Water: filter or distill?

As I mentioned in an earlier post (October 2007) about shock-chlorinating water wells, getting water to your home in the country often involves a lot more than just drilling a well and piping the water. Well water can have its own problems, and more often than not, it must be treated in some fashion. Our water is good but it does contain a lot of minerals. What’s wrong with that? Well, first of all, dissolved minerals can be left on fixtures, bath tubs and sinks as the water dries. This can be unsightly and requires some considerable work to remove. As well, many of the minerals (e.g., calcium and magnesium) “harden” the water where the water has difficulty dissolving  soaps, etc., and thus not clean things as well as they could.

However, perhaps the most important problem associated with minerals (especially calcium) is the formation of kidney stones. This was brought home to me, many years ago now, when Parkland County organized a meeting of residents of our area to discuss water problems. There were over 30 residents in attendance, many having lived in the region for generations. The discussion, as expected, centered on water quality, not quantity. Fortunately, well water is readily available in our area. Water hardness was a major concern, and the representative from Alberta Environment recommended the use of water softening equipment to remove calcium, magnesium and other minerals. He then asked how many of the attendees over the years had suffered from kidney stones. Well over half of the audience raised their hands. The representative said he was not surprised. People who drink well water for long periods of time tend to get kidney stones.

That was enough for me. I had seen my brother and others go through the passing of kidney stones, and if it can be avoided it should be. Therefore, we bit the bullet and purchased a water softener. Now, softening the water is one thing, but having to drink softened water is another. A water softener exchanges the calcium and other (positive) ions in the water for sodium or potassium ions provided in the salt you add to the softener (we use potassium chloride for environmental reasons). Such water is definitely softer; no more deposits are made on fixtures, etc., and the water suds up real well. However, drinking softened water can be bad for your health, not to mention that it doesn’t taste all that good. So, if you plan to drink the water, you have to further treat it.

Early on we were told that the best way to remove the sodium or potassium from softened water was to use a distiller, which boils the water and condenses the vapour, leaving the heavier elements behind. We purchased a distiller and it performed well for over ten years.

Now, distillers require regular maintenance and consume quite a bit of electrical energy. So, when it came time to replace our unit, I looked around to see if there were any alternatives. Of course, I turned to the web and was quickly overwhelmed by the number of sites promoting the advantages of filtered water. I had not thought about using a filtre because I believed ions in water would pass through any filtre. However, on further reading on these websites I learned that filtres could remove these ions. Another advantage of using filtres is that they use no electrical power to do their work. However, a disadvantage is that you have to exchange filtre elements on a regular basis. That can be expensive.

As I researched which brand of filtre to buy, going to various websites that claimed to be popular locations to learn about how to treat water quality, I began to see a pattern. First, all these particular sites were promoting the same brand of water filtre. Why would they do that? Was it because this really was the best brand of to buy? That was the feeling I was getting. But my local suppliers didn’t stock that brand. Instead, they offered cheaper models that didn’t make all the claims this particular, web-promoted brand did. So, I dug deeper. Sure enough, I soon learned that all the sites promoting this particular brand were fronts for the brand itself. They were self-promotion sites, disguised to look like independent endorsements. Red Flag!

What to do? When I’m looking for some basic facts about a subject, I tend to go to sources that don’t have an axe to grind, such as government sites. By law, governments cannot support one private enterprise over another. But my searches on the web led to generic documents that just talked about water quality in a general sense, and didn’t really answer my questions about what was better, filtration or distillation. Then, a search finally turned up the document I was looking for. The document was on the Alberta Agriculture site, with the simple title, “Water Distillers”. Here it was laid out plainly, that the best way to remove minerals and salts from water, especially sodium and potassium left over from water softening was a water distiller. They also recommended “Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment”; however, I found this treatment to be a lot more labour intensive and costly when compared to distillation, especially in terms of waste water.

Water distillation does require considerable electrical power, and it too requires some considerable maintenance. However, for the little that we use for drinking, etc., we find these costs manageable, especially when compared to the costs for the other treatments.

So, what’s wrong with that?


About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
This entry was posted in Alberta, Country Living and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Water: filter or distill?

  1. dianeschuller says:

    What a very interesting topic, close to our hearts Don. We’ve been struggling with the same considerations. I’m going to check out that AB Ag document right away. We’ve considered the reverse osmosis but earlier on when we checked they were very expensive. Perhaps it’s time to bite the bullet.

    Great information and thanks for your research.


  2. Don Meredith says:

    I’m glad it helped, Diane!



  3. JOSEPH GRACE says:



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  5. Jodi Merritt says:

    Do you recommend a certain distiller, Don? Thanks

  6. Don Meredith says:

    We use a Precision distiller, made locally here in the Edmonton area. We bought it from Distiller Warehouse (www.distillerwarehouse.com) where other brands are offered. We’ve also found the Polar Bear brand to be good. Each of these brands has several models from which to choose, depending on how many extra features, etc.

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