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HEALTHY LIVING: The Scoop on Reusable Water Bottles

Water is vital to life. In fact, the human body is made up of approximately 60% water. As a general rule of thumb, individuals should drink 64 ounces of water per day. Fortunately, in the U.S., clean tap water is readily available nearly everywhere.

Tap water is generally provided by water utilities that exist for the sole purpose of providing clean drinking water to their community. Tap water is regulated by government agencies and is closely monitored by utility staff to ensure clean, safe water reaches every customer throughout their system.

Over the last two decades, the use of bottled water has doubled and is now the largest beverage category in the United States. This increased use of bottled water is likely due to its convenience to people on the go; however, there is a cost – both economic and environmental – to using bottled water.

  • The cost of bottled water is about 3,000 times that of the equivalent coming out of our tap – even though it may just be pre-packaged tap water from somewhere else!
  • It takes millions of gallons of oil to produce the plastic needed for bottled water consumed by Americans alone.
  • There is documented potential for chemical exposure to humans through plastic monomers such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalate esters used as plasticizers.
  • U.S. landfills receive millions of tons of plastic every year.

Recent years have brought more attention to plastic waste specifically, and bottled water has been the focus of many discussions evaluating impacts of the product’s life cycle. From production to end of use destinations, most single-use plastic bottles end up in U.S. landfills, with a recycling rate less than 30% (as of 2018).

These realizations have prompted interest in reusable water bottles, which can save consumers money, decrease waste, and reduce chemical exposure. There are many types of reusable water bottles in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes. Whichever type you choose, care and cleaning of your reusable bottle is key in avoiding a buildup of mold and bacteria that can cause illness.

Types of Reusable Water Bottles

Aluminum: Lightweight and often less expensive than stainless steel. Because aluminum can react with some liquids, these bottles are typically lined with another material. Aluminum bottles can dent and should not be placed in the dishwasher or freezer.

Glass: Inert substance and can be a good option for those who want to minimize chemical exposure. The downside is that glass bottles are often heavier and more fragile than other types of reusable bottles. Most are dishwasher safe.

Plastic: Lightweight and strong. There are many different types of plastic and opinions on its safety can vary widely. It may be prudent to avoid exposing plastic bottles to hot temperatures and prolonged time in direct sunlight.

Stainless steel: Non-reactive, lightweight, and durable. These bottles can dent and may be dishwasher safe – although hand washing is recommended to protect any printed color or design. A double-wall insulated version can help keep your drink hot or cold. Just be sure not to put them in the freezer or dishwasher – either can damage the insulation properties!

Various types of reusable water bottles. Chase Baillie, ©2021, Clemson Extension.

Various types of reusable water bottles.
Chase Baillie, ©2021, Clemson Extension

How to Clean and Sanitize Reusable Water Bottles

Taking time to properly clean and care for your reusable bottle and its components is easy to do, can help keep you safe, and only requires a few basic household supplies.

Daily cleaning: Removes any visible dirt, residue, or left-over organic material that can lead to a buildup of biofilms; that slimy feeling on the surface of a material when water or other liquids have been allowed to sit for a while. Wash at least once per day with warm water and dishwashing liquid. A bottle brush may be useful to reach the interior and bottom of the bottle. Be sure to also clean the lip and exterior of the bottle. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

Scrub the lid, cap, and straw (if there is one) with warm water and dishwashing liquid every day, or, if they are dishwasher safe, run through the cutlery basket. Separate any parts to ensure all surfaces are cleaned.

*If your water bottle is dishwasher-safe (check the label for care instructions), place it on the top rack of the dishwasher and choose the hottest water setting and then allow to air dry.

Sanitizing: The process that reduces potential pathogens to safe levels and should be done bi-weekly or monthly to all components of your water bottle by adding a teaspoon of bleach7 to the bottle (or ¼ cup of vinegar8) and fill the bottle with cool water. Let sit overnight, then rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.

If properly cared for, reusable water bottles can last many years and can help you stay hydrated while saving money and reducing waste.

References

  1. United States Geological Society. Water Science School: The Water in You. [accessed 2020 Dec 15] https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
  2. Beverage Marketing Corporation. Bottled Water in the U.S. Through 2024. 2020. [accessed 2020 Dec 15] https://www.beveragemarketing.com/shop/assets/PDFs/BtlWaterUS2020.pdf
  3. American Water Works Association. “Public Perceptions of Tap Water” 2020 Jun. Available online: https://www.awwa.org/Portals/0/AWWA/Communications/23001PDFEdits-1.pdf
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Plastics: Material-Specific Data. [accessed 2020 Dec 15] https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data#:~:text=The%20recycling%20rate%20of%20PET,with%20energy%20recovery%20that%20year.
  5. The Pacific Institute. Integrity of Science: Bottled Water and Energy Factsheet: Getting to 17 Million Barrels. 2007 Dec. https://pacinst.org/publication/bottled-water-fact-sheet/
  6. Zimmerman, L, Dierkes G, Ternes T, Volker C, Wagner M. “Benchmarking the in Vitro Toxicity and Chemical Composition of Plastic Consumer Products.” Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, Aug; 53(19): 11467-11477. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.9b02293
  7. Garden-Robinson, J. “Prarie Fare: Clean Reusable Water Bottles Thoroughly.” North Dakota State University Extension Service. [accessed 2021 Mar 03] https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/news/columns/prairie-fare/prairie-fare-clean-reusable-water-bottles-thoroughly/
  8. Baum, I. “Your Water Bottle Could Be Making You Sick – Here Are the Best Ways to Clean It.” 2021, Mar. [accessed 2021 Mar 03] https://www.health.com/fitness/how-to-clean-water-bottle

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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