By R.Gordon Wells

Water coolers represent a significant capital investment to companies that depend upon them for important rental income.

More than rental fees
Every company has its own, unique rental income experience, some realizing more than others on this all-important profit center. The profit attributed to a single cooler in a rental inventory will take into account a number of factors. These include rental fees received during its useful period of service, less its initial purchase cost (including interest and amortization); minus the cost of pick-ups, delivery, service and repairs, and subtracting the ultimate cost of disposal—a final factor that continues to increase.

It now typically costs $50 in the United States to dispose of an old water cooler. This is because U.S. and Canadian government regulations require recovery and recycling of refrigerant before a cooler can be discarded. All types of refrigerant must be recovered and a licensed technician must do the work. Penalties for illegal disposal are substantial.

Good business practices
Failure to keep proper records of disposal of old equipment may expose your company to costly penalties.

Good business practice dictates water coolers are maintained in a manner consistent with maximizing longevity, and minimizing service cost. Proper care and maintenance will increase the profit produced by each cooler in the rental inventory. While the sealed cooler refrigeration system has a five-year warranty, the average cooler remains in service for 12-to-14 years. Maximizing this service time isn’t without cost and improper handling won’t only reduce the cooler’s useful life span, but may also increase real costs experienced during the period of service.

An upright position
Keep coolers upright! Like all compressor-based refrigeration equipment, laying a cooler on its side decreases the life of the compressor. If a cooler has been stored on its side or upside down, damage may be minimized or avoided by keeping the cooler in an upright position for at least 24 hours before starting.

Proper handling begins with receiving your new coolers. The cartons are always marked with arrows to indicate the top, upright position. Take note when coolers are received on their side from the shipping company, or if there is carton damage such as buckling, scoring or other damage consistent with weight being placed on the sides of the cartons, or other carton damage that might suggest rough handling by the shipper. When this occurs, record serial numbers and note “possible hidden damage from improper handling” on the bill of lading.

Taking temperature
When checking hot and cold temperatures, use a thermometer and make certain that the cooler has been operating for at least 30 minutes before measuring. Coolers stored in extreme warehouse temperature conditions need to “adjust” to normal room temperature before reliable temperatures can be obtained.

Coolers improperly handled in shipping should be tested after first being allowed to stand upright for at least 24 hours, preferably at an ambient temperature of 70 degrees. This allows the oil in the refrigeration system to flow back into the compressor. Test the coolers to verify the refrigeration system is functioning properly. The coolers should operate without any unusual noise and should deliver cold water available within 30 minutes. Damage claims must be submitted to the carrier within 5-to-7 days of delivery.

Handle with care!
Dropping, bouncing or otherwise manhandling coolers is particularly hard on compressors and can easily cause refrigerant leaks.

Proper care and handling doesn’t stop with keeping coolers upright. Rough or abusive handling shortens life expectancy, too. Dropping coolers off trucks or dragging them down stairs can damage the refrigeration system. Compressor motors are particularly shock sensitive. The motor within the sealed compressor is suspended on springs. Rough handling can dislodge or break a motor spring with cooler failure soon to follow. The springs in the sealed compressor aren’t repairable and the entire compressor must be replaced.

A dry subject
Keep compressor and controls dry. Never hose down a cooler to clean it. The resulting damage may appear immediately—or even after several months of service.

Improper cleaning also shortens the life of coolers. The electrical components of a cooler aren’t waterproof and water should never be sprayed inside the cooler cabinet. The condenser and inside of a cooler cabinet should be cleaned with a vacuum or by using compressed air, a brush and a damp cloth. Use of water or cleaning chemicals can result in contaminated electrical contacts inside the cooler. Compromised electrical contacts may arc or short circuit causing premature parts failure or worse—a fire.

Meeting safety standards
Use only original controls and parts for repairs! Look-alike parts void warranties and agency listings (UL/CSA), and may cause failure of other parts.

Coolers from established manufacturers must meet safety standards for certification by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or both. To maintain this certification, it’s essential only manufacturer-approved parts be used to repair coolers. The UL/CSA certification is lost when unapproved parts are used to make a repair. Similarly, any repair that bypasses safety overloads or fuses will invalidate certification, create liability and put both equipment and customer at risk.

Thermal considerations
Always replace both the thermal overload and thermostat when servicing hot tank controls!

Routine servicing of coolers helps ensure long life of the equipment. The frequency of regular service varies by water type, the environment in which the cooler is used and applicable regulations.

Leave space around the cooler—minimum 4 inches or 100 millimeters—for proper air circulation. Note adverse environmental conditions at time of delivery or setup, and when indicated, place cooler on more frequent service schedule.

Routine service
Recommendations on the frequency of routine servicing vary from 3-to-12 months. Routine service includes: cold (and cook) waterway cleaning and sanitizing, cleaning the cabinet, brushing the condenser (back of cooler), and mineral descaling of the hot tank (if needed). Hot/cold coolers will require regular mineral descaling of the hot tank when the water dispensed has a total dissolved solids (TDS) of >100 parts per million. The frequency of descaling depends directly upon the TDS of the water and the amount of hot water consumed.

In order to prevent the appearance of a difficult-to-eliminate musty taste, hot tanks must be drained immediately upon being removed from service. This will normally eliminate the need to clean the tank with detergent solutions that are difficult to flush out. Hot tanks don’t require sanitation, since in normal use they’re self-pasteurizing. They’re particularly vulnerable to the corrosive effects of chlorine-based sanitizing fluids.

When descaling a hot tank with an acid cleaner, use a pH meter or test paper to verify all traces of acid have been flushed from the tank. Check the pH of water from both the hot tap and hot tank drain line.

While much having to do with intelligent cooler service and maintenance is a matter of common sense, bad practices do appear and their consequences often go unrecognized. Avoid negative consequences by proactive, sensible handling of rental coolers.


  1. Wells, Gordon, “Microbes and the Fine Art of Water Cooler Maintenance,” WC&P, December 1997, pp. 80-82.

About the author
R. Gordon Wells is senior chemist at CORDLEY®/Temprite® Division of Elkay Manufacturing Co. of Oak Brook, Ill., which manufactures a complete line of bottled water coolers, point-of-use treatment coolers, pressure coolers, remote chillers and filters. With more than 10 years of experience in water treatment, he holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Ohio State University as well as the Water Quality Association’s highest Certified Water Specialist designation, Level 6. He can be reached at (815) 493-3523, (815) 493-2187 (fax) or email:


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