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 even tested pH levels. Then, we held a blind taste test to see which of our top contenders were — and weren’t — worth the hype.
The clear winner in each of our tests. Perfectly balanced and the best-tasting, with a light, crisp flavor that our testers loved.
Iconic packaging, widely beloved, and the second-place winner in our taste test.
We didn’t love the flimsy bottle, but it tastes great and is affordable enough to buy in bulk.
Evian Spring Water
A European brand with a distinct taste. Not all our testers liked it, but those who did loved it.
Comes in a recyclable, paper-based carton rather than a bottle.
The Best Bottled Water
While all bottled water might seem the same at first glance, there are a number of variables that separate one from the next, from electrolytes to acidity levels.
Our top pick, Resource Spring Water, was a clear winner. While most of our testers were unfamiliar with the brand, nearly half chose it as their favorite in our blind taste test. Its pH of 7 means it’s perfectly balanced, and its naturally occurring electrolytes gave it a distinctly crisp, light flavor.
Prefer the taste of bottled water but want to be eco-conscious? Journalist and author Michael Cervin offers two tips for bottled water uses trying to minimize their environmental impact. First, recycle. Second, buy large bottles if possible, and pour them into a personal reusable bottle as needed.
Fiji, our runner-up, was a close second. It’s slightly more alkaline and electrolyte-heavy than Resource, with some testers picking up a mineral aftertaste. But during blind taste tests, half ranked Fiji among their top three picks, describing it as refreshing and pleasant. Its fancy bottle design makes it a little impractical for everyday use (it’s hard to fit in a cup holder) but great for special events.
If you’re looking for something simple and available almost anywhere, Crystal Geyser is an excellent budget choice. It was another tester favorite and also boasts middle-of-the-road pH and electrolyte levels. And while some testers hated how thin the bottle was, that flimsiness ultimately means less plastic waste.
For those worried about plastic, there’s also JUST Water, which comes in a coated paper carton that’s 100 percent recyclable (though you should check that your local recycling facilities can handle it). 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.”
If you like mineral water, Evian Spring Water stood out during our taste tests. It has a more noticeable flavor than our other top picks, which some testers didn’t care for but others described as “sweet” and “light.”
Despite looking alike, these thirteen waters had widely differing results during our testing.
How We Found the Best Bottled Water
We started by compiling a list of 13 popular bottled waters, including grocery store brands like Aquafina and Deer Park, plus high-end waters that featured prominently in online best-of lists, like VOSS and Evian. We didn’t look at sparkling waters, those with added flavors (sorry, La Croix), or anything not available in bulk. Our goal: To find a water that tasted good, that was free of unnecessary additives, and that was readily available enough to drink everyday. In other words, we wanted a water that we could chug like it was… well, water.
- Acqua Panna
- Crystal Geyser
- Glacier Clear
- JUST Water
- Nestle Pure Life
We put our contenders to the test.
To find the best bottled water, we put all of our contenders through a three-part test, in which we examined pH balance, taste, and packaging. We were initially skeptical that we’d find much difference, but our thirteen bramds yielded surprisingly different results.
Part 1: pH Level
Water usually has a neutral pH of 7 — a fact we expected would hold true for our bottled waters. Overly acidic beverages (like soda and fruit juice) aren’t great as an everyday drink, as they can lead to cavities and tooth decay — sipping a drink with a low pH all day is like giving your teeth a constant, low-level acid bath.
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 probably fine in moderation, they don’t seem to be a great choice as your main source of hydration.
Since we were looking for a water that you could drink all day with no negative impact, we preferred a neutral pH range of 6 to 8. To be sure our top picks fell within this range, we opted to conduct our own pH test.
Aqua Panna was a little too alkaline to make it into our top picks, though we enjoyed its fancy packaging.
And turns out, some of the most popular brands weren’t neutral at all: Aquafina, Dasani, Penta, and VOSS all clocked in with a highly acidic pH of 4. How acidic is that? Carbonated soft drinks often have a pH range of 3-4. In other words, these waters are only slightly less acidic than a can of Mountain Dew.
The pH test raised fewer concerns about alkalinity: Acqua Panna was our most alkaline water, with a pH of 8.5 — a little outside of our desired range, but not as startlingly off the mark as brands like Aquafina or Dasani.
Multilevel marketing company Kangen Water sells a product called Strong Kangen Water with a pH of 11.5 (higher than ammonia). But it’s not for drinking. Instead, it’s marketed as a water for cleaning — your kitchen, your dishes, your laundry, and even (if you’re feeling brave enough) your fresh vegetables. The same company also advertises an acidic water with a pH of 2.5, which is sold as a surface cleaner.
Part 2: Taste
We rated our finalists on six qualities during our taste test.
But before we cut any of our waters from the running, we opted to conduct a blind taste test. We were curious to see how waters on the extreme ends of the pH scale would perform. Would we actually be able to detect a taste difference?
To create our test, we consulted with Arthur von Weisenberger, an industry expert of forty 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 each of our 12 testers one water at a time, room-temperature and poured into identical, unmarked cups.
While we were doubtful about our ability to differentiate between contenders, we found that we knew what we liked — and what we didn’t. The biggest loser? Dasani, by a landslide. More than half of our testers ranked it in their bottom three, describing its aftertaste as “metallic,” “plastic-y,” and “weird.” In fact, testers generally did seem to prefer waters with a neutral pH.
Testers also seemed to have a slight preference for water from certain sources. Three of our top picks — Resource, Crystal Geyser, and JUST Water — turned out to be spring water. Our two lowest-ranking waters, Dasani and Glacier Clear, were both from municipal sources (essentially bottled tap water).
