The Best Bottled Water

The best bottled water for everyday use is pure and balanced: It doesn’t need fluoride or Gatorade-levels of electrolytes. And, of course, it tastes good. To find the best, we pulled together the big-name brands, consulted industry experts, and tested pH levels. Then, we held a blind taste test to see which of our top contenders are — and aren't — worth the hype.

How We Chose the Best Bottled Water

Plain water, easy to buy

We started by compiling a list of 13 popular bottled waters, including grocery store brands as well as high-end waters featured prominently in online best-of lists. We didn’t look at sparkling waters, those with added flavors (sorry, La Croix), or anything not available in bulk. Our goal: To find water that tasted good, that was free of unnecessary additives, and that was readily available enough to drink every day. In other words, we wanted water that we could chug like it was… well, water.

The 13 bottled water brands we tested:
  • Acqua Panna
  • Aquafina
  • Crystal Geyser
  • Dasani
  • Evian
  • Fiji
  • Glacier Clear
  • JUST Water
  • Nestle Pure Life
  • Penta
  • Resource
  • Volvic
  • VOSS

pH balance

Water usually has a neutral pH of 7 — a fact we expected would also hold true for our bottled waters. Sipping overly acidic beverages (like soda and fruit juice) is like giving your teeth a low-level acid bath, and can lead to cavities and tooth decay.

On the flip side, beverages with a high pH are often expressly marketed as “alkaline water,” claiming health benefits. But there’s not much research on the long-term health effects of high-alkaline water, and some doctors have expressed concern that an overly alkaline diet could irritate your esophagus. While these types of drinks are fine in moderation, they shouldn’t be your only source of hydration.

Everyday drinking water should have no negative health impact. We preferred a neutral pH range of 6 to 8. To be sure our top picks fell within this range, we measured each water’s acidity with an electronic pH meter.

Taste

To create our taste test, we consulted with Arthur von Wiesenberger, an industry expert of 40 years who runs Bottled Water Web, an online encyclopedia of all things bottled water. He shared the rubric he uses to train judges at the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, which rates water on six characteristics: appearance, odor, flavor, mouthfeel, aftertaste, and overall impression.

We gave 12 testers one sample at a time, room-temperature and poured into identical, unmarked cups. Testers generally preferred spring waters with a neutral pH, versus acidic or alkaline water from municipal sources (essentially bottled tap water).

Taste Chart for Bottled Water

Packaging

Most plastic water bottles are made from PET, a food-grade plastic that’s lightweight, cheap, and generally held to be safe. Nearly all of our contenders used the same type of plastic, but we quickly learned that not all bottles were created equal.

Testers generally disliked the classic, ridged-cylinder bottle with the little cap, preferring alternate designs. While the cheaper, more generic containers tend to crumple and lose their shape, sturdier designs are easier to grip and withstand more use.

Water bottles

The 5 Best Bottled Water Brands

Best-Tasting Water
Resource Spring Water
Resource
The clear winner in each of our tests. Perfectly balanced and the best-tasting, with a light, crisp flavor.
Pros
Crisp, balanced flavor
Just enough electrolytes
Cons
Flimsy cap

Why we chose it

Crisp, balanced flavor

Resource was the dark horse among our contenders. Many of us had never heard of this Nestle brand, but nearly half chose it as their favorite during blind taste tests. It got particularly high scores for its clean flavor and lack of aftertaste, with testers describing it as “crisp,” “smooth,” and “light” — in contrast to picks like Glacier Clear, which were denounced for being “stale” and “mineral-y.”

Just enough electrolytes

While it’s not electrolyte water in the same sense as Propel, Resource carries a mid-range electrolyte level that most people prefer for taste. At 5.56 Siemens per meter (the unit of measure for electrolytes), Resource strikes the perfect balance for water’s “total dissolved solids” level, or TDS.

Total dissolved solids account for any substance besides H2O molecules present in your drink and represent a measurement closely tied to taste. “High TDS levels in drinkable water are associated with strong taste, while extremely low TDS is basically distilled water. It tastes bland and kind of flat,” says von Wiesenberger.

Resource offers both a mid-spectrum TDS as well as a balanced pH of 7.5.

Points to consider

Flimsy cap

Testers were pleased with the generous, quart-sized bottles, but less so with the cap. Thin and easy to lose, the cap is the lone drawback to a bottled water that’s both generously sized and balanced in taste.

Best Artesian Water
Fiji
Fiji
Iconic packaging, widely beloved, and the second-place winner in our taste test.
Pros
Taste-test favorite
Higher electrolyte levels
Cons
Square bottle shape

Why we chose it

Taste-test favorite

While Resource was a stranger when we began our research, Fiji was anything but. Its distinctive square bottle demands notice. So we were happy to learn that Fiji isn’t style over substance. Almost half of our testers ranked this water among their top three picks, second only to Resource. They described Fiji as “refreshing” and “mild” and were pleased with its lack of odor or aftertaste. (“It lingers very little,” one tester noted.)

