This Water-Bottle Cleaning Method Leaves No Residue or Smell Behind

published May 12, 2023
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Hands of woman filling water bottle in kitchen sink
Credit: Jessica Peterson / Getty Images

Cleaning water bottles takes up an inordinate amount of my time. I actually timed it once and the total for *quickly* cleaning all seven family members’ water bottles took a whopping 11 minutes. You might think that doesn’t sound like much, but I assure you it feels like a long time to be scrubbing the insides of curved bottles with a bottle brush, disassembling intricate lids and washing them, then using a narrow bottle brush to clean out straws and spouts. Tired yet? I sure am.

I’m so invested in cutting down on the time it takes to clean water bottles that I had a glass rinser installed in our new kitchen. Its powerful spray of water drastically cuts down on the time it takes to do daily cleanings, and I’m so glad I got it.

However, there’s still the matter of deep cleaning the water bottles, which I like to do at the end of every week. In the past, I’ve used bleach, but I’m not completely comfortable with that solution for a few reasons: First, I don’t love using bleach on items we’re going to drink out of — aside from the risk of any lingering residue, I don’t like the smell of bleach that seems to cling to the bottles for a day or two, despite thorough rinsing. Plus, I don’t like using bleach in my stainless steel kitchen sink because it compromises the chromium oxide layer that protects it. 

I also really don’t like soaking the water bottle lids in soapy water, which used to be my mother’s preferred method. I’m sure it does a good job of loosening gunk in crevices, but I had a horrible experience with a soapy taste that seeped into the plastic of my to-go coffee mug and stayed for days — which scarred me for life. 

I recently learned about the benefits of cleaning with citric acid, and decided to try it for deep cleaning my family’s reusable water bottles. I like that it’s safe for food surfaces and all-natural, that it won’t harm my stainless steel sink, and that it won’t leave any offending scent or residue behind. As a bonus, it’s anti-bacterial too. 

Now a weekly citric acid soak is my new go-to for water bottle deep cleaning. I use it with adult water bottles, my kids’ plastic sports water bottles, and my younger kids’ water bottles. Not only is it safe and effective, but it’s also so easy to use (it just dissolves in water for soaking), and comes with none of the precautions required when using bleach. In addition, at $24.99 for a five-pound bag of the citric acid I use, it’s quite cost-effective, especially given its versatility around the house. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how I clean my water bottles with citric acid. 

  1. Fill a large bowl with hot water and a few tablespoons of citric acid
  2. Disassemble the water bottles, removing lids, straws, etc. 
  3. Wash grooves and other areas with dish soap and water, and scrub with a soft scrub brush and/or bottle brush
  4. Wash the insides of straws and spouts with a small bottle brush
  5. Rinse.
  6. Soak all water bottle components for about 15 minutes. 
  7. Rinse. 
  8. Set out to dry thoroughly. 

The next thing you know, they’re ready to be filled with water and put in a briefcase, backpack, or sports bag — without any odors, residue, or aftertaste.

Buy: Lemi Shine 100% Citric Acid 5 Pound Bag, $22.49 (originally $24.99)