The backlash against plastic straws has grown in recent years. In 2018, Seattle banned plastic straws, making it the first major city in the United States to do so. In 2019, Portland, Oregon, established a policy that would fine restaurants up to $500.00 if they gave plastic straws or cutlery to customers. And the European Union will ban many single-use plastics, including plastic straws, by 2021. Still, people enjoy drinking from straws, and for some it is an accessibility issue.
Enter reusable straws, which can be made from a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, silicone, bamboo, and glass. As people have tried to curb their use of single-use plastics, reusable straws have increased in popularity, with more and more models hitting the market. So which reusable straw out of the ever-expanding list of options is the best? To find out, we tested 12 straws, priced from about $4.50 to about $30.00, and used them to drink ice water, iced coffee, and smoothies; we also evaluated how portable they were and how easy they were to clean. Five of the straws were made from stainless steel, six from silicone, and one from bamboo. We did not include glass straws because of the potential for shattering or chipping. We included only straws that fit in vessels with a 16-ounce capacity—the size of an average travel mug or to-go iced coffee cup.
We found big differences in usability depending on the material of the straw. The one bamboo straw we tested made anything we sipped through it taste woody. And while the outside of the straw was sanded down, the inside of the tip was not, so it felt scratchy when we sipped from it.
As for the silicone straws we tested, their sturdiness varied, and this played a large role in their performance. Some of them were too floppy, especially when we tried to push them into a to-go cup. This was problematic: If we applied too much force, we risked splashing or tipping over the whole drink. We preferred models with thicker walls—0.88 to 1.42 millimeters—which made for sturdier straws. Our favorite silicone straw, which was one of the thickest silicone straws we tested, was thick enough to keep its shape when we drank from it yet thin enough that it didn’t feel too heavy in our mouths.
The stainless-steel straws were the most durable of all the models we tested but were not ideal to drink from—we felt that we could easily chip a tooth on them. Some of the models got around this by adding silicone tips to straws, combining the durability of stainless steel and the comfort of silicone. We liked this design and preferred longer silicone tips—3 to 3.4 inches—which made them feel secure to drink from. This design—a stainless-steel body with a silicone tip—was our favorite for its comfort, durability, and rigidity.
Most of the straws we tested measured about 8 to 9 inches long, and we found this to be a good length for drinking from both the 16-ounce glass and the to-go cup, which were about 6 and 5 inches deep, respectively, and the travel mug, which was 7.75 inches deep with its lid on. Eight inches provided enough height for the straw to reach the bottom of the drinking vessel and still leave a comfortable amount of straw—anywhere from 0.25 to 3 inches—for us to drink from. However, one of the straws was 6.5 inches long, with a short, bent neck that was about an inch long. Its length and design made it awkward to use when drinking from a glass or to-go cup; we had to hold the straw when we took sips to make it more comfortable to drink from. Trying to use this model with the travel mug proved to be problematic: It was too short to securely reach the bottom of the travel mug and instead slipped through the lid and sunk into our iced coffee. Our favorite stainless-steel straw is available in two lengths, 8 inches and 10.5 inches, which is helpful if your travel mug or tumbler is more than 8 inches deep.
The widths of the straws were important as well. If the straws were too narrow, 0.20 to 0.25 inches wide, we struggled to get adequate sips. We preferred straws with openings that were about 0.30 to 0.40 inches wide, which allowed us to drink both thin and thick liquids comfortably.
Some of the straws were designed with portability in mind, as reusable straws are meant to take the place of plastic straws you’d get at a coffee shop or restaurant. Four of the straws we tested were collapsible, and six came with carrying cases. We found the carrying cases to be helpful when we threw the straws into a bag, as you would on a commute to work or a trip to a restaurant. Among the models with cases, we liked those with hard-shelled or silicone cases, which were both more durable and easier to clean than cloth carriers. While models without cases can be stored and transported in a zipper-lock bag or some type of reusable bag, we could see this being a deal breaker for some people.
Nine out of the 12 straws came with their own cleaning brushes or silicone squeegees. We cleaned those that didn’t with a straw brush that we purchased online. All the straws were easy to clean after we drank water and iced coffee by simply rinsing them out, but we relied on brushes and squeegees to remove smoothie residue from the straws. The bristled brushes were more effective than the silicone squeegees at removing smoothie bits from the straws. The squeegees were also a bit messier than the brushes, as the former had to be threaded through the straws repeatedly during cleaning. And while we tried not to rate the quality of the straws’ brushes too harshly—as you could buy a different cleaning brush—we noted if the cleaning brushes did not work well. All but the bamboo straw were dishwasher-safe (top rack recommended), but we preferred to clean the straws by hand. Because the straws lay flat in the top rack of the dishwasher, their interiors were not thoroughly cleaned and we often had to rewash them with the brushes and squeegees after.
To see if the straws would pick up and retain stains, we spiked smoothies with turmeric; sipped them through each model; and then let the straws sit for 9 hours, as you might if you were at work. Happily, all the straws became clean with minimal effort, and only the bamboo straw turned a bit yellow from the turmeric.
To see how durable the straws were, we lined up all the straws and placed a 3-pound weight on them for an hour. We also bent the silicone straws in half before placing the weight on them, since many are folded before being stored and we were curious to see what would happen if they were crushed by a book or wallet in a backpack or purse. All but one of the straws emerged from this test unscathed; only the thickest silicone straw became permanently bent out of shape.
Our favorite stainless-steel straws, the OXO Good Grips 5-Piece Reusable Straw Set with Cleaning Brush, are available in two lengths (8 inches and 10.5 inches). Each straw is equipped with a sturdy 3-inch-long silicone tip that made them comfortable to drink from no matter the beverage or its temperature. Because the silicone tips can be detached from the steel straws, cleaning both the tips and the straws was easy. The set included a cleaning brush that was effective and had plentiful bristles and a grippy handle. The straws emerged unscathed from our durability test, and they were sturdy enough to easily punch through the lid of a plastic to-go cup. The 8-inch straw fit well in all the vessels we used in our testing, and the 10.5-inch straw would fit well in larger tumblers and travel mugs. The downside of these straws? They lacked a carrying case, which made them less portable. However, a company representative told us that OXO would be releasing a similar straw set that includes a travel case later this year.
Our favorite silicone straws were the GoSili Reusable 2 pk Standard Straw Tins. These straws were portable and sturdy. They were made from moderately thick silicone, which did not collapse when we drank from them but easily bent to fit inside their metal carrying tins. The silicone was also thick enough to comfortably drink hot coffee from without scorching our lips. The straws did not become misshapen after being weighted for an hour. While they did not come with a cleaning brush or squeegee, we found that the manufacturer’s tip of squeezing and rolling the straws between our fingers in warm, soapy water worked well to remove remnants of the smoothie. The company also sells single straws for $3.00 on its website, but the two-pack is more readily available in stores.