How to Clean a Water Bladder

Is there anything nastier than slurping down mold chunks and slime-water from the hydration bladder that has been sitting in the trunk for a couple of weeks? Probably, but we do not want to think about it.

Hydration bladders are convenient, but they can be fickle when it comes to sanitation. Leave one sitting for days, a week, or since last trout season, and the stuff that grows inside could kill a vulture. That is doubly true if you are one of those ultra-fitness types who mixes up electrolyte drinks, carb brews and protein infusions. Add saliva, heat, and stir in a daypack, and you could sell the result to Alexander Fleming. (He invented penicillin, you might recall. No extra charge for this quick history tidbit.)

A little after-hike/hunt/camping trip/bike ride TLC will prevent an environmental disaster from sprouting in your water reservoir. Here is the three-step process for giving a grimy hydration bladder the at-home spa treatment.

First, look carefully for any mold, mildew, or unidentifiable funk growing inside. Remove with a water-bottle brush or wadded up paper towels. Next, prepare a home brew for sanitizing a bladder. The best is a bleach- and baking-soda mix for a one-two punch of cleaning and deodorizing. Mix one teaspoon of bleach and one teaspoon of baking soda in a half-gallon of water. Fill the bladder and let stand overnight. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Tube and bite valve
Do not stop at the bladder. With the cleaning solution inside, hold the bladder over your head and pinch the bite valve. Let the cleaning solution start to run out of the valve, then let it pinch shut. Allow the cleaning solution to sit in the tube for an hour, then flush it out and rinse with clean water. If the tube is really dirty, tie a couple overhand knots in one end of a length of paracord. Remove the bite valve, and pull the paracord through the tube to clean out the pipe.

Storage wars
The biggest threat to a clean hydration bladder is storage. You can store in a freezer, but over time, the constant freezing and thawing can damage O-rings and tubes. Try this: Bend a vinyl-covered metal clothes hanger so the two wings are parallel to each other. Thread them into the bladder opening and the wings will hold the bladder sides apart for drying. Or clip off the top wire in one arm of the hanger and thread the long horizontal piece into the bladder. Hang in a warm, dry spot.