Higher electrolyte levels

Fiji is a bit more alkaline and electrolyte-heavy than Resource, which might be why it received a slightly lower score on flavor and mouthfeel. A couple of testers picked up metallic notes that they didn’t care for. But Fiji’s pH and electrolyte levels are both balanced (8.0 and 7.9, respectively), making it another great everyday option, and maybe a little more hydrating after a tough workout.

Points to consider

Square bottle shape

One tester rightfully called Fiji’s square terrarium packaging “impractical but iconic.” Only the smallest, 11.15-ounce bottles are likely to fit into your car’s cup holder, but you’ll look pretty classy serving it at a wedding or party.

Best Cheap Water
Crystal Geyser
Crystal Geyser
It tastes great and is affordable enough to buy in bulk.
Pros
Balanced flavor
Affordable enough to buy in bulk
Cons
Flimsy packaging

Why we chose it

Balanced flavor

Crystal Geyser presents a balanced pH and a reasonable electrolyte level, and performed respectably in our taste test. While it received slightly lower scores across the board, and a handful of testers found the aftertaste too “chemical-y” or mineral-heavy, it received a generally positive response. One tester dubbed it “refreshing,” and it was chosen as a top pick by two others.

Affordable enough to buy in bulk

Crystal Geyser is about half the price of Fiji and Resource. Not only is it convenient for your wallet, it’s also convenient for the road. Crystal Geyser comes in the most traditional bottle shape and size of our top three, so you can grab it without worrying about whether it will fit in your cup holder or backpack. It’s also easy to buy in enormous quantities for things like corporate conferences or outdoor weddings.

Points to consider

Flimsy packaging

The price is right, but the bottles are notably flimsy, with tiny caps and thin plastic that will dent and make crinkling sounds every time they’re picked up. Still, if you are looking for an affordable, good-tasting water, Crystal Geyser soared above related brands like Dasani, Aquafina, and Arrowhead in our tests. And ultimately, that flimsiness means less plastic waste.

Best Mineral Water
Evian
Evian
A European brand with a distinct taste. Not all our testers liked it, but those who did loved it.
Pros
Mineral flavor
Easy, elegant packaging
Cons
Mineral flavor

Why we chose it

Mineral flavor

Testers picked up on Evian's distinct, mineral taste. The noticeable flavor of European water makes it contentious, but many prefer the more notable taste and mouthfeel of its robust minerals to the comparable tastelessness of purified water. Developing a palate for mineral water is akin to developing a palate for wine: Like wine, mineral water takes its characteristics from its terroir — the minerals and compounds it picks up as it moves through the earth.

Easy, elegant packaging

Testers loved Evian’s packaging, calling it “simple but elegant.” Gently tapered and petite enough for effortless packing, we thought Evian offers a more workable version of Fiji’s distinct style.

Points to consider

Mineral flavor

Yes, the same flavor profile that some testers pegged as refreshing and sweet, others considered musty or stale in taste. According to our experts, there’s a good reason for these polarized responses. We explore it in more detail below, but in a nutshell, tastes that are popular in Europe aren’t necessarily well-liked in the United States — and vice versa. If you like a more flavorful flat water — think mellow, metallic, earthy — you’ll be pleased with Evian. If you want your water to be as neutral as liquid air, you may want to avoid mineral water altogether.

Best Recyclable Packaging
JUST Water
JUST Water
Comes in a recyclable, paper-based carton rather than a bottle.
Pros
Almost plastic-free
100 percent recyclable
Refreshing taste
Cons
Pricier than the competition

Why we chose it

Almost plastic-free

JUST Water has risen to fame thanks to celebrity backers like Will Smith and Queen Latifah. The company touts itself as an option for people who like bottled water but want to avoid plastic. Rather than bottles, JUST Water comes in boxes — similar to the coated paper cartons in which juice and soup are sold. The carton is also surprisingly comfortable to hold — the material is less slippery than most plastics, making it easy to keep a keep a good grip even if your water is sweating.

100 percent recyclable

Every part of JUST Water’s packaging is completely recyclable, right down to the cap. And that small amount of plastic comes mostly from plant- rather than petroleum-based sources, minimizing the use of non-renewable resources.

Refreshing taste

JUST Water isn’t form over substance, either. It scored highly on our taste test — a slightly alkaline water with mid-range electrolyte levels that testers described as “refreshing,” with sweet, mineral-heavy undertones. Like Fiji, JUST Water is slightly alkaline, with a pH of 8, but its electrolyte levels are comparable to Resource and Crystal Geyser at 3.9 Siemens per meter.

Points to consider

Pricier than the competition

A 12-pack of pint-sized JUST Water bottles retails for more than what most bottled water brands charge for a 24-pack. Though it’s slightly cheaper if you sign up for a subscription through JUST Water’s website. As with many environmentally friendly products, you pay a premium to feel good about your purchase.

