Reverse osmosis and distillation are two ways of producing perfectly purified water, which means you may be looking at reverse osmosis vs. distilled water and wondering what the difference is. If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Reverse osmosis systems and water distillers are two very different things that give similar results. Both produce clean water, but one is energy and time-efficient, the other not so much. Understanding the differences is crucial if you’re looking for a purification system for your home.
Below we compare and contrast reverse osmosis and distillation systems in an easy-to-comprehend way. By the time we’re through, you’ll know precisely what each method does, how it does it, and when you should use each one.
Reverse Osmosis vs. Distilled Water
At first glance, the differences between distilled water vs. reverse osmosis water may not be readily apparent. After all, both processes produce water free of most contaminants. Yet, these two water purification techniques are widely different, both in process and their applications.
One requires little energy and is ideal for at-home use. The other is harder to create and better suited for laboratory purposes.
The processes to create reverse osmosis vs. distilled water aren’t the same. Distillation is an ancient method for getting solutes and contaminants out of water. The process consists of boiling water to create steam and then capturing the resulting condensation. As the water evaporates, it distills, meaning it leaves salts and other particles behind.
Boiling the water during distillation neutralizes microbes, many of which are harmful to humans. So, distilled water ends up free of bacteria, viruses, salts, and minerals. In other words, it’s completely purified.
Reverse osmosis is a relatively new technique that also produces purified water, but the process is entirely different. In reverse osmosis, water travels through a series of semipermeable membranes.
The first membrane usually removes sediments and larger particles. Later membranes typically use granulated activated carbon to capture smaller contaminants and chemicals.
The result is purified water straight from your faucet. There’s no need to boil, condense, and recapture the water every time you need a refreshing drink. Water runs through the reverse osmosis system as you need it, wasting no time or excess energy.
However, reverse osmosis does create waste water. You need extra water to wash the sediment off the semipermeable membranes to keep the system flowing smoothly.
Modern systems tend to focus on efficiency, and you can use the wastewater for other things, like washing your car. However, it’s also important to note that reverse osmosis systems require regular maintenance. You need to replace membrane filters, sometimes yearly, and regular water testing is essential to ensure the membrane is intact.
Distillation systems don’t require you to clean out filters or run water tests, and they don’t waste water. However, they take up more time and energy with every use.
When looking at distilled vs. reverse osmosis purified water, it’s essential to keep in mind that each one has a place in society. We need both, but for different applications.
In general, reverse osmosis is ideal for residential use. Reverse osmosis systems require less energy than distillation systems and take up less time, as noted above.
Home distillation systems exist, but they tend to be inefficient. It takes a long time to boil, condense, and recapture water, and usually, systems can’t keep up with average home water demands. Cities and state governments may use reverse osmosis to treat the water for an entire municipality or to run desalination plants.
Distilled water shines in other ways. Distilled water is key to many lab experiments, and manufacturers often recommend it for certain pieces of equipment.
Steam mops, for example, often work best with distilled water. That’s because when the mop creates steam, minerals and sediment will be left behind. Eventually, leftover minerals will clog the mop up entirely. Distilled water prevents that from happening.
Distillation may be ideal in certain home-use situations as well. In areas where water use is restricted, reverse osmosis may not be feasible since it generates wasted water. In that case, distillation may be the best option for water purification, even with the additional time and energy costs.
Is Reverse Osmosis Water the Same as Distilled Water?
Both reverse osmosis water and distilled water are purified. The water that comes from these processes will be free of most protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and contaminants, making it safe to drink.
The difference between reverse osmosis and distillation is in the process and, therefore, the application. Because reverse osmosis takes less energy and is nearly instantaneous (turn on your faucet, and the water begins moving through the membrane series), it’s better for residential and municipal use. It also works well in desalination plants.
Distillation, however, requires a lot of energy, and it takes time. It’s ideal for producing purified water in laboratory settings or for use in specific machines. It typically doesn’t work as well in household or citywide settings.
In comparing reverse osmosis vs. distilled water, it’s easy to see which one is best for home use. Reverse osmosis systems are ideal for generating clean water in most residential locales. With reverse osmosis, you’ll generate purified water without the extra time, and energy cost distillation inherently requires.
Distilled water is still important and may be vital for certain laboratory experiments. You also may want to use it in steam-powered machines. However, using distillation techniques to produce clean water for regular home use is a waste of time. You have to heat the water, let it condense, and recapture it before you can pour a glass.
In general, then, reverse osmosis is the better choice for a home water purification system. Still, distilled water is just as clean and could be a good option in specific situations.
If you need help choosing a good reverse osmosis system, please refer to our reverse osmosis water filter comparison article for recommendations on which filter to buy.