Single-use, non-biodegradable, and decidedly bad for marine life (among other constituents of our natural world), plastic straws are increasingly being replaced by their reusable counterparts—whether made of metal, silicone, plastic, or bamboo. But as you try to save the planet one straw at a time, you may find that you’re not practicing good safety for yourself. And it’s all because of the way that you are (or are not) cleaning your reusable straw.
“When cleaning reusable straws it’s really important to make sure you can verify and see if the inside is clean,” says Stacey Feeley, co-founder and CEO of GoSili, a brand that makes silicone straws, cups, and food storage containers. Unsurprisingly, Feeley recommends investing in silicone straws, which are translucent, and can help give you a quick line of sight for added assurance that the inside is clean. “Leftover food and bacteria can hide in metal, plastic, or other straws that you may not see.”
Straws, unfortunately, are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and germs given their near-constant exposure to moisture. As a result, experts say, unless you’re carefully cleaning yours between each use, you’re likely drinking bacteria along with the contents of your beverage. In fact, a study from EmLab P&K laboratory found that straw-top water bottles had just two fewer colony-forming units per square centimeter on their surface than a toilet seat. So all this to say, yes, please—wash your straw.
If you have a silicone, reusable straw, says Feeley, you can actually use your straw to clean itself. “Because the straw is soft and pliable, we recommend running the straw under warm, soapy water and then squeezing the sides of the straw together so that each side can be rubbed against the other to self cleanse,” she says. “Once done, run the water through until clean and soap is gone.”
If you have a straw brush, you could also create a soap and water mixture and insert the brush into reusable straws made of any material, rubbing back and forth to ensure that you’ve removed all particulates. Then, rinse the soap out of the straw.
“Along with the hand method of cleaning, reusable straws can also be cleaned in the dishwasher,” Feeley notes. “They can be placed either over the prongs or in the silverware basket.” You just want to ensure that jets of water and detergent can actually clean the inside of the straw, so simply laying a straw down horizontally will not do much for you. Do be mindful, however, of your straw’s material. Plastic reusable straws will break down in the dishwasher, where silicone, bamboo, or metal straws will not warp. Feeley adds that silicone straws can also be boiled to ensure sterilization, as can metal and bamboo—but your best bet is to always check the cleaning instructions on your straw of choice.
If you’re looking to add a few reusable straws to your collection, some of our favorites are both affordable and sustainable. On the silicone side, we’re fans of the collection from GoSili (starting at $1.50)—their reusable straws are durable and translucent, which means you can clean them time and time again, and make sure they’re actually gunk free. Grove Collaborative also has a great set of silicone straws ($9), as well as a delightful set of metal straws in a bronze finish ($11).
If you’re looking for stainless steel, you can’t go wrong with the offerings from U Konserve ($6), which are dishwasher safe and also come with their own cleaning brush. Another perennial favorite is the FinalStraw ($20 for the kit with cleaning brush and carrying case), a collapsible metal straw that has a silicone tip, combining the best of both material worlds. And of course, the fact that it folds up makes it supremely portable, which means you’re more likely to use it even when you’re not sipping on beverages in the comfort of your own home.
For folks who prefer the comfort of bamboo in all aspects of life, Public Goods makes a great set of affordable bamboo straws ($5) that can biodegrade when you’re ready to retire them from use.
And finally, to keep things chic, we’d recommend checking out a set of glass straws, which have the added bonus of being transparent, and therefore easier to keep clean (or at least, to know when they need washed). We love the glass options from Simply Straws (from $7.50).
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