Guide to Bottled Water

How to chose the right bottled water for you

You’re going to like what you know

The reason some testers liked waters that others didn’t might go all the way back to childhood. Our preferences start to develop when we’re young.

Von Wiesenberger gave one fascinating example. Early in his career, he helped organize a water tasting from taps around the San Francisco Bay Area. But he and his research partner threw in one outlier just to see what would happen: an expensive, bottled mineral water imported from France. During the blind taste test, everyone hated this supposedly fancy water — except for one person, who said that it tasted like home. As it turned out, the person in question was French. He’d grown up drinking the exact same brand.

Identify whether you like mineral waters

With Von Wiesenberger’s theory in mind, we took a second look at our test results and found that the three people who loved the taste of Evian had Japanese roots and grew up either traveling back and forth between continents or eating Japanese food. We don’t have enough evidence to say that this caused them to like Evian water, but it does corroborate the larger hypothesis.

While plenty of North Americans, including a sizable majority of our testers, found mineral water musty or stale in taste, others reported it to be refreshing and sweet. If you know you have a preference for European water, or if you’re just curious to see what the fuss is about, we recommend either Evian or Volvic; they passed the rest of our tests with no contention at all.

Consider the trade-off between price, environmental impact, and convenience

The bottles that put the least strain on the environment — be it crinkly and cheap-to-produce plastic bottles or expensive, well-made cardboard — will put a strain either on your convenience or on your budget. The bottles that are most aesthetically pleasing and nice to hold tend to be thick plastic, which is a burden to the recycling process and will cost several cents more per ounce.

Bottled Water FAQ

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are the salts dissolved in water, including minerals like calcium and potassium. Your body needs healthy electrolyte levels to function. Illness or loss of fluids (think prolonged, heavy sweating) can sometimes result in an imbalance.

That said, electrolyte water is mostly a gimmick. It turns out that this marketing term doesn’t tell you much. When we tested SmartWater and Propel, two popular electrolyte waters, we found that SmartWater contains only 1.21 siemens per meter. Propel contains 50.55. To put that into perspective, Evian, which is not marketed as an electrolyte water, contains about 14.8 S/m. Apple juice, an electrolyte source that doctors often recommend for dehydrated patients, contains about 46.3.

The takeaway: You don’t need to drink Propel all day, every day, but it’d be a great post-marathon refreshment. On the flipside, don’t rely on SmartWater when you have the stomach flu. You’d be better off with apple juice.

Is it safe to drink out of PET plastic?

Disposable water bottles are often created from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. As Fiji points out, PET is extremely lightweight, which helps manufacturers lower their carbon footprint. It’s also fully recyclable, widely used across the food industry, and carries the FDA’s stamp of approval. But some studies suggest that under high temperatures (think above 100 degrees fahrenheit), PET can leach endocrine disruptors like antimony into water, potentially exceeding limits put in place by the EPA.

Crystal Geyser claims these worries are simply not true, but we’d suggest moderate caution: Don’t leave your bottled water sitting in a hot car or direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, especially if you live in a warm climate. And if you’re really worried, give JUST Water a try.

Journalist and author Michael Cervin offers two tips for bottled water users trying to minimize their environmental impact. First, recycle. Second, buy large bottles if possible, and pour them into a reusable bottle as needed.

Another option to going through plastic? Opt for a water filter with either a pitcher filter or faucet filter design.

What is artesian water?

Or mineral water, for that matter? We turned to Consumer Reports for a run-down of common terms:

  • Spring and artesian: Both of these indicate your water comes from aquifers — natural underground sources of water. Spring water is collected directly at the spring (the place where water from the aquifer reaches the surface of the earth) while artesian water is collected in a man-made well.
  • Mineral: Contains at least 250 parts per million (ppm) of TDS, giving it a stronger flavor. Mineral water can be either spring or artesian water as well.
  • PWS: This stands for “public water source” and basically means tap water. You might also see it sold with the word “municipal.” Examples of this kind of water include Dasani and Aquafina.
  • Purified and distilled: These waters can come from any source, from spring to municipal, but they’ve been treated to remove chemicals and minerals. Think of purified water as the opposite of mineral water, containing no more than 10 ppm TDS. Distilled water has been boiled to produce steam, which is then reconstituted into water.

The Best Bottled Water: Summed Up

Bottled Water
Resource
Fiji
Crystal Geyser
Evian
JUST Water
The Best
Tasting Water
Artesian Water
Cheap Water
Mineral Water
Recyclable Packaging
Acidity (pH)
7.5
8.0
7.3
8.0
8.0
Electrolytes (S/m)
5.6
7.9
2.3
3.9
3.9
Tasting Scores (on a 35 pt. scale)
32.8
30.8
29.3
29.5
27.7