Orchids need water… But what kind of water? Most growers use tap water, but distilled water, filtered water, bottled water and even ice cubes are all recommended too. So which is best?
Can you feed an orchid tap water? You can, so long as you water it in the correct way. Tap water is better than distilled water, because distilled water contains no minerals, so actually takes minerals away from your orchid’s potting mix. Filtered water is cleaner, but whether this is important depends on the quality of tap water where you live. Rain water with orchid food added, bottled water and filtered water are all suitable. You can bathe, shower and/or mist your orchid with clean tap water with no issues.
The guide below starts off by explaining the differences between the kinds of water you can use, from rain water to bottled water and even ice cubes. It then addresses the concerns people have with tap water, like fluoride and chlorine, before looking at the different kinds of water in more depth.
What Is The Best Way to Water an Orchid?
The best way to water an orchid is either by bathing or showering it. Showering is closer to what the orchid would experience in nature, as all wild orchids, of course, get their water when it rains. Bathing is less akin to what wild orchids experience, but ensures that the roots get all the water they need, and is a good way to avoid crown rot.
But whichever method of watering you choose, you’ll need… Water! And the question of which water is best for orchids is one that hasn’t been fully answered yet. Yes, if we were to provide an orchid exactly what it gets in the wild, we would offer rainwater; but as in so many cases, whether with plants or pets, we can provide something better than orchids find in the wild! Here is a list of the kinds of water you can use:
- Rain water. Rain water is naturally distilled water. It’s suitable so long as you add minerals to it. Otherwise, it will leach minerals from your orchid’s potting mix.
- Filtered water. Filtering water takes out pathogens, which makes rot less likely in your orchid’s pot or on its leaves.
- Distilled water. Distilled water, again, is suitable so long as you add orchid food to it. If you don’t then your orchid will have less minerals in its mix than before you watered it.
- Bottled water. Bottled water is fine. Most bottled waters are made from tap water anyway.
- Ice cubes. I don’t recommend ice cubes because they can damage your orchid’s roots on contact. But if there’s space for you to put them, they’re OK.
- Tap water. Tap water is suitable for orchids, and it’s what I use. It typically contains some minerals, meaning it doesn’t rinse away your orchid’s food, and it’s freely available.
As you can see, there’s no one right answer as to which water is best. Each kind of water has its benefits and drawbacks, be it cheaper, more suitable, or more readily available. The rest of this guide looks at each of these kinds of waters in turn, addresses what’s good and what’s bad about each, and then comes to a final conclusion on which we think you should use!
Can You Feed an Orchid Tap Water?
I water my orchids with tap water, and I’ve never had a problem with it. There isn’t anything added into it that seems to cause my orchid problems, nor anything that’s missing from it that my orchids need. That being said, I live somewhere that the tap water is more than suitable for drinking, and not everybody has that luxury. As such, this is something that you may have to decide for yourself.
Is Fluoride in Tap Water Bad for Orchids?
Fluoride can be bad for plants. This was something entirely new to me, that I only discovered when I was researching this guide, but it’s true!
Scientists have noticed something called fluoride toxicity in plants that were irrigated with city water.
To quote the paper:
The symptoms of fluoride toxicity in plants are necrotic regions, especially at the tips and along margins of leaves (Photo 2). Some plants that are more susceptible to fluoride toxicity are monocots, including spider plant, lilies, spikes and dracaena. Furthermore, some of these crops also have long cropping times and therefore will be irrigated with fluorinated water by growers for months, increasing the risk of developing fluoride toxicity.
There are a few caveats to this interesting research, though. The first is that levels of fluoridation differ depending on where you live. Some countries and some cities put far more fluoride into the water than others, so if you live somewhere with only minor or no fluoridation, then this obviously won’t be a problem. As far as I know, there isn’t too much fluoride in my tap water which would explain why I haven’t ever seen this effect.
The paper also says that ‘monocots’ are most affected, and orchids aren’t monocots. Monocots are a kind of plant that produce special kinds of seed. To me, that says that orchids are robust enough that fluoride doesn’t affect them, or at least doesn’t affect them as much as it affects other plants.
What Temperature Should Tap Water Be For an Orchid?
I would recommend having the water at room temperature. I’ve heard some growers say that cold water can be too shocking for orchid roots, and could somehow cause the plant stress. That’s not something I’ve personally seen or experienced, and I’ve never had a problem with cold water when I’ve had to use it.
