How to clean a hydration bladder: Tips and tricks

One of the most common questions I am asked, when discussing hydration bladders, is how to clean a hydration bladder? There are many reasons people like hydration bladders and there are many reasons people don’t. Cleaning is one of them.

I’ve tried a few different methods over the years including tablets, bleach, lemon juice and baking soda. The best way to care for your hydration bladder is to clean and dry it after every use, especially if you fill the reservoir with anything other than water.

Washing your hydration bladder before the first use

If you have just returned from the store with your new bladder, its a good idea to clean it before your first use. You really never know where its been. For the initial clean, follow these steps.

  • Fill bladder 1/2 full with warm water and mild soap
  • Shake the bladder to mix the water and soap
  • Elevate the bladder so the drink tube exit port is at the base and bite valve is below the bladder
  • Squeeze the bite valve, allowing solution to flow into drink tube, and through the bite valve
  • After washing, rinse away cleaning solution in the bladder and drink tube
  • Drain all remaining water. The hydration bladder is now ready to use
  • When storing, air dry the bladder so no moisture is trapped inside. More on that later.

Regular cleaning of your hydration bladder

Bacteria thrives in warm, moist, dark places so it’s important to clean and dry your hydration bladder. I don’t clean mine every time, although I probably should, but I do make sure it has been rinsed and dried before packing it away. Here’s what I usually do to clean my bladder.

Mix a solution of hot water and two tablespoons of baking soda or bleach inside the bladder. Hold it up above your head while you pinch the bite valve, allowing the mixture to run through the tube. Let the reservoir and cleaning solution sit for about 30 minutes.

Wash the bladder thoroughly with hot water and mild soap. Be sure to completely rinse away any bleach or cleaning solution before using again. You can also use specialised brushes or cleaning kits to scrub your bladder and tube; brushes are the best way to ensure you are scrubbing all the areas of the bladder clean.

When you’re finished cleaning, make sure you air dry the bladder so no moisture is trapped inside.

Pro cleaning tips

One potential downside to using bleach or baking soda is the risk of a residual aftertaste. I’ve stuffed up a few of my bladders by leaving bleach soaking inside the bladder for too long. What if you can never seem to get that soapy taste out of the bladder?

There are a few simple tricks that can prevent the bladder from turning into bin filler.

  1. You can store your bladder rolled-up in the freezer after it’s been emptied. The cool air keeps any bacteria from growing inside
  2. If you’ve filled the bladder with anything but water, rinse it out with hot water and the juice of a lemon. This breaks down any residue and washes out easier than soap; it also leaves a much nicer aftertaste
  3. I also uses a soft scourer pad which reactivates the antimicrobial coating embedded in the bladder itself
  4. Finally, air-drying is always the way to go. I generally hang mine outside in the fresh air with a heap of paper towel stuffed inside to soak up any moisture.

What if you hydration bladder has not been cleaned for a while?

Don’t panic, there’s probably no need to throw it out, yet. Before you use it, try these tips and see if it helps bring your bladder back to life.

  1. Let the bladder soak overnight with hot water in it after being cleaned
  2. If your bite valve is super dirty and you want to dry it out, you can leave a toothpick in there while it’s drying to increase airflow
  3. You can also dismantle the pieces of your bladder and put them in the dishwasher
  4. It’s really hard to get the taste of red wine or whiskey out, so if you absolutely need to drink alcohol from a hydration pack, buy a separate bladder to dedicate solely to that purpose
  5. If you see visible mold that can’t be scrubbed out? Cut your losses and grab yourself a new hydration bladder.

The most important thing you can do is to make cleaning your hydration bladder a habit after every hike. These are some of the things I do to keep mine clean and dry between adventures. I’m sure there are heaps of other great ideas out there. What do you do to keep yours fresh for every hike?

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