Trends and scientific evidence don’t always see eye to eye.
In our modern consumer culture, it’s no longer enough to simply aim for clean, purified water. We want electrolyte boosts, we want specific spring water sources, and some people even look for a particular pH in their preferred H2O purchases.
But before jumping into the latest water trends, it’s important to understand how the pH of water matters for your health.
What is pH in drinking water?
As you may remember from your high school chemistry class, the pH scale, numbered 0 through 14, measures the levels of acidic or alkalinity in a particular substance. If you were to test your drinking water right now with a strip of litmus paper, the color indication would inform you as where it falls on this scale.
Anything below a 7 is acidic, and the lower the number, the more acidic the substance ranks. Anything above a 7 is alkaline, or basic, and the higher the number, the more alkaline the substance becomes. And 7, of course, is the marker of neutrality, being neither acidic nor alkaline.
Most drinking water sources in the United States have a desirable pH between 6.5 and 8.5, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t regulate this metric. Its importance is considered secondary to general water treatment and purification to control for things like unwanted chemicals, heavy mineral contents, bacteria, and more.
Why does pH matter?
If your drinking water is too acidic, it has the ability to leach metals from the pipes and fixtures it passes through to get to your glass. Water with higher than normal levels of copper, lead and zinc is likely too acidic. You’ll probably notice it tasting a little metallic and/or sour.
While this isn’t ideal for your personal consumption, it can also wreak havoc on your home plumbing, causing corrosive damage in pipes over time.
If your drinking water is too alkaline, you’re likely ingesting a different set of minerals — primarily calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.
While these substances aren’t harmful to you in the right amounts, they can easily build up in your water pipes over time, making your plumbing less efficient. They also taste pretty bitter.
What pH should you aim for in your drinking water?
There are plenty of opinions out there surrounding the best drinking water pH, but if you focus on the available science and its suggestions, a neutral drinking water (a pH of 7) is ideal.
Now, few people will suggest that drinking more acidic water is a pleasant and healthful experience, but a growing number of folks believe that alkaline water products boast serious health benefits. While science has found alkaline water helpful for people struggling with things like acid reflux, the basic pH of these waters doesn’t ultimately lead to any profound changes in a person’s health.
The human body naturally has a highly acidic digestive system to break down foods, absorb necessary nutrients and kill harmful bacteria. It’s also highly adaptable to the foods and beverages we consume, leveling out at where it needs to be at the end of the day.
Therefore, unless you have a pre-existing medical condition, your stomach will do what it needs to do with the water you provide it, regardless of its pH. If anything, constantly downing very alkaline water tells your digestive system to produce even more acid than normal to even things out at its ideal pH level.
Ultimately, the cleanliness of your water is far more important than its pH level. And if it’s treated properly, it probably has an ideal pH level anyway, due to its connection to various chemicals and minerals typically found in water sources. If you enjoy the taste experience of mineral waters (which tend to be more alkaline), drink away. And if not, don’t worry — it’s easy to get those minerals from the foods you eat anyway.