How to clean a vivarium?
This may seem like an odd topic. But as with so many aspects of pet reptile keeping it sometimes helps to have a little guidance on how to do things properly! In all the excitement of bringing your new pet home it’s easy to forget to ask about routine maintenance and how to go about it. So we thought this article might be of some use to you.
Cleaning a vivarium isn’t a difficult task, but it’s a vitally important one. Just like us, our pets need a clean and safe home to live in and it’s up to us to provide that for them. One of the advantages of reptile keeping is that their maintenance is less demanding than it is for many mammalian pets, but it’s still important that it is done correctly. Using the wrong products or not realising why certain tasks need to be done can be very damaging, so we put together this guide to help you with your choices.
Hopefully, some of the tips and tricks we have learned over many years of reptile keeping will help to make your journey a little less difficult!
On this page, we will look at:
- Tools required to clean a vivarium
- How to clean a vivarium
- How often you should clean a Vivarium
- Vivarium maintenance tips
Tools required to clean a vivarium
First, it’s worth assembling some pieces of kit in order to make the whole process a little easier. Your cleaning kit should include:
- A secure box for holding your pet whilst you are cleaning their cage – this can be a spare tank, a plastic tank such as the faunariums, or for snakes a pillowcase can be used. If using a soft bag, then it’s a good idea to have something like a cardboard box to put it in, which prevents accidents.
- A bucket for shovelling used substrate into – make sure that this bucket is only used for your reptile waste and substrate, to prevent possible cross-contamination
- A dustpan and brush – keep a separate one just for cleaning your reptile enclosures
- Washing up/scrubbing brush – buy brushes that are different colour or shape to the ones you use at home, so that it’s immediately obvious that these are not the ones that are used on your own food or belongings
- Washing up sponges – again, keep a separate set just for your reptiles. It’s a good idea to have different sponges for each tank or enclosure, which further minimises cross-contamination
- Kitchen roll – using the brands that can be wetted and wrung out means that you won’t go through quite so much on cleaning day
- Reptile safe disinfectant – there are many different brands, and we can help you choose the one that’s right for your needs
If you have a particularly dirty reptile – or one that likes to make a mess in the warm end, where deposits bake hard in minutes – it’s worth having something like a paint scraper in your kit. An old towel can also be useful to spread in front of your pet’s vivarium to catch any spilled substrate – but do make very sure that it’s only used for your reptiles.
Obviously, you can customise your kit to your particular needs, but this basic list will give you everything you need to get started.
How to clean a vivarium
Here’s a video on how to clean a vivarium.
It’s worth having a plan to work through as well. If you keep to the same order each time then it’s easier to make sure that everything is done, and nothing gets forgotten or left out. The following is a guide, you might find it easier to do things in a different order:
Remove your reptile
Have a safe temporary enclosure ready, and have somewhere to put it out of the way of family members and other pets. It doesn’t have to be too large, and as long as your home is not particularly cold or hot (average home temperature in the UK is considered to be 20ºC, which is fine for all but the most delicate reptiles and amphibians) then they will be fine for a short period without any supplemental heating. DO NOT place your reptile in direct sunlight or on top of a heat source such as a radiator to keep them warm – they can overheat to fatal levels very quickly.
Take each piece out individually and brush or scrape off any faeces or dirt that may be crusted on. Get a dry brush and work it into the crevices in order to remove all loose debris, and then place each item either in to soak or to one side to scrub down later.
Use your dustpan and brush to remove all the substrate, making sure to get right into the corners of the vivarium in order to remove all loose debris. Brush the walls and the ceiling down too, as dust can settle anywhere within the vivarium; sweep this up and put it into the bucket for disposal. Some councils allow soiled pet bedding and waste to be put into the garden waste bin but others don’t, so it’s worth checking with your local council to see if they allow it. It’s not a good idea to use the waste substrate in your garden composting bin – even if your reptile is healthy, there’s a chance that you might be placing small amounts of pathogens into the environment that could affect our native wildlife. Better safe than sorry!
Scrub the vivarium
Now you need to give your enclosure a good scrub. Hot soapy water is your friend at this point! Be careful not to use too much water in wooden vivariums, even if they are sealed round the edges; scrubbing hard can force water past the sealant and damage the wood beneath. Wipe or sponge out any dirty water, and in a glass enclosure scrub any limescale off the walls and door. RO (reverse osmosis) water is useful for this, as is a water and vinegar mix. Most vivarium cleaners will do an excellent job too, and there are specialist glass cleaners on the market that do a fantastic job.
