To distill, or not to distill?

December 15, 2017

When I moved into my new home a few years ago, I wanted to install a water filtration system under my kitchen sink. These hookups are expensive; so I did a ton of research trying to make sure that I obtained the best quality product for my money. After doing hours of internet research and reading customer reviews, I found that the type of system I wanted was just not economically practical - the affordable systems all had major drawbacks, and the superior systems were entirely out of my price range - and I ended up with a Brita filter. It seemed that Brita really was the best quality-for-cost product. It effectively removes many of the unwanted agents; but it certainly doesn’t remove them all.

 

Still, I was concerned about not having access to better quality water in my home. City water supplies are often contaminated with escalated levels of harmful pollutants, bacteria, and medications. Where I live, the reports of water quality are less than admirable. The same is true for many urban areas; and the expansion of fracking and other environmentally costly productions are increasing contamination of rural water supplies (and disproportionately affecting low-income and communities of color). Furthermore, many treatment facilities add chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals to public water supplies.

 

There are times when I need something better than that. When I have a cold I prefer to use a neti pot to treat my sinus congestion; and there are a few (rare) instances of contaminated water in neti use leading to serious health problems. I also make medicinal herbal preparations and tinctures at home. In these careful concoctions I do not want to introduce unknown elements or toxins. I had already determined that an expensive water filtration system was outside of my budget; so I began to look into home distillation. (I have made it my mission since my college years to avoid bottled water at all costs. So, if I wanted to use distilled water, it makes sense that I would distill it at home.)

 

Distillation is primarily preferred over filtration for its effectiveness. A home distillation system can remove 98%+ of contaminants; versus filtration systems which remove an average of 60-80%. In distillation, the water is evaporated, then the steam is collected and recondensed. Effectively, all of the contaminants are left behind, and the recondensed steam is of nearly 100% quality. Filtration systems, by contrast, attempt to remove contaminants from the water; and need to be crafted to target the various possible contaminants through a variety of filtration methods. Thus, even the best filtration systems - which may have 5 or more distinct filtration methods in one machine - are more expensive and less effective than distillation. Various online articles like this one indicate that the energy and costs to produce home-distilled water justify the expense of the home-distillation system. (See also this article.)

 

On the other hand, there were some harsh critiques of distilled water as well. I found some horror stories on the internet of people becoming gravely ill after switching to distilled water for daily use by developing a deficiency of some mineral that the body needs in only small quantities. Other people complained that the distilled water smells bad. (Water of course has no odor. What I discovered is that distilled water holds scents very well; so if the water carries an odor, it is an odor that was picked up by something nearby.) These critiques are not insurmountable. There are many re-mineralizing solutions available at health food stores that can restore nutrients to the distilled water. Some people complain that they don’t like the taste of these; others have also cautioned that it may be too easy to overdose the trace minerals this way. Some people swear by Himalayan Pink Salt and lemon to reintroduce the minerals to distilled water. Maybe this seems like too many steps to reach the final product for some people. As with so many things, I believe the answer lies in finding balance. I decided to make the purchase.

 

After distilling my first gallon of water - just one use - I was shocked to see the amount of foul-smelling residue that was left behind in the distiller when the water had been completely evaporated (see the bottom half of the image above). The water that emerged was clean and fresh; and I have never noticed any odor sticking to it. I have been using my home distiller for just over a year now. I love it! But I don’t use it for everything. We are surrounded by toxins in our environment, and it’s probably futile trying to avoid them all. Generally, a healthy body is able to process and eliminate the majority of these. I always have distilled water on hand for my neti pot use and tinctures. Sometimes I drink the distilled water, and I always add salt, lemon, or minerals for taste. I’m not sure why, but I don’t prefer to use it for teas (it tastes funny!). So, I use my regular Brita for teas, cooking, and filling water bottles. I love having my distiller for medicinal uses and preparations.