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Home » Eco-Friendly Savings, Food & Drink, Lifestyle Finance, Live

The TRUE Cost of Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water (& Comparative Purity & Taste Test Results)

Last updated by on 28 Comments

The Cost of Bottled Water

Let’s assume that bottled water costs $1 per bottle. Maybe less if you buy it in bulk. That’s not that much, right? And water is good for you, an essential component of life itself, so it’s totally justified, right?

Once you see the math (and some other interesting facts), you might find it a bit harder to justify.

Unless you live or are traveling in a country that does not yet have potable drinking water (and there are surprisingly still plenty of them out there), you really have no reason to drink bottled water. Most of us know that the cost of drinking bottled water vs. tap water will never work out in your favor. However, the exact extent of the price disparity isn’t so clear. When you see the math, it will likely shock you.

bottle vs tap water cost

The Cost of Tap Water

I recently got curious as to how much tap water I was actually consuming, which led me to doing this cost comparison. I discovered that my city provides an online water usage rundown. My city water bills measure water usage in CCF’s. What is CCF? It’s a unit measurement of water that is equivalent to 100 cubic feet of water. Distilling that down to units we can all relate to:

  • 1 CCF = 748 gallons of water
  • 748 gallons of water = 95,744 ounces of water
  • 95,744 ounces = 4,787 bottles of water
  • Basically, 1 CCF = 4,787 bottles of water
  • What does 1 CCF cost? $2.10!

That’s right – 4,787 bottled waters could be filled with tap water for $2.10! So every time you buy a bottle of water for $1, you are paying 2,279 times what you would if you filled that same bottle with tap water.

If most of what you drink is bottled water, assuming you drink 64 oz. of water per day, you’d consume a little under 3 – 20 oz. bottles of water per day. Those 3 bottles per day would cost you $3/day or $1,095 per year. That same 1,095 bottles filled with tap water would cost you $0.48 PER YEAR. Another way to look at it is that as soon as you buy your first bottle of water, you’ve already spent double what you would for an ENTIRE YEAR of tap water. Wow.

Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water Purity

OK, so we’ve made the cost argument. But how about the purity argument? I hate to burst your Utopian fantasies of crisp icy glaciers, polar bears, and trickling mountain streams, but it’s mostly just the same stuff. According to ABC News, most bottled water is just reprocessed tap water:

Big-selling Dasani and Aquafina are just reprocessed tap water from cities around the country. One of Aquafina’s sources is the Detroit River!

(source: Is Bottled Water Better than Tap)

And as a matter of fact, tap water is actually held to higher purity standards than bottled water is, in the United States. Tap water is regulated under the EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), while bottled water is regulated under less stringent standards by the U.S. FDA’s Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act.

Can the differing standards really result in a less pure bottled water? According to one bottled water purity comparison study of 25 different bottled waters, most of the samples resulted exceeding the contaminant level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) for mercury, thallium, and thorium. None of those bottles would have passed the tap water SWDA standards. And don’t forget about all of the BPA that comes from the bottle itself.

Bottle Water Versus Tap Water Taste

Surely, surely, you can’t tell me that tap water tastes better than bottled water? Can you? I can.

In a blind water taste test by Good Morning America, New York City tap water came out the clear favorite amongst testers:

#1: New York City Tap: received 45% of the vote

#2: Poland Spring: received 24% of the vote

#3: O-2, Oxygenated Water: received 19% of the vote

#4: Evian: received 12% of the vote

And this test was no fluke. Time after time, tap water is rated as good or better tasting than bottled water blind taste tests.

Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water Conclusion

Tap water tastes as good, it’s as pure, it’s better for the environment, and it costs over 1/2,000th as much. You’d be justifiably crazy to pay for and drink bottled water, unless you had no other choice.

