There are a lot of buzzwords out there when it comes to how your bottled water is treated, processed, and purified. So what exactly does it all mean and how does it affect the water that you drink?

In this article, we break down how reverse osmosis, vapor distilled, ionized, and oxygenated water is processed and weigh the pros and cons of each.

Spoiler alert: In our opinion, processed water is the equivalent of processed food; unnatural and unhealthy. If you have the option, choose a “living” water; one from a spring or natural water source that has its organic structure and natural pH, such as Waiakea’s Hawaiian Volcanic Water.

With that said, at the end of the day, we are blessed to even have a choice. There are many people who don’t, and count themselves lucky by the simple fact that they have access to water, let alone clean water, for drinking, cooking, and growing food. Learn more about Waiakea’s partnership with Pump Aid and why we’re committed to donating one week of safe drinking water to those in need with every liter sold.

Processed Water Terms 101

Processed Water Terms 101 chart

What is Ionized Water? Aka Fake pH Water

Lab-made alkaline water gets its pH from an artificial process called ionization or electrolysis. During electrolysis, water ionizers split apart water molecules with electricity to artificially create alkaline water. Tap water is run over platinum and titanium plates which causes the exchange of ions, giving it its alkaline pH. Because it lacks minerals, this pH is not stable and tends to decrease over time.

There are a few issues with lab-made alkaline water, namely that one is being sold the idea that an artificial pH water has health benefits beyond regular tap water. Multi-level marketing companies selling water alkalizers claim that high pH water can actually neutralize an acidic body. However, there is little research to substantiate this claim. Secondly, the water has been “tricked” into thinking it has a certain pH, but possesses none of the minerals that are associated with a high pH (and, consequently, are responsible for the health benefits of naturally alkaline water). This is all very unnatural.

In nature, water becomes alkaline through a natural percolation process. Water flows down mountain streams or rises up from the ground, picking up alkaline minerals from the surrounding porous rock. This in turn changes its pH, making it naturally alkaline. Nothing more is done to the water to make it “alkaline”.

To read more about the difference between artificial and naturally alkaline water, check out our article here.

What is Oxygenated Water? Aka Sciency Tap Water

Oxygenated water, also known as super oxygenated water, is usually purified tap water that has had oxygen added to it during the bottling process to raise the water’s dissolved oxygen levels. Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen that is present in water.

The added oxygen is claimed to provide health benefits, namely faster muscle recovery after exercise resulting from “improved” oxygen saturation. During moderate to high-intensity exercise, the body produces something called lactate. As lactate accumulates in the body, muscle acidity also increases. If unchecked, the accumulation of muscle acidity can cause muscle fatigue. The premise is that the added oxygen raises oxygen concentration levels to help clear the accumulated lactate from the body and increase recovery rates as well as performance.

Practical physiological tests debunk the claims about lactate clearance. In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Piantosi says “the intestine, unlike the lung, is not designed for gas exchange, and O2 absorbed in this way would have a negligible effect viscerally.” Additionally, he notes that “a breath of fresh air contains more O2 than a liter of hyper oxygenated water”, which really puts things into perspective.4

In short, we don’t really know how absorbable oxygen is when it’s added to water, and if it is absorbed, the amount of oxygen added to commercially bottled water is so small, the effects would probably be negligible in comparison to regular water.

If that’s not definitive enough, as for lactate build up and exercise performance, three controlled studies show oxygenated water has no influence.4

Oxygen enriched water is relatively new to the market and the impacts of drinking oxygenated water definitely requires more studies to be conducted to understand its merits.

What is Reverse Osmosis Water? Aka Wasteful Water

Reverse Osmosis is a water purification process that pushes water through a permeable membrane, removing unwanted molecules and large particles from drinking water. The upside is that it's very effective at filtering out contaminants, including pesticides and pharmaceuticals often found in our municipal water supplies (yikes!).1

However, in doing so, it also strips the water of all of its beneficial minerals and electrolytes. This is counterintuitive for one major reason; in addition to H2O, our bodies require the right balance of electrolytes to adequately absorb and utilize fluid in our cells. Reverse osmosis, while extremely effective at removing heavy metals and toxins, lacks minerals and creates an acidic pH. For this reason, some bottled water brands will add trace amounts of minerals back in “for taste”. Which ones, and how much, varies depending on the brand of bottled water.

Something most people don’t consider is that reverse osmosis actually creates “water waste”. The amount of water waste depends on the system, however, it can range from one gallon for every gallon produced, all the way up to twenty gallons for every one gallon produced.2 With such a low efficiency of 5 - 10%, the sustainability of this purification process is worrisome.

What is Vapor Distilled Water? Aka Cleaning Agent Water

Vapor distilled water is created using a specialized heating process. Tap water is boiled and the steam captured and compressed. The steam is then redirected through cooling coils and condensed back into the water. This purification process removes bacteria and chemicals that might be found in the local water supply, and like reverse osmosis, also removes most minerals - 99.9% of all minerals found in tap water, in fact - making it a very “soft” water.3

Vapor distilled is considered soft water because it has had most of its minerals removed. As we learned before, this very “clean” water can become problematic as it’s missing the essential minerals and electrolytes our bodies need to rehydrate our cells, not to mention it doesn’t have a great taste (the taste of water actually comes from its minerals, not the H20).

Adequate levels of sodium and potassium are needed for water to be able to enter our cells. This operates two-fold; sodium facilitates fluid entering the cells and then potassium allows it to exit again. Without these electrolytes, fluid will not be able to enter the cell.

Additionally, it has been shown that distilled water will actually pull small amounts of minerals from your blood, tissues, and even your teeth. Because of the water’s slightly negative charge, it will bind to minerals in your body and excrete them through urine. For this very reason, distilled water is often used as a cleaning agent on wooden surfaces, mirrors, carpets, and tabletops - since most of its mineral content is removed, it picks up other minerals and contaminants on surfaces.

With all of that said, in some cases, people with specific health conditions will opt for vapor distilled water as it is seen as “safer” or “cleaner”. If you are drinking vapor distilled water regularly, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough minerals and electrolytes through your diet.

Natural Unprocessed Water

We believe that natural, unprocessed water is always the best option. However, not all of us live in areas where this is easily accessible. If you’re going to buy bottled water, we encourage you to not get caught up in the marketing buzzwords used on labels and simply choose a healthy, mineral-rich natural water.

Reverse osmosis and vapor distilled bottled waters are simply fancy names for purification processes. Both originate as tap water; and both strip the water of its naturally occurring minerals, leaving it devoid of electrolytes.

Ionization and oxygenated water, on the other hand, are “water enhancements”, i.e. unnatural processes created in a lab. Neither have substantial scientific evidence to back up their health claims, and both miss the mark when it comes to mineral content.

“So where do we go from here?” you might be asking. It’s simple: if your bottled water has an Ingredients List, that’s your first clue. Generally speaking, processed foods have ingredients lists (compare a stalk of broccoli to a box of Twinkies), and we want to avoid those. Natural waters on the other hand have a Typical Analysis. This is an analysis of the water’s source and will include information about the mineral content and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids).

So to sum things up, don’t buy bottled waters that have ingredient lists, instead look for natural, living waters that can usually be identified by the Typical Analysis on the back label.

In the words of water sommelier Martin Riese, “Most of the time, bottled waters whose labels are filled with buzzwords are actually the most boring waters. No history, no excitement, just boiled up or filtered tap water in a plastic bottle - purified water. Lucky for us there is real water from nature available in stores… have a source, have a story, have terroir, and bring excitement to your palate. What do you want to drink: Water from nature or water from a factory?” Interested? Check out our selection of bottled alkaline water.