When you shop through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. This educational content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

How to Clean a Water Cooler

You won’t find an easier way.

Do you have a water cooler or dispenser at your home or office? These are excellent at providing cold and clean water at any given moment. But, they can also become a host for bacteria if not cleaned properly.

Luckily, you don’t need harsh chemicals or professional help to do it yourself. Follow our guide on how to clean a water cooler, and you’ll be good to go.

Why It’s Important to Clean Your Water Cooler

Water coolers are an excellent way to have cold water ready at your home, gym and office. Although the water within the dispenser is clean, germs and microorganisms can quickly grow. This is due to the moist environment which most bacteria thrive in.

To make sure you’re getting the clean H2O you crave, aim to clean the cooler every six weeks. Another way to remember to clean your dispenser is by doing so whenever you change the bottle.

Cleaning a water cooler doesn’t require any particular products or tools. All you need is vinegar or bleach, water and a little time of your day.

When using bleach, use an unscented version. Keep in mind that any added fragrance in the cleaning product can stick around and change the taste and quality of your water.

Vinegar and bleach are both effective at removing most bacteria, mold and mildew that might be present (1).

Possible Contaminants in a Dirty Water Dispenser

Common harmful bacteria that can grow in cold water dispensers are Ralstonia spp and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Ralstonia spp can cause urinary tract infections (2), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause infections in people with a weakened immune system (3).

A study showed several contaminants are present in water coolers, such as fecal coliform and streptococci (4). The study showed that there were more contaminants present in an unclean water cooler than tap water. Experts suggest that cleaning the dispenser every two months will limit the pollutants present in the water (5).

How to Clean a Water Cooler

Cleaning a water cooler is an easy job if you have the time and the right equipment. Here’s how to make a cleaning solution:

  • Vinegar: Add 1 quart of white vinegar to a bucket with 3 quarts of warm water. Mix it well before use. Add one or two tablespoons of lemon juice if the vinegar-scent is off-putting to you.
  • Bleach: Mix 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of water. This will create a mild solution — be careful when you stir so you won’t spill. We suggest you wear old clothing, so it won’t matter as much if it gets exposed to the bleach.


Be cautious when handling bleach around children and pets. Protect your skin by using gloves and wear a breathing mask.

Top-Loading vs. Bottom-Loading Water Dispensers

Both versions are effective at delivering clean water when needed.

Top-loading machines use gravity to do most of the work. They have a valve that seals the bottle to the machine. As you open the spigot, the valve will open and allow the water to flow.

A bottom-loading water cooler is a bit more complicated.

Because it needs to draw water out of the bottle, it’s equipped with an electric pump. It keeps the reservoir filled to have water ready whenever you need it. There’s an extra water line that acts as a sensor to detect when the tank needs to be filled again.

How to Clean a Top-Loading Water Machine

Cleaning a top-loading water dispenser is best done when the bottle is empty and needs to be replaced. Use the following steps to disinfect your cooler using either vinegar or bleach:

1. Unplug the Water Cooler

Unplugging the water dispenser is crucial. You’re dealing with water and electricity, therefore, an electrical shock can occur if you’re not careful. It will also give you more freedom to move around the cooler without tripping over a cord.

2. Remove Water Bottle

Remove the water bottle as you normally would. Inspect the area where the bottle meets the dispenser for any signs of mildew or mold. Use a clean sponge soaked in the cleaning solution to wipe the area thoroughly.

Allow the solution to sit for two to five minutes, but avoid leaving it for longer since it could damage the surface. If you encounter any stubborn stains, you can make a paste using water and baking soda. Use a small stiff brush to scrub the stains away.

3. Clean the Water Guard

The water guard is what punctures the bottle when you insert it. If your dispenser has one, remove it. Rinse it underneath the tap and then wipe it using the solution you’re working with. Rinse it again to remove any leftover solution and allow it to dry.

4. Remove the Drip Guard

The drip guard, or tray that holds the cup, also has to be cleaned. Remove it and rinse under the tap, then wipe thoroughly using your disinfectant.

If you stumble across some mildew, mold or tough stains, you can use the baking soda paste here as well. Once you’re done, rinse it thoroughly and allow it to dry.

5. Clean the Tank

Use the remaining solution to clean the inside of the tank. Close the spigot and pour the solution through the top. Allow it to sit for two to three minutes before opening the spigot, or taps, to drain the tank.

Alternate between the two taps to ensure both are thoroughly cleaned and exposed to the disinfectant.

6. Rinse the Tank

To get rid of any contaminants or bacteria, you must rinse the tank thoroughly using clean water.

Close the spigots again and fill the tank with water — drain it completely.

Do this two to four times, then taste the water if you’re using vinegar, or smell it if you’re using bleach. If you detect any signs of the disinfectant, fill the tank with clean water again and drain. Repeat until all signs are gone.

7. Put the Tray and Water Guard Back

Place every piece you removed back into their places once you’re happy with the water quality. Before installing the new water bottle, wipe it off using a dry cloth in circular motions.

Stay Clean

Make sure your hands are clean before handling the bottle again, to avoid any bacterial contamination.