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28 Comments »
  • Michael says:

    You’re using flawed numbers to make your point here. I buy my bottled water in 24-packs for $3.99, which is about 16 cents per bottle. Assuming I drink three bottles a day, that’s $175 over the course of a year — a far cry from your estimate of $1,095. The real question is whether you should buy bottles of water individually or in bulk, and the obvious answer is to buy in bulk. But that’s the same answer whether we’re talking about water, soda, juice, or anything else. You could make nearly any purchase look ridiculous if you use an individual unit price for your point of comparison.

    Additionally, while sources of tap water may be just as pure or purer than sources of bottled water, that tap water still has to make its way through your building’s pipes before it reaches your tap. In the large building where I work, the water coming out of the tap in the office kitchen is abhorrent. I, and nearly all of my coworkers, choose the bottle. I still use tap water at home.

    • nick says:

      but why pay money when you can get tap water for free? i understand that it is easier to carry around, but everywhere you go now you see water fountains. bottled water is also bad for the environment. it take forever for plastic bottles to break down. soo why buy water from the store and pollute the environment AND waste money? bottled water is 1. only checked for contaminants once a week. 2. dos’nt taste better than tap and 3. and you are spending lots of money just to get to the store and buy the water.

      • JRT says:

        “but why pay money when you can get tap water for free?”

        First, tap water is not free or nearly as cheap as your flawed numbers suggest. You are getting you numbers from the water bill, which is not the real cost to you of the water. This is the cost or price of water after all of the subsidies and “bail-outs” from both local, state and federal govt.

        Because water is a monopoly thanks to govt regulations it is almost impossible to know what would be the price of water bottled privately from a well and that in tap water. You need a complicated economic assessment to have an estimate. Nevertheless, I bet you that if you include money from taxes then the privately owned well water will be cheaper.

        Getting back to the situation at hand; So is it cheaper to pay for tap water or bottled water from tap? Of course tap water is cheaper. But this is the same as driving an electric car that charges batteries from a plug (tap for gasoline) or a gasoline car which uses the gasoline directly.

      • lee_terry_jr says:

        I just put tap water through my brita filter (its the pitcher kind that stays in the fridge). Where I live the tap water is awful (we have hard water and the place were renting is an old home with lead pipes). I’m sure it probably wouldn’t hurt me, my sister/roomate, and my 5 yr old nephew to drink water with a bit of lead but I would drink soda first. At just 15 bucks my brita pitcher filter wasnt costly at all and the filters last for at least 2 months (at which point you go buy a pack of 10 replacement filters for 40.00 (4 bucks a filter). You can subject your loved ones to lead and chemicals if you want but I prefer to have my water as clean as possible.

    • Cal Lynd says:

      I live in Detroit and We don’t even swim in the
      Detroit River muchless drink the water. Just read this
      article and I will be telling everyone I know about Aquafina.
      Also I totally agree about the old buildings and pipes.

  • Jonathan says:

    @ Michael

    I gotta say that he still makes a good case against bottled water. Even at 175 bucks a year, drinking tap is still around 1% of the cost of bottled. And when you consider that many people don’t buy bulk, but just buy bottles of water, that actually cost way more than $1, this re-enforces the arguement.

    Great article!

  • Rena says:

    Michael – How many people buy water for $0.16 per bottle? GE is going with the average, not your personal numbers. You buy in bulk and have found a good deal, but what percent of people do you think actually do the same? Even if you are only spending $175 per year, that’s $175 more than you could be vs. tap. Maybe GE should have taken ‘Michael’s bulk water purchase’ into account when doing his analysis? Probably not.

  • Mary B says:

    Shouldnt we also take in to account all the plastic thrown in the landfills by bottle users?

    • G.E. Miller says:

      @ Michael – $0.16/bottle is a good deal, and I’m guessing far less than what most people pay on average. I decided to go with a moderate, non-bulk purchase price for a bottle. Your mileage may very, but at the very least, this should provide a good comparison.
      @ Jonathan – thanks.
      @ Mary – That’s a great point.

