Bottled Water: What’s Under the Cap?



Though the idea of buying, storing, and drinking water has been around for hundreds of years, the bottled water industry that we know today has evolved into a cultural and economic phenomenon only in the past twenty years.  Indeed the bottled water industry (and yes, it is an industry) contains dozens of brands, types, sources, and even countries that look at bottled water production as a both a consumer good and a natural resource.  But with all of the advertising hype and marketing plugging one brand over another, it’s not unusual to ask just what truly separates one kind of refreshingly-cool water from another?  We decided to find out!

Types of bottled water

Technically bottled water is considered a consumer food product by the FDA, and as such the Food and Drug Administration has created very specific standards and regulations governing water quality and classification.  All bottled water must label itself appropriately, and the categories may surprise you!

  1. Spring Water
    1. Arguably the most sought-after type of bottled water on the market, spring water is water that has been gathered via a naturally-flowing underground water source.  There are strict quality standards to gather and process spring water, including that the water itself can only be collected at the spring or through a strict borehole that taps the underground water formation, the water cannot have its physical properties altered during or after collection, and must possess the same composition and quality as it would have if drank straight from the source.
  2. Mineral Water
    1. Though similar to spring water, mineral water is a natural water that most contain no less than 250 PPM (parts per million) of total dissolved solids.  It most likely does not “flow” up from a natural spring but is instead collected from underground deposits (though this is not required).  Rather what distinguishes mineral water from other types is that it must have a constant level of minerals and trace elements when collected from the source.  At no point can minerals be added to the product.
  3. Purified Water
    1. Produced by distillation, deionization or reverse osmosis, purified water is the second-most popular type of bottled water available on the market today.  Unlike spring water or mineral water there is no source restrictions, but the water itself must undergo several processes that ensure it has been sterilized for consumer consumption.  Many critics of purified bottled water often say that this water is just “tap water in a bottle,” but this is untrue; if a bottled water manufacturer’s water source is a public water system and does not meet FDA purification standards, the product label legally must disclose the public water source.
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