The True Ingredients of Bottled Water

Published On November 17, 2010 | By Tomás Bosque | Articles

Bottled water is clean and pure, right? Not necessarily. Bottled water can be less pure than municipal tap water in some parts of the United States. In fact, bottled water can actually be municipal tap water.

What is bottled water?

The United State FDA describes bottled water in this way: “Bottled water is water that is intended for human consumption and that is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added within the limitations established.”

Who regulates what bottled water has in it?

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled drinking water, which is classified as a “food”. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water. Amazingly, the EPA guidelines for municipal water are stricter than the FDA restrictions for bottled drinking water! You might buy bottled drinking water that is acceptable to the FDA but is not acceptable for use as ordinary bathroom tap water.

The FDA’s specific regulations for bottled water are found in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR).

What are FDA standards?

Under the standard of quality (21 CFR, 165.110[b]), FDA allows certain levels of contaminants in bottled water.

Contaminants bottled water may have in it.

  1. Coliform. Coliform are rod-shaped bacteria, such as E. coli, that are normally present in the human intestine. The FDA says that bottled water may have up to 9.2 coliform organisms per 100 milliliters. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  2. Arsenic. Arsenic is a poison. The FDA says that bottled water may have up to 0.05 milligrams per liter of arsenic. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  3. Chloride. Chloride is a compound of chlorine, a substance used to disinfect tap water. The FDA allows up to 250.0 milligrams per liter of chloride in bottled water. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  4. Iron. Iron is a metallic element. Your body needs some iron, but not too much. The FDA permits bottled water to contain up to 0.3 milligrams per liter of iron. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  5. Manganese. Manganese resembles iron and is used in fertilizers. Bottled water may contain up to 0.05 milligrams per liter of manganese. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  6. Phenols. Phenols are corrosive, poisonous acidic compounds. Your bottled water may contain up to 0.001 milligrams per liter of phenols. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  7. Dissolved solids. “Dissolved solids” is a catch-all phrase. The FDA allows bottled water to contain up to 500 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, of whatever type. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  8. Zinc. Zinc is a metallic element. Your body needs some zinc, but not too much. The FDA permits bottled water to contain up to 5.0 milligrams per liter of zinc. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].
  9. Fluoride. Fluoride is purposely added to some bottled water. If so, the label should say so. In addition, bottled water that is not labeled as containing fluoride may contain up to 2.4 milligrams per liter of fluoride. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].

Chemical contaminants bottled water may have in it.

The FDA allows set levels of the following chemical contaminants in all bottled water. Amounts vary, but some are shocking, such as Barium. FDA regulations permit up to 2.0 milligrams per liter of barium. That is nearly the same as natural fluorides, even though barium is a toxic metallic element. Cyanide, another poison, is permitted in bottled water. See 21 CFR 165.110[b].

Here is a sampling of chemical contaminants bottled water has in it, along with the permitted milligrams per liter.

  • Barium……………………………… 2.0
  • Chromium……………………………. 0.1
  • Copper……………………………… 1.0
  • Cyanide…………………………….. 0.2
  • Nickel……………………………… 0.1
  • Ethylbenzene (100-41-4)………………. 0.7
  • Monochlorobenzene (108-90-7)………….. 0.1
  • Styrene (100-42-5)…………………… 0.1
  • Toluene (108-88-3)…………………… 1.0
  • Xylenes (1330-20-7)………………….. 10.0

Pesticides bottled water may have in it.

The FDA allows set levels of pesticides in bottled water. There are set limits for each of 29 different pesticides. People who purchase bottled water believe, normally, that they are avoiding pesticides by doing so. For a listing of these pesticides, see 21 CFR 165.110[b].

Disinfectants bottled water may have in it.

The FDA allows bottled water to contain set levels of residual disinfectants and disinfection byproducts. Examples from 21 CFR 165.110[b]:

Disinfection byproducts          ………………

  • Bromate…………………………… 0.010
  • Chlorite………………………….. 1.0
  • Haloacetic acids (five) (HAA5)………. 0.060
  • Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM)………… 0.080

Residual disinfectants           ……………….

  • Chloramine………………………… 4.0 (as Cl2)
  • Chlorine………………………….. 4.0 (as Cl2)
  • Chlorine dioxide…………………… 0.8 (as ClO2)

Radioactive materials bottled water may have in it.