One problem I can think of is that if you water your orchids in the evening, cold water could make your orchid and its pot too cold overnight. If you left a window open, that problem would be even worse. But I don’t like watering my orchids in the evening no matter what the temperature of the water, so if you water them in the morning like me, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Can You Water an Orchid Straight From the Tap?
Sometimes I use tap water straight from the tap, but most of the time I use a jug of water that I fill up.
The reason I use both is that sometimes I water my orchids but don’t feed them. If I want to feed them, I put a small amount of feed in the jug, fill it up with water, and mix it. But other times, they don’t need food, just water. If that’s the case, I save a little time and water them straight from the tap.
However, there is an argument for allowing your tap water to sit for a while before you feed it to your plants. If you do, it allows the chlorine and fluoride in the water to dissipate, meaning that the water is then arguably ‘purer’. I’ve personally never had a problem feeding my orchid straight from the tap, but if tap water additives are something that concern you, then this is a fairly easy way to deal with them.
If you are going to water your orchid straight from the tap, then there are a couple of points to bear in mind. Don’t have the tap on full blast, as it will spray everywhere and knock some of the potting mix from your orchid’s pot. It won’t break your orchid’s roots in two or anything, but it’s best not to do this, not least because the water spraying around could get into your orchid’s crown and cause crown rot. You can also make sure that the tap water is the right temperature, i.e. around room temperature, which is easy enough if you have a mixer tap. Just don’t let it get warmer and warmer or colder and colder, which could happen if you have an older boiler.
Do Orchids Need Rainwater?
I would say that rainwater is ideal for orchids, albeit not strictly necessary. That’s because rainwater is exactly what your orchid would get in its natural environment. But other kinds of water work well, too, so if you don’t have the time or means to collect rainwater, you don’t have to.
Why Is Rainwater Good for Orchids?
Rainwater is good for orchids because it’s what orchids get in the wild.
One way in which it’s suitable is that it’s sterile. That’s because rainwater is effectively the same as distilled water. Distilled water is made when water is evaporated, typically by boiling, and then collected in a separate container. In doing so, you get rid of any impurities and pathogens (like bacteria, fungus and viruses) in the water. That’s… Exactly how rainwater is made, minus the boiling! As such, so long as it’s stored correctly, rainwater is less likely to cause rot in orchids (although it still can).
Soft vs. Hard Water for Orchids
Another way in which it’s good is that rainwater is ‘soft’ as opposed to ‘hard’. That means it doesn’t have any minerals in it.
The kind of tap water that’s available in your area will be either soft or hard, too. This depends on what happens to the water after it falls, and before it comes from your tap. If it filters through all sorts of rocks in the ground, it picks up minerals as it goes, which aren’t filtered out before the water reaches you. This isn’t a bad thing, as these minerals are safe and natural (like calcium, for example). Soft water is water that doesn’t filter through rocks and soil, so doesn’t have any minerals in it. It therefore stands to reason that rain, as it falls, is soft too.
You can therefore add in the exact minerals that an orchid needs in the form of a feed like Baby Bio, meaning your orchid gets everything it needs and nothing more. This is a good way of controlling how your orchid grows.
Is Rainwater Bad for Orchids?
One of rainwater’s strengths is also a weakness. The fact that rainwater doesn’t contain minerals is both a good and a bad thing: it’s good because you can replace those minerals with the exact ones your orchid craves. But there are consequences if you don’t do that.
The problem is that distilled water is very good at leaching minerals. It’s almost absorbent in the sense that when it encounters minerals, it takes in as many as it can. As such, feeding your orchids distilled water or rainwater can leave its potting mix with less minerals than it had in it before. This is something that can be completely countered by putting a small amount of orchid feed into the rainwater before you use it.
Can You Water an Orchid with Bottled Water?
If you don’t have clean tap water in your area, or your plumbing is broken, then bottled water is a perfectly acceptable substitute. All the brands are broadly the same, differing only in which minerals they contain and in which amounts. Many brands are, in effect, the same thing as tap water anyway as they access water from a mains supply like the rest of us do.
We wouldn’t recommend using bottled water on a regular basis. That’s because it would be too expensive to do so, especially if you have lots of orchids. If I were to use bottled water, I would perhaps end up using a bottle or a bottle and a half on each orchid each time I watered it, and I have around a dozen orchids. That would add up quickly! If you were to use bottled water for misting, too, then that would be even more of an expense.
