How to clean a hydration bladder: advice for hikers and runners

hydration bladder
Follow the guide to learn how to keep a hydration bladder clean (Image credit: Getty Images)

The best hydration packs are among the most useful items of kit for runners, hikers and anyone who enjoys exercising outdoors because it allows you to sip water or fluids at regular intervals. But one of the most common complaints of hydration bladders is they end up dirty and unhygienic. So, the question is: how to clean a hydration bladder?

The biggest cause of dirty hydration bladders is not regularly emptying the bladder after use. Always make sure you fully empty it and then flush it through with clean water. 

It’s also a good idea to try to stick to water only. Filling a hydration bladder with water and sweetened products, such as diluting drinks, fruit juice or sports drinks is much more likely to cause a build up of bacteria inside the bladder. It’s also much more difficult to thoroughly clean out the bladder and drinking  tube if you have filled it with sugary drinks.

Leaving any kind of drinks in a hydration bladder, especially if it’s stored somewhere warm, will inevitably leave you with a dirty bladder and tube.

Top tips on how to clean a hydration bladder

hydration bladder

Hydration bladders are prone to bacteria build up 

When cleaning the hydration bladder there are some recommended steps to take that will aid the process:

  • If it’s plain drinking water that has been used in the bladder, you can simply wash it out as much as possible.
  • Try to open up the bladder up as much as possible, so that you can access all corners with clean water.
  • If you have used mixers or sports drinks in the bladder, you’ll need to do more cleaning. Use a clean brush (a toothbrush will be useful) or a cloth to get into the corners and seams of the bladder to ensure they are wiped clean.
  • If you find there is a bacteria build up, you can use cleaning tablets (there are many brands that sell bottle cleaning tablets) mixed with water and added to the bladder. The tube and valve parts can be soaked in a bowl with the cleaning tablets and water.
  • Alternative products for cleaning a hydration bladder include a couple of drops of denture-cleaning tablets in water, then left to work their magic for a few hours. 
  • There are natural products that can work to give bladders and water bottles a clean. One suggested recipe is 750ml warm water mixed with a handful of coarse salt, a handful of  dry rice, plus a glass of vinegar. Add the mix to the inside of the bladder and leave for a couple of hours before rinsing thoroughly with water.
  • Warm water and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is said to work well, too.
  • A specifically designed hydration bladder cleaning kit is a great purchase. Look for one that includes different sized brushes, such as a flexible long brush for the hose, a small brush for the bite valve and a big brush for the bladder. Some come with a hanging frame for drying, too.
  • To dry the bladder after cleaning, hang it upside down and let it air dry. Never use a heat source, such as a hairdryer, because this can create a warm environment for bacteria to grow.
  • A great tip when drying the bag is to place something small and non-sharp inside the bladder to keep the walls apart for easier drying – you can use kitchen paper or even tube itself. 

hydration bladder

Use a specialist hydration bladder cleaning kit

Clean the drinking tube, too

As well as cleaning the hydration bladder itself, you should pay attention to the the drinking tube, too.  

  • To clean the drinking tube, open or disconnect the bite valve and then fill the bladder with water and force the water through the tube by rolling or kneading the bladder. For a more thorough clean, use warm soapy water and then rinse. 
  • The cleaning solutions above can also be utilised in the drinking tube.
  • To clean the tube thoroughly due to residue of sweet drinks, you might want to use a long, thin brush designed for the purpose.
  • The drinking valve will need a bit of a clean as well but the best method is simply to give it a wash in warm, soapy water. Avoid taking the valve apart because it is unlikely to work as well again.

How often should I clean a hydration bladder?

  • You should rinse the hydration bladder after each use. Every couple of weeks of consistent use, you should give the bladder and parts a more thorough clean, especially if you fill the bladder with sweetened fluids.
  • Store the hydration bladder and tube when it is completely dry. Leave it in a clean, dry and cool place until you need to use it again for hiking, running or outdoor exercise. 
Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.