Distilled water has for long been the most common type of purified water, and even with the emergence of other processes of purifying water, it still remains one of the purest forms of purified water.
In this comprehensive guide to distilled water, we’ll dig deeper into what it is, its uses, benefits, specifications, how it’s made and much more.
What Is Distilled Water?
Distilled water is purified water formed when contaminated water like well water, tap water, or seawater is heated into vapor, then condensed back into liquid form. It’s one of the purest types of water as it’s free of almost all water impurities.
What is Distillation?
Distillation is a physical process of separating mixtures through evaporation and condensation. The process relies on the unique boiling points of the components in the mixture. Water distillation, in particular, is a form of the water purification process that physically separates water from its impurities.
A distillation unit is generally made up of four components, a heat source, a boiling chamber, condensing chamber or coils, and a storage tank for the distilled water.
The distillation process starts with heating water in the boiling chamber until it reaches boiling point where it begins to boil and evaporate turning into steam.
The steam is then directed into a condensing chamber where it’s cooled by air or water at a lower temperature. As the steam cools, it condenses and turns back into liquid form creating distilled water which is directed into a receiving container or a storage tank.
Most of the contaminants like minerals and metals found in the water have higher boiling points than that of water itself (212oF) hence they don’t evaporate with it when the boiling point is reached. They are left behind in the boiling chamber as the water turns into steam.
Throughout the process, heat is kept not much higher than water’s boiling temperature so as to maintain the water vaporization and also prevent undesirable elements from vaporizing as well.
Therefore, the resulting distilled water is very pure and is stored in a sterilized container to maintain its purity.
The distillation process effectively removes nearly all minerals, heavy metals, salts, and organic and inorganic chemicals.
The process also helps kill biological contaminants like bacteria, and viruses. However, not everything may be removed, especially if volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present in the water. Some VOCs have a lower boiling point than water, thereby they can evaporate too during the process and end up in the distilled water.
Distilled water usages (the purposes)
Distilled water has a wide variety of uses which ranges from industrial to technical applications. It’s typically used in:
The Medical Field
Water used in medical procedures has to meet strict standards and be of very high quality. Distilled water is usually the best choice due to its purity and it has many uses in the medical field.
Hospitals use it to clean medical equipment, especially instruments used during surgeries so as to help prevent cross-contamination and infections. It doesn’t contain minerals that may cause spotting on sterile instruments or leave residue on them, or equipment used to sterilize them.
Surgeons too use distilled water to wash their hands before surgery since tap water often contains contaminants. Its purity reduces chances of bacteria getting on the skin while rinsing hence guaranteeing the safety of the patient.
Distilled water is as well used to clean wounds in order to reduce tissue infection and also prevent the spread of bacteria. Surgeons use it to irrigate wounds during surgery to help prevent bacteria from getting into a patient’s body.
Dentists too use it to rinse the mouth of their patients to wash away existing bacteria and prevent infection of any open wound, especially following a root canal treatment or tooth extraction.
Distilled water is used in various ways in the lab, and one of the most vital of those is lab testing. Meticulousness and extremely accurate procedures are key in laboratory testing or experiments. To ensure analytical integrity whereby results are reliable and data is accurate, many labs use high purity water, particularly distilled water for their testing and experiments.
Being pure, it has no minerals or contaminants that can impact the tests by reacting with other chemicals or contaminating formulations. Therefore, it assures the accuracy of lab experiments and results. Labs also use it as a solvent in the preparation of solutions and buffers.
Distilled water is widely used in the maintenance of automotive. It’s commonly used in vehicles’ lead-acid batteries since it doesn’t contain minerals and other impurities that can harm the battery and cause it to deteriorate in the way tap water can. It helps extend battery life.
Another area it’s used is in engine cooling systems as it doesn’t corrode the metal engine parts through mineral build-up like tap water. Due to its high purity, it’s also used in aircraft engines, gas-turbine engines and boiler systems in steam engines.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machines
CPAP machines usually have humidifiers (with a small water tank) that add moisture to the air. As such, most manufacturers recommend using distilled water in these machines since tap water often leaves mineral deposits in the humidifier which can reduce the life of the machine.
