water water everywhere, but how to avoid the stink
October 31, 2006 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to be good and drink lots of water. I feel better when I do. I work in an office, so I bought one of those knockoff nalgene bottles from target so i can have ice water and not be in danger of spilling it on my computer. 2 problems - how do I keep my desk free of bottle sweat, and how do I keep my bottle from smelling?

the sweat: i'm tired of wet paper towels on my desk, but I like my water cold. any other ideas? or an alternative to the nalgene bottle that is less likely to sweat? (and smell?)

the smell: someone asked here how to get rid of the moldy smell (if it gets really nasty, I run it thru the dishwasher. is this ok?) - but i want to keep my bottle clean without having to wash it every day. i know it should only takes a minute to wash it, but my office has practically no hot water, also people leave the sponge in the sink all the time, so it reeks, and I'm not going to go out and buy more sponges, or be the freak that keeps his own sponge. is there anything I can do so quickly that I'd have time to do it even when I look up and realize that I'm gonna have to run for my train?
posted by mrblakwell to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As for the bottle sweating... get a coaster. It's a neat little invention that was designed for precisely this reason. I can't imagine that you haven't thougt of this solution already, so is there some reason you are opposed to using one for your water bottle?

As for cleaning it... why do you need a sponge? Just take the bottle to the bathroom, squirt some soap in the bottom, fill it up with water and let it run until the soap stops bubbling out over the top, then rinse. Just do it after you go to the bathroom or something so it doesn't take extra time out of your day.
posted by gatorae at 8:55 AM on October 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

rinse the bottle periodically with white vinegar to keep it from smelling musty. one rinse with vinegar and one with water. there won't be any vinegar taste in your water.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:01 AM on October 31, 2006

If your bottle is the right size, one of those foam beer can insulators will cut down on the "sweating".

Are you talking about a sour mildewy smell in your bottle, or a plasticky smell? If it's the former, you can be the Bleach Freak - at the end of the day, fill the bottle with water and add a few drops of bleach. Cap, invert a few times to mix, and let it sit overnight. Rinse well the next morning (a little bleach won't kill you but it tastes nasty), then get your water for the day.

On preview, vinegar might work. Bleach is a heavy-duty microbe killer, and you may not need that much firepower.

If you're getting a plasticky smell, you're stuck. That's the plasticizers coming out of the plastic, and they'll keep doing that until they're all gone and your bottle is brittle and cracking. Some plastics are worse than others in this respect - the more flexible the plastic, the more plasticizers it contains (to a first approximation).
posted by Quietgal at 9:04 AM on October 31, 2006

usually nalgene (and nalgene-like) bottles don't usually get too smelly if you just keep filling it with water. you might have to wash the top part of it every now and then. one of my friends used to boil all his nalgenes in a huge pasta pot (make sure to use pure water, not hard water), and then air dry. dishwasher should do a great job too.

and yes, coaster.
posted by ruwan at 9:05 AM on October 31, 2006

I rinse mine with a bleach solution periodically, once I see the faint green film of algae growing on the inside. (And how do those organisims get inside my closed bottle?)
posted by Rash at 9:07 AM on October 31, 2006

I keep my own sponge because the one in the lounge it gross. But I guess that makes me a freak....
posted by nimsey lou at 9:07 AM on October 31, 2006

Screw coasters. Put the nalgene inside a tube sock. Absorbs the sweat and keeps your hand from getting cold. Change the sock once in awhile.

As for the smell, boiling water is a quick solution that always works. Just heat up a bunch in the microwave, pour it in, pop on the cap, swirl it around (aren't you glad you have that tube sock to keep from burning your hand?) and the smell should be neutralized.
posted by muddgirl at 9:09 AM on October 31, 2006

The main smell I get from my office water cup is just from the rim, where I put my lips. I usually just give it a quick wipe, about once a week, with a sterile alcohol pad.

Although since alcohol kills germs, an alternate solution would be that you could just switch to a Nalgene bottle full of vodka.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:11 AM on October 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

another solution to the smell is denture tablets (cyclists use them on their Camelbaks).
posted by unSane at 9:13 AM on October 31, 2006

The previous posts have answered your question regarding bottle sweat, but as for avoiding a smelly bottle and having to wash it everyday (I too hate washing my bottles) what I've started doing is carrying around a plastic tumbler and just pouring out the amount of water I'd like to drink from the bottle. That way you won't be putting your mouth directly on the bottle causing it to get gross and germified over time.