That being said, I live in the U.K. in an area that has quite nice tap water. If you live somewhere that the tap water is heavily fluoridated, or could potentially be dirty and contaminated, then I completely understand why you might not want to use it. Even then, though, I should think that filtering or boiling the water would be enough to make it suitable for your orchids… And would be a lot cheaper.
Do Orchids Need Filtered Water?
If you’re concerned about additives in tap water, and if leaving it to sit for a while for them to dissipate isn’t good enough for you, then you could consider using a filter. But if you do, you have to be careful that you don’t filter everything out.
Filtering Out Pathogens
One thing that some filters promise is to filter out any bacteria or fungal spores in the water. Not all filters do this, but activated carbon filters do. This obviously isn’t a bad thing, but it’s also not too much of a good thing, as pathogens in tap water aren’t a major issue for your orchid. It’s better for them not to be there, but your orchid’s pot has bacteria in it already, and an open window can let in fungal spores. As such, this isn’t something you need to overly worry about.
Can You Water Orchids With a Brita Filter Jug?
If you are going to water your orchid with filtered water, you can do so straight from the jug. Pour the water into your orchid’s outer pot, just as you would water it with any other kind of water.
Do Orchids Need Distilled Water?
Distilled water has a reputation as being exceptionally pure—and that’s true. It’s literally nothing but water. But water being ‘pure’ isn’t necessarily a good thing, and I wouldn’t recommend using distilled water to water your orchids.
Why Would Orchids Need Distilled Water?
To start with the positives, there are a few reasons why you could consider using distilled water. It’s nothing but water, which means it cannot contain any pathogens if it was made correctly. That means no bacteria, no fungi and no viruses whatsoever will be present in it. It also won’t have any debris in it: dirt or dust of any kind. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s better for these things to not be there than to be there.
But as well as containing no pathogens, distilled water also doesn’t contain any minerals. Water that doesn’t contain minerals can actually leach minerals out of whatever it touches, meaning that your orchid’s potting mix will have fewer minerals in it than it did before you watered it. You can avoid this by putting liquid fertilizer in your distilled water, but that defeats the purpose of distilling it (making it pure). We therefore recommend regular water instead.
Do You Need to Boil Water Before You Water Your Orchid?
If you want to make your own distilled water, it is possible to do so. But it’s not strictly necessary, and adds a lot of work to your orchid care workload.
One way to at least make your water cleaner is to boil it before using it. This kills any fungi, bacteria or viruses that are present in the water. You can do this in your regular pots and pans.
However, this isn’t the same thing as distillation. To distill water, you need to boil it and then collect it in another container. This is easier said than done unless you have specific equipment. You can place a surface above the boiling pot which will collect the water, and so long as it’s sterile, the water that collects on it will remain pure and distilled. If you can then somehow get that to another container, which itself is sterile, then you’ll have pure water you can use.
Can You Use Ice Cubes to Water Orchids?
We don’t recommend using ice cubes to water your orchids. Their supposed benefits, I feel are outweighed by their significant drawbacks.
Are Ice Cubes Good or Bad for Orchids?
Ice cubes aren’t inherently good or inherently bad for your orchids. It depends on how you use them.
The first thing to note is that there’s nothing special about giving your orchid water from ice cubes. The water that the ice melts into will be the exact same water that was frozen to make the ice cube in the first place. And orchids can drink water quickly, as they have to do in the wild if they live on the sides of trees or in very loose medium, so there’s no benefit to using ice that slowly releases water as it melts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t an effective way of watering orchids, just that they aren’t some kind of miracle hack.
There is, though, a significant downside to using ice. This is that something as cold as ice can damage your orchid’s roots on direct contact. This isn’t a problem if there’s space in your orchid’s pot, but if your orchids are anything like mine—with long air roots in the way, and some even with basal keikis—then there probably won’t be much. It’s for that reason that I don’t personally use ice, although many growers seem to find it works. Besides that, it’s also much more effort to freeze water and make ice cubes unless you have an ice cube maker in your fridge, which I don’t.
If you are intent on using them, at least use them safely. Identify a spot in your orchid’s pot where there aren’t any leaves or roots, and which isn’t close to the stem. You can then pop an ice cube or two there each time you notice that your orchid’s potting mix has become dry.