How Often Should I Clean My Hydration Bladder?


You’ve been meticulously planning this backpacking trip for weeks. You went through all your gear with a fine-tooth-comb. On the morning of your trip, you grab your hydration bladder and it’s full of mold.

We’ve all been there. You’ll eventually end up with mold in your hydration bladder. Luckily, it’s easy to clean, but how often should I clean my hydration bladder?

When Should You Clean Your Hydration Bladder?

You should clean out your hydration bladder every time it’s used. Moist, warm, dark environments are the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Rinse out your hydration pack every night on the trail and thoroughly clean it once you get home.

Basic Cleaning(On The Trail)

You can’t always thoroughly clean your hydration bladder. When you’re on the trail, you should drain the bladder/hose after every use and wipe off the mouthpiece. You can always bring a little bit of dish soap and rinse everything off. A little bit of cleaning goes a long way on the trail.

You Won’t Always Get Mold

For months, I used my classic Camelbak hydration pack without ever cleaning it. After use, I would just rinse it out and hang it up to dry(I used one of these hangers). Every once and awhile I’d rinse out the bladder with hot water and dawn dish soap.

The bladder looked clear so I thought I was good to go. Then all of a sudden I started to notice something was off. There was a nasty taste that I just couldn’t taste.

After looking at my bite valve and tube I realized just how much mold I was drinking. It was absolutely disgusting. That was the day I started cleaning out my hydration bladder every time it was used.

Check out my post on making hydration bladders taste better

Bladders Have Anti-Microbial Coatings

Most hydration bladders these days come with anti-microbial coatings on the inside of the bag. These coatings significantly reduce bacteria/mold buildup between cleaning. The anti-microbial coating is the main difference between name brand hydration bladders(Camelbak, Platypus, Hydrapak) and cheaper options.

When you take care of your hydration bladder this coating works really well, but it’s not perfect. Over time the coating starts to erode and you will eventually get mold.

Sugar Makes Matters Worse

You can get away with a lot more if you’re only filling the reservoir with water. The second you add sugar to the pack you’re speeding up bacterial growth. If you don’t immediately clean out the pack after use you’re guaranteed to get mold. You’ll notice mold growth within 2-3 days.

Powdered and Tablet Drink Mix

Personally, I like to use these electrolyte tablets in my hydration bladder. Nuun Brand tablets taste great, but they’re kind of expensive. They’re only 10 calories with 1 gram of sugar and lots of electrolytes.

This is how you should add electrolytes to your hydration bladder.

Go to your local grocery store and check out the powdered drink mix. You can find them for $1 per box of ten at Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Walmart, etc. Look for those tubes of powder that are labeled as on the go. At like 10 cents per pouch these are an excellent source of electrolytes out on the trail.

The Easiest Way to Clean Your Hydration Bladder

Most people dread cleaning out their hydration bladder. They waste time messing around with bleach, baking soda, lemon juice and soap/water. These cleaning methods all work, but they’re a pain in the butt.

The easiest way to clean out your hydration bladder is to use specialized hydration bladder tablets. It’s crazy how effective these tablets are. They work just like denture cleaning tablets(probably the same thing) without the minty taste.

Directions: Before Mold Growth

Just fill your pack with warm water and toss in a cleaning tablet and set it off to the side. Wait at least 30 minutes and rinse out your water reservoir. When it’s that easy you don’t have an excuse not to clean your hydration pack.

Directions: After Mold Growth

Scrub out the interior of your water reservoir using one of these cleaning kits. Pay special attention to the hydration tube and bite valve. With serious mold/bacteria growth you might want to soak the bladder overnight.

Storing Your Bladder to Prevent Mold

If you store a wet hydration bladder in a dark closet you’re asking for trouble. There’s no way to avoid mold in a dark moist environment. Don’t Worry! It’s not hard to properly store a water reservoir.

Rinse it Out

Always rinse out your hydration pack after use. I would definitely recommend following the cleaning process I talked about above. Make sure you thoroughly rinse out the cleaning tablet/bleach so you don’t end up with a chemical aftertaste.

Dry it Out

Make sure you completely dry out your hydration bladder before putting it back in storage. Hang up your bladder using one of these hangers or you can make your own using a close hanger. Just cut the hanger and hang it up(check out the pic above).

Freeze It (Optional)

Once dry roll up your hydration bladder and toss it in the freezer. Wrap a large rubber band and the hose around to make sure everything is kept together. This is an optional step, but freezing your bag will definitely prevent bacteria buildup.

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