Of course, it's an extra step in the whole process but I find it much easier to wash the tumbler at home when doing my regular load of dishes than to wash the bottle out everyday. (but I DO wash it occasionally, like once a week. shh don't tell anyone!)
posted by zippity at 9:15 AM on October 31, 2006

re: coaster - tried that. I just ended up with a really wet coaster and some overflow to my desk. maybe I don't have the right coaster.

re: tube sock - AWESOME! just the kind of weirdo thing I was looking for. I'll accept the ridicule of being sock-bottle-boy, but not has-his-own-sponge-boy

re: keep filling it with water - I'm gonna try this.. fill it before I leave for the day, then just dump and refill in the AM>

nimsey lou - didn't mean to call you a freak. it's just that everyone already thinks I'm weird. the last thing I need is my own sponge to encourage them.

BONUS QUESTION: what causes the smell?
posted by mrblakwell at 9:25 AM on October 31, 2006

Real Nalgene bottles are quite a bit more inert (i.e. better quality polycarbonate) than knock-offs - you might try an authentic one and see if that mitigates the smelly problem.


Also see here, previously discussed.
posted by Aquaman at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2006

P.S. for the inevitable pointing-out of nalgene's claims of safety re: bleach, I say yes, but (from the linked article):
A spokesperson of Nalgene products, who remained anonymous because of company policy, said Nalgene polycarbonate bottles were safe.

The danger of polycarbonates is "true of cheap forms of polycarbonate and it came up in the mid 90s based on some baby bottles that were produced overseas," the source said. "But the resins used in the United States are of higher quality and so this is not an issue."
Your knock-off bottle may be one of those "lesser quality" resin-based items. No bleachy!
posted by Aquaman at 9:33 AM on October 31, 2006

You don't want to be using strong detergents on Nalgene bottles. Lexan bottles can leak horrible chemicals into their contents if they have been treated with strong detergents.

This AskMe has more information, as would a Google search using keywords like "Lexan" and "BPA".

If you don't like the smell, throw it away, but please don't wash it with harsh chemicals or hot water and keep using it.
posted by nowonmai at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2006

Get a real Nalgene. They're just so much nicer in so many ways - no smell, better feel and quality, more options. I particularly like the newer, smaller ones with the loop and flip-top on the lid for desk use.
posted by kcm at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2006

I like the tubesock idea, but if you are at all interested in a good coaster, I have found through much trial and error that sandstone is the best material - very absorbent, so no overflow.
posted by gatorae at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I gave up on the plastic bottles when studies started showing that cancer causing chemicals leech out of these bottles over time. I stick with metal now.
posted by any major dude at 9:54 AM on October 31, 2006

Lexan bottles can leak horrible chemicals into their contents if they have been treated with strong detergents.

There's also some indication that hot water will do this. Some people think that even room temperature will to a limited degree.

See this askme thread on Nalgene Bottles.

I've switched to #2 HDPE bottles, but as Quietgal says, there's a bit more of the plasticy smell.
posted by weston at 9:54 AM on October 31, 2006

As for the condensation ("bottle sweat") there are neoprene insulating bottle covers available -- check your nearest EMS or other trendy sporting-goods store for them -- that go over a Nalgene bottle and work pretty well to stop the condensation. In a warm/moist enough room you might get enough condensate to saturate the neoprene, but in an average office environment it ought to do the trick. I don't know a brand name on the covers, but they're made of neoprene and zip up the side.

For the smell, if you have a real (Lexan) Nalgene and put only water in it, and you keep the cover off, I don't think you'll have a big problem. I have water-only Nalgene's that I rarely wash or sanitize, and I don't have issues. The trick, IMO, is to let them dry out thoroughly when you're not using them. So at the end of the workday, dump out all the water and let it sit empty, cover off, on your desk. What can cause badness is if you leave it sealed. Unless it's in your backpack/car/whatever and is getting knocked around, leave that cap open.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:07 AM on October 31, 2006

May I ask, hopefully not a derail, what is the point of Nalgene bottles?

