How to clean your cycling water bottles

Dishwasher or handwash? And how often should you clean them?

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The water bottle, or bidon as it’s known in cycling circles, is an essential accessory but something that’s seldom the focus of our attention. While I like to have matching bidons, colour co-ordinated to my bike, that’s about as much thought as I put into it. That is, until I find one that has sat a little too long without being washed out. One sniff of a few-day-old protein shake is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice of a simple bidon. 

I am consciously trying to make bidons last longer. Caring for bidons and keeping them clean is the most significant factor in helping them last longer. So what is the best way to clean a water bottle? 

Rather than reaching for a new bidon, proper care can make them last longer.

Dishwasher

I vary between sticking bottles in the dishwasher and handwashing, depending on my energy levels post-training. While a dishwasher would seem to offer a thorough clean, is it too extreme and potentially damaging to the bottles? There is also the question of the environmental impact of using a dishwasher. 

I set about doing some research on the subject, and surprisingly, it seems there is no definitive answer. Instead, it is a case of “it depends”.

Dishwashers are safe for your bottles if your bottles and dishwasher both meet some requirements. Bas Holtkamp of Tacx’s bottle department confirmed to me that it is safe to wash most of Tacx’s bottles in a dishwasher, provided the water temperature does not exceed 40°C (104ºF).

Problem solved? Well, not quite. A quick Google search tells me my Indesit machine has a running temperature of 50ºC (122ºF) on Eco mode, the coolest of the modes available. No dishwasher for my Tacx bottles then. 

David A. Hernandez of Specialized told me that most Specialized bottles are dishwasher safe, without giving a temperature range. However, Hernandez added that liquids exceeding 120ºF (49ºC) should not be placed in the bottle. So Specialized bottles can’t be used in my dishwasher either?

I asked Hernandez to clarify if this liquid temperature applies to the water temperature in a dishwasher. He explained: “The main reason for not pushing the use of the bottle with 120ºF is for when you are actually drinking from it. If used with 120ºF or higher while drinking from it, it can become influenced from the squeezing and become deformed, and with such high temps migration of materials from the lid or, non-Purist bottles, become apparent.”

Most bottles will have a guide on the base indicating dishwasher suitability and temperature ranges. You can then check dishwasherreviews.co.uk for running temperatures of the different modes on your machine. Whichever machine you have, you will need to select the delicate cycle when washing bidons. 

Give thought to bottle placement in the dishwasher also. Given the heating element lies in the dishwasher base, it will be better to place bottles on the top shelf. The extreme heats of a drying cycle can also damage some bottles, so take note of this even if your machine’s running temperatures suggest it is safe for bidons. 

Modern dishwashers are now much more efficient than they used to be, and I was surprised to learn that a full load can use much less water than washing the same load by hand. I find my bidons can stand in small spaces otherwise left empty on a wash cycle and, as such, require no extra water. 

I spoke to Xenia De Roose, nutritionist at TheBreakaway.be and sports therapist for Trinity Racing and Team Ireland about how teams care for bidons while away at races. “Mostly we use new bottles at races,” she said. “Especially now with the current COVID situation, the chance of passing bacteria through a bottle is too big. We will put bottles in the hotel dishwasher when we have the possibility to do so. If we are short on bottles, I wash them in hot water, and leave to steep in a cooler box, with hot water and sterilising tablets in it. After 15 – 20 minutes we remove the bottles and stack them upside down to dry on a clean towel.” 

Xenia De Roose of Trinity Racing with a bottle for Tom Pidcock. (Photo:Trinity Racing)

Handwashing

Handwashing can still be the quickest and easiest option, especially if you have just had plain water in the bidon. Washing up liquid and hot water will usually suffice for handwashing. 

Add a drop of washing up liquid and a splash of water to the bottle, close the lid and shake vigorously. Before rinsing the bottle out, I like to spray some of the foamy liquid through the nozzle to clear out any drink lingering in the lid. It’s then just a case of repeating the process with plain water and rinsing out the remaining soap. 

Drink mix and sticky residues can sometimes build-up at the bottom of the bidon. A bottle brush, such as those used for cleaning baby bottles, will help make those areas easier to reach. The brush can also be used to clean the nozzle on the lid. 

Once the bottle is cleaned and rinsed, check the inside for any mould. If mould is present double up on the washing process and scrub with a brush, but it might spell the end of the road for that bottle. 

Some nozzles have lots of nooks and crannies that can collect dirt.

Pro tips:

Don’t forget the outside

Our bidons get subjected to road spray containing all sorts of dirt, especially on wet days. Start by giving the exterior a rigorous clean regardless of how you choose to wash your bottles.

Xenia De Roose, who also works with cyclocross star Tom Pidcock, detailed how they clean bottles after a muddy ‘cross session or race. “[We take them] off the bike straight into the camper van sink to rinse off any dirt, then into a bag to put it in the dishwasher at home,” she said. “The only difference at muddy or dusty races is we give the lid an extra clean – mud and sand gets into every little bit.”

Wash after every use

Again, regardless of how you choose to wash your bottles, it is important to clean them after every ride. This prevents bacteria build-up that can multiply over a number of rides if not cleaned out.

Avoid bleach 

While bleach can kill any bacteria in the bidon, it is very harsh and can contaminate the bottle and its contents for future rides.  

Storage 

“It is essential to leave the bottles upside down to dry and always leave the lid open,” De Roose said. “If the lid is left closed and the bottle is not rinsed thoroughly, bacteria can grow inside. After drying on the towel, I brush them out with a fresh cotton towel. It is important to make sure the bottles are fully dry before storing them. Always leave the top of the nozzle open while storing.”

It won’t last forever

Despite the best of intentions, bidons will not last forever. Proper care will prolong their lives. Thankfully biodegradable bottles are now available and are becoming more common. 

Tracking the exterior of the bottle can be a good indicator of bottle life. If the bottle is excessively scuffed and marked it may be an indicator the bottle has been around the block a few too many times. However, some bottle cages can cause more wear on the bottle than others, so you will need to consider this if looking at the exterior as an indicator of how long the bottle has been in use.

As De Roose explained, Trinity Racing are acutely aware of the importance of not being wasteful. “The good thing about working for a team like Trinity Racing is that fans are always there to take our team bottles,” she said. “For this reason, we look forward to getting back to normal times and have fans around the team camper.

“I’m not the most creative person, but we do find other uses for old bidons. For example, I sometimes use them as a vase for the podium flowers. Working with Pidcock, I had to do this very often.”

Indoor training

It can be easy to neglect bottle-cleaning duties between indoor rides. Without the dirt and grim sprayed on the bottles from outdoor rides, bottles can appear cleaner than they are. Bottles used for indoor training can collect sweat and spittle as you crank out the watts, so cleaning between each ride is just as important.

Keep track of your bidons

If you share a space with other cyclists, it is good to keep track of which bottles are yours, especially given the current pandemic. “At Trinity Racing we always make sure to be healthy and safe, not just with the bottles,” De Roose said. “We always have had hygienic rules, and hand sanitisers have always been part of our lives. I put the names of the riders on the bidons, so after I washed them, I know which one was used by who. I prefer not to use someone else’s bottle, so I try to ensure the same for others.”

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