Gear Rx: How to Clean a Water Bladder

Published Jun 16, 2022 3:00 PM

Hydration bladders are great for day hikes, backpacking, running, and many other outdoor activities. They make accessing water easy and convenient, but after a few months of use, they can start to get a funk. Worse, they may even mold if you leave moisture behind in storage. 

Cleaning a water bladder can vary from brand to brand, and some have parts that can be put in a dishwasher to be sanitized. Most of the time, hydration bladders need to be cleaned and sanitized by hand. Luckily, you can do this with a few common household items, and your water bladder will be fresh and ready for your next adventure. 

Hydration Bladder Cleaning Supplies

You don’t necessarily need special equipment or a water bladder cleaning kit to get the job done. Still, it can make things easier and more approachable if you have easy access to cleaning solutions and products. 

Mild dish soap is practical for cleaning a water bladder, but beyond that, having something to sanitize, remove odors, or kill mold is helpful. Cleaning products and solutions to consider include: 

  • Baking Soda: an excellent choice if an odor needs eliminating in your bladder. Mix ¼ cup of baking soda with ¾ water per liter of volume. Baking soda also works well to eradicate pesky odors in camp coolers. 
  • Bleach: be careful with this one, bleach is effective in killing bacteria and viruses, but too much can damage the integrity of the reservoir material. Use 2-5 drops of household bleach per liter of water, and combining it with the baking soda solution is safe. 
  • Lemons: another way to eliminate odors is to use a mixture of ¼ lemon juice per liter of water. You can combine the lemon solution with bleach or baking soda for a more thorough cleaning. Leave the bladder open over a sink when using the lemon and baking soda because it can produce a fizzing or foaming reaction. 
  • Reservoir Cleaning Tablets: potentially, the easiest way to clean a water bladder is with a reservoir cleaning tablet. Many water reservoir companies have these available along with a cleaning kit or individually. These are simple and easy. Usually, all you need to do is fill the bladder with water, pop the tablet in, and it will remove odors, loosen deposits, and sanitize. 
  • Denture Cleaning Tablets: generally a less expensive alternative to reservoir cleaning tablets, denture cleaning tablets are an easy and effective way to clean a water bladder. 

If you opt for reservoir cleaning tablets, they often come in a kit that includes cleaning brushes and drying aids. It helps to have a scrubbing brush that can reach inside the bladder, but a standard dishwashing sponge can work if the opening is large enough. Although the material is tough, avoid using overly abrasive brushes and sponges. If there are stains or mold, use a solution that can loosen deposits before scrubbing. 

Drying after washing is an essential part of cleaning your water bladder. If it is not dried properly, mold can grow. Once again, a cleaning kit is helpful as they often come with a drying aid. As long as the bladder can be open to promote air circulation as it dries, it should still work. Use things like clothespins, clothes hangers, or kitchen utensils if you don’t have a cleaning kit. Ideally, you want the bladder to have a space to hang upside down, let air flow, and allow water to drip out. 

Gear Rx: How to Clean a Water Bladder
If you don’t have a cleaning kit, kitchen appliances like a whisk can help hold the water bladder open as it dries.

How to Clean a Hydration Bladder

No matter the cleaning solution you choose, the overall process and steps involved in cleaning a hydration bladder will be the same. We still recommend you check to see if there are specific cleaning instructions provided by the water reservoir manufacturer or the cleaning tablet you choose. If your backpack came with a water bladder included, the brand may differ from the pack itself, so look for the reservoir brand specifically when researching best cleaning practices. 

In general, this is a two-step process starting with using your chosen cleaning solution. Then, using mild dish soap, you can scrub away any residue or built-up deposits. 

Using a Cleaning Solution: 

  • Fill the reservoir with warm water (not too hot). 
  • Add in the cleaning solution or tablet of your choice. 
  • Seal the reservoir. If you use lemon and baking soda, give it time to react and fizz before sealing. 
  • Let the cleaning tablet dissolve fully. Move the bladder around over the sink to mix up the water. 
  • Holding the bladder up above the sink, let the tube drape down. Pinch the bite valve open until a little bit of water runs out. Only empty enough water to ensure the cleaning solution has a chance to run through the drinking tube. 
  • Set the reservoir aside and let it sit for the allotted time. Cleaning tablets and kits will provide instructions on how long to let it sit (around 5 minutes). If using a household cleaning solution, let it sit for 15-20 minutes. 
  • Drain the system of all the water. 

Washing with soap and water: 

  • Fill the reservoir and the tube with warm water and add a little bit of mild dish soap. 
  • Wash and scrub the interior of the bladder as well as the tube. A cleaning kit will provide tools to allow you to do this, and you’ll need to remove the bite valve to clean the tube properly. 
  • Empty the soapy water and rinse the reservoir and tube thoroughly. 

It can take a while for the hydration bladder to dry after the cleaning process. Before storing it, it needs to be completely dry. Even a small amount of moisture left in the bladder or tube allows mold to grow. 

To dry, disassemble all the pieces you can; usually, this is the bladder, the tube, and the bite valve. Set the bladder upright or on a hanger to dry so it can be upside down. If you aren’t using a hanger to assist in the drying, have the reservoir propped up in a drying rack with a utensil like a whisk to hold it open. 

We recommend performing this drying process after use, especially if you go long periods between use. 


Q: Can I put my water bladder in the dishwasher?

You can put some water bladders in the dishwasher on the top rack, but not all of them will hold up. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see if cleaning your water reservoir in a dishwasher is safe. If it is, most of them should have a hose and nozzle removed and the bladder should be turned inside out. 

Q: How do you remove a plastic taste from a hydration bladder?

Most of the above cleaning solutions will remove the plastic taste in a hydration bladder. One of the most effective ways to remove that taste is with a baking soda solution, but any of them should work. 

Q: How do you clean a hydration bladder hose?

Once your chosen cleaning solution has been added to the water reservoir, hold the bladder over a sink, letting the hose hang down. Open the mouthpiece to let some water run through. This might be enough to clean and sanitize the hose, but using a special cleaning tool or brush can help get gunk or mold out.

Q: How do you get rid of mold from a water bladder?

Any of the cleaning solutions mentioned above should remove mold. Use a disinfectant and let it sit for the appropriate time to soak. Then, wash with a brush and soapy water to remove any spots or residue left behind. Eliminate the risk of mold by ensuring that the water bladder is completely dry before storing. 

Q: How often should you replace a hydration bladder?

Hydration bladders can last 10+ years if they are kept clean and are well maintained. As long as there are no holes in the reservoir, you should be good to keep using it. It is more likely you’ll need to replace the nozzle or hose before repacing the bladder itself. 

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