By Kent Wilson

Bottled water has been around for many, many years. People choose to drink bottled water for several reasons, including convenience, quality and taste. Another reason bottled water is consumed is when the municipal supply or wells are contaminated or undrinkable due to natural disasters, floods, storms, etc. In these events, bottled water becomes a good option for obtaining clean, safe drinking water.

Bottled water types
Bottled water can be of different types including purified, spring or mineral water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that the water type must be clearly identified on the label of the bottle.

Spring water is from an underground spring that flows naturally to the surface and must retain the same quality and properties after treatment as the water originally drawn from the spring. Mineral water occurs naturally and has at least 250 parts per million of dissolved solids and must retain the mineral content properties after treatment and cannot have minerals added during treatment.

Purified water is produced by RO, distillation or deionization and is labeled by the process from which it was produced. In addition to those listed above, other treatment processes used in the production of bottled water can be one or more of carbon or microfiltration, UV or ozonation. Bottled water is packaged in small bottles (0.5 to 1.5 liter), to one- to 2.5-gallon containers and in three- or five-gallon bottles for coolers. As such, it is regulated by the FDA as a packaged food product to ensure quality of the water and the production of it. The source water for the bottled water process must be approved by the appropriate agency. (For example, the water source we use for our bottled water plant is a municipal water system that is approved by US EPA.)

Bottled water coolers
There are several methods available for dispensing from three- and five-gallon bottles. There are items as simple as a bottle pump, crocks, etc. Water coolers are the most used appliances for dispensing bottled water. They offer delivery of the water at room temperature, cold or hot, which increases the convenience of using bottled water. Most coolers are set up for the bottle to be top-loaded; others feature a bottom-load function, where the bottle is concealed inside the bottom of the cooler. Customers can either own or rent bottle coolers. The customer types can be residential, office, industrial (factories, etc.) or seasonal, with many dealers offering bottled-water delivery. This service can add another product line and service to a traditional water treatment dealer.

Cooler maintenance
Regular maintenance of the bottle cooler is imperative for proper performance and aesthetics. The condition of the cooler is a reflection on the quality of a company, especially for rental coolers. The water, being a food product, should be dispensed from a clean and sanitary device. After all, the reason customers have them is for better tasting, high-quality water. If a dealership has bottled-water delivery, the driver should be equipped to wipe down the cooler to keep it clean and if needed (on rental coolers), exchange the cooler for a pre-cleaned and sanitized one. For customer-owned coolers, a service to clean and sanitize the cooler can be offered for a fee. Exchanged coolers can easily be cleaned and sanitized at the dealership.

Cleaning and sanitizing
This is a general guideline for cleaning and sanitizing coolers. For more specific cleaning instructions, check with the cooler manufacturer for their guidelines to clean and sanitize their equipment. Before cleaning a cooler, make sure you have the items needed to do the job, such as disposable gloves, a brush or cloth for cleaning the reservoir, a cloth and cleaner for the exterior, and bleach for the sanitizing solution. If there is a clean sink in the repair area of the shop, like a laundry-tub type sink, that is helpful for cleaning the disassembled parts.

First, make sure the cooler is unplugged then, if possible, disassemble the cooler by removing the no-spill guard, the baffle in the reservoir, the drip tray and the faucets. If the outer panels or cabinet can be removed, do so. This allows for easier and more complete cleaning. If a sink is available, the baffle, no-spill and faucets can be cleaned with a good dish soap with a little bleach in the water. Rinse those parts well with clean water and set on clean towels/paper towels to dry. Clean the cabinet/panels with a non-abrasive cleaner and wipe clean. If a pressure washer is available, clean the condenser and the compressor area with a soap feed and then rinse well. Do not spray the electric components directly (to keep excess water out). If a pressure sprayer is not available, use a shop vacuum to clean the condenser and the compressor area. Tilt the cooler to drain off any excess water and, if available, use compressed air to blow out the excess water to aid the drying of the cooler.

Prepare the sanitizing solution by adding one tablespoon of unscented household bleach (5.25 percent) to a gallon of clean water. Label the chlorine solution container and use within 30 days. Reassemble the cooler, leaving the no-spill off until the sanitation is done. Use clean, disposable gloves for the sanitizing procedure. Pour some of the chlorine solution into the reservoir, then using a cloth or brush, scrub the inside to remove any biofilm that may have formed on the wetted surfaces. Drain the reservoir, including the hot tank (if so equipped) and rinse with fresh water. For the final sanitizing, again pour some of the fresh chlorine solution into the reservoir and let soak for about two to five minutes (but not more than 10 minutes), to allow enough contact time to kill any bacteria. Drain the reservoir through the faucets and hot tank at its drain port (if present), then rinse thoroughly with fresh, clean water. Allow the reservoir to dry and replace the baffle and no-spill on the cooler. Make sure the cooler is dry (especially the electric components) and if so equipped, fill the hot tank before plugging into the electrical outlet.

Cooler functions
The basic functions of a water cooler are relatively simple: cooling, heating, faucet operation and regulating the reservoir level with a bottle loaded onto it. If problems arise they usually occur in one of the basic functions: no cold water, no hot water or leaks. No cold water can be determined by a few simple checks. Assuming its plugged into a working outlet, check the manufacturers service manual for repair procedures:
A. Compressor not running

  1. Cold control not operating correctly
  2. Compressor relay may not be working

If one of the two above conditions are not causing the malfunction of the compressor, the problem is within the sealed refrigeration system. That requires a certified cooling technician to repair or the need for replacing the cooler.
B. Compressor is running, but not cooling

  1. Probable leak in the sealed system
  2. Bad valve or control in the compressor

Either scenario will need sealed refrigeration repair or replacement of the cooler. No hot water can be caused by a bad thermostat, heat limiter or heat element (assuming the hot tank switch is on). If the cooler ran totally out of water with the hot tank on, it will probably trip the limiter. Most can be reset with the button on the limiter. The heat element is usually part of the hot tank, so it might be necessary to replace the hot tank if the element is the problem. Leaking can be a faucet or connecting tubing. If the leak is coming from the top of the reservoir, it is most likely a cracked bottle. Remove the bottle, let out some water (one quart to one-half gallon), dry up the water on and around the cooler, then put on a fresh bottle and check for leaks after several minutes.

Conclusion
Bottle coolers can be a good offering for a water treatment business. All it takes is to learn the features, operation and maintenance requirements to become completely comfortable working with them. Most cooler manufacturers and OEM distributors offer training on their systems to get you up to speed.

About the author
Kent Wilson, MWS and CI, is Technical Director for Aqua Systems and has worked for the company since 1974. In addition to experience in water treatment design, application, installation and service for both domestic and commercial systems, he has worked extensively with water purification and water cooler systems. Wilson can be reached at kwilson@aquasystems.com

About the company
Aqua Systems was launched in 1959 by Lou Petty as a retail water treatment dealership focusing on customer service and satisfaction. With his son later teaming with him, they grew the dealership into a full-service OEM of water treatment and purification equipment, along with a bottled water plant, complete with water sales and delivery. The Retail Division now has several company-owned dealerships and Dealer Services has over 400 dealers across the country, many of which are Aqua Systems-branded stores.

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