Remove the cap of the bottle and place it into the dispenser. Make sure it fits tightly and that you see air bubbles floating to the top. The bubbles indicate that the bottle is sealed to the machine.

If you don’t have a non-spill cap on your bottle, you can use plastic wrapping to keep the water from spilling. You simply remove the cap and tightly wrap one or two sheets of plastic around the top. Puncture a small hole to help relieve the pressure.

8. Plug In

Once the dispenser is clean, and the new water bottle is installed, it’s time to plug it into the outlet. Allow the water dispenser to cool the water for 30 to 60 minutes before using the machine. Check both taps of the dispenser to make sure everything is working as it should.

How to Clean a Bottom-Loading Water Dispenser

When you’re cleaning a bottom-loading water dispenser, you can use the same equipment as the top-loading version. You’ll also need a funnel and an empty bottle to get started.

1. Unplug the Cooler

This step is crucial if you want to avoid an electrical shock. Water dispensers are sometimes placed in a corner so unplugging also allows you to move it to the center of the room.

2. Save the Bottle

After removing the water bottle, save it — you’ll need it for the cleaning solution.

Drain the reservoir of any water that might be remaining by opening the taps.

Add your choice of disinfectant to the empty bottle using the funnel. Check the gallons of your water bottle as this determines how much bleach or vinegar you’ll need to add.

When using vinegar, mix one part for every three parts water. If you want to add lemon juice, do it after you’ve mixed vinegar and water well.

If you’re using bleach, add one tablespoon to every gallon. Mix it carefully.

3. Install the Water Bottle

Install the water bottle with the solution as you usually would, then let the tank fill. Leave it to sit for up to 10 minutes to effectively disinfect the tank.

After 10 minutes, run the solution through the taps until it’s fully emptied. The drained solution should be discarded in a drain or flushed down the toilet.

You should also remove the drain tray where you place the cup. This should be drained, rinsed and wiped using the cleaning solution.

4. Refill the Bottle

Use the empty bottle to rinse the tank by filling it with clean water. Allow the tank to fill with fresh water and then drain through the taps.

Repeat the process and check the water coming out the spigots for any signs of bleach or vinegar. If you detect any signs, repeat until the water is clear.

5. Plug In

Put back the drain tray back into place and replace anything you removed. Wipe off the new water bottle using a clean, dry cloth. Install it as you normally would.

Plug in the dispenser and allow it at least 30 minutes to chill the water.


Is It Safe If There’s Black Mold in the Drain?

Mold, especially black, is hazardous when indoors. It’s a wet type of fungus that’s dark greenish-black in color. If inhaled, black mold can cause several health issues such as trouble breathing, severe nausea, nose bleeds, and more (6).

If you detect any signs of mold or mildew in your water dispenser, avoid using it. Clean the machine using the steps above. Choose unscented bleach as this disinfects more effectively than vinegar.

After cleaning the cooler, have the water tested for any signs of mold or contaminants before using the device.

Will the Water Taste Better After Cleaning?

The point with cleaning the dispenser is that you remove any build-up of bacteria or grime. These troubles can alter the crisp taste of bottled water. After cleaning the machine, the water should be tasting fresh again.

How Can I Remove the Taste of Vinegar?

Before cleaning your water cooler, consider which disinfectant you’d prefer. If you choose to use vinegar but don’t like the strong scent, add lemon juice.

Rinse the tank thoroughly — you might have to repeat the process several times to get all of the taste or smell out. Remember to drain it through both spigots to ensure both lines are clean.

If the issue persists, your cooler might require some maintenance or replacement.

Are Water Dispensers Safe?

A common concern with water dispensers is whether they’re safe or not. However, as long as you keep it clean and free of bacteria and grime, it’s perfectly safe.

Water dispensers are also an excellent option for homes in areas with low-quality tap water. It can be essential in a family home where you need to keep your children safe from unclean drinking water.

What Should I Do If My Water Dispenser Is Leaking?

Unplugging the dispenser is the first thing you should do. Next, you should take the bottle off and drain the reservoir completely.

We highly recommend that you leave the maintenance to a professional. It’s not easy to fix a leak, and you could risk breaking the machine and lose a warranty.

Cleaning is Key

Keeping your water dispenser clean is crucial — the moist environment is welcoming to bacteria and contaminants.

If you detect any signs of mold or mildew, avoid drinking the water — mold can cause serious health issues. Clean the cooler with unscented bleach or white vinegar to disinfect the tank and spigots.

How to clean a water cooler depends on whether you have a top-loading or bottom-loading machine. However, you can use the same types of cleaning solutions. Always handle the new water bottle with care and wash your hands thoroughly before handling it to avoid any transferred bacteria.

Do you have a water cooler at home or in your office? How often is it cleaned? Share a comment with us in the section below.

Feedback: Was This Article Helpful?
Thank You For Your Feedback!
Thank You For Your Feedback!
What Did You Like?
What Went Wrong?
Headshot of Sylvia Jones

About the Author

Sylvia Jones

Sylvia Jones is a hands-on, DIY aficionado from Indiana. She is passionate about home improvement, gardening, and environmental conservation. In her spare time, you can find Sylvia getting involved in home improvement projects around the house with her husband, or spending quality time out in the yard.