Hydration bladders are a brilliant way to stay hydrated on the trails, keeping the drinking nozzle away from muck and spray, avoiding the issue of self-ejecting bottles and allowing you to easily carry enough liquid for long rides. Unfortunately bladder hygiene is something we all tend to fall down on and, whether it is allowing it to fester in your backpack, leaving it fermenting in a warm car or just constantly re-filling without cleaning, they can soon become a breeding ground for mould, mildew and bugs that will cause a bad stomach.
Look for antibacterial treated bladders
The plastic of many modern hydration bladders is impregnated with an anti-bacterial agent. Although this doesn’t excuse you from keeping it clean, it will help slow undesirable growths.
Look for a bladder with a wide opening. This will make cleaning those muck collecting hard to reach corners easier to clean.
Stick to water
If possible only use water in your hydration bladder. Adding squash, sports drink powder or even electrolyte tablets makes a far more attractive environment for bugs and other nasties and makes it much harder to keep the bladder clean. Use gels and other food to top up your energy and electrolyte levels.
Rinse and freeze
At the very least after each ride, remove your bladder from your backpack, empty out the contents and rinse thoroughly. Fill it with clean water, hold it above your head and, with the bit valve hanging low, squeeze it and let all the clean water run through. Once you have done this, if you can’t be bothered or haven’t the time to let it thoroughly dry, put it in the freezer. This will stop anything growing, just remember to allow some defrosting time before your next ride.
Although the rinse and freeze is a good quick fix, you should get into the habit of giving your bladder a regular thorough clean. This especially applies if there is going to be a gap of more than a few days between your rides.
1) Follow the empty and rinse through routine described above
2) Repeat with warm water
3) Clean thoroughly, paying particular attention to corners and seams in the plastic, using a sponge and mild detergent
4) Rinse again
5) Fill again and add a cleaning/sterilising tablet. You can buy dedicated ones from bladder manufacturers or, for a cheaper option and a minty fresh hydration bladder, use denture sterilising tabs
6) Follow the tablet instructions as to how long to leave the sterilising solution in the bladder
7) Rinse again
8) Allow to thoroughly air dry before storing away or put it in the freezer.
If there is stubborn mould or mildew visible in the tube between the bladder and the bite valve, you can buy pull through brushes designed to clean them out. If this fails to shift the grime, it is probably time to buy and new hydration bladder.