Cleaning your water cooler

February 14, 2018

Business people standing in line by water cooler at office

When was the last time you cleaned your water cooler? If you can’t remember, then it’s time. The fact is, most water coolers are refilled every other day by whichever employee is the last one to drain the bottle, or whoever is unfortunate enough to arrive at the cooler after some inconsiderate co-worker left an empty bottle (we’re looking at you, Kevin from accounting!). Most of the time, employees simply refill the cooler and go on with their day.


The U.S. Department of Energy recommends cleaning the cooler with every change of the bottle, or every six weeks, whichever comes first. We understand the notion of cleaning your water cooler after every bottle is just flat-out unrealistic, but every six weeks is just about right to avoid an unhealthy buildup of bacteria and biofilm.


How to clean your top-loading water cooler

First things first: Every time a new bottle is put on your water cooler, it needs to be wiped clean. Water bottles sit in warehouses or out in the office, gathering dust, bacteria, and other unhealthy particles. So before placing a new bottle, wipe it down with a damp cloth or paper towel—every time. We have found that it’s best to put a sign explicitly saying this: “Wipe down bottles before use!” otherwise Kevin from accounting will forget, because you know how he is.


Next, set a reminder on your calendar every six weeks. On cleaning day, put a sign on the water cooler bottle that is currently in use that says: “Do not refill. Alert [Your Name] when bottle is empty.” If you don’t do this, you’ll find that you will never be able to actually clean the water cooler with a new bottle just placed.


When you are ready to clean your cooler, follow these steps, which takes about 30 minutes to do properly:

  1. Disconnect the water cooler power cord from the outlet.
  2. Remove the EMPTY bottle from your cooler and drain the reservoir via the cold water faucet into a bucket.
  3. Remove water guard or spill-free top from your cooler.
  4. Once the top is off, remove the baffle inside the reservoir (this is a plastic or stainless steel plate/tube assembly that lifts straight out).
  5. IF YOUR COOLER IS A HOT & COLD DISPENSING COOLER: You will see two holes in the bottom of the reservoir leading to the faucets. The center hole is for hot water. You will need to plug this with a cork or a plug. If you don’t, your cleaning solution will get into your hot tank and your hot water will taste like it for weeks. Your hot tank is very hot and will sanitize itself.
  6. Clean cooler exterior and faucets with hot water and mild soap. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
  7. Mix one teaspoon of unscented bleach with a gallon of clean water. Do not use more than one teaspoon. Put on rubber gloves, and wash the inside of your cooler with this solution, using rubber gloves and a lint-free towel.
  8. Fill tank with the cleaning solution and let it sit for five minutes.
  9. Using your lint-free towel, wipe down the spill-free top and baffle (be sure not to let the air filter get wet). Let this sit for 3 minutes, and then rinse profusely with clean bottled water, and set aside to dry.
  10. Remove drip tray and clean thoroughly. Let dry for three minutes.
  11. Drain the cooler tank through the cold water faucet.
  12. Fill tank with fresh water, all the way to the top, and drain again.
  13. Repeat two more times to be sure to remove all cleaning solution.
  14. If you put a plug over the hot tank hole, remove it now. (It’s best to put your rubber gloves back on.)
  15. Replace the baffle and spill-free top assembly.
  16. Place a new bottle of water on the cooler and drain two cups of water from each faucet (hot, room temp, and cold).
  17. Plug the cooler back in.


If you have a bottom-load water cooler, follow these steps:

  1. Be sure to clean out the drip-tray every other week.
  2. Do nothing else, as they are self-cleaning.


For more help on keeping your facility clean and healthy (or for help talking to Kevin from accounting about his bad habits), contact Vanguard Resources.