Dear Ace: Why does water taste bad when it’s been sitting around for a while? (Especially true in a plastic bottle or closed container.)—Horatio Algae
Horatio: Fascinating beverage question! First, let Ace rule out the obvious. Are you sure you’re drinking from the same glass? Does the water taste fishy? Could you possibly have picked up the goldfish bowl instead? Likewise, could someone have tampered with your water while you were waiting around for it to get old? The last time Ace remembers his beverage’s flavor changing was at a college party, but that could’ve been backwash-related. He woke up in a strange bed with a fierce headache, but at the time that was par for the course.
Because Ace is an expert on beverages in the following order—whiskey, vodka, beer, mouthwash, 7Up—he invited some local H2O bottlers to weigh in on this question. Taking their answers under advisement, Ace concluded that a few different things could be happening here. One, and most likely, your perception of the water’s taste changed when the temperature went from cold to lukewarm. Most people prefer water when it’s cold because it seems more refreshing. Another possibility is that your water was exposed to air or dust pollutants, but a closed water bottle would not be contaminated. Was your water bottle sitting in the sun? If the water hadn’t been treated with chlorine like municipal water, it might have grown—you guessed it—algae. Lastly, some studies have shown that over time and repeated usage, chemicals like BPA in plastic No. 7 and PET in plastic No. 1 bottles can leach into water, with possible physiological side effects. But unless your tongue is a scientist, you should not be able to detect the chemical flavor.
Ace would like to transition this question into a subject that he knows better—beer. What tastes better, cold or warm beer? The chemical composition doesn’t change with minor fluctuations in temperature, but Ace knows what tastes better on a hot day. And he’s not throwing ice cubes in his glass of Cabernet Sauvignon either. If you don’t like the way room temperature water tastes, drink it cold or throw a lemon wedge in it. Better yet, do what Ace does and mix it with Scotch.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 20 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.