Bacteria and mould can infiltrate our hydration bladders, even if we only use water in them. This can result in them being unsafe to drink from. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not deal with stomach problems on the trail!
To keep our water safe, we need to regularly clean our hydration bladders.
It’s not hard and we share plenty of ways you can clean your bladder and most are with products you’ll have in your house already.
What you’ll need for cleaning a hydration bladder well
Here are some suggestions for products to use to clean your bladder:
- Dishwashing liquid: Make sure it’s a mild soap.
- Baking soda: Baking soda is an effective, all-round cleaner that also helps take care of odours. Use the following ratio – mix ¼ cup of baking soda in ¾ cups of water per litre of the capacity of your reservoir. If your bladder is 2 litres, then mix ½ a cup of baking soda with 1.5 cups of water.
- Reservoir cleaning tablets: You can buy cleaning kits that include cleaning tablets, or buy the cleaning tablets on their own like these Camelbak ones from Wild Earth.
- Bleach: Household bleach is an effective killer of viruses and bacteria. For optimal results, pour 2 to 5 drops of bleach (unscented is best) per litre of water.
- Lemon juice: Not only does it clean, it’s also effective against strong odours. Add 60 mls of lemon juice to each litre of water in your reservoir.
- Denture-cleaning tablets: They might not have been made with hydration systems in mind, but some hikers swear by them as a cheaper version of cleaning tablets. I haven’t tried this tip yet, but it sounds like a reasonable alternative to more expensive hydration pack cleaning tablets.
- Baby bottle sterilising tablets: Grab a packet of something like Milton sterilising tablets and follow the directions on the packet. They work for baby bottles, they should work just as well for hydration bladders.
When looking at how to clean a hydration bladder, these tools will come in handy:
- Cleaning brushes: Hydration bladder cleaning brushes are long and thin. Something like a long and skinny bottle brush. These brushes will help you get rid of dirt and gunk inside the drinking tube and the reservoir.
- Scrubbing brush: Use a kitchen scrubbing brush in the reservoir. But they can’t get all the way into the tube to clean those hard-to-reach areas. You need the special hydration bladder cleaning brushes to clean the tube.
Cleaning a hydration bladder
Now that we have our cleaning products and tools, let’s look at how to clean a hydration bladder.
The first step is to mix and add the cleaning solution. This helps to get rid of any dirt and germs in the hydration system.
- Fill the hydration bladder with warm water. Add your cleaning solution, seal the bladder and shake it to help the cleaning solution dissolve (if it needs to) and spread through the hydration system.
- Let the whole thing soak. If you’re using reservoir cleaning tablets, then wait about 5 minutes. If you’re using household ingredients, wait at least 20 minutes. When the time is up, drain the whole system.
- Open the bite valve enough for the water and cleaning solution to flow through it. Drain the bladder. You might have to hold the reservoir up for this to work.
The second step is to clean the hydration bladder with dishwashing soap to get rid of all traces of the cleaning solution.
Wash the whole hydration system with dishwashing soap, then rinse it off.
- You’ll have to fill both the tube and the bladder once more. But this time, fill it with a mixture of dish soap and warm water.
- Scrub the inner part of the bladder, then move on to the tube and the bite valve. Take the bite valve out of the tube to clean it thoroughly. Doing this will help you to wash the interior of the tube much more effectively.
- When you’re done, rinse everything thoroughly. Cold water is recommended for this step.
The drying process
The third step is the drying stage. It’s one of the most important steps in the process of cleaning a water bladder. It’s very important to give every part of the hydration system enough time to dry thoroughly.
Even a small amount of moisture can lead to the growth of mould.
To properly dry the hydration bladder, follow these steps:
- Take all of the pieces apart and let them stand alone so everything can dry much faster.
- You can put the reservoir in its hanger (you should have one when you bought it), or just place it upright for the water to drain off.
- Stuff the reservoir with paper towels to stop the sides from touching.
Dry it somewhere that’s not humid and that allows for the free flow of air (e.g. not in the bathroom). You can dry it outdoors on your washing line. The sun’s UV rays will give an extra level of sterilisation.
Getting rid of the plastic taste in a new hydration bladder
Sometimes hydration bladders have that awful new bladder taste. It’s like drinking liquid plastic. To get rid of it, try one of the following:
- Lemon slices: Add a few slices of lemon to a full reservoir and leave it in the fridge overnight.
- Toothpaste: Give the reservoir a clean with a smidge of toothpaste and give it a good rinse afterwards.
- Mouthwash: Add a capful of mouthwash to the reservoir, give it a swish and wash it out with water.
- Vodka: Add a shot of vodka to the reservoir and give it a good shake. Fill the reservoir with water and drain it.
- Cordial: Add a good dash of your favourite cordial flavour to the reservoir.
Storing your hydration bladder
In between hikes, it’s best to store your hydration bladder in the freezer to stop any lingering nasties from growing.
Last modified: March 3, 2019