Ask Zimo: Does vodka really work in disinfecting hydration bladders?

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comApril 3, 2014 

Q: Does this work? I was curious, so I answered my own question.

A: If you ski, hike or whatever with a water bladder in your daypack, you'll consistently drink a lot more water. Been there, done that.

Pulling a water bottle out of your pack is time-consuming, and a lot of folks don't want to stop to do it. They forget about the water and get thirsty before they realize it.

There's no reason not to use a water bladder, because almost every daypack on the market comes equipped to handle one.

A major drawback of water bladders is keeping them clean and pleasant tasting after each use.

They can get pretty gunky, and if you don't keep them clean, your next drink may taste like a swamp - loaded with algae.

Where am I going with this? Well, I got involved in a Facebook discussion about using vodka to disinfect a water bladder. I tried it after a recent trek.

The bladder looked pretty clean, and another advantage the next time I used it was the treatment improved the taste of the water with a little hint of vodka.

Sure beats the smell of hydrogen peroxide or bleach, or other ways to disinfect a water bladder.

I only put a couple of shots of vodka in the empty bladder, shook it (didn't stir) and then rinsed it out with fresh water. I'm still here with no aftereffects, so it works.

I got comments on Facebook like which bladder are you putting the vodka in; a red syrah may not have enough alcohol content, but it's an Idaho choice; and you could skip the bladder step and just disinfect yourself with vodka after drinking the water from the bladder.

The vodka I used was so cheap, one reader said it could be used to run an old Jeep. That's the point: Use the cheapest vodka for disinfecting anything.

I first heard about the qualities of vodka as a disinfectant on a camping forum, where it was being used to disinfect water tanks on RVs. Some also used vodka instead of RV antifreeze to winterize their RV's water system.

That's a lot of vodka, and it wouldn't pay off unless you could get it for less than $4.99 a gallon, the price of some of the RV antifreeze.

OK, I'm side tracked - back to hydration bladders.

You could go the conventional route and buy a water-bladder-cleaning kit. You could use plain soap and water, Polident, or like I said before, hydrogen peroxide or bleach.

The important thing with water bladders is to drain them after each use and allow them to dry out. I've dried them out with a hair dryer or a wad of paper towels stuffed inside. Make sure you blow all the water out the tube.

With all the tips out there, I seem to always go back to the vodka. One follower on a Backpacker forum said after every use he rinses the bladder with tap water and lets it dry out completely.

Then he adds a cup of cheap vodka, replaces the lid and stores the bladder.

That sounds like the way to go. Nice flavor.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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