Furthermore, tap water may contain bacteria or microbes that can breed in the machine. Therefore, for safety’s sake and to prevent breathing in bacteria, VOCs or unknown chemicals, distilled water is the absolute choice for use in these devices.
Water is used in the manufacturing of almost all cosmetic products. It’s mainly used as a solvent in order to dissolve the ingredients that are used to make the cosmetics and also to form emulsions in creams and lotions so that they’re easily applied.
However, the quality of water used is so crucial to ensure the safety of customers. It has to be free from toxins, pollutants and microbes. Because distilled water is very pure, this is the type of water that cosmetic companies typically use in the production of their skincare products.
Its purity means it contains no contaminants or bacteria that could interfere with the formulations, cause blemishes or irritate the skin.
Canning Fruits and Vegetables
Distilled water is often used in the canning process as it helps retain the vibrant color of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, distilled water helps maintain their taste or flavor since there are no minerals or salts for them to soak up, which can alter the taste. Tap water, especially when it’s hard, can change their taste and cause them to turn cloudy due to mineral build-up.
Drinking Distilled Water
You may wonder: Can I drink distilled water?
The answer is: Yes, you can indeed drink distilled water.
It’s technically safe to drink it because it’s one of the purest waters that’s almost free of all contaminants. The lack of minerals won’t have adverse effects on your health because the only minerals our bodies can utilize are organic minerals which we get from fruits and vegetables.
The minerals present in water are all inorganic which cannot be digested or absorbed by the body. In other words, as long as you get your daily servings of vegetables and fruits, drinking distilled water is considered completely safe.
Benefits of Drinking Distilled Water
Drinking distilled water does have several benefits which include:
Helps Prevent Waterborne Diseases
The most important health benefit that distilled water offers is the complete elimination of waterborne pathogens that may probably be found in water.
As stated by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the distillation process is highly effective at removing bacteria (like salmonella, campylobacter, shigella, E. coli), protozoa (like cryptosporidium and giardia), and viruses (such as rotavirus, norovirus, hepatitis A, enteric).
The high temperature during the boiling stage kills 99.99% of all pathogens present in water. Therefore, drinking distilled water does help reduce the chances of getting waterborne diseases.
Distillation also removes most of the common chemical contaminants such as chlorine, fluoride, nitrate, sulphate, lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, barium, nickel, and many organic chemicals. Being free from all these harmful chemicals, distilled water can help prevent toxic buildup as well as the risk of future illnesses.
Can Help Detoxify the Body
Drinking distilled water can help cleanse the body too so that it can function properly as it should. Due to its purity, it’s absorbed directly into the blood and considering that it has great solvent properties than other purified water, it’s capable of absorbing most of the body impurities.
It’s able to dissolve and remove the unassimilated inorganic minerals, excess salts and other unwanted materials that have accumulated in the body. It also flushes out hundreds of chemicals that found their way into the body.
Good for People on Low-Sodium Diet
People who are on a low-sodium diet or trying to cut down their sodium intake could as well benefit from drinking distilled water. Although tap water has quite low levels of sodium, distilled water is a better choice because sodium has been completely removed from it.
The Side Effects
May leach Minerals from the Body
Because distilled water doesn’t contain its own minerals, it has a tendency of being an active absorber and as such, there are claims that it may pull minerals from the body.
While this is true, the minerals that it leaches out are only the unusable, ionic form which are supposed to leave the body instead of being deposited and cause disease.
It’s virtually impossible for distilled water to break up biologically available minerals that have been assimilated and become an integral part of cells and tissues of the body. It collects only inorganic minerals and the excess organic minerals discarded from the cells and natural water.
Such minerals are of no constructive value since they have been rejected by cells. They are debris that distilled water is able to pick up and eliminate from the body. Therefore, people who claim distilled water leaches minerals from the body are correct only in this respect.
