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How to Clean Hydration Bladders: A Step-by-Step Guide

The use of hydration bladders is slowly but surely making its way to runners all over the world. Back in the day, it was only used by hikers and cyclists, but now they are a required piece of gear for road and trail runners alike. New waist packs and handhelds are also offering hydration bladder-like soft flasks. If you also wish to get one, then you should most definitely know how to clean hydration bladders.

Unlike other hard water bottles, a hydration bladder is more prone to developing bacteria, especially if you add Nuun, Tailwind, or other types of powders. Ideally, you should have some specific tools for proper maintenance.

Lucky for you, this article will provide you with more than just the steps on how to clean hydration bladder. We are also going to discuss what a hydration bladder is and how it differs to other water carriers.

Lastly, we are going to establish why it is important to clean a hydration bladder meticulously. Is the hydration bladder worth the cleaning hassle? Read on to find out…

What is a Hydration Bladder

A hydration bladder is a hydration system that features a reservoir that holds the water, along with a flexible tube or straw with a bite valve at one end that allows you to easily access the water. These bladders get stored in a vest or backpack. The reservoir has a spot at the top where you can fill in the water.

Most current reservoirs have a detachable straw to make cleaning and storage easier. The bite valves are designed to only to dispense water when you bite down on them. This makes access easy and prevents accidental leaking.

This system allows the wearer to drink from the hydration bladder hands-free. Some designs are insulated so the liquid inside cannot get too warm or get frozen. They also come in various sizes, typically from 1 L to 2 L.

A lot of people who run on a regular basis do not regard these bladders as ideal. This is because most of them experience a lot of water slushing when wearing it, which can be pretty annoying. Then again, newer designs already have countermeasures for that.

On the other hand, there are also big pouches for long-term trips such as hiking or backpacking.

Soft flasks have emerged recently designed to fit in a waist pack or just held. These are smaller – usually 12 – 17 oz – and lack the flexible tube. But they should be cleaned and maintained in the same manner as larger bladders.

The Importance of Cleaning a Hydration Bladder

Hydration bladders are made from a soft, flexible plastic material. Constant exposure to water can lead to the development of mold and other bacteria. Even though these bladders are designed to resist bacteria, they are still at risk of getting contaminated if not cleaned properly.

Most of the time, even if you empty out your hydration bladder, some water remains inside. Furthermore, the use of powders with electrolytes also hastens the process of the development of mildew and mold.

How to Clean Hydration Bladders

Cleaning a hydration bladder is quite easy, but it involves a few steps. For general cleaning, you can skip some of these steps. But for a very funky bladder, follow these process closely.

Before we share with you how it is done, you must first gather all the tools needed. Here are the tools and products that you need to deep clean your hydration bladder:

  • Warm water
  • Bleach
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Mild soap
  • Sponge
  • Scrub brush

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Dump out all the contents of the bladder.
  2. Flush the hose. You can do this by holding the bladder above your head while holding the hose down and pinching the bite valve.
  3. Put warm water in the bladder.
  4. Swish around the water.
  5. Flush the hose again and pour out the warm water.
  6. Gently scrub the inside using a mild soap and a sponge or a scrub brush.
  7. Rinse it out.
  8. Mix warm water with bleach (1 tsp.) and baking soda (2 tbsps.) or white vinegar (two cups).
  9. Put it in the bladder and swish the mixture around.
  10. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour.
  11. Dump out the mixture and rinse with water.
  12. Flush the hose again.
  13. Rinse it well until you cannot smell anything.
  14. Open the reservoir and hang it out to dry.
  15. Make sure that the bladder is not touching any of its own parts for it to dry properly. You can use hangers or clips to keep it from sticking together.
  16. It usually takes a day for it to be completely dry.
  17. After it dries, test the water out if you can still taste anything.
  18. Repeat the entire process if there is still an unpleasant taste.

There are also ready-to-use cleaning tablets that are specifically formulated for cleaning hydration bladders. You can use these tablets instead of the water and baking soda or vinegar mixture. Another thing that you can use is denture cleaning tablets.

Additionally, in the event that you have already completed all the steps and there is still an unpleasant odor, you can freeze your hydration bladder along with lemons. This process tends to neutralize odor and can also fight against bacteria. After freezing it, put in warm water while the lemons are still inside, swish the water around, and rinse it out.

Do not only focus on the reservoir itself, but also clean the valves, hose, and caps of your hydration bladder. Also, rinse them thoroughly and let them dry completely.

Lastly, it is recommended to deep clean your hydration bladders every third use. Moreover, you should always dump out all the liquid and let it dry in between use. However, do not deep clean often as too much exposure to bleach can break down the material of the reservoir and can destroy the valves and caps.

Final Words

Now that you know how to clean your hydration bladder you can wave goodbye to the days where you are stuck with that awful taste.

If you really do not have time to deep clean, just keep in mind to dump out all the liquid after use and let it dry without its components sticking together. At least, in that way, you can control the fast development of mold.

Christine Adorno
The Wired Runner