As gardeners we want to provide the very best for our plants, right? Beyond fertilizers and soil amendments, that includes providing pure and clean water. I wanted to learn more about using distilled water for plants. During my research, I found a lot of information you will find useful.
What is Distilled Water?
You see, water is a universal solvent. It’s capable of dissolving more substances than any other liquid on the planet. As a result, it always has something in it. Even the most effective filtration methods won’t remove everything.
The same is true with distilled water. However, the distillation process is incredibly effective at removing the bad stuff.
To create distilled water, treatment centers will heat the water to the point of boiling. This produces steam, which then condenses back to liquid form. That condensed steam is what you see in bottles of distilled water.
The concept behind distilled water is that vaporization leaves impurities behind. Any contaminants in the water don’t vaporize alongside the water. So, the byproduct of the condensed steam is the purest water that’s available to us.
Good and bad, distillation removes a vast majority of what’s in the water.
How Do You Use Distilled Water for Plants?
It’s perfectly safe to use distilled water on your plants. In fact, your plants may experience several benefits. More on that later.
Using distilled water to nourish your plants is the same as using tap water. But, you may want to take a few additionals steps to ensure that your plants are getting everything they need. It’s a good idea to add some water-soluble fertilizer beforehand.
Distillation removes roughly 99.5 percent of all impurities in the water. That includes the good stuff.
Plants need minerals to grow, so it’s a good idea to reinvigorate the water with beneficial nutrients. Water-soluble fertilizers contain healthy nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and more.
Just follow the directions on the package and let the fertilizer crystals dissolve in the water before you feed your plants.
How Do You Make Distilled Water for Plants?
Distilled water is readily available at most grocery stores. Typically, people will buy it to mix with baby formula or use it with certain medical devices.
At the store, it often costs more than standard purified drinking water. If you plan on using it to water your plants, your costs can add up pretty quickly.
Luckily, making your own distilled water at home isn’t difficult at all! There are a few different ways to go about this. Most include supplies you already have lying around.
Using a Pot and a Bowl
This is one of the easiest methods available. All you need is a large pot with a lid, a heat-resistant bowl, and some ice.
Fill your pot about halfway with tap water. Then, float your bowl in the water. Glass bowls work best for this. Avoid any plastic bowls, as they can leach chemicals into the water.
If your bowl won’t float, place a metal cooling rack into the pot to support it.
Now, turn up the heat. As your water heats up to a boil, you can prepare the lid.
Place the lid upside down on top of the pot. It doesn’t have to be ultra-secure. But, you want to trap as much steam in the pot as possible. Once the lid is secure, fill it with ice cubes.
The idea here is that the steam will rise and quickly condense once it hits the cold pot lid. When this happens, the condensed water will collect in the bowl.
Be patient with this distillation method! It can take roughly 13 hours of boiling and constant refills to get a gallon of water.
If you want to get scientific with it, you can distill water as chemists do. For this technique, you’ll need a heating mantle and a distillation flask.
Distillation flasks have a unique shape that you can’t miss. They have a similar shape to your standard laboratory flask. But, a long neck protrudes from the side of it.
Fill the distillation flask with water and place it on the heating mantle. Plug up the top ventilation hole and have another receptacle ready to collect the distilled water from the side neck.
When the water starts boiling, the steam will rise. It’s unable to escape due to the plug on the top. So, the steam has no choice but to travel through the sidearm where it will condensate.
You can also find retort distillation flasks. They operate the same way as a standard distillation flask. But, many don’t have a top vent, making the process a bit simpler.
The last method is, by far, the most efficient. Bottling companies often use enormous distillation machines to create large batches of clean water at a time. However, you can easily buy a machine for small-scale applications.
Home distillation machines work the same way as bigger ones. They have a reservoir to heat the water and a system to collect the condensed steam. You don’t have to go through the various steps that you would with other methods. Just fill up the machine and turn it on!
Before you know it, you’ll have some clean distilled water to use for your plants.
Should You Use Distilled Water for Plants?
When it comes to using distilled water for your plants, there are some advantages and disadvantages to mull over.
Some gardeners swear by distilled water. Others see how it could potentially affect the development of the plant.
Before you start using distilled water, here are some pros and cons to think about.
Let’s look at some of the good distilled water can do.
The biggest benefit of distilled water is that it lacks all of the potentially harmful contaminants in your tap. I’m not talking about the obvious bacteria and viruses. I’m talking about the chemicals that come with water treatment.
Treatment plants work to make your water safe and potable. To do that, they often utilize chemicals like chlorine, algicides, muriatic acid, and sodium bicarbonate.
Plants can have negative reactions to those chemicals. This is especially true when they have the chance to accumulate in the soil.
Chlorine toxicity, in particular, is a common issue that many gardeners have to deal with.
Even if you’re using well water and water softener, the liquid coming from your tap could have high levels of sodium and potassium. Those minerals are essential for the overall health of the plant. But too much could result in developmental problems.
Distilling water gets rid of all of those chemicals and dissolved minerals. It also neutralizes the pH balance.
Soil can become too alkaline or too acidic because of the contaminants it contains. If your plants have access to rainwater or runoff, the pH balance can experience some dramatic changes.
Distilled water starts off pretty neutral, which is good for maintaining the pH levels of the soil. However, it will quickly go acidic. With exposure to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the pH balance of the water will lower.
You can use this to your advantage to balance out alkali soils. The acidity of distilled water isn’t major, so you can safely neutralize the soil over time with regular waterings.
