottled water. This doesn't necessarily mean that bottle waters aren't tested as regularly (although it might), but it does mean we can't make a comparison about the rigor of their quality or safety.

To correct some misinformation:
- Brita filters won't affect hardness/softness, but they should remove "earthy" tastes and chlorine, as long as you replace them regularly.
- Also, if you prefer mineral-y water, you won't be able to replicate that by filtering your tap water (either by Brita or using an Everpure home system) - filtering only takes stuff out, it doesn't add it in.

Source: I'm a drinking water engineer.
posted by Paper rabies at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

As far as drinking vessels and cleanliness, I recommend Mason/Ball/Kerr canning jars (durable, etc) with an add-on drinking lid. There are versions that are silicone, metal and glass, or BPA-free plastic. You can also get sleeves/covers/coozies for canning jars, to improve your grip on them and provide a little extra padding/insulation.

The wide mouth makes them much much easier to wash out very very well, which is my big complaint about most of the "canteen" or thermos-type water bottles out there.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:16 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now that there's a possibility misinformation might be corrected, I feel less reluctant to link to a report discussing a fairly recent study correlating increases in type 2 diabetes with certain sorts of added fluoride:
Water fluoridation prevents dental cavities, which are a costly public health concern. But despite the benefits supplemental water fluoridation remains a controversial subject. Some indicate it may cause long term health problems, but studies reporting side effects have been minimal or inconclusive. The long-term effects of ingested fluoride remain unclear.

A recent study published in the Journal of Water and Health examined links between water fluoridation and diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic in the United States. Incidence rates have nearly quadrupled in the past 32 years and show no signs of stopping. According to the study, fluoridation with sodium fluoride could be a contributing factor to diabetes rates in the United States, as the chemical is a known preservative of blood glucose.

The sole author of the paper, Kyle Fluegge, PhD, performed the study as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Fluegge now serves as health economist in the Division of Disease Control for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and co-director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Cleveland, Ohio.

In the study, Fluegge used mathematical models to analyze publicly available data on fluoride water levels and diabetes incidence and prevalence rates across 22 states. He also included adjustments for obesity and physical inactivity collected from national telephone surveys to help rule out confounding factors. Two sets of regression analyses suggested that supplemental water fluoridation was significantly associated with increases in diabetes between 2005 and 2010.

"The models look at the outcomes of [diabetes] incidence and prevalence being predicted by both natural and added fluoride," said Fluegge.

Fluegge reported that a one milligram increase in average county fluoride levels predicted a 0.17% increase in age-adjusted diabetes prevalence. Digging deeper revealed differences between the types of fluoride additives used by each region. The additives linked to diabetes in the analyses included sodium fluoride and sodium fluorosilicate. Fluorosilicic acid seemed to have an opposing effect and was associated with decreases in diabetes incidence and prevalence. Counties that relied on naturally occurring fluoride in their water and did not supplement with fluoride additives also had lower diabetes rates.
. . .
Said Fluegge, "The models indicate that natural environmental fluoride has a protective effect from diabetes. Unfortunately, natural fluoride is not universally present in the water supply."
posted by jamjam at 3:24 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I solve my water-taste pickiness by having a large Brita pitcher in the fridge and an insulated metal thermos water bottle that keeps my water cold. Plus no fear of dropping it and it's lighter than glass.

There's a plethora of metal and glass water bottles available for purchase. Many of them have plastic tops that unscrew so you can clean them easier - and I personally like to drink from a plastic lid so metal or glass doesn't tap against my teeth or lips.

I scrub mine out with a scrub brush every so often then just fill it back up and keep my Brita filter fresh - I clean the pitcher when I replace a filter. You can definitely also get a bottle brush for scrubbing.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:52 PM on April 12, 2017

I bought a reverse osmosis water filter for under the sink from Costco. I installed it myself. You need a drill, screw driver, tire gauge for 5 - 7 PS and a bike pump. Our tap water measures impurities at 130 ppm while our RO water is 8 pm. The RO water doesn't taste like chlorine. Our refrigerator water dispenser, with a new filter, is still at 130 pm. I highly recommend an RO filter.
posted by waving at 5:27 PM on April 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine toting a glass water bottle around, so I have 2 stainless steel ones. Not only am I glad not to be using plastic, but somehow they seem to make the water feel/taste colder, and they're durable as anything.

