How to Clean a Water Cooler

Stainless steel and black water cooler next to houseplant

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 25 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-10

Water coolers aren't just for the office anymore. With the rise in popularity of bottled waters, many consumers have turned to the convenience of a home water cooler. A water cooler is usually more cost-effective than individual plastic bottles; it dispenses the exact amount of water you want; and reduces the amount of plastic waste that should be recycled.

Types of Home Water Coolers

There are three basic types of home water coolers:

  • Top-loading models: The water jug sits upside-down on top of the cooler and water is dispensed by gravity.
  • Bottom loading models: The water jug sits in the bottom of the cooler and a pump draws out the water. These are easier to load in a full water jug than top-loading models.
  • Filtered Water Dispensers: Using no jugs, a water line is plumbed directly into the dispenser where the water is filtered before being dispensed. While more expensive to purchase and install, operational costs are less because municipal water is less expensive than buying bottled water.

Coolers offer options from dispensing room temperature water to chilled or heated water and are available in a wide range of sizes and prices. Helpful features include removable drip trays and lighted control panels.

How Often to Clean Your Water Cooler

No matter what type of cooler you choose, one thing they all have in common is that they should be cleaned regularly. Even coolers that promise to be self-cleaning need regular maintenance to prevent bacteria build-up and remove mineral deposits from the interior working parts. The exterior also needs regular cleaning to remove fingerprints and the bacteria left by hands on the controls. Maintenance is simple, takes only a few minutes, and can be done when changing the water bottle.

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning a water cooler every three to six months, depending on the frequency of use. The controls and exterior of the cooler should be cleaned more often to remove bacteria left by hands and splatters from drinking glasses and cups.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Buckets
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber towel
  • Rubber gloves
  • Vacuum or disposable duster


  • Chlorine bleach
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid


Materials and tools to clean a water cooler on wooden floor

The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Clean a Water Cooler

  1. Read the Manual

    Before you begin cleaning the cooler, take a few minutes to read the manufacturer's instructions on cleaning. If you have misplaced or tossed the manual, most can be found online.

    Manual opened in front of water cooler

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  2. Unplug the Cooler and Remove the Bottle

    Unplug the cooler from electrical sources. Remove the bottle and wait about five minutes for any water to drain out of the operating mechanisms. If any other appliances are plugged into the same outlet, unplug them to prevent accidental interaction between live electricity and the cleaning mixtures.

    Water bottle removed from water cooler

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    You can use liquid chlorine bleach and water or distilled white vinegar and water cleaning solution. Chlorine bleach is much more effective in killing bacteria than distilled white vinegar. Never mix bleach and vinegar, as this creates a toxic gas.

    If you're using a filtered water dispenser, you may even benefit from using the vinegar solution rather than bleach, as this will help dissolve hard water minerals that can linger in filtered tap water.

    • Chlorine Bleach Solution: Pour one gallon of water into a bucket and add one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach. Stir to mix well.
    • Distilled White Vinegar Solution: Add one gallon of water to a bucket and pour in five and one-third cups of distilled white vinegar. Stir to mix well.
    Cleaning solution with chlorine bleach and white vinegar poured into blue bucket

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Clean the Bottle Collar and Top of the Dispenser

    Wet a sponge with the cleaning solution and thoroughly wipe the bottle collar and the top of the dispenser.

    Bottle collar and top dispenser cleaned with blue sponge and cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Almar Creative


    Chlorine bleach can cause possible skin irritation, so it's best to wear rubber gloves when working with this chemical.

  5. Pour the Cleaning Solution Into the Water Reservoir

    Pour two to three cups of the solution into the water reservoir. Let it stand for about 10 minutes to sanitize the interior. Move on to the next cleaning step.

    Water reservoir placed in blue bucket with cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  6. Clean the Drip Tray

    While the cleaning solution is sitting in the reservoir, clean the drip tray. If the tray is removable, take it to the sink and use a bit of dishwashing liquid to clean away any residue from the grill and tray. Rinse well and dry with a microfiber cloth.

    If the tray cannot be removed, clean it with the bleach or vinegar cleaning solution and dry well.

    Water cooler drip tray cleaned and dried with microfiber cloth

    The Spruce / Almar Creative


    To help prevent bacterial growth and foul odors, never pour anything like coffee or other liquids into the drip tray.

  7. Drain and Flush the Reservoir

    Once 10 minutes have passed, drain the cleaning solution through the spigots into a bucket and dispose of properly. The solution can be poured down a sink or flushed through the toilet.

    Refill the reservoir with fresh water and drain again to flush out any traces of the solution. Repeat at least twice.

    Glass bowl catching flushed out water from water cooler

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  8. Clean the Air Flow Vents

    Check the air vents on the back of the cooler for excessive dust accumulation. Too much dust makes the cooling mechanisms work harder and causes wear on the system just like dust on refrigerator vents. Use a vacuum with the dusting attachment on the hose or a disposable duster to remove the dust.

    Dust brush passing over air vent of water cooler

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  9. Replace the Water Bottle

    Replace the water bottle and plug the cooler back into the electrical outlet.

    Water cooler plugged into wall outlet

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Tips to Keep a Water Cooler Clean Longer

When it's time to change out the water bottle, after removing the empty one from the cooler, use the vinegar-water solution, and take a moment to do these simple steps:

  • Wipe the dispensing lever and valves and the surrounding area.
  • Before putting the new bottle in, wipe off its neck, shoulder, and opening before putting it in the water cooler.
  • Drain and wipe the drip tray at least weekly to keep it clean and free of mold.