By Horace Mansfield
Sometimes being truly tasteless is a good thing. The real truth here is that distilled water is indeed “tasteless.” It has no taste. Then comes the question: Is no taste a bad taste?
Spread the word
This question should be on your mind as a water treatment professional! Let’s all tell America that every home should have a distiller. It has been said many times that distillation is the most fundamental process of water purification. It has provided purified water throughout the world by the natural cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Distillation is an effective method of producing contaminant-free water. The simplest distiller can remove a greater range of pollutants to a higher degree than any other single apparatus on today’s market. No process—natural or artificial—including filtration and reverse osmosis (RO) is as effective.
Water quality dealers who don’t carry a line of distillers are, in my opinion, missing the boat. When a local water supply crisis develops, the most common instruction from local health authorities is “boil your drinking water.” No, this doesn’t mean you should go get out the teakettle and start boiling. With a home distiller, the water is always boiled—but boiling is only the first step. During boiling, 99 percent of nitrates are removed. After boiling, the steam is carried off, condensed and passed through a carbon post-filter to remove any traces of taste and odor and removed 99 percent of nitrates while the minerals and remains of any dead protozoan cysts or oocysts and bacteria that may be present in the raw or source water are left behind to be sent down the drain.
Filters and RO both require a physical barrier for removing pollutants. These barriers can break down or fail, letting impurities through without the user’s knowledge. Distillers can produce consistent quality water for the life of the appliance, and the quality does not decline with use—except insofar as the filter is changed out on a regular basis. Distillers are durable and trouble-free and can require a minimum of service and maintenance for efficient and continuous operation. Despite all of its credibility, though, distillation gets more than its share of bad press.
A significant misunderstanding lies in the various comparative charts and grids that the average dealers are exposed to from time to time. See Table 1 for an example. You see where distillation won’t remove a certain organic chemical, but on the same chart you can see where carbon filters will remove that very same chemical. It makes me want to call the chart makers and explain to them that most distillation systems use a carbon filter; and, therefore, if a carbon filter removes a certain chemical, distillation will also remove that chemical. Keep in mind that the carbon filter is used on the mineral-free distilled water. This means that efficiency and long life can be expected from a small filter because carbon will not be loaded up with sediment and minerals as it would be when used on tap water alone.
There are some senseless arguments used against distillation. The argument we hear the most is about the removal of minerals during the boiling/condensation process. By now dealers everywhere should know the story about how many glasses of water a person would have to drink to take in the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of certain minerals. In Boston, for example, a person would have to drink 676 eight-ounce glasses of water to obtain the RDA of calcium. In addition, you would have to drink 1,848 glasses of water to obtain the RDA of magnesium, 848 glasses to get the RDA of iron, and 168,960 to obtain the RDA of phosphorous. Some people find it hard enough to drink the eight glasses per day that all health experts recommend, yet they keep asking “what about the minerals?” It’s sometimes better to answer a question with a question: Why would anyone want to drink dozens of minerals in order to get the one or two minerals he or she thinks the body can use? Most people know that we get minerals and vitamins from the food we eat along with vitamin and mineral supplements. So why not take all minerals out of the water?
Why take chances?
Another argument is that distilled water has a “flat” taste or is “tasteless.” Is it possible we’re so accustomed to tasting chlorine or some other chemical additive in our water that now we think no taste is bad? This lack of flavor may take a short time to get used to, but once a person gets hooked on distilled drinking water, the chlorinated taste will seem offensive. Taking a sip of water in a restaurant will make you think they’ve taken it right out of the swimming pool.
Tap water does indeed have additives. Your coffee, fruit juices and dozens of other water-mix concentrates will taste better blended with distilled water (no other additives). Adding no foreign chemical substance to your food results in having the original delicious flavor that nature intended.
The need and availability of pure, clean water for human consumption is now turning into a critical situation. Now, pollution of our streams is affecting our water. Some tap waters have been found to contain high concentrations of chlorides, chlorine, fluorine, nitrates, chemical salts, sulphates, carbonates of sodium, nitrites, lead and many new contaminants that are entering our waterways every single day. Local health and water supply authorities steadily work to combat these contaminants as well as serious outbreaks of Cryptosporidium, Giardia and other dangerous waterborne parasites—but their task is overwhelming.
Answering the call
Water quality dealers are getting called upon more than ever before. The opportunity to help solve drinking water problems has never been greater. The dealer’s responsibility to the consumer is far more critical than ever before. Calls are coming in with questions never heard before.
As for the story on how a distiller deals with Cryptosporidium oocysts, it was told years ago in a magazine article. A distiller was sent to the laboratory at the University of Arizona for the sole purpose of testing Crypto. The team of research specialists carefully witnessed the purification of water that was intentionally contaminated with 200 million oocysts. The conclusion showed that the distiller was able to kill all of the 200 million oocysts during the distillation cycle.1 Water quality dealers across America who sell distillers can be very proud of this achievement because it has been suggested that as few as 30 Cryptosporidium oocysts may cause infections in humans.2 To kill all 200 million—a serious overdose—is something to talk about.
Another objection to distillation is that most distillation manufacturers use costly stainless steel throughout the systems. Therefore, distillers are expensive. That’s the bad news. The good news is longer life. It’s not uncommon to get well over 20 years of production out of a well-cared-for distiller.
Water purification dealers remember this—you may never have to worry about sleeping at night after selling a family on distillation. Can you say that about other water quality products?
- Yowziak, M., et al., “Water purifier testing against Cryptosporidium oocysts,” University of Arizona, University of Arizona, July 25.
- Letorney Jr., Joe, “Wanted: Distillation—For the Murder of Cryptospridium,” WC&P, p. 30-33, June 1994.
About the Author
Horace Mansfield is sales director for Durastill, a Kansas City manufacturer of distillation equipment for over 25 years. He has served as chairman of the Water Quality Association’s Drinking Water Forum Distillation Subcommittee and has been spokesman for the distillation industry on many controversial issues over the years. He can be contacted at (800) 723-7989.
FYI—More on distillation
You’ll get a number of commercial websites looking to sell equipment by doing an online search for “water distillation,” as well as a broad look at general water treatment topics for the home. Here are a couple related to this story.
Water Quality Association’s Distillation Task Force: http://www.wqa.org/sitelogic.cfm?ID=442
“Distillation for Home Water Treatment,” Michigan State University Extension office: http://www.gem.msu.edu/pubs/msue/wq22p1.html
NSF International, Certified Drinking Water Treatment Units, website: http://www.nsf.org/Certified/
Also check WC&P’s archives at https://wcponline.com, for any related articles.
Table 1. Sample chart of home water treatments for health-related contaminants.
Contaminants Water Treatment Methods
carbon filter distillation reverse osmosis cation exchange (home water softener) anion exchange
Nitrate x x xa
Lead (from plumbing) x x x
Many pesticides x x x
Organic solvents x c
Coliform bacteria x
a Not recommended for nitrate removal if water supply contains high levels of sulfates
b Chlorinated organic chemicals
c Many reverse osmosis systems include a carbon filter that will remove these
SOURCE: University of Minnesota Extension Service/Revised 1994