Buttoned Up Expert: Reusing Disposable Water Bottles: Cheap but Safe? A Review of Reusable Water Bottles

Buying cases of bottled water has never been feasible for me — economically or philosophically. It’s not just the wastefulness of disposable containers. I feel it is my right as a citizen of a developed country to have free, clean drinking water.

Tap Water vs. Bottled Water

There are two sides to every story, of course, but most experts agree that tap water is safer than bottled, as it is subjected to much more regulation and testing than bottled water.

Sadly, no drinking water seems to be 100% safe these days, but in the absence of certainty, I plan on sticking with free, public water. In the end, it’s in our interest to insist on clean drinking water, avoid polluting our environment with more plastic and petroleum waste, and support public policies that promote safe and affordable tap water for everyone. For more on clean public drinking water, see Food & Water Watch.

Is It OK to Reuse Plastic Water Bottles?

I’ve been refilling disposable plastic water bottles for years, so I was relieved to find that most authorities believe that the PET (#1) plastic used to make the bottles is safe for reuse.

However, some sources — such as National Geographic’s Green Guide — argue that reused plastic water bottles “can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a possible human carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disruptor.”

Almost all seem to agree that there is a chance that reused plastic water bottles can collect bacteria. To avoid this, experts recommend washing the bottles with warm, soapy water and leaving upside down to dry completely. (To me that kind of spoils the convenience of disposable bottles: I’ve always just rinsed mine out with cold water before refilling.)

Alternatives to Reusing Plastic Water Bottles

Should I take the chance and refill my convenient and often freebie plastic bottles, or should I buy a water bottle that is designed specifically to be reused?

While this is a question each of us must make for ourselves, I thought I would review and try some recommended safe water bottles that would most closely approximate the 16.9 oz. (.5 liter) lightweight plastic water bottles I’ve been refilling.

To compile this review, I surveyed dozens of professional and user reviews. While there is a slew of choices and options out there, I eliminated most as too bulky, since I need to be able to stuff a bottle in a lunch bag, cup holder or picnic basket.

Here are the bottles I chose:

Most Similar to a Plastic Water Bottle

Nalgene Water Bottle

NALGENE Tritan 1-Quart Narrow Mouth BPA-Free Water Bottle

Like a disposable bottle, the Nalgene water bottle is lightweight and comes in the standard 16 oz. size. Unlike the traditional everyday Nalgene, this narrow-mouth version makes it easier to drink from, and the BPA-free bottle can withstand temperatures between -40 and 212 degrees F.

Pros: Easy to clean; dishwasher-safe. Even though it’s wider and made from heavier plastic, the Nalgene most closely approximates the traditional water bottle size and weight.

Cons: Measuring marks and old-school design give it a utilitarian, college-studenty vibe. Wide shape makes it too fat for a drink holder (but the loop-top lets you hang it over things).

$12 at Amazon.

Most Space-Saving


Platypus Platy PlusBottle – 1 liter

With its lightweight and unconventional collapsible design, the Platypus is perfect for bringing water on outings and trips. Popular with hikers and campers, I like how it can be rolled up and stuffed into a picnic bag and then filled at destination. The 1- (and 2-) liter size makes it big enough to sate the whole family.

Pros: Super light and foldable yet large capacity. Great for picnics and trips.

Cons: Small top and flat shape makes it hard to clean and dry. Soft body makes it susceptible to spills (although it does also come with a push-pull cap).

$13 at Amazon.

Most Good-Looking

Thinksport Water Bottle

Thinksport Stainless Steel Insulated Sports Bottle – .350 and .750 liters

While Thinksport doesn’t come in the standard plastic water bottle size (.5 liters), I love the elegant design and muted colors (black, gray, purple, blue). What’s more, the double-walled stainless steel bottle keeps liquids hot or cold. (It even has a mesh screen to keep ice or tea leaves in).

Pros: Steel eliminates the plastic question. Acts like a thermos and is dishwasher-safe. Attractive design.

Cons: Heavier and clangier than plastic. Non-standard size could be an issue for those looking to replicate a disposable bottle.

$16 at Amazon.

How Do They Hold Up?

While none of these bottles is perfect for every occasion, I have been happy about how each one fills its purpose. I pack the Nalgene in my husband’s lunch every day. We bring the Platypus to the playground or on day trips. And while the .750 liter Thinksport is bulky, it keeps me going all morning with hot tea in the playroom.

Because these bottles are working for us, I’ve decided to toss out all my one-use water bottles. As a result, I feel I’ve upgraded our lifestyle in a tiny way, while at the same time, made a choice that feels better for our health.

If I had to buy another, which one would it be? The Nalgene. The capacity is standard, it has a loop-top for carrying, and it’s easily cleaned in the dishwasher.

Disposable vs. Re-Usable

At around $15, these water bottles are clearly more expensive than $2 (or free) disposable water bottles. However, they are less controversial health-wise, more attractive, and still environmentally-friendly. And because they last longer than disposable bottles, they might just end up saving us the same amount of money.

One final tip: To assuage my guilt for not re-using plastic water bottles, I bought my husband this new lunch bag made from recycled water bottles: the Sublime 6 Can Recycled Cooler ($20 at Amazon). He needed one anyway, and this one is large enough to accommodate the wider Nalgene water bottle and one or two plastic containers of food. Perfect!

What about you? How do you solve the portable water question?

Amy Suardi writes about saving money & making life better at Frugal Mama.

Feature photo credit