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The Best and Safest Children's Water Bottles

Updated on June 9, 2011

Providing your child with fresh, cool water with his school lunch used to be a simple and uncomplicated task. Once upon a time, parents freely used disposable plastic bottles or reached for whatever container was closest at hand in the kitchen cabinet. However, in the wake of recent controversies and scares involving various materials used to produce children’s water bottles, there is much confusion and concern regarding the safety of reusable water bottles. Reusable water bottles are certainly the most environmentally friendly option, but which materials will prove to be the healthiest for young bodies in the long run? Manufacturers have responded to the demand to produce reliable, durable bottles for this purpose, and there are some excellent and attractive options on the market today.

What is Wrong With Disposable Plastic Bottles?

Disposable plastic bottles are still widely used. Bottled water sold in the grocery store is usually packaged in cheap water bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate, better know as PET or PETE plastic, clearly recognizable by the #1 recyclable sign on the base of the container. About 85% of these containers are used once and never recycled, which represents a serious threat to our environment. Perhaps even more significantly, when we choose beverages for our children, we must consider if PET plastic presents possible health risks to young bodies. While advocates for plastic manufacturing companies have presented studies that suggest that soft PET plastics are not intrinsically harmful, some viable studies suggest otherwise, especially when such bottles are refilled and reused. First of all, the shape and design of these bottles can make adequate cleaning difficult. These bottles often harbor bacteria, which may become harmful, especially to children’s smaller bodies. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that these plastics contain a toxic trace element known as antimony, and that this chemical may leach into liquids over time. Plastic industry officials insist that if this does occur, it occurs in very low doses, and only infrequently, but why take the chance of reusing a bottle which might possibly release low doses of an extremely toxic chemical?

What about Reusable Plastic Bottles?

More often, the concern about harmful chemicals leaching from plastics centers on a chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), which can mimic the hormones essential for normal human development and interrupt endocrine function. Bisphenol A is not present in PET plastics, although containers made out of rigid plastics, often called polycarbonate, may leach this harmful chemical into the liquids they contain, especially when heated. This discovery prompted a huge outcry, since most baby bottles and many cups designed for children have been traditionally made of these materials. Nalgene manufactured thousands of polycarbonate bottles that were sold in health food stores and touted as an ecological, wholesome alternative to disposable plastics, but concern about the presence of BPA in the rigid plastic forced them to replace their products with ‘BPA free’ plastic alternatives. If you have an older bottle, check to see if it has the number 7 in the recycling logo on the base of the container. If it does, it is made from the type of plastic that contains BPA, and you probably shouldn’t use it for your children (or yourself). Nalgene and other companies that sell rigid plastic bottles maintain that the newer materials used in their BPA-free products are completely safe, so there are some kid-friendly options currently available. Plastic does have the advantage of being virtually indestructible, and there is a wide variety of design options available.

Recommended, with Some Reservations

Lined Aluminum Water Bottles

If you are wary of purchasing a plastic water bottle because of the new discoveries every few years of some new evil lurking in the complex chemical cocktail used to manufacture plastics, you may feel more assured using a metal bottle.  Aluminum bottles come in lined and unlined varieties; you may be familiar with Sigg as a company that manufactures the more expensive, lined type of bottle.  However, aluminum bottles have proven to have a few concerns of their own over the past year or so.  Sigg promoted its products as a suitable alternative to the customers who had become concerned about plastics due to the studies about BPA.  Their bottles appeared on many of the health food store shelves that were left vacant by the recall of Nalgene bottles, and customers bought them in droves.  Unfortunately, Sigg water bottles produced before August 2008 were lined with a substance, identifiable by its copper color, that was ultimately revealed to contain BPAs.  Sigg eventually offered customers an exchange program for bottles with the original liner, promoting instead the new EcoCare liner, which is designed to be free of BPAs.  However, there have been some complaints that the new liner is not very durable, and may chip and flake over time.  Nevertheless, Sigg offers a complete selection of the redesigned BPA free water bottles, including custom water bottles, imprinted water bottles, even personalized water bottles, in sizes perfect for children.  These containers have an exceptionally solid exterior.  My toddler threw his repeatedly, and though it developed quite a few superficial dents, the container itself remained completely usable and intact.  

Unlined Aluminum Water Bottles

Another alternative is a pure, unlined aluminum water bottle, perhaps the best type of cheap water bottle. These bottles come in many colors and sizes, and are generally very inexpensive. They are available in a wide variety of designs, including personalized and custom options. However, there are some concerns that aluminum may also present a threat of toxicity to the human body. Aluminum in high doses is known to affect the functioning of the nervous system, including a debatable link between high levels of exposure to aluminum and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Generally, studies are not conclusive about this connection, and it appears that aluminum does not readily leach from bottles unless they are heated or filled with an acidic liquid. My experience with aluminum water bottles, however, has indicated that these bottles are generally not durable enough for use by children; they tend to be thin-walled and flimsy, and cannot sustain being dropped, thrown, or banged around carelessly in a backpack. Most aluminum bottles are not suitable for the dishwasher, and should be washed by hand in warm, soapy water.

The Best Option: Stainless Steel

Drum roll, please! My recommendation for choosing a kids’ water bottle is, without question, to select a stainless steel one. Stainless steel has countless advantages: there has yet to be a single study (at least that I could locate) that suggests any health risks posed by stainless steel. There are countries, such as India, that use stainless steel for most of their dishware, where stainless steel has been lauded as a safe, inexpensive, and durable material for centuries. Steel does not leach, does not stain, and imparts no flavor into the water. Stainless steel bottles come in a wide variety of prices and styles, and all of the following are highly recommended, but we have found that our Kleen Kanteen water bottle has outlasted all of our others. While the steel can display cosmetic dents fairly easily, it has to be subjected to very rough treatment to sustain enough dents or chips to actually leak or crack. The Camelback Kids’ Stainless bottle offers a convenient, leak-resistant, straw-top design, with the sipping parts made of BPA free plastics and silicone. Thinksport makes stainless bottles in two sizes, one fairly large, with double walled insulation to help keep drinks cool. And Earthlust wins the design category, with two different kid-appropriate sizes of stainless bottles available in various attractive custom designs, ranging from elephants to lotus flowers.

I'm quite confident you don't need a demonstration to use it, but the music is so good...

And so, as you do your back-to-school shopping, browse some of the many options available and choose a material and design you feel most comfortable with. Once you have purchased the bottle, bring it home, hand your kids a few sheets of stickers (unless they are of an age that this will make them roll their eyes at you), and encourage them to creatively decorate their new beverage container. The night before school, fill it up with fresh, cold water, and place it in the refrigerator for good measure. And then, as you send your kids over the threshold into the school, or wave at them as the bus pulls away for the first time of the year, rest assured that your child has the most healthful, life-giving beverage available on Earth. What a great start to the school year!

What type of material is your child's water bottle made out of?

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    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 

      11 years ago from A Coast

      This is something that has always concerned me and this hub is very well written - all the necessary information contained herein. I have the Sigg water bottles for my kids and they love them, but my daughter who just started kindergarten has complained to me that she always has to ask for help to twist it, I might check out one of your other recommendations. Thanks!

    • Second Act profile imageAUTHOR

      Second Act 

      11 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Thanks so much for your kind comment, and for reading my hubs!


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