How to Clean a Hydration Bladder

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When you’re out on the trail or in the backcountry, having access to water is crucial this is where it makes sense to carry a water bladder or pack. But overtime these portable water reservoirs can become dirty and full or residue and make it unsanitary to drink from. The remedy is to clean your bladder in this article we are going to teach you how to clean a hydration bladder.

Properly cleaning your hydration bladder not only helps prolong its lifespan but also ensures that you have access to safe and refreshing hydration on your outdoor adventure. In this guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of how to clean a hydration bladder, from disassembly to thorough sanitization, so you can continue to enjoy clean water out on trail.

How to Clean a Hydration Bladder

Here is how I clean my hydration bladder after getting back from the trail or a lengthy trip in the backcountry.

Gather Your Cleaning Supplies

When it comes to cleaning your hydration bladder water bottles, or hydration pack, selecting the appropriate cleaning supplies is crucial to ensure the thorough removal of bacteria, mold, and moisture. Here are some suggestions to help you choose the right supplies for the task.

ItemPurpose
Cleaning BrushUsed for cleaning bladder
Hose Brush Used for cleaning the hose
Drying Rack Used for drying the bladder

Start by assembling the essential cleaning tools. A hydration bladder cleaning kit is a convenient option that often includes specialized cleaning brushes and a brush kit designed specifically for hydration bladders.

These cleaning kits also usually come with brushes that can reach into hard-to-clean areas like the hose and the bladder’s corners. If you don’t have a cleaning kit, you can still make do with some easily available items like a long-handled brush, a sponge, and a clothes hanger or microfiber drying cloth.

Empty the Hydration Bladder

Before you start cleaning your hydration bladder, you need to make sure it’s completely empty. To do this, remove the hose and open the reservoir and pour out any remaining liquid. This step is crucial, as any leftover water can encourage the growth of bacteria in your bladder.

Pre-Rinse or Scrub

Next, it’s time to pre rinse or scrub the hydration bladder. This is dependent on how dirty the hydration bladder is. If you just got off from the trail and the hydration bladder does not appear dirty you can start off with a warm water rinse.

If you have not washed your bladder for a while and it is visibly soiled, I would use a mix of soap and water. I recommend going for a mild soap or a biodegradable dish soap that can effectively break down grime without leaving any residue on your hydration pack. I like to use Dr. Bronner’s or Mrs. Meyers liquid soap.

I start with gently scrubbing the hydration reservoir with a kitchen scrubbing pad, brush, or sponge. Be sure to get all the nooks and crannies. Next, work on cleaning the hose and bite valve using the soapy water and a hose brush.

For the bite valve I recommend submerging it in soapy water and then gently scrubbing it with the hose brush or something small such as a toothbrush. After scrubbing, flush the hose and bite valve thoroughly with warm water to remove any residual solution.

Pick a Cleaning Solution

Next it is to pick a cleaning solution that the hydration bladder will soak in and thoroughly sanitize. There are quite a few cleaning options out there. I typically will either use baking soda and lemon juice or a hydration pack tablet after rinsing or scrubbing.

However, there are a quite a few cleaning solutions and options out there that you can pick. Some vary from super convenient to a little more work. Depending on how dirty your bladder is will depend on what method you might want to use. Here are some cleaning options you can use:

Dishwasher

This is one of the easiest ways to sanitize your bladder. First thing is to double check and make sure you own a top shelf dishwasher safe brand. Then check out the directions for running it through the dishwasher so you don’t damage your bladder. 

Although running your bladder in the dishwasher is extremely convenient, the downside is that sometimes it doesn’t clean the inside of the pack thoroughly. This is just due to the small opening or how the bladder is positioned. But, for a quick clean for packs that are not too dirty it may just do the trick. 

Baking Soda and Water

If your hydration bladder has accumulated unpleasant odors or requires a deep cleaning, consider using baking soda as an additional cleaning agent. Mix baking soda with water in a 1:3 ratio (¼ cup of baking soda to ¾ cups of water per liter of volume) to create a powerful cleaning solution that can help neutralize odors and remove stubborn residue.

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda

Another really good cleaning solution to try is adding lemon juice to baking soda. The citric acid and low PH levels in lemons make it very good at fighting against bacteria and molds. When mixed with baking soda this makes for a deeper cleaning solution. What I do is follow the baking soda and water portion of the recipe above. Then add about 1/4 cup of lemon juice or about the juice of 1 lemon to the mixture.

Cleaning Tablets

Lastly, you can use cleaning tablets specifically designed for cleaning hydration bladders only. These tablets typically require you to fill your hydration pack with water, drop in the tablet, and wait for it to dissolve and do its job.

