How to Clean a Water Bladder: 7 Steps to Keeping It Mold Free

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Water bladders have become essential equipment for outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from hikers backpackers, and more.

However, knowing how to clean a water bladder is a necessity that can’t be overlooked. In this guide, we delve into a step-by-step guide for cleaning hydration systems effectively, ensuring your outdoor adventures remain enjoyable and free from mold.

I admit when I first started hiking over 20 years ago, I would simply rinse it out and leave it to dry over a water bottle. Then after just doing this, I started noticing green sludge in the tube – ewwww! Not only was it gross and left a bad taste in my mouth, I was ingesting mold, which is so bad for your health!

hiking woman drinks from a water bladder

Ever since then, I now regularly clean it using the methods indicated below. And encourage you to do so, too, to keep yourself healthy.

And although water bladders are more of a pain to clean than water bottles (check out our cute ones), I still recommend using one while hiking.

The main advantage is that I find I drink a lot more when hiking with a hydration system since you can drink and hike at the same time without breaking your rhythm.

Having said that, I always carry a water bottle with me as a backup source, though in case my water reservoir leaks.

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Water Bladder?

If you don’t clean your water bladder regularly, it can lead to the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria. This is because the moisture left in the bladder creates an ideal environment for these organisms to thrive.

Ingesting water from a contaminated hydration bladder could lead to gastrointestinal distress or other health issues, as you can see from this article on What Happens When You Drink Mold?

It can also lead to bad-tasting water and odors. Yuck!

Regular cleaning is essential to maintaining the integrity and longevity of your water bladder and ensuring that the water you drink from it is safe. That’s why I recommend regularly cleaning your water reservoir.

keep water from freezing when hiking in winter

How to Clean a Water Bladder: Step-by-Step Guide

What You Need to Clean a Hydration Reservoir

The following three cleaning solutions will work:

  • Hot water and Mild dish soap
  • A specialized water bladder cleaning kit. This 6-In-1 Cleaning Kit has everything you need.
  • A mixture of Baking soda, lemon juice, and white vinegar

In addition, you also need:

  • Special brushes for the hard-to-reach bits like the tube
  • Drying rack to help your hydration reservoir dry thoroughly. This is optional but speeds up the drying time.

Recommended Cleaning Products for Your Water Bladder

6-In-1 Cleaning Kit

Description This cleaning kit contains everything you need; 3 scrub brushes, a collapsible frame for drying to thoroughly dry and prevent mold, 12 cleansing tablets to keep your water tasting fresh.

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FREEMOVE Cleaner Tablets

24 Pack of all-natural, fast-acting reservoir cleaning tablets that are odor free and don’t leave any residue. It’s an effective and easy way to clean your water bladder.

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7 Steps to Cleaning Your Water Reservoir

Step 1: Disassemble Your Water Bladder

Begin by disassembling your water bladder. Separate the tube and mouthpiece from the bladder. Disassembling these parts will allow you to clean each piece thoroughly.

Step 2: Prepare The Cleaning Solution for Your Hydration Bladder

Fill a sink or a large bowl with warm water and add a few drops of mild dish soap, specialized cleaning solution or a mixture of baking soda, lemon juice, and white vinegar, which is effective for treating persistent tastes or smells.

Step 3: Clean the Bladder

Submerge it in the prepared cleaning solution and scrub the interior using the scrub brush from your water bladder cleaning kit. Ensure every part of the interior is scrubbed. Then let it soak.

Step 4: Clean the Drinking Tube and Bite Valve

Use the smaller brushes in your cleaning kit to clean the hose and bite valve. If your drinking tube is removable, you can attach the brush to a string, feed it through one end and pull it through the other end for a thorough cleaning. Be sure to scrub the hard-to-reach places.

Step 5: Rinse The Bladder, Hose and Bite Valve Thoroughly

After scrubbing, rinse every part of your hydration reservoir thoroughly under running water. Make sure you rinse out all soap or cleaning solution completely.

Step 6: Let Your Reservoir Completely Dry

After washing and rinsing, dry thoroughly to prevent mold, mildew and bacteria. Hang the bladder upside down. I often place it over a water bottle to help keep it open. Or, for faster drying, insert a specialized drying rack or rolled-up paper towels to keep it open.

Step 7: Prolong the Longevity Of Your Water Bladder Post-Cleaning

Always allow your water bladder to dry completely before storing. Keep it out of direct sunlight. I also recommend periodically deep-cleaning your bladder. Doing so will help enhance its life.

woman washing a thermal water bottle

FAQs About Cleaning a Water Bladder

What is the recommended method for cleaning a water bladder?

The best way to clean a water bladder is by using warm mild soap, or reservoir cleaning tablets and scrub brushes specifically designed for cleaning water bladders. Empty the bladder, fill it with the cleaning solution, scrub the inside with the brush, and rinse thoroughly to ensure all soap is removed.

What to dry a Camelbak bladder (or any other bladder) after cleaning it?

To dry a water bladder, hang it upside down and prop it open to air-dry in a well-ventilated area. A wadded-up paper towel inside helps to absorb excess water and speed up the drying process.

Alternatively, you can use a drying rack like this one which hangs to dry it faster and get all the water inside out.

How often should you clean a water bladder?

I recommend cleaning your water bladder after every use, especially if you filled it with a liquid other than water. If you only fill it with water and empty it completely, you can clean it every few uses.

What’s a quick way to clean a hydration bladder when you’re short on time?

When you’re in a hurry, rinse the bladder with warm water and use a bit of mild soap. After rinsing, drain the bladder as much as possible and leave it to air-dry.

This shouldn’t replace a deep cleaning, but is fine if you’re on a multi-day hike for a few days.

Can any cleaning agents harm a water bladder?

Yes. Avoid using household bleach or harsh chemicals to clean a water bladder as they can damage the material and leave harmful residues. Stick to mild dish soap or Effective Easy To Use Cleaning Kit For Your Water Bladders.
You can also use tablets designed specifically to clean hydration reservoirs. Always rinse thoroughly to ensure no soap residue is left.

Can a hydration reservoir go in the dishwasher?

It depends on the specific brand and model. Some are top-shelf dishwasher safe, but many others are not due to the heat and intense water pressure, which could potentially damage the bladder or its tube.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions or the product’s packaging to determine if your specific water bladder is OK to go in the dishwasher.
If in doubt, your safest option is to clean your hydration bladder manually.

water bottle for hiking

Maintaining the cleanliness of your water bladder is crucial for your health and its longevity. Our guide shows you how to clean your hydration reservoir for fresh-tasting water on your next mountain adventure.

step-by-step guide on how to clean a water bladder use for hiking