However, mineral deficiency is likely to develop if one solely drinks distilled water for long and doesn’t supplement the minerals by another source like food or a multivitamin.
May Increase Body Acidity
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency states that distilled water, being an active absorber, is very aggressive and can rapidly take in carbon dioxide when it interacts with air, making it acidic. Due to this, the more distilled water one drinks, the higher their body acidity becomes.
May Not Protect the Teeth from Decay
Drinking distilled water consistently as the only form of hydration may make one prone to tooth cavities. The reasons for this is because distilled water has no fluoride in it which is a mineral that’s responsible for strengthening the teeth and making them resistant to acid attacks.
pH of distilled water
Distilled water has a pH of 7 immediately after distillation, which puts it within a neutral range. The distillation process clears out nearly all of the ionic, mineral and organic impurities in it that could make it acidic or alkaline.
However, once it comes into contact with air, it begins to absorb carbon dioxide forming a solution of carbonic acid. When carbonic acid is formed, hydronium (H3O+) ions are released into the solution which is the same as releasing free hydrogen ions, hence it decreases the pH level.
Therefore, pure distilled water will have a pH that’s slightly below 7, usually 6.9 which makes it only slightly acidic. The pH will continue to change though depending on how long it’s exposed to air. If left open to the air for several hours, it can range anywhere from 5.5 to 6.9, or even fall just below 5.5 when exposed to air for longer periods.
Distilled water vs. Purified water
Distilled water is produced through a process of evaporation and condensation which results in the complete elimination of all minerals and almost every other external element from the water. It’s completely pure water lacking impurities or minerals.
Purified water, on the other hand, is water that has been mechanically processed or filtered to remove chemicals and impurities. It has gone through a mechanical purification process such as reverse osmosis, carbon filtration, deionization, water softening, or ultraviolet oxidation.
It may also be water that has been treated specifically to neutralize contaminants that are considered hazardous to humans or animals without necessarily removing them.
The difference between distilled water and purified water is that some minerals and salts are retained in purified water while distilled water completely lacks any mineral or solid residue. In other words, distilled water will be purer compared to purified water that has undergone a simple filtration process.
The other clear difference is the purification process. Purified water goes through a filtration or water treatment process while distilled water results from boiling and condensation processes.
Distilled water sources
There are only two natural sources of distilled water. The first one is rainwater which is produced by the same processes of evaporation and condensation. The sun’s energy causes water from the land, ocean, lakes, and rivers to evaporate into the atmosphere as a vapor where it condenses to form clouds which eventually fall back to the earth’s surface as precipitation.
The second source is glacier water or snow. Tiny ice crystals in the clouds stick together to form snowflakes. As more crystals stick together, they become heavy and eventually fall to the ground as snow.
Unlike distilled water, which is collected immediately, rainwater passes through the air hence tends to pick up some gases and particles on its way down to earth which makes it not as pure as distilled water.
The common man-made sources of distilled water are water distillation systems and bottled distilled water. Water distillation systems like home distillers employ the steam distilling process where water is boiled in an enclosed container to capture the steam and condense it in a connected container as distilled water.
Other distillation systems, particularly those for industrial-scale production, produce distilled water through changing temperature or applying pressure on the source water – water doesn’t boil. Changing pressure or temperature forms water vapor which is cooled to create distilled water. This is how most factories produce their bottled distilled water.
How To Make Distilled Water?
At home: Water distiller
If you are looking to make distilled water at home, then using a water distiller would be a good choice. Water distillers are basically electrical appliances that are designed to purify water through the process of distillation (evaporation and condensation).
Most water distillers designed for residential use are usually available in compact countertop units and plug into an electrical outlet. They have a boiling chamber, a condensation loop, and a reservoir for the collection of the distilled water that’s produced.
To start the distillation process, the boiling chamber of the distiller is first filled with tap water. This chamber is fitted with a heating element and upon starting the distiller, the heating element will heat the water to boiling point thereby producing steam.
