Bottled Water vs Filtered Tap Water: Which Is Better?

Posted by
John Woodard on June 28, 2024

Environmental concerns surrounding plastic water bottles have existed for decades, but many renters and homeowners still primarily purchase bottled water for drinking at home. While you may think of plastic water bottles as a convenient and hassle-free alternative to filtered water at home, you may be surprised to learn of the financial benefits and other advantages a home water treatment system can bring compared to bottled water. In this article, we will compare bottled water to filtered tap water using a variety of factors to determine which is better for use at home.

Key takeaways

  • Both bottled water and tap water are regulated to be safe for human consumption, but they are regulated by different organizations.
  • Bottled water wastes significantly more plastic each year than home water treatment systems.
  • A point-of-use water filter is significantly less expensive per year than purchasing bottled water for drinking.
  • Water treatment systems require maintenance a couple of times per year at most, but bottled water must be purchased weekly.
  • Both bottled water and filtered tap water can be suited toward your preferred taste.
  • Microplastics have been found in bottled water, but the health effects are largely unknown. You can filter microplastics out of your home’s drinking water with reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, or distillation.

What to consider about bottled water and filtered tap water

While many homes primarily use bottled water for drinking, they are often unaware of the cost savings and convenience they could experience with a home water treatment system. We will compare bottled water to filtered tap water using six factors: water quality, environmental impact, cost, convenience, taste, and potential health effects.

Water quality

The regulations for bottled water and municipal tap water are governed by different organizations, but they use similar guidelines to determine what makes water safe to drink.

Bottled water regulations

The quality of bottled water is regulated by the FDA, while the quality of tap water is regulated by the EPA. Most brands of bottled water utilize reverse osmosis as their treatment method. Minerals are then reintroduced to the water to add a crisp and refreshing flavor. The minerals that are added to bottled water are a major factor in the difference in taste between brands. However, not all bottled water is treated using reverse osmosis. Some brands use other treatment methods, such as distillation, deionization, ozonation, or reverse osmosis in conjunction with another type of treatment.

Some bottled water is spring water that is high in mineral content. This type of water must come from a protected source, and the water must be collected at the spring or the bore hole.

Tap water regulations

Tap water is regulated to be safe to drink by the EPA. While these regulations are in place to make water safe, tap water can contain trace amounts of lead, arsenic, PFAS, microplastics, VOCs, and many other contaminants. Filtering your tap water can yield the purity of water you desire depending on the treatment method you use. Some of the most common home water treatment methods for those on municipal water are activated carbon filters used in fridges and water pitchers, reverse osmosis systems, ceramic filters, ultrafiltration systems, and countertop distillers.

Well water, on the other hand, is not regulated, so it is the responsibility of the homeowner to disinfect and treat the water to be safe to drink. Unlike municipally-treated water, well water may not be microbiologically safe to drink without passing through a disinfection system. Treatment methods for these microbiological contaminants include chlorine shock, constant chlorine injection, ozonation, and UV disinfection.

Learn more: What is the best type of filtration for well water? | What is a UV water purifier?

Environmental impact

All methods of water treatment have an environmental impact to some degree, but bottled water sends far more plastic to the landfill than a home water treatment system. According to the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in the United States each day, making a total of about 22 billion bottles per year. This means that, on average, each American produces about 66 plastic water bottles of waste per year and a household of 4 produces around 260 plastic water bottles per year. In contrast, a home water treatment system like reverse osmosis requires filter changes once or twice each year. While these cartridges contain some plastic waste, they waste far less plastic per volume of water than plastic water bottles.

plastic water bottle trash

Microplastics in drinking water

Alongside the hefty CO2 emissions associated with plastic water bottle production, microplastic pollution is another vice of regularly using bottled water. When plastic is thrown away, it breaks down into smaller particles, eventually reaching a small enough size to be considered microplastics (.0001 to 5 mm) or nanoplastics (<.0001 mm). Microplastics are found in practically every nook and cranny in the world, even fresh-fallen Antarctic snow. The effects of microplastics on human and other creatures’ health are still largely unknown, and that is what makes them particularly alarming to the scientific community.

Learn more: How to remove microplastics from drinking water


According to, buying bottled water for drinking can cost 1,000 times more than using unfiltered tap water. However, to get a fairer and more accurate picture, we must factor in the initial and annual maintenance costs of a water treatment system. Despite requiring filter changes every six months to one year, most types of water treatment systems are less expensive over the course of a year than buying bottled water for drinking.

Annual cost of bottled water

The average cost for a gallon of bottled water is $1.23 according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). If each person in a household of two consumes around 64 ounces (8 cups) of water each day, the cost of bottled water adds up to around $450 each year.

Annual cost of municipally treated tap water

According to the City of Idaho Falls, the average price of municipal water in the United States is about $1.50 per 1,000 gallons. This means each gallon of water costs about $0.0015. At this rate, the cost of the water used for drinking is less than $1 per year in the same household of two in the example above. In our calculations for the annual cost of a water treatment system below, we will ignore the cost of the water itself as it is negligible compared to the cost of the system.

