A bottle brush is one of the most effective and easiest ways to clean a water bottle. But unfortunately, you may not always have one available or the mouth of your bottle may just be too small for your brush to fit.
The good news is that there are other methods you can use to clean a water bottle, without needing a bottle cleaning brush, that work just as well…and sometimes even better (no joke).
There are several effective ways to clean a water bottle without a bottle brush. Putting it in the dishwasher is an easy option if your bottle is dishwasher safe otherwise shaking soapy water and dry rice, ice and salt, or a washcloth inside to create friction works really well and cleans hard to reach areas better than a bottle brush can in a lot of situations.
For a smelly water bottle use water bottle cleaning tablets or soak in vinegar or diluted bleach to remove mold and bad smells.
The dishwasher is by far the easiest method (with cleaning tablets not too far behind), but not all bottles can be machine washed.
While a bottle brush is nice to have and does a great job of cleaning water bottles, it’s far from the only viable method. If you don't have a bottle brush you don't have to worry as there are a lot of other great ways you can clean you bottle.
With the right approach, you can have your water bottle squeaky clean — with or without a bottle brush.
1. Use The Dishwasher
A dishwasher is hands down the easiest method for cleaning a water bottle without a bottle brush and it's a method that I use regularly.
I often use my wide mouth Nalgene bottle or my Yeti bottle for protein and fruit smoothies. They are great for taking to climbing but the downside is when I forget about them they leave caked on stinky smoothie on the sides of the bottle.
I could soak and scrub them myself with a bottle brush but throwing them directly in the dishwasher is way easier and does a great job. I've never had any issues with this.
The dishwasher is by far the easiest way to clean you bottles.
However, with some bottles the easiest is not always the best.
Many bottles aren’t dishwasher safe (I'm looking at you S'Well) and, even some that are, won’t always be cleaned thoroughly when machine washed.
Some insulated bottles, for example, can’t be put in the dishwasher because the sudden changes in temperature can compromise the vacuum seal. Others have a powder coating that will chip and flake off in the heat of the dishwasher.
Bottles with narrow mouths are tricky as well. For a dishwasher to clean a bottle thoroughly the spray arms at the bottom of the machine need to shoot soapy water into your bottle (meaning the bottle must sit upright, mouth-side down on the rack).
If the mouth is too narrow, the outside of the bottle may get a good cleaning, but the much more important interior not so much. This is why I prefer wide mouth Nalgene bottles over the narrow mouth bottles.
Large bottles in small dishwashers present other problems. Many bottles are dishwasher safe on the top rack only and, unfortunately, the top rack on many dishwashers doesn’t provide much vertical space.
If your bottle’s just too tall to sit upright on the top rack, the interior of the bottle won’t be cleaned well either.
And lastly, it’s worth noting that while many plastic bottles are dishwasher safe, some studies have shown that the heat from the dishwasher may lead to more chemicals leaching into your water.
That being said, the dishwasher is still a super convenient way to wash a bottle. So convenient that most of my bottles that aren’t dishwasher safe have been left sitting unused in the back of my pantry for years.
I just can’t be bothered half the time to hand wash my bottles every day.
2. Shake Uncooked Rice Inside
This one may sound a bit strange, but trust me that it works.
It’s the method I use most often for cleaning my own narrow mouth bottles because using a bottle brush with them can be such a pain and sometimes even using a bottle brush I can't clean the area under the neck of the bottle properly.
This method works because the rice acts much like a bottle brush or dishwasher, scrubbing the interior surfaces of your bottle when shaken around inside.
Here's how to clean your water bottle using dry rice.
- Rinse out your bottle, soaking it with hot water and some dish soap for 15 or 20 minutes if you have any stuck-on food or drink.
- Add about ¼ cup of dry, uncooked rice to the bottle and a squirt of dish soap (or whatever natural cleaner you prefer).
- Fill the bottle about half full with hot water and close the lid.