Disinfect the enclosure
Once the vivarium is clean and dry, spray it generously with reptile safe disinfectant. It’s important to make sure that any solid waste is removed before this step, as solids can make the disinfectant ineffective. These products are designed to work on microscopic pathogens, not great big lumps of hardened poo or dusty substrate. Always read the label on the product! Some need to be rinsed off and allowed to dry, while others can just be allowed to dry before you put substrate and decor back in. It will tell you on the label which sort you have.
Clean your decor
Each piece of decor should have a good scrub under hot soapy water. This is a really good time to examine each piece for damage, small cracks that might leave a sharp edge, or general wear and tear. If the items have been soaking (the bath is very useful for this, as it is easy to disinfect afterwards!) then give them a good scrub with hot soapy water. Make sure that you are somewhere that you won’t contaminate any surfaces used for human food preparation. Rinse the decor well, and allow it to dry before giving it a spray with reptile safe disinfectant.
Polish the glass
Polish your glass so that you can see your reptiles! Domestic window cleaner is fine to use on the outside glass, but avoid using it on the inside for amphibians. For snakes and lizards it’s fine to use on the inside, just let it dry thoroughly.
Fill with fresh substrate, and put your clean and dry decor back in. If you use a scoop to move clean substrate from the bag to the vivarium, do not use the same dustpan and brush that you used to empty the soiled substrate out with. Bacteria, viruses, fungal spores and other pathogens can all be spread by using dirty equipment on clean decor and substrate, so if you use a scoop either keep a separate one or disinfect the dustpan between uses.
Check your temperatures
Do this before you return your pet to their enclosure.
Return your pet to their enclosure
Sit back and watch them enjoy their nice clean house!
How often should you clean your vivarium?
Honestly, it varies. You should spot pick your vivarium daily, removing any visible waste and soiled substrate and just giving a visual check of your enclosure. The water bowl should be emptied, rinsed and returned daily, and thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected once a week. A complete deep clean is usually carried out once a month.
A basic regime would be as follows:
- Empty, rinse and refill water bowl.
- Spot pick to remove waste and soiled bedding.
- Visual check to make sure that everything is OK.
- Scrub and disinfect water bowl.
- Check temperatures – warm end, cool end, basking area.
- If a moist hide is used, damp it down.
- Deep clean substrate and decor, disinfect enclosure.
- Check temperatures.
- If using a wooden vivarium, check that seals are still intact and the fabric of the vivarium is still in good order.
- Replace UVB.
Vivarium maintenance tips
Apart from cleaning your reptile enclosure, what other routine maintenance should you be doing? During a deep clean is an ideal time to check the state of your vivarium. Looking for cracks, splits, or areas where the wood has begun to soften with exposure to moisture.
It’s also a good time to check your decor; plastic plants become brittle with age. Wooden hides, coconut shells and other natural decors can begin to rot after a time. Any worn or damaged decor should be replaced immediately, and any vivarium damage should be repaired.
Wooden vivariums do deteriorate with time, and in order to keep your pet reptile secure and happy you need to be aware of the condition of their housing. Glass lasts well (unless you break it!), but still needs to be maintained. Plastic parts degrade with time and exposure to UV light, so keep an eye on the clips that hold the top of your glass vivarium in.
Check the clips that hold older UV bulbs in place; they can be replaced with metal clips if the plastic ones become brittle. Modern T5 units are fixed to the roof of the reptile enclosure with screws, so are much less likely to degrade and cause a problem.
Glass doors sometimes chip at the edges, especially when locks are used; if this happens it can leave sharp edges that can cause injury to either your pet or yourself. If you notice a small chip it can be gently sanded down, but a large or sharp chip will mean that the door has to be replaced.
We hope that you have found this article useful and that it will make your cleaning and maintenance routine rather less of a chore! Remember that if you are at all confused or worried about which products you should use we’re always available to help. Drop us a line or give us a call!
If you would like to find out more about our range of vivariums and reptile supplies available from our reptile shop in Kidlington, please click here to contact our team who are always happy to help. For more information on caring for lots of different pet species, check out our care hub which has a large number of care sheets that you might find useful.
We hope to hear from you soon!