Is Name Brand Water Really Better Than Tap Water?

Bottled water is basically the name brand of water.  It’s 2,000 times as expensive as tap, for a similar product with a nice logo.  Most people paying a higher price for a product they could get cheaply assume that there is some advantage to their purchase—that they’re getting a superior product, something of higher quality.  So when comparing bottled and tap water side-by-side, does bottled come out on top?

As you all learned from the last posts, different organizations regulate bottled and tap water, but here’s the kicker: The FDA adopted standards for bottled water based on EPA’s standards for tap water.  There is no difference between them.  Not a tangible one, certainly.  Treated water of either variety must adhere to the same set of rules.  Water coming from the faucet/fountain and water placed in those disposable bottles are indistinguishable.

But no matter how much we talk about this, many people still claim that bottled water “tastes better” than tap water.  So we wanted to find out: is that really true?

This was put to the test recently as part of RecycleMania’s “Water Week” (for those of you who don’t know: RecycleMania is an international competition between colleges to see which does the best of diverting waste), with a blind taste test.  Students were given two cups of water– one bottled, one tap– and asked which had tap water and how certain they were of their answer.


When asked their confidence in their answer on a scale of one to ten, most students marked that they were pretty certain.  But of those students, how many were actually correct?  Those marking a certainty of 9 or 10 were accurate only 33% of the time, and those who chose 6, 7, or 8 only managed a correct guess 55% of the time.

Overall, the guesses for which cup was tap water was almost perfectly split between the samples of tap and bottled water– because people couldn’t tell the difference.  Tap water and bottled water taste the same.


Author: Charlotte Humes