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What is Sparkling Water?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sparkling water is water that contains carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide gas, whether naturally occurring or introduced on purpose to create an effervescent drink. Sparkling waters are often consumed on their own and can be served either plain or with a twist of lemon or lime as garnish. They may also be used as the base for various cocktails or sodas, and are sometimes recommended as a home remedy for an upset stomach.

Mineral Varieties

Mineral water is often touted as the original sparkling water because it occurs naturally in mountain springs and has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. In ages past, mineral springs were popular places of healing and rejuvenation. People often visited to soak in or drink the waters on the belief that it would cure them of a variety of different ailments. Some mineral springs still offer spa-type services, but a number have transitioned over to more streamlined production activities. Modern bottling and manufacturing processes have enabled drink companies to siphon water out of natural mineral springs for sale to the general public.

In addition to natural bubbles, most mineral water also includes trace amounts of a number of different inorganic compounds such as potassium, calcium carbonate, and sodium sulfate. The precise composition varies depending on the soil and rocks at the source spring.

Man-Made Seltzers and Sodas

The energy and precision needed to mine and bottle mineral water can be costly, which is often reflected in the water’s sale price. Innovators in Central Europe created what is today known most commonly as “seltzer water” to be a lower-cost alternative. Seltzer water is basically any sort of tap water that has been infused with carbon dioxide gas. Individual seltzer waters can be made with hand-held gas pumps; modern mass-production more often forces the gas into the water mechanically through calibrated hoses or pump chambers.

Club Soda, a close cousin to seltzer water, is produced in a very similar way. The primary difference lies in composition, as most club sodas are supplemented with minerals. Some people say that the minerals give soda water a more “authentic,” natural taste — but a roughly equal number say they can detect no difference between seltzer and soda.


Flavored sparkling water beverages are popular in many places. Depending on the manufacturer, these flavors can be either natural or artificial. Natural flavors often come across more as an essence than a distinct flavor profile, and are generally meant to add complexity without sweetness. Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are usually intended make the water a more attractive alternative to sugary sodas. Most are made with a range of sweetening agents to provide a bolder, more identifiable taste.

Tonic Water Exclusion

It is not uncommon to group tonic water into the larger sparkling water category, and to some degree this makes sense — tonic is carbonated, and contains mostly water. It also contains quinine, however, along with often significant amounts of sugar. As such, while tonic water is related to and made from sparkling water, it is usually considered a category of its own.

Use in Bar Tending and Drink Making

Plenty of people enjoy sparkling water as a stand-alone beverage, but this is not its only use. Seltzer and club soda are often used in bar tending, either as a direct mixer or as a way to lighten up an otherwise sweet, syrupy cocktail. Mineral water can certainly be used for these purposes, but its higher price point usually means that it is reserved for stand-alone use.

Sparkling water of the seltzer variety is also heavily used in soda fountains. Many restaurants purchase soda as a syrup from the manufacturer, which they mix with seltzer on-site to create fresh drinks when ordered. This both saves space and money, as the syrup is more compact and has a longer shelf life than premixed drinks.

Possible Health Benefits and Concerns

The bubbles in sparkling waters are often believed to aid in digestion and help settle upset stomachs. Medical professionals will often recommend that people with sensitive digestive systems sip a bit of bubbly water with meals to prevent irritation.

Some more controversial reports have purported to link sparkling water consumption to loss of bone density and tooth decay. The scientific community generally agrees that excessive amounts of carbon gas will draw calcium out of human bones and possibly erode the enamel on teeth — however, the volumes needed to see real results far exceed anything a normal person could realistically drink. People with particular bone or tooth disorders should usually talk to a medical expert before consuming vast quantities of bubbly water, but in most other cases moderate consumption is considered entirely safe.

Uses Around the House

Sparkling water can also be used as a home remedy for stain removal, though it is most effective on fresh blemishes. The bubbles in the water often help get beneath the stain and prevent it from setting. A bit of mild soap and a lot of scrubbing is almost always required, too, but using the water first is often a lot better for fabrics, and can in many cases eliminate the need for harsh chemicals.

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Discussion Comments
By christym — On Jul 17, 2010

@gardenturtle: There are different price ranges for seltzer bottles, depending on what kind you get. They make aluminum, glass, and stainless steel. On the average, you will pay anywhere from $45 to $100. I paid $65 for mine 4 years ago and I’ve never had any problems with it.

The charges are approximately $45 for a box of 10. After the initial investment of the seltzer bottle, you average about $.45 cents for a liter of seltzer.

For me, it is well worth it!

By GardenTurtle — On Jul 17, 2010

@snowywinter: That sounds like an expensive process! Do you have an approximate cost on all of this?

By SnowyWinter — On Jul 17, 2010

@wesley91: Yes, you can certainly make your own sparkling (seltzer) water at home. All you need is a seltzer bottle (also known as a soda syphon) and soda chargers.

The seltzer bottle typically holds about 1 or 2 liters of water. They resemble a thermos bottle and they have a spray mechanism in the lid. The chargers do the work for you. Soda chargers are canisters of pressurized carbon dioxide. The charger fits in to the spray head either by screwing in or snapping on. All you have to do is press the plunger and you have your sparkling water!

By wesley91 — On Jul 17, 2010

Does anyone know if you can make your own sparkling water at home?

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