Well Water vs. City Water

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Well water and tap water (i.e. your city water supply) are the two main sources of drinking water here in the U.S. In some ways, these sources are different from each other. In other ways, they’re the same. 

So let’s dive into the unique advantages and disadvantages of each, so you can ensure the water you drink everyday is safe for you and your loved ones.

They Come From Different Sources

Well water comes from underground aquifers, which are natural reservoirs of water found underground inside of rock and soil. 

Aquifers are created over thousands of years as rainwater, snowmelt, and other forms of precipitation seep into the ground and collect in cracks and spaces inside rock and soil. Because aquifers are typically deep underground, water travels through multiple layers of rock, soil, sand, and gravel that act as natural, though limited, water filters on its way into aquifers.

That’s not to say well water is clean and safe to drink simply because it comes from an underground aquifer. In fact, we know it’s not! But it is naturally filtered, to an extent, before it’s pulled from private wells. 

On the other hand, city water (i.e. municipal water) typically comes from surface water sources such as rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs, as well as groundwater (i.e. water below the surface of the earth, including water from aquifers). 

The bottom line is well water is groundwater pumped from underground aquifers. And city water tends to be a mix of groundwater and surface water.

City Water Is Regulated By Law, Well Water Is Not!

Just because city water is regulated by the government (in other words, it is “treated” before it gets to you), doesn’t mean it’s safe and clean. And just because well water is not regulated by the government, doesn’t mean it’s not safe and clean.

You see, the U.S. EPA regulates tap water (i.e. city water) to ensure it meets specific water quality safety standards. That’s why city water is treated before it flows through your home. 

On the other hand, well water is regulated by the owner of the well, rather than the EPA. Which means the owner tests (and treats) their water as little or as much as they’d like, unless they are subject to state-specific regulations.

Despite Regulations, Both Sources Can Be Dangerous!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water regulations don’t guarantee your protection from ALL dangerous contaminants. According to the EWG, 320+ contaminants have been found in U.S. tap water. Yet, the EPA only regulates 90+ of them

That means there could be hundreds of dangerous contaminants legally poisoning your tap water because the EPA doesn’t regulate hundreds of contaminants at all!

But that’s not the only concern: Even the contaminants that the EPA does regulate can be allowed in tap water at levels that can be dangerous. For example, the EPA permits up to five times the amount of fluoride recommended for optimal dental health by the CDC to be present in our tap water.

So while specific safety standards must be met, there’s no guarantee your tap water is completely safe and clean… which is probably why millions of Americans get sick from water each and every year!

Meanwhile, well owners are responsible for regulating (i.e. testing and cleaning) their well water. In other words, they can do what they want to, so long as they follow any state-specific regulations. Which means well water is only as clean as you make it!

The truth is… one source isn’t better than the other. You could be rolling the dice with either water source!

Most Common Dangers Linked To Well Water

When it comes to the cons of well water, there are three key reasons it can contain harmful contaminants:

Its exposure to the environment. Several dangerous contaminants can be found in soil and rock, plus well water is susceptible to contamination from natural disasters, agriculture, and other environmental-related activities and events. 

Its lack of regulation. Remember, the well owner is responsible for their own water testing and water treatment. 

Proximity to septic systems and septic tanks (as well as maintenance of them). 

As we’ve said before, well water and city are different and the same. They both can be plagued with dangerous contaminants. And many of those contaminants can (and do) overlap!


A contaminant common among water collected from private wells and water systems in rural areas is sulfur. You’ll be able to recognize a high sulfur concentration due to the “rotten egg” smell emanating from your water. If left untreated, sulfur can lead to diarrhea, dehydration, and other adverse health complications.

The good news: our Water Pitcher with Affinity® Filtration Technology removes the two most common forms of sulfur: up to 99.8% of sulfate and >99.0% of sulfide, as well as hundreds of other contaminants in your water.

The following are just a few of many common contaminants to watch out for in well water:

  • Bacteria. Well water is vulnerable to bacterial contamination due to contamination from septic systems, animal waste, or agricultural runoff.

  • Nitrate. Nitrate is a common contaminant in well water, particularly in rural areas where fertilizer and manure are used. High levels of nitrate are particularly dangerous to infants and pregnant women.

  • Radon. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can enter well water from surrounding rock formations. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.