The FDA allows bottled water to contain set levels of radioactive material. See 21 CFR 165.110[b]. Three examples:

  • “The bottled water shall not contain a combined radium-226 and radium-228 activity in excess of 5 picocuries per liter of water.”
  • “The bottled water shall not contain a gross alpha particle activity in excess of 15 picocuries per liter of water.”
  • “The bottled water shall not contain uranium in excess of 30 micrograms per liter of water.”

Bottled water has in it more than regulations allow.

When bottled water does not meet the standards set out by the FDA, it might still be sold. By law, it should bear a suitable label.


  1. “Contains Excessive Bacteria”
  2. “Contains Excessive Arsenic”
  3. “Excessively Radioactive”

What You Can Do

  • Take time to know what bottled water has in it.
  • Look for bottlers’ web sites and compare information.
  • Write to bottlers with specific questions.
  • Remember that bottled water does not mean absolute purity.
  • Be sure yours is healthy drinking water.
  • Ban the Bottle and stay hydrated!

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About The Author

12 Responses to The True Ingredients of Bottled Water

  1. Emily says:

    Great blog! You had a lot of great information. It’s crazy to know what’s actually in plastic water bottles. Reading articles like these makes me so glad that I switched to Klean Kanteen!

    Thanks for the great info, keep posting :).

  2. ChrissieCool says:

    hi! thnx. like it

  3. J Barbour says:

    And folks this is why there is serious health risk such as Cancer and other problems among us today. It’s not just bottled water it’s also in municipal water as well. Drinking a bottle of this stuff won’t cause lasting effects. But think of how many people every single day consumes this stuff, cooks with it, serves it at your local eating place in the soda’s, ice, foods. Water is a product that we can’t live without. And yet we are being poisoned as if we live beside a Nuclear Plant that has leaked. You want to be safe, drink distilled water or good old fashion well water that the Earth has filtered. We are being killed off every single day. Why hasn’t someone gotten on the band wagon and protest all of this?

    • Diane Worth says:

      What’s the difference between distilled water and bottled water as we know it.? Is distilled water sold for drinking? If so by whom and under what label, if you know?

      • Hannah Ellsbury says:

        “Distilled water is made by boiling water — usually from municipal sources — and collecting the steam as it condenses. Minerals and most contaminants and chemicals are left behind, at least those which have a higher boiling point than water. Distillation is most effective in removing heavy metals, nitrates and minerals, and the boiling process kills the vast majority of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. Some chemicals that have a lower boiling point than water, such as chlorine and benzene, are vaporized and remain in the distilled water unless they are filtered out with charcoal. Distilled water tastes flat because of the lack of minerals and it tends to leach plastic if it’s stored in plastic containers for long periods of time. The health consequences of drinking distilled water on a regular basis are unclear. Some doctors and researchers believe it might pull minerals and electrolytes out of your body.”

        Arizona Vapor Water

  4. Bahjo Gelle says:

    Thnx for this article. I used it as part of my science fair research assignment.Its also good to know whats in bottled water.

  5. Brian says:

    Great Article!! Unfortunately, you provide no context…

  6. Mohammed Azmeer says:

    Many thanks and outstanding information about health.
    I am planning to come up a business with part of social responsibily about waters bottles in UAE markets please guide me to give them such infomation about the pure water.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Mohammed Azmeer.

  7. Sreejith says:

    Grate…. Not only the bottled water.. Any thing packed thant contains chemicals exactly we r buying and having cancer with our money.

  8. Don Roy says:

    It would have been better if you listed the MCLs associated with tap water as a comparison to the FDA limits you posted here. Can you do that?

  9. Robert says:

    Thank you for this information. I will be calling the safe drinking hotline: 800-426-4791 to find a state certified (utah) lab to test my water and the bottled water I buy to see if the tests match the Consumer Confidence Report for my area. Now having been educated somewhat on safe drinking water it’s up to me to do something about it. Thanks for providing the motivation.

  10. Linda P says:

    I used bottled water both spring water and distilled water to avoid chlorine/fluoride stuff as it stings my nostrils using the nettipot. Spring water was good at one time, but now no longer. Also, distilled water as well. I wonder if the regulations have changed requiring these chemicals. They sting my nostrils so bad. There’s something in it doing this. So I would like to know what brands are the best brands for nettipot users, with less chemicals. Thanks.

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