Is bottled water better than top water? That depends on your tap water, and the bottled water that you can buy. For me, most bottled water is most definitely better than our, regularly gastro-inducing, tap water. No, I'm not exaggerating about getting gastro from our tap water!
Where I live, in South Australia, is infamous for having terrible tap water. In my case (in Modbury, North-East of Adelaide), it's certainly true. Ours frequently has mud and mould in it, and, from time to time, when there's another algae bloom outbreak in the reservoirs, large amounts of chlorine—so much that it smells like you've dumped a bottle of bleach in the bathroom, and enough to get chemical burns in the shower. Even worse was water that stank of sewage when the bottom of our road was dug up a few times. I've no idea of the health aspects of that, but the smell from a hot shower was stomach churning.
If you go a few streets away from where I live, the tap water doesn't usually have the mud and mould taste, but you can't avoid the periodic high chlorine content. Filtering the tap water hasn't helped, it reduces some of the nasty tastes, but doesn't get rid of them.
NB: Actually, since writing this page, I can say that filtering the water has helped. It's still not as good as some of the bottled water, but a hell of a lot better than straight out of the tap, and it's now drinkable. I must have got a better filter than the neighbours did.
As kids, we all drank water with cordial added to it, often plenty of it. Most adults drunk tea or coffee. It was somewhat rare to see someone drinking plain water. Usually, that'd be from a water fountain with refrigerated water, which hides the (bad) taste a lot.
We used rainwater for a while, but our tank is rusting, very badly, on the inside. And before that put it out of action, we still had to concern ourself with potential health risks from contamination caused by bird droppings on the catchment area of the roof (minimised by not catching water from another area of the roof with television antennas that the birds like sitting on), and ever-increasing air pollution where I live.
On the other hand, we have several choices of bottled water, albeit at a much higher purchase cost than tap water. Some are quite good, being just water (i.e. being just as good as uncontaminated water you could get from anywhere else). But I've come across some with a quite salty taste, and many with a nasty chemical taste somewhat akin to the smell of textas—I presume it's something to do with the plastic bottle. And then there's the bottled waters which are simply bottled tap water, filtered tap water, or spring water that has had chemicals added to it just like tap water has around here (flouride, and chlorine).
I don't have a particular problem with bottled tap water being available, there might be some convenience factors that make it worth it (e.g. no public fountains where you going out, it's still better for you than buying soft drinks full of sugars and food dyes, your local tap water being attriocious, etc.), just so long as it's not your only choice. I do want to be able to drink water with stuff being added to it. Chlorine and flouride are both poisons, and are often added in wildy variable amounts. The chlorine is to try and kill off things in the water, you don't want to drink chlorine, it doesn't do you any good, and it can do you harm. Contrary to some claims, it doesn't go away if you leave water to stand; I've left water in jugs for hours, even days, and it still pongs of chlorine. You'd have to distill the water to get rid of it, and then you'd be removing other minerals that you actually do want in drinking water. And the amount of flouride you'd have to consume for it to have the benefits claimed to protect your teeth is phenomenal, very close to the poison level, but below the amount you'd normally get in well-controlled water dosing, and quite discredited by places that don't flouridate their water, yet still have the same level of tooth decay as places that do (e.g. Queensland). If you want flouride on your teeth, use toothpaste that includes it, don't put that crap in my drinking water.
Written by Tim Seifert on 10 Aug 2007, and last updated 16 Jul 2016.