    • Manya Sharma says:

      I think Mary you are right because when I was researching about water I got a lot of stuff but when I went in searching I got that there is a lot of plastic waste and some of the plastic bottles are not even recycled instead they are dumped in other countries like India. I think you all should watch this link http://thewaterproject.org/bottled_water.asp#.UVgqZhf7CSo. Its about bottle water. I am in favor of tap water but when i was discussing about this with my mum she said me that in India the tap water is not always clean they have o put on purifier at their house even if washing dishes. So if the system of bottle water stops in India it will be difficult for the people living there.

      START DRINKING TAP WATER! TRY TO CONTROL YOURSELF FROM DRINKING BOTTLED WATER! IT WILL BE SAFE FOR US AND EARTH.

      THANKS!
      TRY TO THINK ON THIS ISSUE.

  • Stefanie says:

    @Michael – if the water at home is good, why not just fill up a Nalgene or other reusable water bottle with water from home and bring it to work with you? That way, you’re getting good, clean water for cheap and you don’t have to worry about what happens to all of those plastic water bottles you’re not buying anymore.

  • Jeremy says:

    “You’re using flawed numbers to make your point here… I drink three bottles a day, that’s $175 over the course of a year… The real question is whether you should buy bottles of water individually or in bulk, and the obvious answer is to buy in bulk…”

    No that is not ‘the real question’. The real question is why we spend billions of dollars a year on a product that is basically useless as we can obtain the same thing but of better quality practically for free (the real answer is that we are the pathetic tools of clever marketers).

    “..I still use tap water at home.”

    So why don’t you fill up the bottles from your tap at home genius?

  • Infinite Banking says:

    So thankful for a well. I can’t stand tap.

  • BG says:

    In the taste-test numbers you state: the majority of the people chose something OTHER than tap water (55%) — just saying. A proper taste-test would just have two choices: tap or bottled.

    BTW, it appears that NYC does have some good tap water (good for them). Now, go try the experiment in West Texas where the water is heavily laden with minerals which affects the taste. Out here, everyone I know filters the tap water to improve the taste. I agree, buying bottled water for home use is dumb — but if on the road, what is the alternative?

  • Valerie says:

    This is a lovely article, particularly because of that blind taste test!! When I was a kid and would ask for “brands” instead of generics (because I was indoctrinated by TV and my friends), my mom would have me do a blind taste test of the generic and the brand. The deal was that if I could really tell the difference and preferred the brand, she would buy it for me. We did this dozens of times, and the only one I could really taste a difference in was applesauce, so I got my name brand applesauce.

    People who claim they like the taste of bottled water (even in west Texas, where I have lived and did not notice bad water taste…) should have to do a taste test!!

  • BG says:

    I was in Oklahoma over thanksgiving, and the water at my in-laws house actually smelled bad — I didn’t even bother trying to taste it. They do, however, have a built in filtration system under the kitchen sink (with dedicated facet) to deal with the problem for the drinking/cooking water. These aren’t the type of people to spend a few hundred on a dedicated built-in filtration system for a fantasy problem.

    Seriously, if you have good tap water then great! But there is a non-insignificant part of the population where the tap is nasty (by bottled water standards).

    As Robert said, anyone can make their own bottled-water with a good filter. All bottled-water is, is filtered tap-water from somewhere.

  • antichlorine says:

    I buy bulk on sale for less than $4/case. I can tell the difference and it doesn’t have the chlorine taste. Santa Barbara water has a lot of sediment and sucks!

  • Ishmael says:

    Good article!!! Don’t know how we have been trained, shaped & molded to perceive everything so superficially. Public relations campaigns have done damage to our perception & we must work hard to remove the indoctrinating and brainwashing assaults that have been perpetuated by Big Businesses. I overlooked the financial side of this whole topic which is a shrewd argument. What most people fail to scrutinize is the health ramifications of drinking bottled water. The EPA has tested for and kept out of tap water dozens of TOXINS & other pollutants that the FDA has allowed in bottled water. In addition, the bottle itself is a health hazard (Biphenal A = BPA), etc. The FDA is CONTROLLED thoroughly by big business because there is a revolving door between FDA jobs and Big Business Executives. One day an executive is working at a corporation, the next day they have secured a power position in the FDA. 6 months later their back working at their corporation. The FDA must be dismantled.

