How To Clean a Hydration Bladder Using Cleaning Tablets

Key Points

  • Cleaning tablets from companies like CamelBak work great to kill mold and mildew.

  • Many stores carry denture cleaner, a cheaper alternative to cleaning tablets.

  • You should still clean your hydration bladder with soap and water after using cleaning or denture tablets.

Are you cleaning your hydration bladder with soap and water, but your bladder still looks like a science experiment gone wrong? Cleaning your hydration bladder using cleaning or denture tablets works well to kill mold and mildew, but there are things to know before you start cleaning.

Benefits of Using Cleaning or Denture Tablets

Some believe using clean water in their hydration bladder forever keeps it clean. They are also buying new hydration bladders because the water from their bladder tastes terrible. There are other reasons than bad-tasting water to keep your hydration bladder clean. Mold and mildew proliferate around the lids and folds of a bladder, especially if you add electrolytes to the water in your bladder.

According to The Hiking Authority, putting electrolytes in your hydration bladder is okay, but you must clean it thoroughly afterward: "At some point, you've probably used sports drinks to boost your electrolytes. But they're loaded with sugars and will quickly cause mold/bacteria growth in your hydration bladder. You need to find a low-sugar option that still has electrolytes."

There are several benefits to using cleaning tablets or denture tablets to clean your hydration bladder. Cleaning and denture tablets use mild, diluted sodium hypochlorite (mild bleach) to kill mold and mildew. They also use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to alkalize and break down mold and mildew. Many brands also use citric acid to kill and clean mold and mildew. 

Start With an Inspection

Cleaning a hydration bladder starts with a quick and easy inspection, but you may find your gear soaked if you skip this step.

Here's a quick hydration bladder inspection list:

  1. Remove and inspect the hydration bladder for leaks. Fill the bladder and apply slight pressure. If there's a leak, you'll see water. You can also inflate the bladder by blowing in the bite valve, submerging it in water, and looking for tiny bubbles.

  2. With water in the bladder, check for leaks around the lid or slide by gently applying pressure to the bladder. Openings are the most likely place for a leak. If your lid has an O-ring, check it for wear and tear.

  3. Inspect the connection of the water tube to the hydration bladder for leaks. Check the bite valve for leaks and wear. Don't put the bladder back in the pack. Leave it out for the next step.

Required Cleaning Supplies

Before cleaning your hydration bladder, get your cleaning supplies together. Some prefer to make their own kit, yet others prefer to buy a cleaning kit. CamelBak products are extremely popular due to their effectiveness, but many hydration bladder cleaning products are equally good.

Here's what you need to clean your hydration bladder:

  • Hook Adapter: The CamelBak cleaning kit has a hanger that clips on or in the tube adapter. 

  • Fill Port Dryer: This fits in the opening of the screw-on lid. 

  • Bladder Brush: A special bladder brush works great. You can also use a bottle brush.

  • Water Tube Brush: If you buy nothing else, you'll be glad you have a tube brush.

  • Cleaning Tablets: You can use cleaning tablets or denture tablets.

  • Dish Soap: A mild dish soap works best.

  • Dishcloth and Towels: Use a cloth towel, paper towel, or both to dry the bladder. Use the dishcloth to clean the bite valve.

Dental tablets are a low-cost alternative.

Cleaning Procedures

Now that you have cleaning supplies in hand. It's time to put them to work. Make sure your sink and counter are ready. Cleaning a hydration bladder is better than it sounds; the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Open the reservoir and fill it two-thirds full of warm water. Add either the cleaning tablets from the kit or two denture cleaning tablets. Next, gently shake the bladder to mix the cleaner and water. Open the bite valve and let some of the mixture drain. Draining the mixture through the bite valve fills the tube and bite valve with the cleaning mixture. Let the bladder sit for five minutes.

After five minutes, drain the mixture through the bite valve and pour out any remaining water. Rinse the bladder with warm water, and open the bite valve to rinse the tube. Scrub the inside of the bladder using mild detergent and your bladder brush. Pay special attention to the areas under the screw-on lid or folds of the zip-top bladders. These areas are prone to mold and mildew.

Open the bite valve so soapy water can run through the tube. Next, empty the bladder and remove the water tube. Rinse the bladder thoroughly and dry with towels. Remove the bite valve, and scrub the tube by running the water tube brush through it. Rinse the water tube out. Clean the bite tube with soap and water using the dishcloth. A baby bottle brush works well for this. It's best to remove the plastic sheath and clean it too. Rinse the bite valve and let dry.

Insert the fill port dryer to promote airflow through the bladder. If you don't have a fill port dryer, insert a whisk or put the bladder over a bottle of wine to dry. Replace the water tube and clip the hanger to it. Hang the bladder up to dry. Clip the water tube to the hanger or drape it over it to dry.

After the bladder is dry, put the bite valve and sheath back in the water tube. Your bladder is now ready for storage.

Alternatives to Cleaning and Denture Tablets

Other options also work well if denture or cleaning tablets aren't killing the mold and mildew in your hydration bladder. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Bleach: Fill the reservoir 3/4 full of warm water. Add a teaspoon of unscented bleach and put the lid on. With the lid tight, gently shake the bladder to mix the bleach with the water. Open the bite valve and let the mixture drain. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. Then, drain the mixture through the bite valve. Rinse thoroughly and clean with soap and water.

  • Lemon Juice: Fill the reservoir half full of warm water and squeeze lemon juice in the water. Then, put the lid or slide on and shake. Press the bite valve to get the solution down the tube. Let the bladder sit for 20 minutes. Afterward, wash the bladder with soap and water.

  • White Vinegar: Fill the reservoir half full of white vinegar and the rest with warm water. Then, put the lid or slide on and shake. Be sure to squeeze the bite valve to get the solution down the tube. Then, remove the lid and use a brush to scrub the reservoir. Put the lid back on and let the bladder sit for 20 minutes. Afterward, rinse the bladder and water tube thoroughly.

Preventative Maintenance

Now that you have conducted an inspection and cleaned your hydration bladder, there are things you should do anytime you use it. Your hydration bladder will last for years if you habitually do these things.

Before putting your hydration bladder in the pack, ensure nothing is in the storage compartment. It's surprising how much damage a few army men can do to a bladder if they go unnoticed. Bite valves are usually the first thing to leak. Before leaving on your adventure, fill the bladder and ensure the bite valve doesn't leak. Keeping an extra in a hydration pack pocket is a good idea.

It's okay to let a hydration pack dry in the sun but don't let the bladder or water tube lay in the direct sun. The sun's UV rays damage the plastic and make it brittle and stiff. Try to use only water in the hydration bladder. If you add electrolytes, then clean it thoroughly after each use. You can do everything right, but if you don't let your hydration bladder dry thoroughly, it'll grow mold and mildew.

You Hydration Bladder Is Clean

These procedures will thoroughly clean your hydration bladder. Your water will taste better, and your bladder, water tube, and bite valve will work correctly. Print these directions out and keep them with your cleaning kit for the next cleaning. With your hydration bladder clean and dry, you're ready for your next adventure.

If you need anything else about hydration bladders, let My Outdoor Gear guide you in properly caring for, using, or maintaining your hydration bladder. Subscribe today!

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