I've seen stuff about them online and have seen people carrying them around. Do they have some special qualities that make them different from other plastic bottles?

posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:06 AM on October 31, 2006


You can run the bottle through the dishwasher as long as it stays in the top rack. While true Lexan is pretty versatile, the attached lids on these bottles aren't usually made of Lexan.

The smell comes from bacteria from your own lips and mouth. Also, that bacteria does not come out/off with a simple rinse or dishwasher run-through. Anyone who doesn't believe me should get out their well-used Nalgene-esque bottles and run a tissue along the screw-grooves by the lip of the bottle and the corresponding underside of the bottle's lid. I bet at least 80% of you go "eewww".

If you would like to have to clean the water bottle less often, use a different container to drink from. Consider using a small travel mug if you're concerned about spills; buy 2 and alternate which one you use and then bring home to wash. The sock-bottle can still serve as your personal office carafe.
If you're worried about the drinking cup sweating, get something with a double wall. Some travel mugs have this feature.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:39 AM on October 31, 2006

The point of nalgene bottles (I believe) is that they are supposed to resist smell, good for hot or cold liquids, and resist breakage. I use mine for orange or apple juice all the time and it doesn't hold the smell. The key is to rinse it right when I'm done using it. I had a friend that climbs a lot and has dropped hers from 30+ feet without it breaking. I love it.
posted by youngergirl44 at 12:05 PM on October 31, 2006

what is the point of Nalgene bottles?

They're generously sized for camping and such activities. They are nearly indestructable. They're available in all kinds of juicy colors. And there's something about the simple, purposeful design that's just satifying.

BONUS QUESTION: what causes the smell?
I was told once about a TV news segment that studied re-used water bottles, as used in offices and whatnot, and found them to be infested with more disgusting bacteria than a motel room on CSI. Apparently human backwash and room-temperature tapwater dregs make a cozy incubator for scum. That gross smell says "clean me" for a reason.
posted by Tubes at 12:27 PM on October 31, 2006

I drink plenty of water at work. I just use the 'three for a dollar' ones you can find at Target or grocery store.

I just rinse it out with water each time I fill up, which is about 3 or 4 times per day (for 96-128oz). We have paper towels at work, as well as those stinky-mold-sponges that are common in the workplace kitchen, which I never touch, ever, because you can never get the stink off your hands either.

We get the filtered water at work, as opposed to the watercooler, and it isn't as good. They also provide ice, which is filtered too. And scalding hot water for tea. Put the ice in, then fill with scalding water, and it doesn't taste as bad for some reason.

Hope that helps.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 12:44 PM on October 31, 2006

I no longer use my Nalgene bottle because of the smell issue. An earlier poster was correct: even with a properly rinsed Nalgene bottle, even one that's washed daily, you'll still get bacteria stuck right around the rim and in the grooves and in the lid. Running a paper towel over those grooves daily can help prevent the smell—but it's a pain, and doesn't always stop those damn bacteria.
posted by limeonaire at 1:05 PM on October 31, 2006

And yeah, I'm not sure why this problem crops up more with Nalgene bottles—something about the design, perhaps. I do know that I've never had that kind of problem with any other water bottle.
posted by limeonaire at 1:06 PM on October 31, 2006

Use only water in your Nalgene, let it dry out completely after normal washing, and it will not develop a smell. You can buy cloth cases specifically designed to hold Nalgenes at most outdoor supply shops and climbing shops. Occasionally you find cool decorative versions of these. They will absorb the condensation, and look much better than a tube sock.
posted by Manjusri at 1:33 PM on October 31, 2006

Oh, and pony up the ten bucks for a real Nalgene. They are worth it.
posted by Manjusri at 1:34 PM on October 31, 2006

Buy a bottle of water. Re use said bottle for a week. Goto start.
posted by oxford blue at 3:27 PM on October 31, 2006

That's what I do, oxford blue -- and after a few months, the film of green algae appears on the inside. So there's gotta be a better way.
posted by Rash at 4:21 PM on October 31, 2006

Wow this sounds like a lot of effort!