These can be an excellent alternative if you’re looking for a convenient and fuss-free cleaning option. I have used denture tablets a few times as well though not technically designed for a hydration reservoir it appeared to work quite well and was significantly cheaper.

Fill Your Water Reservoir

After choosing or creating your cleaning solution, start by pouring or putting it into the reservoir and let it sit. For this example, I am going to use my lemon juice and baking soda method. In which, I will pour and then gently agitate the bladder to ensure the solution reaches all areas, paying particular attention to any crevices or folds.

Lastly, don’t forget to fill the hose with solution, which can be a prime spot for bacteria and mold growth due to its narrow diameter. To do this, fill the reservoir with the cleaning solution and let the liquid flow through the hose. Be sure to open the valve to release any trapped air or liquid.

Let the Solution Soak

After filing the bladder with the solution. It is time to let it soak if using a household cleaning solution method, I recommend letting the bladder sit for at least 20 minutes. If you are using dental tablets or hydration tablets, I recommend using the directions on the package as your guide.

Rinse the Bladder, Hose Tube, and Bite Valve

After the solution has soaked. Then rinse the bladder, hose tube, and bite valve. Start by using hot water and pouring that into the bladder. Make sure all the cleaning solution residue is removed from the bladder to prevent any unpleasant aftertaste.

Once the hydration bladder is rinsed, you can shake it gently to remove any excess water. Now it is time to use hot water to rinse off the hose tub, I usually allow the warm water to flow through the tube for a bit and then gently shake and set aside on paper towels or a dry towel.

Drying the Hydration Bladder, Hose Tube, and Bite Valve

After cleaning your water reservoir, it’s crucial to dry them thoroughly to prevent the new growth of mold and bacteria. To start, make sure to empty the bladder completely, draining any residual water.

Next, use a clean towel or paper towel to gently pat the entire surface of the bladder, removing any excess moisture. Be careful when wiping around the mouthpiece and valve to avoid causing any damage.

Drying your hydration bladder can be done using a few methods. I recommend to air dry the bladder by hanging it upside down with the opening wide open. This will allow air to circulate inside the bladder, aiding in faster drying. If your hydration bladder has a detachable hose, disconnect it and hang it separately to dry.

To help facilitate the drying process, I like to use typical household items to help keep the mouth open while it dries. My first go to item are paper towels. I recommend rolling up a clean, dry paper towel, and inserting it into the bladder to help absorb additional moisture. You can also use a clean plastic or small tongs to keep the bladder slightly propped open and also speed up the drying process.

Sometimes the drying process can take a bit, I typically leave the bladder upside down hanging on a clothes hanger to dry completely. Or if you bought a specific hydration bladder kit they usually come with a drying rack and those work well also. Once the water reservoir is completely dry then it is time to store it away for next time.

Storing the Hydration Bladder and Pack

When storing your hydration bladder be sure it is completely empty and dry. I recommend storing your bladder in a dry, cool, and well-ventilated area. This will help prevent mold and mildew build-up.

Another great place to store your hydration bladder is actually in the freezer. When doing this I recommend rolling it up and placing a rubber band around it to keep it rolled. This also helps to prevent growth of mold and keeps it fresh for next time you hit the trails.

Why Regular Cleaning is Essential

Cleaning your hydration bladder will not only help prolong the lifespan of your equipment but also ensure that your water remains clean. A properly cleaned hydration system reduces the risk of bacteria and mold growth in drinking water, which can be detrimental to your health.

Over extended periods of time, moisture retained in your hydration pack creates an ideal environment for bacteria and mold to thrive. These microorganisms can compromise the quality of the water you drink, potentially causing illness or discomfort. Additionally, regular cleaning minimizes the chances of unpleasant odors and unpleasant tastes being in your water.

How often should you clean your hydration bladder?

I recommend at least rinsing out and cleaning your hydration pack after almost every use. If it was only used for a short-day hike ore trail venture, you can get away with rinsing it with hot water for a few times. Overall, cleaning depends on how often you are using the pack. If you are using it all the time, you’ll need to clean it more often.

Drying the pack is by far the most important because that is how mold and bacteria settle in the pack. If you forget to clean it out for a while you may need to opt for some of the heavier duty cleaning solutions and you can combine methods too. 

Final Thoughts 

If you’ve found this guide on how to clean a hydration bladder helpful leave a comment down below or give it a share. Also, if you have other methods, share what you have used or tried for cleaning your hydration bladders?

Editor note: This post was originally published November 15, 2021, and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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