Cleaning those nasty sports bottles

August 21, 2008

How do you keep your reusable plastic sports bottles from becoming totally disgusting? It’s a question I’m finally facing after many previous months (years?) of avoidance.

Sub-question 1: Should I put my bottles in the dishwasher?

Some manufacturers (such as Ultimate Direction) say that their bottles (as opposed to the tops) are dishwasher-safe. However, in my experience, flexible plastic things often get distorted by repeated visits to the dishwater. Any distortion could compromise the fit between the bottle and its top, leading to leakage.

A second possible reason to avoid the dishwasher concerns the much-hyped leaching of chemicals from the bottles. Assuming for the moment that leaching is indeed a legitimate concern, basic physical chemistry would suggest not to keep bottles filled with fluids longer than necessary (more time = more leaching) and not to let the bottles get hotter than necessary (higher temperature = more molecular movement = more leaching; P. Westerhoff et al., Water Research 42: 551, 2008). Perhaps less intuitive is the recent finding (H.H. Le et al., Toxicology Letters 176: 149, 2008) that polycarbonate bottles increased their release of bisphenol A (BPA) after exposure to boiling water and subsequent cooling. To me, this suggests that the high temperatures of the dishwasher might alter the bottles in a way that promotes leaching even after the bottles have cooled off.

Bottom line: I’ve stopped cleanng my bottles in the dishwasher.

Sub-question 2: How can I get my bottles clean without using the dishwasher?

A bottle itself can easily be rinsed with warm, soapy water, of course, and the sides and bottom can be scrubbed with a brush if necessary. Cleaning the top is harder, though.

I’ve found that a fair amount of grime can be removed by running a moist paper towel around the inward-facing surface of the top. And then there’s the “nipple” — the part that you drink out of. It’s hard to gauge the contamination in there, especially since the tops are often black. What I’ve done recently is: put some soapy water in the bottle, put the top on, invert the bottle, and vigorously move the nipple in and out so that water is forced back and forth through it. When I turn the bottle right-side-up again, I inspect the water remaining in the bottle for tiny chunks, a clear (though disgusting) sign that the nipple is indeed releasing its contaminants.

One comment

  1. I guess that I should stop drinking my coffee out of my bottles? You take your bottles way too seriously. Put them back in the dishwasher.There are many greater risks in life that leaching waterbottles. Wait until your kid decides to take his first walk in the hood by himself, without telling you.

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