As I mentioned earlier, distillation removes most contaminants in the water. This includes all of the good things your plant needs to thrive.
Many refer to distilled water as “dead water” because the purifying process strips it of all the beneficial nutrients and minerals.
Your plants need potassium, magnesium, and calcium to build new cells.
While distilled water lacks all of those essentials, it’s not difficult to add them. You can use water-soluble fertilizers to replenish the minerals and nutrients.
Using pure distilled water on its own can be problematic and result in stunted growth. But, adding fertilizer to the mix will ensure that your plants are getting everything they need without all of the harmful extras.
Why Distilled Water is Better Than Tap Water
Ultimately, the benefits of using distilled water for your plants greatly outweigh the negatives! As long as you’re infusing some minerals and nutrients into the water before you use it, your plants will fare much better with distilled water.
There are a couple of notable problems with standard tap water. It all comes down to the soil.
For the most part, plants do a pretty good job of avoiding harmful contaminants. After all, soil is one of the best water filters on the planet! Plants take full advantage of soil’s abilities to cling onto contaminants it doesn’t need.
But eventually, the soil is going to reach its breaking point.
As your plants drink water, they will leave behind most of the contaminants in tap water. As a result, the soil will start accumulating chemicals, minerals, pesticides, and a litany of harmful substances.
At some point, the soil will become so saturated with the bad stuff in tap water that it affects the plant. It prevents the plant from absorbing what it needs.
According to the University Of Saskatchewan Department of Plant Sciences, continued exposure to tap water puts plants at risk. It exposes them to harmful levels of salt, magnesium, and calcium.
The ill-effects of tap water take time to rear their ugly heads. Oftentimes, those contaminants can wash away with heavy rain. This buys you some time, but it won’t prevent contaminant accumulation forever.
If you’re growing plants in a greenhouse or hydroponic system, your tap water will only affect the plants sooner.
Urban gardeners encounter issues pretty quickly because there’s no chance for the contaminants to wash away. Contaminant buildup becomes inevitable when using tap water.
For hydroponics systems, there’s no soil at all to filter out tap water. So, your tap water can negatively affect your plants from the jump!
For both greenhouse growing and hydroponic gardening, distilled water is a must. Distilled water lacks harmful contaminants. Thus, it prevents buildup and ensures that your plants are getting everything they need.
Spring Water vs. Distilled Water for Plants
Using distilled water offers a lot of benefits and can help your plants flourish. But, it’s not the very best type of water you can use.
If you have access to spring water, it may be a better option than distilled water.
I’m not talking about the so-called “spring water” from bottled water. I’m talking about the water that flows from a natural underground aquifer up to the surface.
There are natural springs all over the world. Some regions have hundreds of them for easy access. The state of Florida, for example, has the highest convergence of natural springs in the world!
Spring water is pure at its source. The water can become contaminated once it flows through rivers and streams. But if you’re able to collect the water close to the exit point of the spring, you can take advantage of its nutrient and mineral-rich content.
Those minerals are all-natural. Many beverage companies collect spring water from aquifers. Then, they’ll add extra minerals for more health benefits. The final product is mineral water.
It can be beneficial, too. But, there’s always the risk of unnatural additives.
Nothing beats pure spring water.
Water in the aquifer system that feeds springs is very clean and pure. Almost no bacteria live in aquifers, making it cleaner than any natural water source on the Earth’s surface.
Before the water flows out of a spring, it travels through rocks and absorbs trace minerals. It’s untreated and contains none of the potentially harmful chemicals in tap water.
Generally, plants fed with springs water experience faster growth rates and better overall health.
The biggest difference between spring water and distilled water is the mineral content. While distillation removes most of the minerals, spring water is rich with them. Not only that, but it doesn’t have the contaminants that distillation aims to remove.
Before we get into that, you have to understand what distilled water actually is.
Is Boiled Water Distilled Water?
Simple boiled water is not the same as distilled water. This is a common misconception that many people have.
When you distill water, you’re collecting condensed steam. Therein lies the key difference. Distillation requires changing the form of the water from a liquid to a gas. This is what’s known as vaporization.
Vaporization transforms the water on a molecular level. As the water reaches its boiling point, the heat breaks the hydrogen bond of the water molecules. As a result, those water molecules can escape from the liquid as a gas.
This is the steam you see rising from the pot.
As water changes form, it cannot take contaminants with it. They’re left behind in the pot, making the condensation ultra-clean.
How Boiled Water is Different
Boiling water offers many good benefits, too. But, those benefits won’t help your plants very much.
The boiling process is more about sanitization than anything else. The heat created during the boiling process kills off most disease-causing bacteria and parasites.
Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 100 degrees Celsius. Most germs will die with exposure to temperatures around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not the case with all bacteria, as some spores will need more than 250 degrees to die. But, boiling will take care of most of the harmful stuff that could affect your health.
All that said, boiled water does not get rid of chemicals or minerals. All of that stays behind. No matter how much you boil it, there’s no way to “kill” trace elements or chemicals. You have to filter them out.
Can You Use Boiled Water on Plants?
If you’re worried about fungal spores or bacteria harming your plant, it’s perfectly fine to hydrate them with boiled water. Boiled water could benefit sensitive plants that are easily affected by disease-causing bacteria.
Just make sure that the water has enough time to cool down to room temperature. Using scorching hot water will instantly kill the plant.