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Clean H2O: How to Wash Your Hydration Bladder

Hydration bladders are an essential supply of drinking water for runners and hikers. These small water-filled backpacks provide a convenient and portable way to carry water with you on your adventures in the Great Outdoors. 

To ensure clean, safe drinking water, your hydration bladder should ideally be drained, cleaned, rinsed, and air-dried between uses to stop the build-up of mold and bacteria. The reality for most is that this is often overlooked and, after each use, they are tossed into a garage, cupboard, or trunk of a car until they are needed next.

To avoid a nasty shock the next time you need hydration while out on the trail, here are some of the ways in which you can keep your hydration bladder clean. 

hunter with backpack

Why Use a Hydration Bladder?

For long-distance hikers and backcountry campers, a hydration bladder offers the perfect way to stay hydrated on the go. 

If you enjoy taking your dog on the trails, a hydration bladder is one of many dog camping essentials you should take along with you. Many models feature detachable tubes, allowing you to provide water for your pet if there is no reliable water source nearby. 

A hydration bladder is ideal for ultralight backpackers who don’t want to be weighed down carrying gallons of water in their packs. In addition to lightweight backpacking food, a hydration bladder is a must-have, as it can be refilled using water purified from a source on the trail. 

Tips for Cleaning Your Hydration Bladder

Drain Your Hydration Bladder After Each Use

Emptying and drying your hydration bladder is the first step to keep it clean. Don’t store your pack full of water, or even slightly damp, as this creates the ideal environment for mold and bacterial growth.

After each use, empty the bladder of water, hanging it upside-down over a sink. This saves you the hassle of regular scrubbing with soap and water. It is also vital to remember to drain if even after you’ve given it a deep and thorough cleaning. 

woman hiking with water

Flush Out the Hose

A hydration bladder consists of a water reserve attached to a hose often valved to prevent leaks. The hose can be the most challenging element to clean due to the narrow diameter. It is also usually the first place where bacteria begin to grow. Flushing the hose removes debris and any residual microorganisms that entered the hose from your mouth. 

Start by filling the bladder and then holding it above your head. Pinch the drinking valve, allowing the water to drain out until the bladder is completely empty. Doing so can prevent any water from staying in the hose in what might appear otherwise as a dry pack.

Scrub the Interior

A slick of biofilm can grow upon the porous surface of the plastic, harboring undesirable germs. Scrubbing is an effective method of preventing this build-up of bacteria within your drinking supply. Fill the inside with warm water and a mixture of mild soap. Gently scrub with a non-abrasive brush or a sponge. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.  

No-Scrub Method

Alternatively, you can fill the inside with dilute hydrogen peroxide and two tablespoons of baking soda for a no-scrub method. Give this a thorough shake, and then let it sit for around 30 minutes. Baking soda increases the effectiveness of the bleach by weakening the bacteria's cell walls, so using both of them in conjunction can be very useful. Baking soda is also mildly abrasive and can effectively remove biofilm inside the bladder. 

While hydrogen peroxide is safe for use, you can use a natural cleaning product, such as white vinegar or lemon or lime juice, as an alternative. Also, don't forget to remove the mouthpiece and soak this in a mixture of your cleaning product of choice as well. Rinse and then let dry completely. 

For a deep clean of the tube connecting the mouthpiece, a thin cord with a knot tied to one end can be threaded through the tube several times and is an excellent improvised tool readily accessible and easily made. 

Put in the Dishwasher

For a less hands-on method, some hydration bladders can even be placed in your dishwasher. Just turn your hydration bladder inside out and put it on the top shelf. However, always check with the manufacturer beforehand to avoid any mishaps and inadvertently ruin your product. 

Place in the Freezer

Crazy as it may sound, you can even place your hydration bladder in the freezer. Doing so will help prevent mold, especially if you live in a damp and humid environment. The extremely low temperatures kill off mold spores and inhibit bacterial growth. This is especially important if you put sugary sports drinks in your hydration bladder, as these can be more likely to attract mold and mildew if left uncleaned for even a short period. 

man with hydration pack

Use an Effervescent Cleaning Tablet

For an even easier option that saves you the hassle of messing around with different products, you can place an effervescent cleaning tablet or a denture tablet with some warm water inside your hydration bladder and let the bubbles do all the hard work for you. Between 5 and 30 minutes later, depending on the brand, the work is done with minimal effort on your part. This is an excellent option for thru-hikers or campers who may not have easy access to clean running water for cleaning.

Dry Your Hydration Bladder Thoroughly After Cleaning

Even if your hydration bladder has been thoroughly cleaned, storing your unit damp leaves it vulnerable to the development of microorganisms. To prevent a damp bladder from undoing your hard cleaning work, ensure you air dry it fully.

After washing, turn your hydration bladder inside out and place it on a dish rack, or wherever else convenient, to dry it out completely. Make sure the drinking tube and mouthpiece can drip dry too.

The Take-Home Message

Whether you hit the trails alone or with a group, being adequately prepared is vital. Don’t get caught out with a foul-tasting or, even worse, a contaminated supply of water. Follow these methods above and choose what best works for you to thoroughly clean your hydration bladder. Don’t forget to dry it out thoroughly between uses and after cleaning to ensure you don’t get caught out in a tricky situation somewhere off the beaten path.

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