Clearing Confusion: Can You Drink Distilled Water?

Boiling water produces vapor or steam as it changes from a liquid phase into a gas phase. The wispy, whitish vapors rising from the surface of the hot water are visible. Water companies capture this steam and turn it into bottled distilled water for resale. Distilled water is touted as being 'pure' of contaminants and environmental chemicals compared to regular drinking water. However, tap and bottled water is tightly regulated and is considered safe to drink in most places in the United States.

Keep reading to learn more about distillation processes, what makes distilled water unique, and whether it’s safe to drink.

What is distilled water?

Distilled water is vapor (steam) that has been cooled and returned into a liquid. This process is done by boiling water, eliminating harmful bacteria and other potential pathogens. However, it also strips away minerals and any electrolytes from the water.

Water purification requires slightly different treatments than distillation. Purification treatments employ various techniques to remove bacteria, pathogens, and other organic substances, making drinking water safe. However, it leaves some desirable minerals and electrolytes behind.

What is distilled water used for?

People may opt to use distilled water when working in a controlled environment and don’t want to introduce trace amounts of minerals into their space. For example, they may use distilled water to fill a fish aquarium and manually add minerals and other essential products. This allows them complete control over their ecosystem, which may help their animals and water foliage thrive.

More commonly, distilled water has long been used to iron clothing because it contains no minerals that could stain or leave residues. Other ways people use distilled water include:

  • Watering plants with delicate ecosystems
  • Using hydroponic farming systems for growing edible plants at home
  • Trying to make clear ice cubes (which are esthetically pleasing for at-home mixologists)
  • Adding it to humidifiers to add moisture to the air
  • Cleaning showerheads and other water spraying devices susceptible to clogging from mineral deposits
  • Using it in CPAP machines (medical devices to support breathing overnight in people with sleep apnea)
  • Cleansing nasal passage with a neti pot (or similar device)

Can you drink distilled water?

Distilled water, commonly available in large jugs, is considered safe to drink. However, there is little scientific evidence that it is a superior source of hydration compared to other forms of water.

It is missing some minerals that support health, like magnesium, which you’ll need to supplement through a nutritionally balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lean protein.

Overall, drinking distilled water is a personal preference, not a health requirement, and you should choose a form of water that is easily accessible so you can stay hydrated.

Can babies and children drink distilled water?

Babies should not drink any form of water until they are at least six months old. Instead, they must be offered breastmilk or formula. As they grow up, you can introduce small quantities of distilled or regular water for hydration (0.5 cups to start).

There are no official guidelines on how much distilled water a child may drink. You should ask your physician or pediatrician for guidance.

The downsides of drinking distilled water regularly

Distilled water is stripped of minerals, making it virtually flavorless, which may deter some people who are used to drinking water with a more robust flavor. Also, regularly buying bottled water (such as distilled) can be more costly than using a water filter jug at home or simply drinking plain tap water.

It’s unknown how distilled water can impact long-term health. In 2017, the World Health Organization stated that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to understand the potential health risks linked to long-term consumption of distilled water, and more research is needed.

How to safely drink distilled water

Due to distilled water's lower mineral and electrolyte content, you should eat a nutritious diet to satisfy your nutrient requirements. The USDA recommends Americans follow the MyPlate tool to build nutritionally balanced meals. To do this, fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter with high-quality carbohydrates, and the final quarter with lean protein sources.

Here are examples of nutritionally balanced meals:

  • Shrimp stir fry with cabbage, carrots, snow peas, onion, garlic, and bell peppers. Garnish with fresh cilantro, cashews, and sesame seeds, and serve over brown rice.
  • Three-bean chili with ground turkey, carrots, bell peppers, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, and chili spice. Serve with a whole-grain bun and a dollop of sour cream.
  • Oatmeal boiled (or microwaved) with milk, almonds, blueberries, strawberries, and a dash of cinnamon. Add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt for extra protein, or have a boiled egg on the side.
  • Grilled chicken thighs with a hearty shredded kale salad. Add diced apple, boiled sweet potato, red onion, cucumber, almonds, and a sprinkle of feta cheese. Dress with a simple olive oil and apple cider vinaigrette.

If you prefer drinking distilled water but want more nutrients in your water, you can buy liquid mineral concentrations to add. They’re sometimes labeled 'mineral drops' and are sold at most supplement stores. If you choose to use these products, you should always follow the dose instructions on the bottle.

Which is better — tap water or distilled water?

As we know, distilled water has virtually no minerals, vitamins, or electrolytes. Given this information, tap or bottled water containing several nutrients could be better than distilled water.

An older study investigated the nutritional composition of tap water. It found that tap water contained varying amounts of magnesium, calcium, and some sodium. The authors believe these minerals can significantly contribute to a person’s nutritional intake and that people should try to pick water with these nutrients more often.

Some states also add safe amounts of fluoride to their water as a community health initiative. This helps reduce the risk of cavities and other related dental issues.

The bottom line

Distilled water is safe to drink, but it’s not considered a nutritionally superior option to other forms of drinkable water. If you choose to drink distilled water, you should assess your diet to ensure it’s robust and filled with essential nutrients like magnesium. You may also want mineral drops in your water to increase its nutritional properties.

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