Distilled water is a common ingredient called for in many recipes, craft projects, automotive applications, and more. However, you may not always have distilled water on hand when you need it. The good news is that there are several easy substitutes you can use instead of distilled water in a pinch.
Why Do Recipes Call for Distilled Water?
Before looking at substitutes, it helps to understand what makes distilled water different than regular tap water. Distilled water is created by boiling water and condensing the steam back into liquid water. This process removes impurities, minerals, chemicals, and salts from the water. The result is pure H2O without anything else dissolved in it.
Recipes call for distilled water when impurities or minerals in tap water could negatively affect the chemistry of a recipe. For example, minerals in tap water can prevent dough from rising properly or create unwanted flavors in delicate foods. Using pure distilled water avoids potential problems.
7 Substitutes for Distilled Water
When you don’t have any distilled water on hand, try using one of these convenient substitutes:
1. Boiled Water
Boiling tap water is an easy way to temporarily remove chlorine and dissolved minerals. Simply bring water to a rolling boil for 5-10 minutes, then allow it to cool. Use boiled water in place of distilled water in recipes and for tasks like ironing clothes.
2. Filtered Water
Pouring tap water through a filter removes most impurities and chemicals. Carbon filters, pitcher filters like Brita, refrigerator water filters, and faucet-mounted filters are all good options. Filtered water makes a great substitute for distilled water.
3. Steam from Boiling Water
Collecting and condensing steam from boiling water mimics the distillation process. Hold a metal bowl or pan above a pot of vigorously boiling water, collecting the steam. Then let the steam condense back into liquid water in the bowl. Use this distilled steam water in place of store-bought distilled water.
4. Sterilized or Previously Boiled Water
Water that has previously been sterilized or boiled makes a good stand-in for distilled water. For example, boiling water sterilizes it, so cooled boiled water from cooking vegetables, pasta, etc can be repurposed. Sterilized water sold for use in steam irons, humidifiers, or medical equipment is also very pure.
5. Melted Ice Cubes
Using leftover melted ice cubes is an easy way to get pure water. Since most impurities and minerals are left behind when water freezes, melted ice cubes are similar to distilled water. Just don’t use cubes made with tap water that used an ice machine – opt for cubes made with filtered water.
6. Rainwater or Snowmelt
Freshly collected rainwater or snowmelt contains very few impurities, making it a natural alternative to distilled water. Collect rain in clean containers or boil freshly melted snow. Use immediately to avoid contamination from bacteria.
7. Bottled or Purified Drinking Water
Bottled water that is labeled as distilled, purified, or demineralized is the closest you can get to true distilled water. Spring water and artesian water may also work. Avoid mineral water, sparkling water or tap water. Check labels and only use bottled waters with very low mineral contents.
When to Avoid Substituting Distilled Water
While the above substitutes work in a pinch, there are certain applications where it’s best to use true distilled water:
- Automotive applications like batteries
- Steam irons and humidifiers
- CPAP machines and medical equipment
- Chemistry experiments or sensitive chemical processes
The minerals and impurities in tap water and boiled water could negatively affect these sensitives processes. For these, it’s recommended to use genuine distilled water or deionized water.
How to Make Your Own Distilled Water
You can make true distilled water at home with some simple equipment. Here are two methods:
This easy method only requires a large pot with a lid and a metal bowl.
- Boil clean tap water in the pot and place the metal bowl on top, inverted.
- The bowl will collect pure steam which will condense into distilled water due to the temperature difference.
- Remove the bowl and pour the collected distilled water into a clean glass container.
For greater efficiency, use a purpose-built home still. Options include:
- Simple pot still: Heats and condenses water in a self-contained unit. Yields small amounts of pure distilled water.
- Counter-top water distiller: Plugs into an electric outlet for easy distillation. Makes up to 1 gallon per day.
- Alcohol distillation still: Designed for distilling spirits, but can also produce high-purity distilled water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use tap water instead of distilled water?
It’s best to avoid regular untreated tap water as a substitute where recipes call for distilled water. The minerals and chemicals could negatively impact the recipe. Treating tap water via boiling, filtering, or condensing steam removes impurities so it functions more like distilled water.
Is deionized or demineralized water the same as distilled?
Deionized and demineralized water have been treated to remove minerals, making them nearly identical to distilled water. They can be used interchangeably in most applications calling for distilled water.
Can I use vinegar instead of distilled water?
No, vinegar is a poor substitute for distilled water and should be avoided. The acetic acid in vinegar can react with ingredients in unexpected ways. Vinegar has entirely different properties and chemistry compared to pure water.
What about using rubbing alcohol or vodka instead of distilled water?
Again, liquids like rubbing alcohol and vodka should never be used as a distilled water substitute. These contain alcohols, sugars, and other dissolved compounds. They will not produce the same results as pure water in recipes or chemical processes.
With so many easy methods to produce your own or find pure water, there’s no need to skip recipes or projects calling for distilled water. Boiling tap water, using filtered water, collecting rainwater or snowmelt, and making DIY distilled water all offer convenient workarounds. Just don’t substitute liquids like vinegar, alcohol, or vodka which have completely different properties compared to pure H2O.