They’re all fizzy.

And they’re all water.

But what’s with all these names? Are they regional variations, or are there actual differences?

Let’s find out.

water bubbles on the side of a drinking glass
Taken by S. McCutcheon via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Here are the differences between club soda vs seltzer, carbonated water vs sparkling water, and every variation therein:

Carbonated Water

Carbonated water is simply still water into which has been added carbon dioxide. The process of adding and diffusing carbon dioxide into still water (or flat water) is called carbonation, and it’s usually the cause of bubbles in any effervescent beverage. Carbonation may happen both naturally and artificially.

Each water type we discuss today is a form of carbonated water or is made with carbonated water as its main ingredient.

Joseph Priestley, the English man credited with discovering oxygen, invented carbonated water and the first process of artificial carbonation back in 1767, though he took five years to publish a paper on it. Based on Priestly’s discover, Swiss watchmaker Johann Jacob Schweppe invented the first process to bottle carbonated mineral water. He founded his brand Schweppes in 1783, and it is still one of the foremost brands in carbonated beverages today, almost a quarter of a millennium later.

The term carbonated applies now to all beverages which have an effervescent quality, though they may use other gases now. For example, some beers, particularly stouts, use nitrogen gas to create far smaller bubbles, allowing the foam created after a pour (the head) to be thicker, almost like a paste.

Sparkling Water

Sparkling water, also known as sparkling mineral water, is water which is found in natural springs and is naturally carbonated due to the presence of various minerals. The term sparkling, in this case, refers to the effervescent or carbonated quality, rather than plain old mineral water which is still.

Natural carbonation may occur in mineral water in springs due to the presence of such minerals as salts and sulfurs. Common ingredients in sparkling water include sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, sodium chloride, and disodium phosphate.

The most well-known brands of sparkling water include Perrier and San Pellegrino, though San Pellegrino often adds to the natural carbonation with additional artificial carbonation. Sparkling mineral waters are usually more expensive, due to its being bottled at the source spring, and less fizzy when compared to artificially carbonated waters.

These days, however, the term sparkling water is often used as a synonym to carbonated water.

Seltzer Water

Seltzer water is water which is artificially carbonated without any extra additive minerals. When you think of a carbonated water, seltzer water is the purest of the bunch.

An interesting fact to note is that seltzer water gets its name from the village of Selters, in Hesse, Germany. Selters and its surrounding area are known for its sparkling natural mineral water springs and its high concentration of sodium bicarbonate. Selters is also a brand name for the major supplier of water from the Selters region. However, Selters water is not seltzer water as defined above.

Club Soda

Club soda is water which has been both artificially carbonated and infused with minerals artificially. Essentially, club soda is the human-made equivalent of sparkling mineral water.

The word soda comes from sodium, which is the source of much of the minerals and carbonation in a club soda (e.g., sodium chloride, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate). Club soda is often known also as soda water. When the popular sugar-infused soft drink (think Pepsi and Coke) sprang up in popularity, the name soda stuck around.

Popular brands of club soda include LaCroix, Schweppes, Canada Dry, and Seagram’s.

LaCroix club soda carbonated water beverage image
Taken by M. Botsford via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Tonic Water

Tonic water is a beverage containing carbonated water, sugar, and quinine. It is more similar to a soda such as Pepsi, but because its name includes the word “water,” it is sometimes confused with the other waters above.

Tonic water is sweet, thanks to the inclusion of sugar, or, more likely, high fructose corn syrup. However, it is also known for its bitter taste, and that’s due to quinine. Quinine was originally used to treat malaria by the British in India, which is why tonic water is known as both Indian tonic water and tonic, in general. Quinine was so bitter that the British in India mixed in soda water and sugar to help them wash it down, which is the origin of tonic water today.

Common popular tonic water brands include Schweppes and Canada Dry.


So, there you have it! Hopefully now you better understand the differences related to tonic water vs seltzer water vs soda water vs carbonated water vs sparkling water, and so on. Got any questions? Let’s chat below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Want some more difference-busters? Check out these articles from our What’s the Difference? category:

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