5 Reasons Why You Should Never Drink From a Water Cooler

close up photo of woman drinking a glass of water with lemon

I never drink from water coolers. And neither should you. I’m talking about the ones that have the large 15 litre bottle on top and the dispenser underneath. The ones you find in offices and doctors waiting rooms. The ones with the returnable/reusable bottles. They may seem to be providing you with clean, filtered water….but are they? In fact they may not. Once you read the reasons below, I am pretty sure you will be questioning whether you really need to have that glass of water from the water cooler.

Office water cooler

I came across a post in my Facebook feed the other day, about the office water cooler being filled with champagne.  It’s all a bit of fun, and we can all have a laugh and see the humour of it.  But how much truth is behind it?

The Revolting Water Cooler Experience

This got me thinking about a boat trip I took with a friend and our kids a few years ago.  We were stuck on this boat for an entire afternoon – there was no getting off unless we jumped ship and swam for shore.  It was a warm day, and the only drink option was water from the supplied water cooler.

I drank around 4 cups of water, our kids having lots of drinks. However upon pouring drink number 5, this brown hairy glob of something came out of the tap and dispersed into my cup of water.  Well, let’s just say that I didn’t feel too great after seeing that! The cup of water went overboard, and I didn’t drink again from the water cooler!!  I don’t know what the brown glob was exactly, but I think it may have been the result of a build-up of algae and gunk in the dispenser. Which unluckily for me just happened to end up in my cup!  But whatever it was, I am pretty sure that smaller pieces were ending up in previous cups unnoticed.

water cooler

This experience is actually not why I don’t like drinking from water coolers, but it did help cement my dislike for them.  Let me share with you my actual 5 reasons why you should never drink from a water cooler and what you can do instead.

The Bottles Are Heavy and Can Cause Injury

These bottles are not light and when full of water weigh around 15 kilos.   Lifting and replacing these onto the dispenser and moving them around the home and office present an obvious risk of physical injury.  Not only back and lifting injuries. But also slips and falls are of concern when water is spilt from the bottle onto the floor.

heavy water bottles

The Bottles Contain BPA

The bottles are usually made from polycarbonate plastic and therefore will contain Bisphenol A (BPA).  These bottles are sanitized and refilled around 30-40 times during their life. They are then recycled when their use has come to an end, usually after about 5 years.  The wear and tear caused by the repeated use of the bottles exacerbates the leaching effect of the BPA into the water.  Only tiny amounts of BPA are required to cause genetic changes which lead to health issues such as effects on the nervous systems and interruption to the normal functioning of the body’s endocrine system.  BPA has also been linked to cancers, impaired immune and brain function, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity, infertility and fertility issues such as decreased testosterone, and low sperm counts and early onset puberty.

Water Can Be Contaminated

The water used to fill the bottles can be obtained from a natural source such as a spring or well. Or it can be obtained from an approved potable municipal supply.  Natural sources are prone to periodic contamination from pollutants generated from agriculture. These contaminants include pesticides, fertilizers and nitrates, industrial contaminants, algae blooms and bacterial issues.  Bottled water companies are not required to regularly test for contaminants. Nor are they required to disclose any contaminants found to consumers.  Tap water which comes from a public supplier requires disinfection, testing for bacteria and pathogens, filtration and testing for chemicals.  Some bottled water has been found to contain benzene, mould, sodium hydroxide, kerosene, styrene, algae, yeast, tetrahydrofuran, sand, fecal coliforms and other forms of bacteria, elevated chlorine, ‘filth’, glass particles, sanitiser, and even crickets.

The Dispensers and Bottles Are Not Clean

There are reuse and refill hazards associated with water coolers, such as whether the bottle was cleaned properly.   People do actually put champagne in these cooler bottles along with other drinks such as beer, wine and fruit juice. This contaminates the bottle and dispenser with moulds and yeasts which are difficult to remove. These bottles are then cleaned and passed onto to another consumer for use. They are completely unaware of what was previously put in them.

Additionally, the taps can be contaminated by dirty hands. The usual practice in offices of refilling drink bottles from the cooler can lead to contamination of the tap from the neck of the drink bottle. This can cause and contribute to passing around of office illness such as colds and flus.    In addition, contaminants and bacterial growth can increase if the dispensing unit is not cleaned and maintained adequately.

Contamination From Other People & The Environment

There are also contamination dangers which can occur from the office or workplace or at home.  The water can become contaminated when opened and placed on the dispenser by airborne contaminants, dirty lips of the bottles or unwashed hands.  Dust will contain contaminants such as fungal spores, skin cells, airborne viruses, bacteria and organic matter.  When these enter into the bottle, algal growth, increased bacterial levels, contaminants, strange tastes and cloudiness may result.

The chances of contamination are higher if the water cooler is located in areas such as machine shops or high traffic areas. Chances of contamination are also higher if the water is stored at room temperature or in a sunny spot as sunlight increases bacterial growth.

Water cooler bottle

What To Do Instead

To avoid the health issues associated with water coolers, I would recommend instead to install a good water filter to the tap in the office or home. Make sure to choose cartridges which will help remove contaminants specific to your home or workplace. 

If however, you end up in the unfortunate situation that I was, stuck on a boat, with the choice of the water cooler or the ocean water, then make sure you check the cleanliness of the cooler and the water prior to drinking it. Or even better, be more prepared than I was – and take your own water in glass or stainless steel drinking bottles.

woman drinking water from a bottle


Bijlsma, N. 2013, Healthy Home, Healthy Family.  Is where you live affecting your health? 2nd Edition Reprinted, Joshua Books, Queensland.

Huber, M. 2010, Bottled Water: The Risks to our Health, Our Environment, and Our Wallets (Online) Available http://www.indiana.edu/~spea/pubs/undergrad-honors/volume-5/huber_marguerite.pdf

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