The Difference Between Sparkling Water, Seltzer, Club Soda, Mineral and Tonic Water

Hilarity for Charity's 5th Annual Los Angeles Variety Show: Seth Rogen's Halloween
Getty Images | Randy Shropshire

Ask for sparkling water in a restaurant and you’re bound to get a follow-up question on exactly what kind of bubbly water you want. Perrier? Club soda? Seltzer? Mineral water? Or do you want tonic? You can hardly blame your waiter—artificially carbonated water first became available in the late 17th century, and we’ve been confused about effervescence ever since.

It’s time to clear up the confusion about carbonated drinks once and for all! Here’s the only guide to bubbles, fizzes and sparkling drinks you’ll ever need:

Sparking/Bubbly/Fizzy/Carbonated Water

These are all general names for water with carbonation in it.

A brief science lesson:

Carbonated water forms when you dissolve carbon dioxide (CO2) in water (H2O) via high pressure, creating carbonic acid (H2CO3) in the process. Carbonic acid is why fizzy water has that tingly “bite” to it.

A can or bottle of bubbly water goes flat the longer it’s left open because the carbon dioxide gas escapes into the air.

The colder your water is when you add carbon dioxide to it, the fizzier it will get. This is because colder liquids take in more gas. So drink your carbonated water of choice at an extra cold temperature for the fizziest mouthfeel.

Today, experts often champion sparkling water as a healthy alternative to soda, its sugary sister in carbonation, according to ABC News. In addition to being calorie-free, sparkling water is also better for your teeth than cola. So pop open another La Croix!

Now for some more specific sparkling water terms.

la croix photo
Getty Images | Randy Shropshire

Soda Water

Soda water is one of the original words used to describe carbonated water. And the original inventor of artificially carbonated water was an English chemist named Joseph Priestly.

Today “soda water” is used interchangeably to describe seltzer or club soda.

Old fashioned soda water ad

Seltzer Water

Seltzer water by its definition is carbonated water. Full stop. No added salt or other minerals, just pure fizzy water. So when you’re using your SodaStream to add bubbles to tap water, you’re making seltzer. And long before SodaStream, there were seltzer bottles for your bar cart.

The term “seltzer” itself used to be a brand name. Its namesake is the German town of Selters (or Niederselters) with its famous, naturally carbonated springs.

seltzer water photo
Flickr | JeepersMedia

Club Soda

You might know that club soda is: a) bubbly and b) your mother’s favorite emergency stain fighter. But how is it different that seltzer?

Unlike seltzer (plain bubbly water), club soda is carbonated water with artificially added solids and minerals, like sodium chloride (aka salt), sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda), and other sodium and potassium salts. These additives counterbalance the acidity in fizzy water caused by the carbonic acid we talked about up top. They also imitate the mineral flavor that exists in natural mineral water.

The name “club soda” was trademarked in Britain in 1877 by beverage company Cantrell & Cochrane. It’s trademark free outside of the U.K.

club soda

Mineral Water

You can create artificial, carbonated mineral water (see club soda). But the term “mineral water” generally means naturally occurring water that has minerals like calcium, sodium and magnesium in it.

The Food and Drug Administration defines mineral water as coming from an underground water source with “at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids.” The water’s minerals must exist naturally and not be added later.

Mineral water can also have natural fizziness (examples: Perrier or San Pellegrino) or be still (example: Acqua Panna).

pellegrino photo
Getty Images | Noam Galai

Tonic Water

Tonic water gets its slightly bitter taste from quinine. Quinine, an alkaloid extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, was an early treatment for malaria. That’s why this bubbly water got its “tonic” label. But you probably know it best from ordering a gin and tonic.

Fun fact: tonic water glows blue under black light thanks to the phosphorescence of quinine.

schweppes photo
Flickr | influenZia

Curious about the different types of bottled water? The FDA has a good summary.

Looking for the best sparkling water? Thrillist, Los Angeles Magazine, Food52 and Skillet all have taste test lists. Happy drinking!

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About the Author
Anna Weaver
Anna Weaver is a writer and multimedia journalist from Hawaii. Her two young kids keep her on her toes and hooked on online shopping. Anna’s also a fan of movies, reading, photography, and sharing far too many IG stories about cute dogs and capybaras.

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