How to Clean a Water Cooler With Vinegar

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woman showing how to clean water cooler with vinegar

With all the other cleaning that gets done in a kitchen, it can be easy to forget your water cooler. Whether you have a water cooler in your home or in your office place, it is essential to clean the unit from time to time.

Vinegar is a great natural cleaner, and it is safe (although not that tasty) if there is a bit of residue left in your cooler. Here is a setup by step guide on how to clean a water cooler with vinegar. 

How to Clean A Water Cooler With Vinegar: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Unplug The Water Cooler for Cleaning

The first step in learning how to clean a water dispenser is to make sure that you unplug the unit. No good will come from a water cooler that is plugged in while you are trying to clean it. Always make sure that this is your first step and your final step in this process. 

2. Remove The Water Bottle

Once you have your water cooler unplugged, you can remove the water bottle from the water dispenser. Most of the time, these will simply screw off and expose the reservoir. Sometimes there will be a drip guard that is now showing at the top of the water cooler. 

When you remove the water bottle from the top, you should take a look at the top of it and inspect it for any mildew or buildup of any kind.

Chances are, if you have not changed your water bottle in a long time or it has been a while since you cleaned it, there may be some mildew. 

You can wipe this away with a towel that has a bit of soap and water on it. This should do the trick to clean the top of the water bottle. 

3. Clean The Drip Guard

If your water cooler has a drip guard, you can take this opportunity while it is exposed to remove it and clean it. The drip guard sometimes just helps water not to pour out too fast at times.

If you can remove the drip guard, easily put it in your sink and wash it with warm soapy water. Make sure to rinse and dry it well when you are finished with the cleaning. 

4. Clean The Reservoir

Cleaning the reservoir of your water dispenser is probably the most critical part of the job. This is the water cooler area where the chilled water waits to be poured into your cup.

Since water can sometimes sit in the reservoir for longer periods of time without moving, there is a chance that you could see some buildup or bacteria in the reservoir. 

Make a cleaning solution that is one part vinegar and three parts water. Pour this solution into the reservoir of the water cooler. You will want to let this sit in the reservoir for about five minutes before allowing it to drain. 

If your water cooler has more than one spigot, let the vinegar and water solution drain out of both spigots. This will ensure that all of the lines are being disinfected. 

5. Rinse

The next step is crucial. As great as it is that your water cooler now has a clean reservoir, if you don’t rinse out the vinegar water, nobody is going to want to drink from your water cooler for a very long time!

We recommend pouring a good amount of water into the reservoir and again draining it out of both spigots. 

After you have let the water run through, you can do a taste test of the water to ensure that all of the vinegar taste is out. Continue the process until you feel as though the unit is completely free of any kind of vinegar solution. 

6. Replace All Parts

Once you are sure that the water tastes normal, you can start to fill your water container back up and put all of the pieces back together. You are not completely done with your cleaning process, so don’t pack away the cleaning solution and supplies just yet. 

7. Clean The Drip Tray 

The drip tray is another area of the water cooler that can see some bacteria or mildew start to build up. The drip tray is another spot where you may notice spills of other drinks too. Some people try to add a little water to a tea or juice, and then things spill in the drip tray. 

Many water coolers have a completely removable drip tray. Others you will have to work with while it is on the water cooler to make sure that it can still be disinfected.

To clean a drip tray that does not separate from the water cooler, we recommend wiping it down with a wet rag with the vinegar and water solution. 

If your drip tray is removable, then simply place it in the sink and wash it as you would a dish. During this entire cleaning process, if you have sensitive skin, you may want to wear gloves. Some people do not enjoy the way that the vinegar feels on their hands, as it can be a bit acidic. 

We recommend drying the drip tray after it is cleaned so that it gets a fresh start and is ready to do its job. While you are cleaning the inside of your water cooler and the drip tray as well, you may want to consider cleaning the outside of the water cooler at the same time. 

How to Clean a Water Dispenser on the Outside 

Cleaning the outside of the water dispenser is relatively easy, but it should be done. How many people have you seen put their hand on the outside of the water dispenser while filling up their cup? It’s undoubtedly a common resting spot for some grimy hands. 

When you clean the outside of the water dispenser, you can use a bit of your vinegar and water solution and put it on a rag. Take that rag and wipe down the outside of the unit, especially any handles that will allow for water flow. 

These are the areas that will see the most human interaction. In fact, these areas of the water dispenser should be cleaned even more often than the inside of the water dispenser. 

How to Clean a Bottom-Loading Water Dispenser

Cleaning a bottom loading water dispenser is going to be very similar to our step by step process that we detailed above. 

The major difference with a bottom loading water dispenser is that you will need an extra bucket or bottle when you drain the reservoir. The reservoir will need to be emptied so that you can get it fully cleaned. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Now that you have a general understanding as to how to clean your water cooler, there are usually a few other questions that come up. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about how to clean a water cooler. 

How often should water coolers be cleaned?

It is a good idea to clean a water cooler every three to six months. This is about the time that it takes for bacteria to potentially start to grow and make your water unsafe or harmful to drink.

Try to set it on your calendar every three months, and if it happens to be every four, you are still doing fine. 

We like to schedule a deep clean day every three or four months, where we do things like the water cooler, the oven, and the inside of the refrigerator all on the same day.

These are the things around the kitchen that you don’t think about as often, but they still need our attention. 

How do you sanitize a water cooler?

When you clean a water cooler, you should be sanitizing it as well. Many people think of bleach when they sanitize, but we like to avoid bleach when we are working with a drinking container. Luckily the vinegar solution does a great job of sanitizing the cooler. 

The most important thing to remember is to allow the vinegar-water solution to run through completely and then follow it with a good amount of fresh water.

Always do a quick taste test before putting everything back together to ensure no faint taste of vinegar remaining in the water. 


Hopefully, you now feel as though you better understand what it takes to clean a water cooler. Cleaning a water cooler should not take you more than ten or fifteen minutes, but it is certainly worth the time if you consider the safety of the water you drink to be of importance.

Don’t forget to clean other less obvious areas of your kitchen along with your water dispenser as well. Appliances like the microwave and kitchen gear like your oven racks never seem to get enough attention. 

Free Printable Water Cooler Cleaning Checklist

Click on the water cooler cleaning checklist to print it for FREE!