If you’ve owned a water bladder long enough you know how awesome they are for hands-free hydration. I find I drink 3 times as much water when I’m using a bladder rather than a water bottle, and I don’t have to break my stride or lose my pace. There however, some tips and tricks to caring for them properly, and avoiding the scary black mildew gunk that can build up in an abused bladder.
When you first buy your bladder, it may have a chemical smell or taste to it. You can remove this by filling the bladder with a mix of water and several tablespoons of baking soda, followed by a rinse with vinegar and water. This should be sufficient to clean the bladder as well, but if you’re feeling paranoid you can try washing it with soap and water.
There are cleaning and drying kits available, including tablets designed to sanitize the inside of the bladder. These kits usually include some sort of drying rack, a bottle brush, a thin tube brush for the hose, and some sanitizing tablets. You can buy one of these kits, or you can just piece the items together yourself. A coat-hanger from the dry cleaner’s makes a great drying rack, you probably already have a bottle brush, and the sanitizing tablets are pretty much the same as denture cleaning tablets (only much more expensive). The tube brush is a little harder to find, but you can find them online between $5 and $15 online if you have strong Google-Fu. These kits are great for cleaning the bladder if you use something other than water in your bladder, and for seasonal use. If, however, you use your bladder daily or so frequently it never gets a chance to dry out, you can extend the time between cleanings by treating your water every few days with some Aquamira drops, which should act to sanitize the water and keep creepy crawlers from growing inside.
Technically, every bladder manufacturer recommends against putting sugary liquids in your bladder, because it encourages bacterial growth. If you do use sugary liquids like Gatorade in your bladder, make sure you clean it thoroughly after use. If you’re pretty much always going to want flavored water, it’s worth taking a look at products with no sugar like Nuun. Be careful if you’re really chugging it down, though, because large amounts of the sweetener in Nuun, sorbitol, can make, you…how do you say…regular. (It’s believed the high sorbitol content in prunes causes the same effect).
If you end up getting a small hole or tear in your bladder, it may be possible to patch it. Now, most bladders are guaranteed these days so you can swap them out, but I’ve used inner tube repair kits, vinyl boat repair kits, and simple Aquaseal with great success. I can’t vouch for the safety of these products in your water, but I don’t seem to be be be be having any side effects effects.
With these tips, hopefully you can keep your bladder going strong for years to come!