Bacteria Lurking In Your Re-Filled Water Bottle

Published: Nov. 11, 2010 at 7:33 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2011 at 10:05 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Health experts all agree that drinking water is essential. But, all those water bottles means less landfill space. To reduce our carbon footprint, or just out of sheer frugality, many people re-use their water bottles, day in and day out.

We wanted to know if that's safe, so we asked a biology professor at Midwestern State University to test some water bottle samples, and we found will make you cringe.

What's lurking in your water bottle? Well, that depends on how many times you re-fill it!

Colleen Wilson, an audio director at Newschannel6 says, "I'll re-use it for probably a week, two weeks. I don't think I would use it more than two months. I don't think a water bottle would last me that long." Colleen says it's just easier to re-use her bottles. "I drink a lot of water, a lot of water!"

And she's not alone, lots of folks re-fill the same bottle and not everyone washes out those bottles.

So we asked Colleen if she ever washes her bottles. "No!" she says laughing, "No, I don't! I never wash 'um. I never wash 'um!"

So we collected water bottles in the newsroom. Colleen's which was more than a month old, another bottle aged about a week, one that was 24 hours old and a brand new un-opened bottle. We took those four bottles to the Midwestern State University laboratory and had Dr. James Masuoka, an Assistant Biology Professor, swab each one.

Dr. Masuoka describes what he's going to do. "What I'm going to do is take these sterile swabs and sort of get the swab damp." He swabs the inside lip of the bottle and spreads that swab on a petrie dish.

Then, half of the petrie dishes go into a giant jar with a candle. Think of the jar as a giant human mouth. The candle uses the available oxygen then releases carbon dioxide. Dr. Masuoka says, "People have all kinds of microbes that inhabit their mouths."

But, as for what's going to grow in the jar, Dr. Masuoka says we'll just have to wait and see.

So, 24 hours later we headed back to the lab to see what spawned in the plates.

"I was struck by the type of organisms we got," said Dr. Masuoka.

The good news is that the un-opened bottle had no growth. But, that wasn't the case for the others. The 24-hour plate, the one week and the one month all had a bevy of bacteria. Dr. Masuoka said, "These little bright, white colonies are the same. It could be staphylococcus."

More testing on the other samples showed there were several different types of bacteria. "These could be streptococcus," said Dr. Masuoka.

Now, time to share our results with Colleen. After showing her the pictures of the growth, Colleen exclaimed, "That's gnarly! I am kinda surprised that there's a lot of nastiness going on there!"

So what can you do to make sure you get enough water, save money, and help the environment? Dr. Masuoka says to wash them with a mild detergent. Colleen also offers some advice, "Wash your bottle I guess so that you don't get sick and get creepy bacteria organisms in your water... in your mouth!"

It's important to keep in mind though that there is good bacteria and bad bacteria, and that's what your immune system is for. Dr. Masuoka says a little of the bad stuff is fine. It's when you get hit with high doses that you might get sick. Re-used water bottles, or that coffee cup you use for a few days can pose a danger only because its allowing bacteria to build up.

Also remember, we gave the bacteria the perfect environment to grow in, and just because the bacteria was present on the bottle's lip, doesn't necessarily mean it was growing on it.