Brita + stainless bottle - all I need. When I lived in Maine, we had great tap water. Poland Spring then bought access to the supply source. I had Poland Spring coming out of my tap. Poland Spring got their water out of the equivalent of my tap. At that point I realized that buying branded bottle water was for chumps.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on April 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just went to the store and bought a brand of bottled water called Voss. It came in a nice bottle, and I have refilled it with filtered tap water at least a dozen times already.
posted by coberh at 9:29 PM on April 12, 2017

I took a quick look at the Portland DW annual report for 2016 and did not see anything of concern (I've worked in the DW industry for 20+ years as a scientist/consultant/regulator). Where you live in within the distribution system and the plumbing can affect taste and safety, but for the most part, you are in good shape if you only drink and cook with cold water and run the cold water tap for a bit before using (wait until the temp gets colder or steady).

I used to participate in a group that did DW blind taste testings at an annual conference (attended by folks in the DW business). After a couple of years, we started to notice that people tended to like the water that was most similar to where they lived. Most of the preferences came down to hardness/softness of the water which affects perceived taste and mouth feel the most.

Another note about bottled water. Drinking water quality is regulated by the EPA (usually through the State). Bottled water is regulated through FDA. There is a difference in frequency of testing and how labs are certified/accredited to do testing.

To actually answer your question, my suggestion is get used to the taste of chlorine (or in your case chloramines) and keep drinking tap water:) I wouldn't worry about bacteria too much in any bottle as long as you are using it routinely. A simple rinse with cold water is fine. Funny enough, it's probably your mouth germs (as opposed to what was in the bottle itself) that you are rinsing out. If you want to get rid of the taste of chlorine, I would suggest a filter you can put on the faucet. Make sure you read the packaging to see what the filter is certified to remove. Also glass and stainless steel bottles are fine. Plastic or metal lined with plastic are not.
posted by jraz at 7:14 AM on April 13, 2017

Stainless steel water bottles are a thing. All the ease of glass, but a lot harder to break, if you go glass you might want to look into a bottle with built in protection like this style if breakage is a worry for you.

There is a huge range of under sink filter set ups that range in price from $30 (what I have) to fancy reverse osmosis ones if water quality is a concern. I use the cheaper filter mainly because it improves the taste of our tap water not because of water quality where I am. I'd recommend one if you don't like the taste of your tap water, once it's gone through it will taste like most bottled waters our there.
posted by wwax at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2017

If you really want to clean out your glass bottles you can do like fancy bars do: vodka and salt. Salt does not easily dissolve in alcohol like it does in water.

Pour some coarse salt in there - I mean iodized table salt will do but the bigger grittier crystals seem to work better - and then a healthy slug of whatever bottom-shelf vodka you can buy cheaply just for this purpose. Shake the crap out of it - the undissolved salt particles help scrape away whatever might be sticking on the inside, and the alcohol helps kill the rest. A quick rinse with water afterward and you're done.
posted by komara at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can remember just one study from a few years back that found that most bottled water had many more contaminants (like bacteria, not like minerals) than tap water, which makes sense because only the latter is regulated. In fact, many waters had bacteria levels comparable to water in a toilet bowl (!). So you're much better off drinking tap water if the quality is relatively good, or filtered tap water if it needs it, than 95% of bottled water brands.

Do I think that has changed in the intervening years? No. But a web search will give you some guidance to current thoughts (and even specific brands).
posted by acm at 10:35 AM on April 13, 2017

I use this glass water bottle - from amazon that the bottom screws off and on, and it's really easy to clean because of that! It also came with cleaning brushes which was nice. I also have a knockoff of the trendy S'Well brand of stainless bottle, but I find I can definitely taste the stainless steel in it, especially if I've added ice or the water has been sitting for a few hours.

if you're really worried about the cleanliness of bottles, you could get one of these, which is a bottle/carboy washer for beer making. If you have a utility sink, they usually have the right faucet for a female hose adapter, and this sprays a powerful jet into the bottom of the bottle, and get them nice and clean after being soaked in soapy water.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:31 PM on April 13, 2017

Also came here to say Reverse Osmosis is your friend. It does a really good job. I get unprompted compliments on how good the water tastes.
posted by metaseeker at 10:45 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am super picky too, and have really good success with a double walled stainless steel bottle with a the Hydro Flask Sport Cap.

For some reason, this combination just doesn't develop the funk. I think it's because the oral bacteria don't go near the actual flask. Occasionally I throw the lid into the dishwasher, and having used the flask with only water, my pro-grade nose hasn't detected any off smell over several months. I sometimes swish it out with hot water for a good clean.

I do find that with glass, plastic, and steel bottles alike, if you drink from it by directly your lips on the rim, you will need frequent washing.
posted by metaseeker at 10:54 PM on April 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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