Metal straws are all the rage—but how exactly do you clean them? Have no fear, we have the easy step-by-step process.
First, let’s talk about why plastic straws are starting to be replaced with metal versions. Until recently, most of us gave little thought to plastic straws. After all, compared to other daily actions, it was difficult to even imagine that the seemingly small piece of single-use plastic could have much of an effect on anything, let alone our environment.
But combine the 1.6 straws that the Ocean Conservancy estimates the average person uses a day and it starts to add up. According to a 2018 Phys.org report, scientists estimate there are about 7.5 million plastic straws scattered around the United States’ shorelines—and 437 million to 8.3 billion around the globe.
Even though they’re individually small, weighing about 1/67 of an ounce each, they all add up to about 2,000 tons. And because of their small size, the single-use plastic product can be especially harmful to ocean life.
Not long ago, I was at a restaurant with a friend and we both couldn’t keep our eyes off the table next to us—because we were fixated on the woman’s fancy foldable reusable straw. Seeing her use it in public made me realize how easy it was to just stick one in my purse—even just saving one straw day would help lessen the environmental dangers overall.
So last October, I bought a set of Klean Kanteen Steel Straws on Amazon ($9.99 for four straws, including a cleaning brush) and have been carrying one around with me in a little cloth pouch. It’s been amazing to see the reactions I’ve received from others when I use it—ranging from friends admitting they feel guilty for using a plastic one to TSA agents at the airport bombarding me with questions about where they could get them after they saw them while looking through my bag.
But the most important effect is what it’s done to me. I now literally shudder at the sight of plastic straws. Something that used to feel so commonplace has turned into a red flag as a serious reminder of the carbon footprint every little action we take makes.
That all said, as a self-processed germaphobe, the idea of a reusable straw has also been a new point of anxiety. After all, when you’re toting something around with you all day, it’s bound to collect germs. So we talked to a germ expert as well as an environmental influencer to find out the best ways to keep your metal straw clean.
How To Clean Metal Straws At Home
“Metal straws are a great way to help sustainability and reduce plastic use. But like any other metal utensil such as a fork or spoon, once you’ve used it, you should clean it,” Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Filesand better known as “The Germ Guy,” tells Parade.com.
Even though it may seem innate, he walks us through the process:
- Treat them as you would any other utensil and focus on the end that enters your mouth. “By far, the area that comes into contact with our mouths will lead to the most contamination,” he says.
- But don’t treat the other end lightly either. “They can be contaminated by the drink if it’s not pasteurized or distilled, like fruit juices and smoothies,” Tetro adds.
- The best way to clean them is to use hot water and soap. (For the scientifically minded, he points to this study to show why.) Often, reusable straws come with a thin brush to help clean the inside thoroughly.
- As an alternative, disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizers also work, but the drawback is the residue it leaves behind. “Be ready for a bitter taste afterwards!” he warns if you decide to go down this path.
- Consistency is key. “You should clean it after every use, but you probably can get away with washing it every day,” Tetro says. “If you leave it longer, there is the chance that the bacterial counts will grow. It may not lead to infection, but it could end up changing the taste, smell, and visual aesthetics of the straw.”
- Also don’t forget to store the straw properly. “Once a straw is cleaned and dried fully, there’s no need to worry about contamination,” he instructs. “Cool and dark places are the best.”
How To Keep Metal Straw Clean On The Go
For those carrying the metal straw with them on the go, those options may not always be possible. So we turned to Kathryn Kellogg, founder of GoingZeroWaste.com and author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste for ideas.
“I roll my straw up in a cloth napkin which comes in handy and is a great way to avoid disposable paper products when out,” Kellogg, who also runs @going.zero.waste on Instagram says of the dual purpose. “You can also use the cloth to dry your hands off after washing them, blow your nose, or grab a snack like a sandwich or pastry while you’re out.”
Tetro suggests another method. “The best way to carry your straw is in one of those travel toothbrush containers. Just make sure it’s long enough!”
As for keeping those germs away while you’re using the reusable straw at a coffee shop or restaurant: “Just head to the washroom and give it that nice hot water wash if you can or maybe even ask your friendly barista to give it a hot water rinse. You don’t need soap,” Tetro says.
While the habit of using and cleaning a metal straw might feel tedious at first, the more we build the practice into our lives, the more we can make a true environmental impact.