Wellness

Ask Gerda: Do Water Purifiers Make Tap Water Safer—or Taste Better?

Ask Gerda: Do Water Purifiers Make Tap Water Safer—or Taste Better?

Gerda

Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)

Dear goop, I hate it that my tap water smells and tastes like chlorine. Should I stop being so picky, or should I trust my instinct and get a water purifier? —Tasha P.

Hi, Tasha. I agree with your instinct about not wanting to drink water that smells like chlorine. I recently stayed in a house that had well water, and it tasted so delicious—it reminded me that water is not meant to taste like disinfectants.

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Chlorine is incredibly useful for disinfecting water so that we don’t have to worry about widespread water-borne diseases, like cholera. Some water is disinfected with chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia. Are these perfect solutions? Do we want to be drinking chlorine and chloramine? Maybe not. After all, chlorine has to be removed from water that is used in aquariums—it’s a poison for fish.

The level of chlorine in water goes down with time as it evaporates or degrades. I used to let my water sit in an open bottle on the counter until the taste and smell of chlorine dissipated. Then I noticed that this was no longer working as well, and I found out that my water district was using chloramine, which doesn’t evaporate as quickly.

One way to reduce chlorine in your water is with this cute SOMA pitcher that uses a filter made of activated coconut-shell carbon and charcoal.

Chlorine and chloramine react with other molecules in water to form by-products: di- and trichloramines and trihalomethanes. Chlorine can even react with food components during food preparation. Chlorine by-products can be toxic to cells and animals, and high levels are harmful to the respiratory system. This might not be relevant at everyday levels—even water itself can kill you if you drink too much.

We don’t really know whether chlorine by-products have adverse effects at the low concentrations we’re exposed to. The federal government places limits on levels of many chemicals in drinking water, but research on the additive effects—and the long-term effects—of these chemicals is sorely needed. And according to the Environmental Working Group, the outdated government limits on contaminant levels are too high.

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If you’ve ever been bothered by a strong chlorine smell at a pool, it’s probably chloramines. They tend to build up to skin- and nose-irritating levels in swimming pools. Chloramines are heavier than air, and without good air circulation—for example, in the winter at indoor pools—they settle in the air above the water.

A sophisticated choice for water purification is the AquaTru countertop water purifier that uses reverse osmosis, plus a carbon filter and a VOC filter. The AquaTru purifier removes over seventy contaminants, including chlorine, trihalomethanes, lead, fluoride, estrone, ibuprofen, and bisphenol A.

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And do not pour your beautiful, clean, purified water into a plastic bottle—chemicals leach from the plastic. Use glass or stainless steel instead. The Larq Self-Cleaning Bottle is stainless steel and provides disinfection with LED-based UV light. UV light can help reduce the growth of microbes—which may be especially helpful in purified water from which chlorine has been removed.

Our article “How to Choose a Water Filter” has more information on this subject. And in a two-part Q&A, we have advice from two experts about water contaminants and how to remove them. I also recommend reading this interview on environmental racism with Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, who exposed the Flint water crisis.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.

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