Annual cost of a water treatment system

Refrigerator and water pitcher filters

The two most common home water filters are refrigerator water filters and water pitcher filters. Depending on the type of filter your fridge uses, the cost of a replacement filter can range from $20 to $80, but most cost between $30 and $60. These filters must be changed once every 6 months, costing at most $120 to $160 per year. You can find water pitcher filters that are more expensive than refrigerator filters, but they are typically similarly priced or cheaper than fridge water filters.

pouring glass of water from pitcher

Reverse osmosis systems

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems are a popular but more expensive water treatment method for water that is used for both drinking and cooking. Most brands of bottled water use reverse osmosis to treat their water, so a home RO system is perhaps the best system to compare to the cost of purchasing bottled water. An average point-of-use RO system typically costs between $200 and $500. If you wish for a professional to install an under-sink RO system, that will cost an additional $150 to $300 on average. The prefilters and postfilters must be replaced every 6 months to one year, and the membrane must be changed anywhere from once each year to once every 5 years.

The annual cost of maintenance depends on the system you choose. For this example, we will use the Neo-Pure PRO-4 series RO system. The cost of the 50 GPD system sits at just over $300. A 6-month replacement kit that includes the necessary prefilters and postfilters is under $30, and a 12-month replacement kit that also includes a replacement membrane and sanitizer kit is about $45. If we assume the filters and membrane are changed at the highest frequency necessary, once every six months for the filters and once annually for the membrane, the cost of replacement filters totals about $75 per year.

If you maintain your reverse osmosis system well, it can last a decade or even longer. Adding the initial, installation, and maintenance costs of the Neo-Pure PRO-4 RO system together, a system that lasts for 10 years will cost the following:

  • System cost: $312
  • Highest average installation cost: $300
  • 10 years of filter and membrane replacements: $750

Added together, this system cost around $1400 for ten years of service. We concluded that the cost of bottled water for a household of two is about $450 per year, adding up to $4500 over a total of ten years. This means that the cost of an RO system is about one-third the cost of buying bottled water for drinking. In the example above, we assumed a filter change frequency of once every six months, but a household of two will most likely only need to change their filters once each year and their membrane once every few years. Consequently, this RO system is likely even less expensive than one-third the cost of purchasing bottled water. Note that water treated by a reverse osmosis system can also be used for cooking, not just drinking, adding even more appeal to reverse osmosis in the home.

Well water treatment system

Well water requires much more thorough treatment than municipal tap water because the water has not been treated to be safe to drink. Microorganisms, arsenic, lead, and high levels of other contaminants may be present in your well. Some of these contaminants must be eliminated before they enter your home, not just the water you drink. Whole-house water filters are significantly more costly than point-of-use filters, so they are not often used unless they are necessary. A single whole-house water filter can cost anywhere from $500 to well over $1000, and many homes on well water require more than one whole-house filter. However, comparing the cost of a well water treatment system to that of bottled water used for drinking is not an accurate cost comparison. Even if you use bottled water for drinking, you still must filter all water that comes into your home for cooking, bathing, washing your hands, and any other use. As a result, the cost of bottled water only adds more to your total water costs.

Learn more: How to install a whole-house water filter for well water


Bottled water is often heralded as the most convenient type of water you can buy. You can take it anywhere, it comes in a container, it tastes better than unfiltered tap water, and the treatment process is already done for you. However, you must manage your home’s inventory of bottled water and purchase large packs of water weekly, adding hassle to your regular grocery trips.

Some home water filters, such as refrigerator filters and water pitcher filters, can be changed in only a few minutes. The filter can then serve for months at a time. Other systems, such as reverse osmosis, are more complicated to install, and the filter changes can take slightly longer depending on the type of system you purchase. However, this maintenance is only needed twice each year at most, and it allows you access to extremely clean water at all times without the worry of running out of bottles.

changing refrigerator water filter


All brands of bottled water have their own taste, leading some people to favor one type of bottled water over all other types. One of the greatest appeals of bottled water is the ability to choose which brand best suits your preferred taste. However, you can also alter the flavor of your home’s water with a home water treatment system.

When compared to bottled water, the taste of unfiltered tap water is unpleasant. One advantage of filtering water at home is the ability to tailor your filtration to your water’s quality and your taste preferences. For example, if you wish to have high mineral content in your water, you can incorporate an alkaline water filter into your system or choose a reverse osmosis system with a remineralization postfilter. Fridge water filters and water pitcher filters aim specifically to improve the taste of tap water, and they are some of the least expensive types of water filters that you can purchase. Other robust systems, such as reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, and water softeners, are more expensive, but they also eliminate contaminants other than foul tastes and odors.

Potential health effects

The primary potential health effect stemming from bottled water is the presence of microplastics. Note that the effects of microplastics on human health are largely unknown. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is so far little evidence to conclude that microplastics do or do not cause harm in the human body. Regardless of how dangerous microplastics are, consuming them is unavoidable because they pollute the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink if it is not treated to remove these contaminants. Because bottled water is stored in plastic containers, these microplastics can leach into the water you consume. A study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that an average liter of bottled water contained about 240,000 pieces of microplastics or nanoplastics. These include plastics that are used in the treatment process, the bottles themselves, and other unknown origins.

If you are concerned about microplastics in your drinking water, you can choose a home treatment system that removes them from your water. A simple refrigerator filter or water pitcher filter is not capable of removing microplastics, so you must opt for a stronger method of treatment. The three most effective water treatment systems for removing microplastics from water are reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, and water distillers.

Learn more: How to remove microplastics from drinking water


If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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