I know. For those of us who grew up with Nickelodeon, this evokes an image of copious amounts of green goop falling from the sky and enveloping anyone under it!
But the type of slime I’m referring to doesn’t look like anything, although it may FEEL like something. So for all of you runners and gym rats who use plastic bottles, I want you to do this for me. Take a look inside your plastic bottles. See anything? Turn on the flashlight on your phone and use it to look again. Hopefully, you won’t see any black mold. Now feel the surface of the inside of your bottle. Does it feel squeaky clean? You know, like your Tupperware fresh out of the dishwasher? Or does it feel, well, SLIMY?
So what IS this slime? It’s biofilm. Sounds fancy, I know. But it’s gross, right? Biofilm loves to grow in moist environments, and it’s basically a living layer of bacteria living on a surface. It can also feed other organisms, like mold. And your running bottles made of plastic, all sealed up with just a bit of leftover water from your last run with a few microbes from you, are the perfect breeding ground for this. It’s especially true if you use sports drinks or forget your bottle and leave it in your car during the summer! Sugar and heat are definitely great accelerators for growth of bacteria.
Ok. Don’t panic. I recently hauled my fuel belt out of my pile of marathon gear, and I found the same issue, even though I had emptied them prior to storage. Regular washing with hot water and dish soap usually won’t fix this problem. You need friction!
Just like good old hand washing, friction is the secret weapon to getting rid of germs. Bottle brushes are nice, but often they can’t reach those corners very well. So what can you do? Rice to the rescue. Take a tablespoon or so of uncooked rice, pour it into your bottle, add a drop of dish soap, and fill about halfway with hot water, replace the lid, and shake for at least 30 seconds. Make sure you squirt some of that soapy water through the lid. Rinse thoroughly, and your bottles should be good to go. You can pour the rice/water into another bottle if needed. I check my bottles every couple of weeks to see if they need this treatment, and I try to do a quick wash and let my bottles dry upside down as often as I can!
I shared this tip with my marathon training teammates last summer. One of our members shared that she also takes the valves of her bottles apart and washes them. I don’t go this far, mainly because I’m afraid that I will ruin the valves, but if a bottle is especially visibly grimy, it may be worth a try. I’ve also never used a hydration vest (I just get too hot!), so I don’t know how useful this tip would be for the bladders of these.
One of the articles I read about this suggested that you use glass and stainless steel bottles instead of plastic and that you make sure your hands are clean before you fill your bottles. Great suggestions, except that no one in their right minds would add the extra weight of glass or plastic to their running gear, nor would you want anything breakable with you on a run. The author also advises against sharing bottles. I do subscribe to the hand washing prior to filling my bottles, and I use a stainless steel water bottle for the gym.
I hope you found this information helpful! Happy hydrating!