Part 3: Packaging
Plastic water bottles are typically made from PET, a food-grade plastic that’s lightweight, cheap, and generally held to be safe (we go into more detail on this below). But though most of our thirteen contenders used the same type of plastic, not all bottles were created equal.
Testers generally disliked the classic, ridged-cylinder bottle with the little cap, preferring alternate designs. But Glacier Clear took this offense to the next level by using an extra-lightweight plastic. Straight out of their packaging, these bottles had already lost their shape and begun to crumple.
JUST Water stood out as the only non-plastic option of the bunch, with a coated paper carton that testers were a little skeptical of but ultimately liked. The carton tended to be less slippery than many of the plastics, making it easier to grip.
Glacier Clear’s flimsy packaging did not impress. Neither did its flavor.
Our Picks for the Best Bottled Water
Our Top Pick
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.”
While Resource boasts “natural electrolytes,” it’s not an electrolyte water in the same sense as brands like Propel, which are often marketed as post-workout drinks. Resource’s electrolyte level is firmly mid-range, at 5.56 siemens per meter (the unit of measure for electrolytes). And this helps explain why so many people found it delicious. Electrolytes make up part of water’s “Total Dissolved Solids” level, or TDS. Total Dissolved Solids account for any substance besides H2O molecules present in your drink — a measurement that’s closely tied to a water’s taste.
What are electrolytes? Electrolytes are the salts dissolved in your bottled 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.
You might assume you don’t want any dissolved solids in your water, but it’s a little more complicated than that. High TDS levels in drinkable water are associated with strong taste, which many people don’t like. But extremely low TDS has an impact of its own. “If you have water with nothing in it, you basically have distilled water. It tastes bland and kind of flat,” says von Wiesenberger.
People generally prefer a TDS somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Resource gets that balance just right — in addition to its balanced pH of 7.5. In other words, this is the Goldilocks of water, one you can feel comfortable drinking daily.
Because Resource is sold only in quart-sized bottles, drinking it regularly is also a little less wasteful than opting for the more standard pint. The only drawback is its cap, which felt thin and easy to lose. A 12-pack of quart-sized (33.8-ounce) bottles costs about $38, which comes out to about 9 cents per ounce.
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.)
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.
A 24-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles will run you roughly $20, or about 5 cents per ounce. As for that square terrarium look, one tester rightfully called it “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 Budget Pick
Of all the ubiquitous brands you’re likely to find at a gas station mid-road trip — brands like Dasani, Aquafina, and Arrowhead — only Crystal Geyser made it all the way to our top three. Not only does it have a balanced pH and a reasonable electrolyte level, it 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 — an impressive feat, considering Crystal Geyser is about half the price of Fiji and Resource.
Another recommending factor for Crystal Geyser is that it 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. But the bottles are notably flimsy, with tiny caps and plastic that will dent and make crinkling sounds every time they’re picked up. A 35-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles, costs about $20, or 3 cents per ounce.
If you can’t find Crystal Geyser, another option that comes in similar sizes at a similar price and performed almost as well in our taste test is Nestle Pure Life.
An (Almost) Plastic-Free Option
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 — and is 100 percent recyclable, right down to the cap. The carton does contain a small amount of plastic, but most of this is plant- rather than petroleum-based, minimizing the use of non-renewable resources. 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.
So how does it taste? It didn’t score quite as highly as Fiji or Resource, but was neck-and-neck with Crystal Geyser. Testers reported that it was “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. It’s a little pricier than our other picks. A 12-pack of pint-sized bottles retails for about $21, or roughly 10 cents per ounce on Amazon — though it’s slightly cheaper if you sign up for a subscription straight through JUST Water’s website.
Coated cartons used to be pitched in the trash, but a group called the Carton Council is taking strides to change this. They report that while, in 2008, only 16% of US households had access to recycling facilities that could process cartons, the number jumped to 60% by 2017. The Carton Council provides an interactive map that lets you check whether communities in your area recycle cartons. As a rule of thumb, if you live in a major metropolitan area, you’re probably in luck.
Other Bottled Waters to Consider
We expected these fancy European waters to do well in our taste test. Most testers loved their packaging, especially Evian’s, calling it “simple but elegant.” We expected equally favorable results during our taste test. But these brands were actually pretty contentious, especially Evian: Half our testers ranked it in their bottom three, calling it “stale” and “musty.” But the few who liked it loved it, reporting that it was “refreshing and sweet.” Volvic earned a similar reaction.
These European waters had a distinct flavor that many of our US-based testers didn’t care for.
According to our experts, there’s a good reason for these polarized responses. We explore it more fully 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 know you have a preference for European water, or if you’re just curious to see what the fuss is about, we recommend either of the two; they passed the rest of our tests with no contention at all.
Did You Know?
There’s controversy surrounding PET.
Disposable water bottles are often created from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. As Fiji points out, it’s 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.
Electrolyte water is mostly a gimmick.
Electrolyte levels weren’t a deal-breaker during testing, but we were curious about how our top contenders compared against products actively marketed as “electrolyte water.” So we broke out our electrolyte meter.
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.
Conclusion? 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.
Water words can be confusing. Here’s a quick glossary.
Along with “electrolyte” and “alkaline,” there are a few other words (like “mineral”) that you’re likely to see on a bottled water label, either telling you where the water comes from or how it was processed. Consumer Reports provides 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.
- P.W.S: This stands for “public water source” and basically means tapwater. 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.
We like what we 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.
“There’s something to be said about liking what you’re used to,” says von Wiesenberger. “If you’re exposed to a certain kind of water, you usually end up going back to it.”
With this 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 we do have enough to say that ingrained taste is fascinatingly complex.