I Asked ChatGPT the Best Way to Clean Reusable Straws, and It Had Really Strong Opinions

published Jun 22, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Confession: I have lost hours of my life to conversations with ChatGPT. If you’re not familiar, it’s an artificial intelligence chatbot, developed by OpenAI, that you can essentially ask anything and it’ll respond using information it gathers from the internet. I mostly ask for trivial things, like a Shakespearean sonnet about Dungeons & Dragons or for a joke for my kids, but recently, I decided to get a little more practical. My children and I each drink at least one smoothie a day — sometimes more — so I asked ChatGPT about the care of a notoriously difficult-to-clean item: the reusable straw.

Initially, ChatGPT told me that the best practice is to rinse immediately after use, scrub with a straw brush, soak in warm, soapy water, brush again, rinse thoroughly, air-dry, and periodically sterilize for several minutes in boiling water or for several hours in a vinegar solution. This seemed a tad overzealous, but I did ask for “best.” When I pivoted to “good enough,” ChatGPT omitted sterilizing, but then promptly added, “While this routine may be considered good enough … ” and insisted on sterilizing. I didn’t realize ChatGPT felt so strongly about hygiene!

I then asked, isn’t the dishwasher sufficient? Well, maybe, ChatGPT tells me, if the manufacturer says so [insert skeptical robot sigh], but straws can “fall through cracks” and “get tangled with other items,” plus “high temperatures or strong detergents in the dishwasher can potentially damage” certain types of straws over time. But didn’t you just tell me to boil the straws, ChattyMcChatbot? Sounds like “high temperature” to me. And when I pointed this out, ChatGPT apologized. 

While we were on the topic of “good enough,” I asked if the straw brush was really necessary. I told ChatGPT that I rinse my straws with hot water and toss them in the dishwasher with no issue. ChatGPT sassed me with, “If … you are satisfied with the level of cleanliness achieved through rinsing alone, that is perfectly fine,” followed by strong encouragement to inspect my straws thoroughly to confirm that they’re actually clean. Simmer down, Chatster! 

ChatGPT wouldn’t take sides when it came to choosing a brand of straw. Even when I asked which brands were best-reviewed, it appeared to be at a loss. I have no such disinterest; these smoothie straws are fantastic and affordable, and the package includes two (apparently mandatory) straw brushes.        

When I whined about children-who-shall-not-be-named letting smoothie dry inside the straw, ChatGPT offered a little unsolicited parenting advice. Okay, it was solicited, but honestly — it told me I should be patient?! I should “communicate the importance” and “lead by example?!” Easy for you to say, ChatGPT. You won’t be sticking pipe cleaners into children’s straws, only suggesting it.

If ChatGPT was going to push my buttons, two could play at that game. I then asked how to clean a straw that had been accidentally dropped in the toilet. I looked forward to writing about how ChatGPT advocated using toilet straws. Take that, Chatsy!  

But no matter how I phrased it, ChatGPT could not stomach the idea of using a straw that has spent any amount of time in toilet water. Even when pressed (“What about ecological activism?”), ChatGPT both denied taking a side and definitively would not accept any cleaning method as sufficient for a contaminated straw. 

Credit: Courtesy of Meg Asby

I was told I could opt for “straw-less sipping,” choosing to “enjoy … drinks without the need for additional accessories.” Or, it suggested, I could use the straws to make — wait for it — wind chimes, in addition to several other DIY straw projects.

Credit: Courtesy of Meg Asby

After my failed toilet water trap, I wanted to end our conversation on a light note. I asked for a couplet that summed up ChatGPT’s feelings on the subject of straws contaminated by toilet water. 

In straws tainted with toilet’s foul embrace,

Health and nature’s balance find their rightful place. 

I still plan to wash my straws in the dishwasher, but this conversation definitely did not feel like a waste of my time.