How to Clean a CamelBak

CamelBaks and other hydration bladders/water bladders are extremely useful and are very popular with cyclists, hikers, and other sports enthusiasts who want a mobile, accessible and convenient source of water that is readily available even when doing arduous tasks.

Being able to bring your water almost anywhere, while also spreading the weight across the strongest part of your body is one of the best ways to stay hydrated without having to deal with carrying cumbersome bottles and other frustrating and awkward devices.

However, while they are very convenient for drinking water, CamelBaks and hydration bladders are notoriously frustrating to keep clean!

This may seem strange, as these bladders are often used to carry water, and water is clean right?

How is it possible for a CamelBak to get dirty?

Well, while drinking water is mostly clean, it still contains bacteria and other impurities which can build up and multiply in moist environments where the conditions are perfect for bacteria to spread and multiply.

Additionally, you may not like to acknowledge it but your mouth is full of bacteria, and every sip you take from your hydration bladder washes a little bacteria back into the system, meaning your CamelBak is always carrying a little bacteria inside it which can quickly multiply.

The resulting smells and even discoloration of your CamelBak are not only deeply unpleasant, affecting the taste and quality of your water, but these issues can also be very difficult to deal with, and potentially dangerous to your health!

This is why proper and regular maintenance of your CamelBak is key.

Prevention is the best approach when it comes to this issue, and a simple regular clean after use can make the need for deeper cleans less frequent, and also prevent long-term or permanent damage to your system.

Before we get started on the details, however, let’s take a look at what you need to prepare to make this process as smooth as possible.


How to Clean a CamelBak

To clean your CamelBak you’re going to need a couple of different things to make the process as painless and as thorough as possible. The tubes and mouthpiece of a CamelBak can be very awkward to clean so proper preparation is key.

  1. Collect all the required cleaning materials listed below
  2. Mix some hot water with a cleaning solution or soap
  3. Totally fill the system with this cleaning solution
  4. Once filled, leave to soak, then empty the bladder and tubes completely, rinsing out thoroughly before commencing a careful scrub of the main bladder, tubes, and mouthpiece
  5. Dry off thoroughly and allow to air dry completely before subsequent use

What You’ll Need

Cleaning solutions such as:

  • Reservoir cleaning tablets specially designed for this purpose
  • Baking soda (no more than ¼ cup per liter of water volume)
  • Lemon Juice
  • Bleach (in extreme deep clean situations. Use only a few drops and rinse thoroughly after use.)
How to Clean a CamelBak

Cleaning/Scrubbing tools such as:

  • Cleaning brushes designed to be used in tubes/mouthpieces
  • Scrubbing pads or a cloth
  • If you don’t have or can’t source proper cleaning brushes for tubes, a neat trick is to tie a knot in lace and to pull this knot through the tube so that it pulls out any debris or gunk inside. Just make sure the lace you use is long enough to reach through the entire tube or you’ll end up with a lace stuck inside forever!

How to Clean

  1. First of all, fill the bladder with warm water and add your cleaning solution of choice, making sure the bladder and tubes are fully filled with the solution. Now close or seal the bladder and give it a good shake, to activate and froth the cleaning solution and start accelerating the cleaning process.
  1. Now you can empty the system a little, by lifting the bladder up and draining some of the cleaning solution into a sink or drain. If you want to maximize the cleaning process you can empty a portion of the solution out of the mouthpiece, however, if you’re pressed for time just empty out of the main bladder.
  1. Now leave the system to sit while you move on to the next step.
  1. Prepare some dish soap and warm water, then empty the remaining cleaning solution out of the bladder and tubes and refill it with your standard dish soap solution.
  1. Give the bladder a scrub with your brushes and cloth, as well as the tubes if you have the tools for it.
  1. After scrubbing well, empty the soap and water from your system ensuring that it is fully drained.
  1. Rinse the bladder thoroughly with water to remove any remaining cleaning solution and soap, running clean water into the bladder and draining at least a good amount of it out of the mouthpiece and tubes too.
  1. After it’s well rinsed, you can start the drying process.
  1. Take some dry cloth or a paper towel and mop up the worst of the water, taking care not to leave debris or paper towel in the system as these could block the tubes and undo all your good work.
  1. After you’ve done this, it’s time to let the system air dry.
  1. Leave the CamelBak open as it dries, and try to remove or dismantle it if you are able to allow more air to access the tubes and bladder.
  1. Ideally, you should hang the bladder up somewhere dry with good airflow to help it dry as fast as possible and prevent bacteria from building up inside again. This is the difficult and frustrating part of cleaning any hydration bladder, drying needs to be effective to prevent bad smells from reappearing.

Final Thoughts

It’s understandable that the last thing you want to do after a long bike ride or hike is to unpack your CamelBak and ensure that the bladder is clean and dry, which is honestly why so many people complain about bad smells and tastes in their water bladders.

Whether you like to clean the pack straight away or the day after its use, ensuring that you follow the above steps and clean it regularly will not only prevent bad smells and tastes from lingering in your water but also help your CamelBak last longer.

Eric Willis
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