  • Pesticides. Pesticides like atrazine, glyphosate, and chlorpyrifos can leach into groundwater from agricultural and residential use. These pesticides can cause a range of health effects, including reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, and neurotoxicity.

  • Arsenic, iron, and other heavy metals. These metals naturally occur in soil and rocks. And arsenic, for example, has been linked to several types of cancer.

Remember, all of the above contaminants can be found in tap water, too!

Other Common Dangers Linked To Tap Water

City water is treated to meet the EPA’s drinking water regulations. But, again, hundreds of contaminants are not required to be removed, others are allowed to remain in tap water up to specific levels, and some can even be created during the water treatment process!

The following are just a few of many common contaminants to watch out for in tap water:

  • Chlorine. Chlorine is commonly used to disinfect city water. Not only is a certain level of chlorine allowed to remain in our water, that chlorine can react with organic matter in the water to form harmful byproducts like cancer-linked trihalomethanes.

  • Fluoride. Fluoride is added to the vast majority of public water supplies to support dental health. However, excess fluoride can stain teeth (with brown and white stripes), slow down your thyroid, and potentially contribute to bone disease.

  • Lead. Lead can leach into drinking water from older pipes and plumbing fixtures that contain it. And excess exposure to lead can cause irreversible damage to the brain (especially in children)!

  • Disinfection byproducts (DBPs). As mentioned before, chlorine (and other disinfectants) used to disinfect water can react with organic matter to form DBPs like cancer-linked HAA5 (Haloacetic Acids). 

  • PFAS. Exposure to these “forever chemicals” poses serious risks, even at tiny, near-zero levels. And data at time of publication suggests more than 200 million Americans like us drink (and use) tap water contaminated with these cancer-linked chemicals daily.

Just to reiterate, these are just a handful of the 320+ contaminants detected in tap water in the U.S.!

What About Minerals?

A common misconception is that minerals in water are bad for you. But the truth is, many minerals, like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, can be beneficial for human health. For example, calcium promotes strong bones and magnesium and potassium can both support heart health. 

The primary concern with these beneficial minerals is that excess levels of specific minerals (particularly calcium and magnesium) can create hard water. And while hard water doesn’t pose any significant health risks, it can leave mineral deposits behind on appliances, plumbing, faucets, etc. That’s why some people have water softeners (but remember, water softeners are not intended to be filtration devices because they do not clean water!)! 

Minerals can be found in both city water and well water because they are found in rocks and soil water is exposed to. The amount of calcium and magnesium in your water can vary depending on the geology of the area and the type of rocks and soil your water comes into contact with.

Due to their health benefits, Clearly Filtered does not target beneficial minerals. However, many filtration systems do. For example, reverse osmosis systems blindly strip water of everything—including beneficial minerals. That’s why most R.O. users go through the added step of re-mineralizing their R.O. water after it has been filtered.

Cost Considerations

Don’t make the mistake of assuming well water is free water. If you're considering a private well (or already have one), up-front installation as well as ongoing maintenance costs are your responsibility. Plus, homeowners with private wells have to factor in the cost of electricity to power their water pump (which draws water from the ground). 

However, homeowners with private wells never have to worry about a monthly water bill from their municipality! And in some cases, private wells can actually increase property value.

On the other hand, with city water, you will receive a monthly water bill that covers the cost of treatment, distribution, and maintenance. That bill can vary based on factors such as home water usage and location. 

To recap, well owners don’t have to worry about a monthly water bill. But they do have to worry about maintenance costs, as well as any costs associated with disinfecting, or treating, their water.

People who use tap water, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about maintenance costs, but they’ll always have a monthly water bill to pay!

How To Protect Your Water, Regardless Of The Source

Regardless of the type of water you use (well water or city water), your water can be contaminated by hundreds of dangerous and invisible chemicals, metals, and toxins.

As we mentioned before, every private well owner is responsible for testing and cleaning their water. And because that water is exposed to the environment, filtration is essential. 

On the other hand, city water is protected by the government. But public water safety standards are limited. Which means if you drink your tap water as is, you’re at risk of ingesting up to hundreds of dangerous contaminants and pollutants. 

Like all else, filter effectiveness and contaminant removal rates are dependent on your starting point. It’s best to assess your water source and know what contaminants are present in your water before selecting a water filtration system. 

All of our filtration systems  will work with water from any source, but it is important to keep in mind that you may need to replace your filter more often if your water has a high concentration of contaminants.

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