How to Clean Your Reusable Water Bottle or Travel Mug

Reusable water bottles and travel mugs keep excess waste out of the landfills and save you money on disposable containers. But what happens when they get dirty? How do you clean them? Never fear, because we’re going to break it down for you right here!

Whether you have a metal bottle/mug or a plastic one, there’s a method to get it squeaky clean and keep it that way.

What you’ll need to clean your sports bottle or mug:

Vinegar and baking soda are your best friends!

Vinegar and baking soda are your best friends!

Acceptable cleaning tools: Pipe cleaners, bottle brushes, soft bristle toothbrushes, or standard sponges

Acceptable cleaning solutions: Cleansing tablets or denture cleaner, mild dish soap, baking soda and hot water, or white vinegar

Other: Reusable kitchen gloves or disposable latex gloves

Some articles suggest bleach as a cleaning agent, but I’d strongly discourage you from using bleach on reusable drinkware. It’s dangerous if not handled properly, and harsh chemicals tend to damage the colors and the imprint! Trust me, white vinegar and baking soda works just as well and it’s not too abrasive.

First, pick your cleaning solution and get it ready. White vinegar is probably best for the job because it’s an excellent stain remover, but baking soda and water work just as well if you can’t stand the vinegar smell. Follow these simple directions:

  • Dilute 1-2 tablespoons of the vinegar with a cup of water (or create a paste from the baking soda and water)
  • Pour the solution into your water bottle
  • Let it sit for 15 minutes
  • Put on rubber or latex gloves
  • Use the cleaning tool of your choice (see above) to clean it out
  • That’s it!

Some things to keep in mind…

If your water bottle is made of metal (aluminum or stainless steel):

Stainless Steel Adventure BottleBest cleaning tools for the job: Non-abrasive pipe cleaners OR a soft bristle brush

Best cleaning solutions for the job: Baking soda and water (mixed into a paste), 1-2 tablespoons of white vinegar, OR denture cleaning tablets

Because aluminum and stainless steel scratch easily, you should avoid using abrasive cleaning tools and harsh chemicals on the exterior. This is especially true for colored aluminum bottles! The silver metal will eventually show through if you scrub too hard. Preserve your bottle’s color for longer by gently washing it by hand.

**WARNING: Do not mix vinegar with bleach! In fact, just avoid bleach altogether. There are plenty of other cleaning agents that are better for the bottles and less damaging to the imprint itself.**

If your water bottle is made of plastic (acrylic, polycarbonate, etc):

Poly Cool BottleBest cleaning tools for the job: A soft bristle brush OR a toothbrush

Best cleaning solutions for the job: Mild dish soap, baking soda and water (mixed into a paste), OR 1-2 tablespoons of white vinegar

Plastic goes by so many names that it was given its own set of plastic classification codes. From polycarbonate and acrylic to polypropylene and PVC, no plastic is created equal. However, there is one HUGE difference between plastic bottles and metal bottles — the smell retention. Plastic retains smells like crazy! Soak the bottle overnight to eliminate particularly rank smells.

**WARNING: Do not mix vinegar with bleach! In fact, just avoid bleach altogether. There are plenty of other cleaning agents that are better for the bottles and less damaging to the imprint itself.**

Keep in mind that some sports bottles are dishwasher safe (usually top-rack only), too. However, no matter which type of reusable bottle you own — metal or plastic — I’d recommend giving it a thorough washing by hand instead of sticking it in a dishwasher. Most bottles (especially metal) lose their color and imprint integrity when they’re put inside of dishwashers.

Oh, and one more thing. Regular cleanings are best for maintaining your sports bottle. Why let gross buildup accumulate on the insides? You’ll make it a whole lot easier on yourself if you put mild dish soap inside, shake it around, let it soak, and rise super well after each use.

What’s your favorite type of sports bottle? How do you usually clean yours? Are there any tips or tricks we missed?

Image credit to trenttsd and QLP. The header image is a still from one of our sweet product videos, which you can see in full right here.

Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.


  1. Amy Swanson

    Thanks for writing this blog, Jill! I have tons of reusable bottles at home that I hate using because they aren’t dishwasher safe 🙁 However, after reading your post it doesn’t seem too hard to clean them. Definitely worth a bookmark and a “pin” for future use! Thanks again!

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks! I know it’s all pretty obvious info, but sometimes the specifics are tricky with imprinted drinkware… 🙂

  2. Bret Bonnet

    I’m SHOCKED that leaving it in the sink for the cleaning lady to deal with didn’t make the list! 🙂

    • Jill Tooley

      Haha, didn’t even think of that!

    • Geoff Tarr

      Ha ha ha!

