Would you use the same glass multiple days in a row without ever washing it? Then why do you do that with your hydration bladder?
It is very important to clean and dry your hydration bladder after every use, especially if you often refill it outside. Hydration reservoirs can get nasty if they’re not properly cleaned, and they can even get moldy if they’re put away before they’re fully dry. But you can avoid that – I will tell you how to clean and dry your hydration bladder thoroughly so that you can guarantee it doesn’t get moldy or make your water taste bad!
You need some specific brushes to really clean every nook and cranny of a hydration bladder. That’s why it’s best to just get a hydration bladder cleaning kit – there are many different options you can buy and there’s certainly something for everyone’s budget.
Hydration cleaning kits usually have three brushes, including a long and bendy brush for the hose. They also come with a drying hanger, but you should check whether the hanger is the right size and shape for your hydration bladder. Some brands sell cleaning kits that are specific to their reservoir models and that’s probably the best thing to buy.
If you don’t want to buy a specific cleaning kit, you can just get a few brushes. Make sure to get a big brush to clean the inside of the hydration bladder, and then a small, thin brush that you can use to thoroughly clean out the hose. If you don’t have any brushes that can pass through the hose, you could use a rope with a knot at the end. It’s not as efficient, but it will work in a pinch.
There are several different ways to clean a hydration bladder. You can use a brush, cleaning tablets, and in some cases, you can just put the reservoir in the dishwasher. The dishwasher only works with hydration bladders that are reversible, and dishwasher-safe, so make sure of that first.
It’s crucial to clean the inside of a hydration reservoir thoroughly, and if you can’t turn it inside out, that’s not something you’ll be able to do in a dishwasher. If you have a HydraPak reservoir, you can safely clean it in the dishwasher. Those hydration bladders can all be turned inside out and they’re top-shelf safe, so it’s super easy to clean them.
However, keep in mind that it’s also important to clean the hose and the valve, and you can’t put those in the dishwasher. That’s why you still need the brushes.
Additionally, be sure to check the maximum water temperature that is safe to pour in the bladder. It’s easier to clean something with hot water as it kills bacteria, and the hotter you can get it, the better. Most manufacturers will state the highest water temperature that’s safe to pour inside the bladder, so be sure to double-check that.
When you’re cleaning a hydration bladder, you should make an effort to scrub it inside really well. Make sure that there are no spots left when you’re done scrubbing it. Also, some people will let the cleaning solution sit in the reservoir for 10-15 minutes before they start scrubbing. This is a good thing to do if there are any stubborn stains on the plastic.
Using effervescent tablets to clean a hydration reservoir is quick and easy. Fill up the reservoir with warm (but not boiling) water, drop a tablet inside, and let it work its magic. Tablets are also great for cleaning water bottles, so you can use them for more than just the reservoir.
One downside of cleaning tablets is that it’s something you have to buy over and over again. It’s not the most fiscally responsible option, especially if you’re buying the pricier cleaning tablets like the ones from CamelBak.
When using cleaning tablets, you want to keep the reservoir assembled. The cleaning solution should pass through the hose and the valve. When you’re ready to start rinsing the reservoir, be sure to hold it over your head and let it drain through the hose.
Most hydration bladders can be cleaned with a little bit of dish soap. Fill them with hot water, add a few drops of your favorite dish soap, shake the bladder a little, and let it soak for at least 20 minutes.
Then it’s time to get out the brushes. Drain the water, disassemble the reservoir, and use the brushes to clean every piece individually. Make sure to get every little spot before you start to rinse the reservoir parts.
Giving everything a deep rinse is crucial. You need to get rid of the cleaning solution entirely, otherwise, you run the risk of bacteria growing in the reservoir.
Natural cleaners are a great alternative to classic dish soap if you want to avoid using harsh chemicals. You can use lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar, or any natural cleaning solution you want. Just make sure to rinse out the bladder properly even if you’re using a natural cleaning solution since you don’t want to contaminate drinking water in any way.
Vinegar is one of the best natural cleaning solutions because it gets rid of everything (including scale), but it can take a while to get rid of the smell. Sometimes the plastic will still stink of vinegar, but the water inside will taste fine – that’s why it’s best to take a sip to check whether you’ve rinsed the bladder properly.
You must rinse the hydration reservoir really well before you let it dry. It’s not a bad idea to take a sip from the reservoir when you are done with rinsing, just to make sure that you’ve gotten rid of any leftover taste of cleaning solution.
That way you can be positive that when you fill the bladder for your next hike, the water won’t taste like dish soap. Also, letting a reservoir dry with traces of dish soap or any other cleaning solution will just make it twice as harder to properly clean it later, so do your best to avoid that.
It’s best to let the hydration bladder air dry. You can just set it upright, or you can place it on the hanger that’s included in hydration bladder cleaning kits.
If you don’t have the fancy cleaning kit, you can use a normal hanger and thread it in sideways to hang, or do what I do and put it on your clothesline with two pegs holding it open. Just get creative!
One thing to note is that you must disassemble a reservoir and let each piece dry individually. Although, I often dry it after use (every time) just as is, and it is fine.
Also, it’s best to let the reservoir pieces dry in a non-humid room, so keep them away from the bathroom. Let it sit until every piece is entirely dry to avoid getting mold on any of the pieces.
If you don’t have a cleaning kit, you can use things you have around the house. If it’s an oval reservoir, you can place a kitchen whisk inside it to keep it upright while it dries. You can also use clothes hangers and even paper towels, so just make sure to take out the paper towels before you put away the hydration bladder. It’s important to do this because it separates the walls of the reservoir. If they’re touching, it’s unlikely they will ever fully dry.
In addition to that, you can also buy drying sheets for reservoirs. The sheet absorbs 95% of liquid inside the reservoir in the first minute and allows it to fully dry in some 5-6 hours. The drying sheets are flexible and can be placed inside any hydration bladder, regardless of its shape.
When you need to dry the reservoir quickly, you can use a hairdryer. Turn on the lowest fan speed setting and don’t bring it too close to the bladder since the plastic could melt. It’s a good idea to use cold air to dry the bladder – it will take a little longer, but you can be sure that you won’t accidentally melt your hydration reservoir.
You must store the hydration bladder in a dry place. If you live in a humid area, your best bet is to store the reservoir in a freezer. That prevents the growth of bacteria and mold, and you can just leave the bladder in the freezer until you actually need to use it.
Just keep in mind that it is still important to dry the reservoir entirely before you put it in the freezer. You can then roll it up and wrap the house around it, so it takes as little space inside the freezer as possible. This is the best place to store a reservoir for people who use it very often.
In case you don’t use your hydration reservoir often, it might be better for you to store it in the fridge. Just make sure to fill it with water first – air is the bane of any hydration reservoir. You can keep water in it pretty much forever and it will be fine, but add one tiny air pocket into the mix, and boom you get mold.
If you like living on the edge, you can just store the reservoir along with your other hiking gear. Put it in the closet or leave it in the backpack – it shouldn’t get moldy if you cleaned and dried it properly, but you can never be certain.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.