- Shake the bottle vigorously for a couple of minutes, flipping the bottle upside down about half way through.
- Pour out the contents of the bottle. Making sure the rice doesn’t go down the drain (I use a strainer or dishcloth to collect it).
- Rinse the bottle thoroughly under hot running water to remove any remaining rice or cleaner.
- Air dry the bottle upside down on a drying rack.
3. Shake Ice and Salt Inside
This method is similar to the idea behind the dry rice and water however I personally find it easier as I don't need to strain the rice to throw it out afterwards I can just leave the ice to melt in the bottle or the sink.
I saw this method suggested as a way to remove cloudiness from your Nalgene bottle and I found it works not only great for cloudiness but works well to clean at bottle.
Here's how to clean your water bottle using ice and salt.
- If your bottle has caked on drink then soak it in hot water for 10-15 minutes before discarding water.
- Fill you bottle about half full of ice cubes and pour a few tablespoons of salt. Any salt will work but rock salt is advised.
- (Optional) Add a small amount of water. I usually don't do this as the salt makes the ice melt anyway
- Swirl your bottle around or shake it for 5-10 minutes. This does require some effort and you should turn your bottle upside down halfway through.
- Pour out the content of your bottle into the sink
- Rinse the bottle thoroughly to remove any remaining salt
- Air dry your bottle upside down on a drying rack until dry.
4. Water Bottle Cleaning Tablets
Water bottle cleaning tablets are like a cheat code for cleaning water bottles and most of them work really well to give your bottle a quick clean with little to no effort.
All you need to do is rinse the bottle, fill it with warm water, drop a tablet in, and wait about 15 or 20 minutes for it to do its thing.
As the tablet dissolves it creates effervescent bubbles that penetrate even the hardest-to-reach places, removing built-up dirt, grime, and mold — naturally with no scrubbing needed.
For the best clean combining water bottle cleaning tablets and scrubbing is ideal, but it'll still work well without a bottle brush.
Check out some of my favorite water bottle cleaning tablets and learn for yourself how game changing they can be.
5. Soak With Diluted Bleach Or Vinegar
I used this method recently to clean my Hydro Flask which was smelling a bit funky no matter how many times I washed it with soapy water and a bottle brush.
This method works great for deodorizing and deep cleaning your bottle every few weeks, but there’s no reason you can’t use it for regular cleanings as well.
Vinegar and bleach are mold cleaners and by using this you can be confident your bottle is mold free. Just make sure not to use bleach in stainless steel bottles as it can cause them to rust. Vinegar is fine for all types of bottle though.
- Fill your bottle with warm water and add about a teaspoon of bleach (only use a couple drops for plastic bottles).
- Shake and let it soak for a couple hours or as long as overnight.
- Rinse the bottle thoroughly, making sure to remove ALL bleach.
- Air dry your bottle upside down on a drying rack.
If you’d prefer to avoid using bleach, a 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar to cold water makes a good natural alternative.
Just keep in mind, bleach can also corrode plastic. If you plan to do this regularly with a plastic bottle, use vinegar instead — though bleach is still fine to use occasionally, when your plastic bottle is particularly nasty.
6. Stuff A Washcloth Inside And Shake
Similar to the rice method, the idea here is to add something to your bottle that will scrub the interior when shaken.
- Stuff a small, clean washcloth into your bottle. Make sure it doesn’t take up more than about ⅓ of the empty space, it needs plenty of room to move around.
- Fill the bottle about a third to half full with hot water and a squeeze a small amount of dish soap or your natural cleaner of choice.
- Shake the bottle vigorously for two or three minutes, flipping the bottle over about halfway through.
- When you’re done, dump out the water and washcloth (if you have a narrow mouth bottle you may need to fish it out with some chopsticks).
- Rinse away any remaining soap or cleaner under hot running water.
- Air dry the bottle upside down on a drying rack.