Brian Campbell is the founder of WaterFilterGuru.com, where he blogs about all things water quality. His passion for helping people get access to clean, safe water flows through the expert industry coverage he provides. Follow him on twitter @WF_Guru or contact him by email [email protected].
May 17, 2021

What Are Water Distillers & How Do They Work?

Breaking down water distillers, how they work, what contaminants they remove & more

how to distill water
Photo credit: Irina Burakova / http://stock.adobe.com

One of the most affordable and widely-available water purification solutions is distillation. Water distillation dates right back to the Ancient Egyptian times, but it is only in recent decades that easy-use, compact countertop systems have been presented as an option for at-home use. 

This guide will serve as an introduction to water distillation, outlining the basics of a water distiller: how it works, what contaminants it removes, and its most popular uses.

RELATED: How to Distill Water

What is a Water Distiller?

A water distiller is a machine that purifies water by removing more than 99.9% of contaminants, including chemicals, heavy metals, microorganisms and sediment. While design may vary, a typical water distiller consists of a boiling chamber, a cooling system and a separate storage tank.  

How Does a Water Distiller Work?

Distillation is a fairly simple scientific process. 

Water is added to the boiling chamber, and the machine is plugged into a power source and switched on. The boiling chamber will then heat up to water’s boiling point. 

Water evaporates into steam and rises up into the cooling system. Here, it passes down a sloping corridor, where it condenses and drips into a clean container. 

The majority of contaminants do not have the same boiling point as water. That means that when water is heated in the boiling chamber, the contaminants cannot evaporate alongside the H20 particles. 

They are left behind in the boiling chamber, and once the distillation process has finished, they are cleared away when the chamber is washed out. 

water are water distillers

What Contaminants Does a Water Distiller Remove?

A water distiller removes a broad range of contaminants, including organic compounds, heavy metals like lead, chemicals like chlorine, microorganisms like bacteria, hardness minerals, dissolved salts, and almost every other impurity commonly found in drinking water. 

What makes the distillation process unique is that it can remove contaminants of all sizes, from tiny viruses to large particles of suspended sediment. 

There are a couple of contaminants that can convert to gas with water, namely benzene and VOCs. Most distillers use a small activated carbon filter at the spout, which removes these contaminants as water drips down into the holding container. 

What is Distilled Water Used For?

At home, distilled water can be used for topping up steam irons, adding to car batteries, filling aquariums and cleaning. 

Distilled water is also widely used industrially, medically and scientifically. 

Because distilled water is completely purified, it contains no contaminants that could affect the integrity of science experiments, leave behind unwanted residue, or interact with ingredients in products or medications. 

This makes it a much safer, cleaner alternative to unfiltered tap water. 

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What Are the Benefits of Using a Water Distiller?

100% Pure Water

The distillation process offers guaranteed pure water no matter what. While with a water filter, there are factors that could affect the quality of filtration, a distiller is very consistent, and will deliver total contaminant removal throughout its lifespan. 

No Installation

A huge bonus of distillers is that they do not require installation. They are shipped pre-installed and ready to use, so all you need to do is plug the system in and switch it on. 

Worthy Investment

If you are considering buying a water filter to cut down on your bottled water use, a distiller is a great option. The upfront cost is pretty affordable, and it costs virtually nothing to maintain, too.

Are There Disadvantages of Water Distillers?

Water Tastes Flat 

Distillers remove all water impurities, including the minerals that give water a pleasant alkaline taste. Many people think that distilled water tastes flat, so if you enjoy the taste of mineral water, you may need to purchase mineral drops or consider an alternative to distillation. 

Slow Production Rate

A distiller literally purifies water drop-by-drop, so distillation is by no means a fast process. It can take upwards of four hours to produce a single 1-gallon batch of distilled water. 

Uses Electricity To Operate

One ongoing cost of a distiller to be aware of is its electrical output. Because water distillers need energy to heat water up over several hours at a time, they are not the most energy-efficient water purification solutions available.

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How to Maintain a Water Distiller

Water distillers require very little maintenance, but it is important to clean the system regularly and replace the activated carbon filter when necessary to ensure it can work at its optimum. 

Over time, minerals and impurities will build up in the distiller’s boiling chamber, which will eventually affect the performance of the system. Bacteria and algae may also grow in the chamber without regular cleaning. 

It is recommended to clean your distiller’s boiling chamber after every distillation cycle. 

To do this, switch off the machine and remove the lid off the boiling chamber. Add a quarter-cup white vinegar to your kitchen sink, then fill it with warm water and soak the lid for a few hours. 

While the lid soaks, add a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar to the boiling chamber and leave it to sit overnight. The next morning, pour out the water-vinegar mix and rinse thoroughly with warm water. Wash the lid if you have not already, then let the machine air-dry before you use it again. 

Alternatives to Water Distillers

If you like the idea of pure water but you are looking for a more immediate result, it is worth considering reverse osmosis or ultrafiltration. 

Reverse Osmosis Systems

Reverse osmosis systems use multiple stages of filtration, including a semi-permeable membrane, to filter contaminants of all sizes out of water. They can be installed underneath your sink, directly onto your cold water line, to provide clean, filtered water almost instantly. Because reverse osmosis systems use multiple filters, you will pay more to maintain this system than you would for a distiller. 

Ultrafiltration Systems

Ultrafiltration systems are under-sink multi-stage filters, a bit like reverse osmosis filters. They are capable of removing a broad range of contaminants, from viruses to lead and chemicals. The ultrafiltration process typically is not as thorough or effective as reverse osmosis or distillation, however.

About the author

Brian Campbell founder for WaterFilterGuru.com. Campbell can be reached at [email protected].

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