Washing a reusable water bottle by hand isn’t really that difficult but, if you’re anything like me, sometimes it sure does feel a lot like torture. Especially when I've left my smoothie remnants in there for a few days and it's all crusted to the sides.
Scrubbing out my Nalgene, my partner’s Nalgene, and each of my three kid’s Nalgenes every day isn't exactly my idea of fun.
Luckily, there’s (usually) an easier and faster way and it's called a dishwasher. But are Nalgene bottles dishwasher safe and does the dishwasher do a good job?
All Nalgene Bottles are top rack dishwasher safe — though, if your bottle is too tall to stand upright (and upside down) in your dishwasher or has a narrow mouth, it won’t be cleaned very well.
Nalgene bottles can handle boiling water and so should also be bottom rack dishwasher safe in most dishwashers. However, the company doesn't state this so damage may not be covered under their warranty.
Old Nalgenes that contain BPA (from before 2008) are technically dishwasher safe, but are better off being hand washed because machine washing can cause more BPA to leach from the plastic.
One of the main things I still use my Nalgenes for are smoothies because it’s so easy to just pop them in the dishwasher when I’m done. It's why I choose my wide mouth Nalgene over the narrow mouth for all my smoothies.
A little trial and error taught me the best way to machine wash my Nalgenes and which of my Nalgenes were dishwasher safe but not necessarily dishwasher compatible (and those quickly found their way to the back of my pantry).
Nalgene Bottles Are Dishwasher Safe
All Ultralite, Tritan, Tritan Renew, and stainless steel Nalgene Bottles are dishwasher safe — though there are a few things you should keep in mind to avoid damage and to make sure your bottle is thoroughly cleaned.
Ideally, Use The Top Rack Only
Nalgene Bottles should only be placed on the top rack of your dishwasher.
If you place a plastic Nalgene too close to your dishwasher’s heating element (typically found in the bottom pan of the dishwasher), it can melt the plastic or cause it to wear down faster.
However, it's important to note that this is extremely unlikely to happen in modern dishwashers as Nalgene bottles can handle extremely high temperatures and most dishwasher get up to a maximum temperature of 180ºF/82ºC according to Finish (the dishwasher detergent brand).
I have a single drawer dishwasher at home and there is no top rack of my dishwasher so I routinely put my Nalgene on the bottom rack and it handles the dishwasher just fine. I haven't had any issues.
Ultralite Bottles are especially prone to damage by the heat of a dishwasher since HDPE is a softer plastic with a much lower softening point than Tritan.
The Bottle Needs To Stand Upright And Upside Down For The Entire Wash Cycle
Dishwashers work by spraying jets of soapy, hot water across your dishes from underneath.
For a Nalgene to be washed thoroughly in a dishwasher, it needs to stand upright and upside down for the entire wash cycle so the jets of water can reach the interior of the bottle.
Unfortunately, many dishwashers don’t have enough vertical clearance on the top rack to comfortably fit a standing 32 oz Nalgene, much less larger sized bottles. But as I mentioned previously the bottom rack works just fine for me and will likely work for you too.
Sitting a Nalgene on its side in the dishwasher will get the exterior of your bottle squeaky clean, but the inside (the most important part) will remain just about as dirty as before the wash.
If you put it up the right way then it'll just fill up with the murky dirty scummy water of your dishwasher and will need to be cleaned afterwards, so don't make that mistake.
Narrow Mouth Nalgenes Won’t Be Cleaned Thoroughly
While the mouth of your bottle won’t have any effect on whether or not your Nalgene is dishwasher safe, it can have a huge impact on how well a dishwasher is actually able to clean your bottle.
Narrow mouth Nalgene bottles are made from the same plastic as wide mouth Nalgene bottles and so they can easily handle the temperature of the dishwasher without getting damaged. However, they won't get as clean.
A wide mouth allows plenty of water to enter and sanitize the interior of your bottle.
It's the high pressure water spray that cleans the inside of your bottle and narrow mouth bottles limit the amount of water and detergent that can enter your bottle. This means they won’t be cleaned nearly as well as a result.
I learned this the hard way when I kept finding crusted-on smoothie below the neck of my narrow mouth Nalgenes after dishwashing. The dishwasher works fine for narrow mouth bottles if you've only been drinking water out of them, but if you've been drinking smoothies, juice, tea or coffee the dishwasher might not do the job.
If you have a narrow mouth Nalgene, check out the five best ways to clean a narrow mouth Nalgene.
Dishwashers Don’t Kill Mold
You might think that the dishwasher would be an easy way to get rid of mold in your Nalgene, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
Dishwashers don’t kill mold.
In fact, washing a moldy bottle in your dishwasher can actually cause mold to start growing in the appliance.
Before machine washing a moldy Nalgene, use one of these methods to clean mold from your bottle first.
I personally like soaking my Nalgene in vinegar to kill the mold and then give it a good solid scrub with a bottle brush and scrub the lid with a smaller brush (paying close attention to the threads).
A deep clean like this ever couple of months should keep mold away for good and this 3-in-1 bottle brush set is a great tool for making cleaning easy.
What About The Original Polycarbonate Nalgene Bottles?
Old Nalgene Bottles, made before 2008, were also top rack dishwasher safe.
However, I don’t really recommend machine-washing them.
As you may remember, old Nalgene Bottles were made of a polycarbonate plastic that contained BPA — a chemical compound which was later found to disrupt hormones and has been linked to many serious health conditions.
While everyone has their own opinion about how safe old Nalgene Bottles are to drink from, I’m generally comfortable using them for cold drinks (because heat makes more chemicals leach from the plastic) and until they’re too worn (worn and damaged plastics release more chemicals).
The problem is, some studies have shown that the heat from dishwashing wears down plastic faster and increases leaching — not ideal for bottles that contain a known harmful chemical.
I still use my older Nalgenes, I just hand wash them thoroughly afterward.