How Often Should You Clean Your Water Pitcher?

An unseen person's hands filling a water pitcher with water over their sink.

Dimitri Disterheft/Getty

Key Takeaways

  • Experts recommend washing your water pitcher at least every one to two weeks to prevent bacteria, fungi, and mold from growing. 
  • If you don’t keep your water pitch clean, bacteria can build up in it and could even make you sick.
  • To properly clean your water pitcher, use warm water and soap. Scrub the inside thoroughly with a clean sponge or brush.

You might get your water from the tap or from dispensers in your refrigerator. You might even use a water pitcher with a filter (like a Brita) to fill up your water bottle or glass throughout the day.

Since they’re typically full of crystal-clear water, you might not think about your water pitcher as something that gets dirty. However, just like other kitchen tools, water pitchers can be bacteria-growing hot spots if you don’t give them a deep clean once in a while.

Here’s what experts recommend for water pitcher maintenance—and what could happen if you never clean your water pitcher.

Weekly Water Pitcher Cleaning Is Best 

Hannah Newman, MPH, the director of infection prevention at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Verywell you should empty and wash your water pitcher at least every one to two weeks to prevent bacteria, mold, or algae from building up.

You should also wash the pitcher whenever you change the filter, which Newman said is “usually every couple of weeks.”

If you check the user manual or care instructions that came with your pitcher, you can get specific guidance for your product. A lot of brands include this information on their websites (check the FAQ), but if you can’t find it, ask! The manufacturer can tell you what the maintenance recommendations are for the product you have.

For example, Brita filter replacement recommendations range from every two to six months, or about every 40 to 120 gallons of water, depending on the product.

It will help to make water pitch cleaning part of your general chores routine, but there are also times when you need to go above and beyond your regularly scheduled upkeep.

For example, if your water pitcher or the filter gets contaminated by something like raw meat or chemicals from cleaning supplies, Newman said you’ll need to clean the pitcher and change the filter right away.

How Do You Clean a Water Pitcher?

To properly wash your water pitcher, here are the steps experts recommend following:

  1. Empty your water pitcher.
  2. Take the pitcher apart (e.g., remove the cap, filter, and other parts).
  3. Wash the pitcher with warm water and detergent/soap.
  4. Use a clean sponge or brush to scrub the inside of the container, making sure you get into all the crevices and corners.
  5. Rinse the pitcher well with clean water.
  6. Let the pitcher air dry upside down for several minutes or use a clean kitchen towel to dry it. 

Newman recommends washing your pitcher regularly, making sure your hands are clean when you’re handling it, and keeping it away from things that could contaminate it or the water inside it. For instance, if you have raw meat on the counter, don’t place your water pitcher right next to it).

If your water is running low, Newman said that it’s better to “finish what’s left and give it a quick clean before refilling rather than continuing to add water to what’s left.”

What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Water Pitcher? 

Katia Martinez, health communication specialist in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at the CDC, told Verywell that if you don’t wash your water pitcher and replace the filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions, bacteria, fungi, and amoebae can build up, grow, and multiply.

These germs will form a biofilm in the pitcher that helps them to survive. To you, it will just look like slime.

However, that goo is actually “a group of germs living together,” said Martinez. “A biofilm releases a slimy, glue-like substance which allows the germs to stick to surfaces. The slime keeps water treatment chemicals away from the germs, which helps them survive and multiply.”

Martin Bucknavage, MBA, MS, senior food safety extension associate at the Penn State Department of Food Science, told Verywell if you don’t take care of your water pitcher, thin layers of biofilm that may include mold or algae can grow and thicken. It may even build up enough that you can see it, and it will probably start to smell, too.

Water for Medical Devices

If you use CPAP machines, Neti pots, humidifiers, vaporizers, and other medical devices at home, you need to use filtered or distilled water in them because tap water is not sterile, and the minerals in tap water can clog up a machine over time.

To keep these units clean, Martinez recommends that you always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the device and how to clean it.

Can Bacteria in Your Water Pitcher Make You Sick?

According to Newman, the types of bacteria that build up in a water pitcher could be harmful to your health and potentially make you sick if ingested.

According to the CDC, waterborne germs like bacteria and fungi commonly cause symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea if they are swallowed. They can also cause illnesses that affect the lungs, brain, eyes, or skin.

However, Martinez said that the chances of getting exposed to these bacteria and getting sick from drinking water are low compared to exposure in other ways.

“The risk of exposure is higher when water is inhaled as a mist, comes in contact with an open wound, goes up the nose or is used to rinse or store contact lenses, or is splashed in someone’s eye while they are wearing contacts,” she said.

What This Means For You

If you have a water pitcher, experts recommend washing it at least every week or two to prevent potentially illness-causing bacteria and other germs from building up. Ideally, you want to clean your water pitcher before you start seeing signs of build-up, like a slimy film.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing waterborne germs at home.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.