    • Vladimir says:

      Your brainwashing and indoctrination is easily understood when you take a look at biggest corporation in America and the biggest money drainer – religion.
      Over 85% of the people in your country believe in a imaginary friend and over 45% in a talking snake and virgin inception and you’re so surprised by this failed perception of bottled water vs tap water?
      People in your country need to start developing very useful but forgotten thing called – critical thinking!

  • MIKE GARLICK says:

    * 1 CCF = 748 gallons of water
    * 748 gallons of water = 95,744 ounces of water
    * 95,744 ounces = 4,787 bottles of water
    * Basically, 1 CCF = 4,787 bottles of water
    * What does 1 CCF cost? $2.10!

    FLAWED NUMBERS TOO 1CCF = 7.48 GALLONS NOT 748 GALLONS

  • Warren says:

    I lived in New York City for a few years and there was a difference in the water coming out of different taps, even though all the water came from the same source. Picking which tap to use for a test will bias the results. I have also lived in Miami, where the water was yellow and stained the fixtures.

    Someone buying an occasional bottle of water might pay $1 but I doubt that most people who drink in excess of 1000 bottles a year are buying the water one bottle at a time for $1 each bottle.

    I pay less than $5.00 for 35 1/2 L bottles. I used to buy several packages every month but I buy them very infrequently (about three times a year) since I installed an under sink, three stage, water filter. The undersink filter paid for itself in less than half a year.
    I previously had a water filter that attached to the end of the tap. The water was better than the straight tap water but no where near as good as what the undersink system delivers. The difference is even more noticable when making tea because the heat seems to accentuate any off tastes.

  • Holly says:

    They forgot to mention that tap water has the lingering effects of everybodys drugs. Heart meds, you name it, are pissed out then eventually traces of it wind up in our drinking water. Reverse osmosis could cure that. They didn’t mention WHAT they did to the water that is in the bottles.

    I know sometimes I run out of Deer Park water, and use the Brita water filter. That water tastes really bad. So I use tap. I get some scummy foamy stuff on the top of the water when boiled, and it stays there. It doesn’t taste as good. NYC water comes from upstate usually, and everyone knows upstate has nothing but streams, rivers, lakes… full of water flowing, starting at Niagra falls working its way down throughout the whole state. Thats what makes it one of the most beautiful, lush and green states. People think NY, they think of that little island, that’s nothing. Anyway, the little bottles don’t have those drug traces, and it tastes better, no foam on the top of my glass… whatever they are doing must be reverse osmosis. It does taste better than the water here in NJ.

  • Tony says:

    You just need to buy a water purifier. You can buy a bulk pack of Britas at Costco.

  • Erin says:

    The pipes in my Grammas house (where I live) are copper and make the water taste awful. I will gladly keep paying my 2.49/6pk of Poland Spring The kitchen faucet does not have the threads necessary to screw on a filter so I am happy with my choice but bottled water at the store per bottle costs $1.80 for just a 20oz bottle so it depends on how you purchase it. When we move out I will gladly put a pur filter on my kitchen sink and stop buying bottled.

  • AL says:

    BOTTLED WATER IS THE GREATEST SCAM PERPETRATED ON THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SINCE PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.
    I KNOW MY CIGARETTES WILL SHORTEN MY LIFE, BUT I HAVE YET TO HEAR OF ONE PERSON WHO LIVED 10 MINUTES LONGER BY DRINKING BOTTLED WATER.
    GOTTA GO NOW, I JUST SAW A GREAT DEAL ON BUYING A STAR, WITH MY NAME ON IT!

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