How to clean your water bottles properly

Most of us have a large collection of water bottles and reservoirs around the house. I do my best to rinse and wash each bottle after every use, but notice that after awhile the bottles become moldy, especially along the seams where the lid screws on.  The type and amount of residue or mould will also depend on the levels of minerals in the water you use. We have hard water where I live, so the water is very high in minerals. I have to scrape out the calcium deposits from the tea kettle on a weekly basis, and the deposits are as thick and tough as rock by that time. This residue of course also ends up on the inside of bottles and bladders, and builds up if not washed out regularly. So what is the best way to keep these bottles clean? Here is what the experts say.

Plastic water bottle

A bottle such as Nalgene is definitely one of the most common water bottles used today. Putting it in the dishwasher is okay, as long as you leave it on the top rack. It’s important to keep it as far away from the heating element as possible to avoid melting the lid. You can also wash it with soap and water, which is what I do.  A long brush to get in the bottle and give the inside a good scrub with soap should be done too, and a good scrub along where the lid screws on and on the inside of the lid itself. Those little grooves have a tendency to collect dirt and gunk, and should be cleaned with a scrub brush every time.

If you’ve left juice or drink mix accidentally in the bottle for a few days, soak the Nalgene for a few hours or overnight with a tablespoon of baking soda before you clean it. Vinegar will also work. This will keep the smells from penetrating the plastic.

Stainless Steel water bottle

These days, stainless steel, vacuum insulated bottles like the Hydroflask are very popular. Some are dishwasher safe and some are not.  You might want to check with the manufacturers recommendations, but the most popular ones, Klean Kanteen and Yeti’s are dishwasher safe while Hydroflask are not. Try to use unscented dish soap if washing in the sink to avoid leaving any taste residue. 

Cycling bottle

Keeping water bottles for cycling clean is generally the same as for Nalgene bottles. You can throw these in the dishwasher as long as they are kept far away from the heating element to avoid heat morphing.  Consider using the top rack of the dishwasher. It’s harder to get a brush in these bottles because the neck is so tapered, so if you do need to scrub in there, put something abrasive inside the bottle that can be dumped out. For example, rice will work well. Add some soap to the water, shake it up with some rice and rinse. You should do this if you leave a drink mix in there too long as the plastic is thin (much thinner than a Nalgene) and will pick up smells faster.

Be sure to keep those cycling bottles and bladders clean.

Hydration bladder or water reservoir

I am definitely guilty of not emptying and cleaning my water reservoir regularly. This is something you should do every time after use: simply drain the water and wipe the inside of the bladder with a cloth or paper towel, then leave the lid open so the inside of the bladder can dry out somewhat.  The people at CamelBak even recommend storing your bladder in the freezer!  This is because the cold temperatures inhibit the growth of any bacteria or mould, and will keep your bladder sanitized. Roll it up before you store it. 

Generally, we recommend that only water be kept in these reservoirs, but of course some of us use water bags and wine bags, which we fill with sugary liquids that tend to leave a sticky residue and colour. These have the extra added complexity of the hose as well, and so it’s important that they must be thoroughly cleaned each time. You can do the same as for bottles: use a tablespoon of bleach, vinegar or baking soda with a litre of hot water.

You can also use special cleaning tablets, which are made by CamelBak. To make sure you clean the bite valve and hose, run the solution through the entire system – through the tube and drain out the bite valve – and leave it to sit and soak for a half hour. Drain and rinse with hot water. Consider adding a small bit of lemon or lime juice with a little bit of water, this will freshen the taste of the water coming out of the bladder. Make sure you run this lemon/lime juice through the hose and bite valve. Dry everything as before. 

To make it easier to clean that reservoir, you can also get one of these convenient cleaning kits, such as this one from CamelBak.

Be a clean freak

Keeping things clean, from your food preparation to clothing keeps germs away and also helps gear last longer. Read our other blogs how to keep outdoorsy things clean, from merino wool to down jackets and sleeping bags



Alicja is an economist, enjoys climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, cycling and gets out into the backcountry as much as possible. See all of Alicja's Blog Posts