The top part of the boiling chamber is usually vented and since the distiller is contained, the rising steam is forced to exit through the vent and enter the condensation loop.
The condensation loop is a coiled stainless steel tube that’s cooled by a high-powered fan or cool water. Therefore, as the steam gets into contact with the sides of the loop, it’s condensed and cooled, forming drops of water which trickle down into a separate collection container or tank.
The biggest downside of water distillers though is power consumption. They often consume significant amounts of energy which can lead to a high electrical bill. They can take about 3 kW to produce 1 gallon of distilled water.
Another downside is that they produce water quite slowly. It can take hours to get just a gallon of distilled water since it’s produced drop by drop. Besides that, most residential water distillers are manual distiller systems. They usually produce only 1 gallon of distilled water at a time, so you have to manually refill the system after every gallon of water is produced.
The most common devices used in the production of distilled water in laboratories are automatic water stills, also known as laboratory water distillers.
Unlike manual household distillers, these are designed to produce and reserve distilled water automatically. They are attached directly to a water line to ensure a continuous flow of cold water. They also require an open drain for the excess water flow.
In terms of the distillation process, they work the same way as manual water distillers. Water flows into a boiling tank where an electrical element heats it to boiling point producing steam which rises into a condensation chamber where it’s cooled by coiled tubes carrying cold running water. As the steam cools, it condenses and then drips into a collection vessel.
However, unlike a manual distiller, here the system continuously replenishes the collection vessel with distilled water as the stored supply is depleted with use. Moreover, they can produce distilled water much faster – about 2 to 3 gallons per hour.
These systems are also often equipped with electronics or float valves to monitor and stop the production of distilled water once the holding tank is at a certain level. Most work with standard mains electricity and can be either wall-mounted or freestanding models.
Survival & Emergency
When it comes to preparing distilled water during an emergency, the Survival Still is a great choice. The Survival Still is generally a portable and non-electric emergency water distiller that allows you to purify water from almost any source (pool, river, stream, ocean or sea) using the process of distillation.
Unlike an electric distiller, a Survival Still isn’t a self-contained unit, it requires additional materials to work. You will need two standard cooking pots (one as a bottom pot and another as a top pot), a collection vessel (like a glass container), and an adequate heat source (preferably a controllable heat source).
Here’s how it work:
The first step is to put the water to be purified (about 3 liters) into the pot you’ve designated as the bottom pot and place it on the heat source (it can be a propane grill, electric stove, camping stove or even a campfire, provided it offers a stable surface).
Bring the water to a rolling boil and then place the Survival Still right on top of the bottom pot followed by the top pot. As the water boils, it changes into pure steam which rises and enters the Survival Still via a Forced Air Gap.
The Survival Still acts as a baffle. It separates the steam from splashes of contaminated water. The steam rises and passes through the Forced Air Gap while any splashes of contaminated water drain back into the bottom pot without accessing the upper pot.
The Survival Still then channels the steam to the upper pot which sits on top of it. This pot is filled with water and acts as the cooling mechanism or condenser.
When the rising steam gets into contact with the bottom part of this top pot, the cool surface causes it to condense back into droplets of pure distilled water which then trickle down onto the upper part of the Survival Still where they are directed out through a distillate tube into the collection vessel.
Same as manual distillers, the production rate of the Survival Still is quite slow. On average, it can generate around 4 to 8 cups of distilled water per hour. The good thing though is that it doesn’t require electricity to operate. It can use almost any type of heat source.
Distilled water is amongst the cleanest and safest purified water you can drink or use. It’s almost 99% free of impurities and contaminants including minerals, heavy metals, bacteria and viruses.
If you want to completely avoid waterborne diseases or have a medical condition that requires you to avoid contaminated water, then distilled water would be a great choice for you. It’s also the best choice for those looking to detoxify their body.
Drinking it won’t hurt your health provided you maintain a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables to ensure you get enough essential minerals.
The taste might be flat but it’s not unpleasant and you can even use it around the house for cleaning and other applications.