How To Clean and Maintain a Hydration Pack

Key Points

  • You can clean a hydration bladder with items from your kitchen, but a cleaning kit makes the job much easier.

  • If you inspect your hydration pack and bladder after each use, you have fewer hydration pack malfunctions on your next adventure.

  • You can thoroughly clean your hydration pack, but it can still grow mold and mildew if it does not dry properly.

  • After your hydration bladder is dry, storing it in the freezer prevents mold and mildew from growing.

Maybe you are like actor Jared Leto, and you want to explore the outdoors more in August 2023. If you do, you might have purchased a hydration pack. In order to always drink clean liquids from your new pack, it's important to clean it. There are as many ways to clean a hydration pack as there are hydration packs.

There are a variety of products that make cleaning, drying, and storing your hydration pack easier. There are also old-school ways that may take more elbow grease but work just fine and are usually a cheaper option. Read on to see if you prefer the ease of new products or old-school methods.

Why Is Cleaning a Hydration Pack So Important?

Some believe that if they use clean water in their hydration bladder, there is no need to clean it. 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 pack clean. Mold and mildew grow quickly around the lids and folds of a bladder. The sugar increases the likelihood of mold, especially if you use soda or mixes in your bladder. According to outdoors expert Jeff Barber, "Perhaps the most common cause of mold in a hydration reservoir is residual sugar from sports drinks. Mold loves to chow down on sugars, and any liquid you put into your reservoir seeps into every nook, cranny, hose, connector, and valve. If you stick to just water in your pack, your bladder is far less likely to get funky in the first place."

Everyone rolls their eyes at the manufacturer's recommendation to clean their hydration pack after each use. They know it prevents mold and mildew, but it's the last thing they want to do after spending the weekend conquering nature. It's also the last thing they have time for when packing for a weekend getaway. Let's look at a quick and thorough way to clean your hydration pack.

Start With an Inspection

Cleaning a hydration pack starts with a quick inspection. Think back on your trip. Was there anything else you took note of to fix later? Did you notice anything you can improve on? Now is the time to make those improvements.

Here is a quick hydration pack inspection list:

  1. Are the straps adjusted correctly, and is the pack comfortable when full of water and gear?

  2. Check pockets for snacks, gear, or debris.

  3. Are buckles, Velcro straps, loops, carbineers, zippers, and flaps all working?

  4. Are there any tears in the pack, straps, or flaps?

  5. Remove and inspect the hydration bladder for leaks. If you are not sure, fill the bladder and apply slight pressure. If there is a leak, you see water. You can also inflate the bladder by blowing in the bite valve and submerging it in water. Look for tiny bubbles and repair the hydration bladder.

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

Just like that, the inspection is complete. It's now time to start cleaning your hydration pack.

What You Need To Clean

Before cleaning your hydration pack, you need to get your cleaning supplies together. The items people select to clean hydration packs are as controversial as choosing the best NFL quarterback. In reality, there are many right ways to clean a hydration pack. This list uses the latest and greatest products available. We use CamelBak products, but many hydration bladder cleaning products are equally good.

Here is what you need to clean your hydration pack:

Crux Reservoir Hydration Bladder Cleaning Kit

by CamelBak 

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  1. Hook Adapter: The CamelBak cleaning kit has a hanger that clips on or in the water tube. The hangar is optional for zip-top bladders.

  2. Fill Port Dryer: This fits in the opening of the screw-on lid. The dryer is optional, with bladders that have zip-top openings.

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

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

  5. Cleaning Tabs: You can use cleaning tabs or bleach.

  6. Dish Soap: A mild dish soap works best.

  7. Utility Brush: This is a small handheld brush for cleaning the hydration pack.

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

These items, a kitchen sink, and a place for your hydration bladder to dry are all you need.

© My Outdoor Gear Testing Lab.

Cleaning Procedures

Now that you have cleaning supplies in hand. It's time to do the dirty work. Before you start, ensure there is nothing in the kitchen sink, and you have a place for your pack, bladder, and tube to dry.

Cleaning a hydration pack doesn't take long; the more you do it, the easier it gets. Let's get started:

  • You can throw the hydration pack in the washer and dryer or clean it by hand. If you clean it by hand, get it wet inside and out. Then, scrub it with soap and water using your utility brush. After it's clean, hang it up to dry. It is okay to let the pack dry in the sun.

  • Open the reservoir and fill it with warm water. Add either the cleaning tablets from the kit or two teaspoons of bleach. 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 water tube.

  • Scrub the inside of the bladder using mild detergent — or even use natural ingredients as a hydration pack cleaner — 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. It's best to remove the plastic sheath. 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 the hangar to dry.

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

  • The best place to store the bladder is in the freezer. The freezer prevents mold and mildew from starting.

Preventative Maintenance

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

Before putting your hydration bladder in the pack, ensure there is nothing in the storage compartment. It is 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 does not leak. Keeping an extra in a hydration pack pocket is a good idea.

Before you leave the house, double-check the fit of the hydration pack. Buckles often slide, and straps can shrink in the washer and dryer. It's okay to let the hydration pack dry in the sun, but do not let the bladder or water tube lay in the direct sun. The sun's UV rays damage the plastic, making it brittle and stiff. Try to use only water in the hydration bladder. If you add electrolytes, clean it thoroughly when you're done.

You can do everything right, but if you don't let your hydration bladder dry thoroughly, it grows mold and mildew.

You Hydration Pack Is Clean

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

If you need to know anything else about hydration packs, let My Outdoor Gear guide you in the proper care, use, or maintenance of your hydration pack.

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