I understand the camping needs etc. But if the original goal is to drink more water, which has been my goal too....I grab a paper cup in the morning, fill at the water cooler, refill it constantly (bonus: trips back and forth count as exercise) and then throw it away at the end of the day.

Why would I buy a Nalgene?
posted by vacapinta at 4:30 PM on October 31, 2006

You could just not drink so much water. It's really not necessary.
posted by footnote at 5:37 PM on October 31, 2006

I don't really understand the bacteria freak out that's occurred in our modern culture for the past...50 years (I'm clearly estimating here). I use my Nalgene bottle for water exclusively, I never wash it and I usually leave the water I don't drink inside of it for however long I want. Occasionally the water seems stale or smells "plastic-y", but those are the only times I will replace it.

I've had it for the past year and use it every day. I've never, ever washed it with soap or any chemicals. I fill it with tap water exclusively (we've got delicious drinking water here in PDX) and have never seen any mold developing nor have I experienced anything negative that might come from consuming bacteria-infested water.

I mean, come on. If the bacteria is coming from my mouth and lips, it's ALREADY PRESENT IN MY BODY!

I also never, ever get sick. My immune system is incredible. Here's my advice--stop worrying so much, people!
posted by nonmerci at 6:19 PM on October 31, 2006

You could just not drink so much water. It's really not necessary.

water does alot more besides hydration.

I think the tube sock idea is awesome, and if you decide you dont want to be that guy, have someone knit/crochet you a nice cover or buy one on Etsy, or one like this
posted by trishthedish at 6:25 PM on October 31, 2006

What else does it do? Purge toxins? Don't fall for the hype. Water kills!
posted by footnote at 6:55 PM on October 31, 2006

No one's mentioned stainless steel vacuum bottles?

They don't sweat (unless you fill them with liquid nitrogen), and as long as you're not mixing HCl with that bleach they're quite hard to damage in any significant way.

Some of the plastic lids are hard to clean, but that's just a matter of shopping around.
posted by oats at 9:29 PM on October 31, 2006

What about using sodium metabisulphite as a steriliser? It's used in a very low solution as a bottle wash for baby bottles and in home brewing. It comes as a powder that you just stir into some water, and it will leave your water bottle sterile.

Love that tube sock idea. Another one of those `why didn't I think of that' moments.
posted by tomble at 10:21 PM on October 31, 2006

What about using a straw? That should cutdown on the bacteria --> smell issue, and you can just replace the straw as necessary.
posted by hsoltz at 6:18 AM on November 1, 2006

UPDATE: I finished off my water before I left yesterday (I rarely do) and left the bottle open when I left. ah the fresh smell of nothing... thanks hive.

footnote - I'm just trying to drink more water as opposed to going to the pop machine... couple bottles full a day. not trying to stick to any 8 glass thing or to detox. just to remain hydrated. (sometimes I forget while coding away that I have to do things like eat, drink water, and pee - having the bottle there, and not stinky should help me hydrate, and if I hydrate, the urge to pee will be stronger and will rouse me sooner)
posted by mrblakwell at 7:33 AM on November 1, 2006

FYI: Two 32oz Nalgenes = 8 glasses of water.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:21 AM on November 1, 2006

I second gatorae's suggestion of a sandstone coaster. I have one on my desk and it works wonderfully. I have had my Nalgene bottle for going on three years now. I use it everyday for ice water and nothing else. The only time I have a smell problem is when the water gets stale (maybe left over from a long weekend). At that point, I wash it with standard hand/dish soap (again as gatorae suggested). No smell lingers behind. Otherwise, I just swish some hot water around the inside and lip of the bottle on occasion. Sometimes I will throw it in the dishwasher. I've never had a problem.

I also stand by the quality of Nalgene brand bottles. I received a knock-off bottle as a door prize and thought it was going to be cool because I would have a second bottle for home. I used it only once or twice before giving up on it and just bringing my Nalgene home with me when I would need a water container outside the office. I never thought I would gush about a water bottle, but the drinking experience from the Nalgene was vastly more enjoyable.
posted by bwilms at 10:16 AM on November 1, 2006

According to LifeHacker... just store your water bottle in the freezer when you leave for the day to keep it from smelling.
posted by slim at 9:51 AM on November 8, 2006

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