      I tried that too but my wife wasn’t too happy about it….Some people just don’t appreciate our reasoning skills

  3. Eric

    I read an interesting article awhile back. With some expecting an imminent apocalypse, there are – naturally – questions about food for survival, and more specifically, how long certain foods will keep, if at all. This brought someone else to remark, “Well, water doesn’t go bad, right? Right?!?”

    Does it go stale? No. Spoil? No. But – being in a plastic bottle – and scents from the room surrounding, in which it’s stored, will eventually permeate into the water through the bottle.

    If only Twinkies had the same staying power.

    …too soon?

    • Jill Tooley

      That’s so true, Eric! I’m not one of those people who expects an apocalypse, but thanks for putting this out there as an additional resource for anyone who is concerned about it. You’re so right — plastic bottles are infamous for retaining smells after extended periods of time, so those would be no good for bomb shelters…

      R.I.P., Twinkie! (Although, I’m confident someone else will buy the recipe at this point)

      • Eric

        Viva la Twinkie!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great post, Jill! I’ve been putting off cleaning my own promo water bottle because I assumed it was going to be an extremely involved process. But now that I know it’s pretty easy, I think I can handle a little baking soda!

  5. Cybernetic SAM

    I have learned the hard way several times that certain cups/bottles/mugs aren’t dishwasher safe… 🙁 These are all great tips thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Jill Tooley

      Oh, me too! For sure. I melted one of my favorites even when I put it on a low setting on the top rack… Hand-washing is the best way to go.

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Mikey

    I’ll admit that I’m often pretty reluctant to get new water bottles because of the cleaning issues. Normally, I only try to get those bottles or mugs that are dishwasher safe, so that I don’t really have to deal with cleaning them by hand. But the tips you gave don’t seem too bad or involved. I still prefer the convenience of a dishwasher, but now I know I won’t have to worry too much about what bottles I get. Maybe I’ll be able put these techniques to good use in the future. In any case, thanks for the helpful and informative post!

  7. Rachel

    This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! After a weekend of being sick, I was just thinking about how to go about cleaning my germ-infested acrylic water bottle so that I can use it again. Now I know. 🙂 Thanks for the great article, Jill!

  8. Eric

    Is there nothing that White Vinegar and Baking Soda can’t do? Thanks for the article. I usually forget about my water bottles in the car for weeks at a time and then clean them all at once.

    • Jill Tooley

      No, no there isn’t! I use vinegar and baking soda for just about everything around the house, and it’s sometimes way cheaper than the expensive cleaning supplies I’d buy otherwise. Three cheers for homemade solutions! 😀

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Eric! I do the same thing with my water bottles and mugs and then somehow wonder why they seem to take on lives of their own…

  9. Savannah

    Can I boil a polycarbonate plastic bottle from Nalgene to sterilize it. I wanna use it to mix baby formula

  10. danielle

    this is helpful for the common issues. my mom was using a plastic bottle to drink at night and then she soaks it in dish soap and water all day but it’s been a few weeks and the film is getting progressively worse like a fog on the inside. could she use diluted bleach? and how often is safe?

  11. Bridget Jacobs

    Great article! I use vinegar and baking soda a lot for my daily cleaning. In my opinion there is nothing better than the natural cleaning products.

  12. Briana Browne

    Bought a stainless steel water bottle just last week with a strong metallic taste, I soaked it with white vinegar and the smell instantly vanished.

  13. nicki

    hi i have a water bottle that used to have battery fluid kept inside. how is the best way for me to clean it so i can reuse my bottle to drink out of again?

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hi Nicki,

      We would really recommend not ever using that water bottle to drink out of again. Even though you can wash the bottle, it’s just not worth the risk. Let that forever be your battery fluid bottle and treat yourself to a new water bottle!

  14. aas

    I have a NALGENE 1 pba free water bottle.
    I had left some smoothie in it and it got rank.
    I couldn’t get the smell out so I put a scoop of resolve oxy cleaner in the bottle filled with water and let soak a few days.
    It got the smell out, but then it smelled like resolve which worried me. So I rinsed and rinsed and still couldn’t get the smell out. finally i added some salt and let soak for a few days then rinsed it and scrubbed it out with liquid dish detergent and it seems ok now.
    Just wondering if I should worry about any possible residues left behind or any reaction with the plastic.
    I went in experimenting, (I know not the smartest) so figured I should ask someone who seems to know what if any issues here might be present.
    Thanks in advance

  15. Jarron

    Thank you so much it worked so perfect on my stainless steel bottle, I took a huge risk and used it in my KEURIG and it worked but probably dont do that im a janitor.

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