Reptiles aren’t as messy as other pets, like fish, for instance, but they still require regular cleaning and maintenance to stay healthy.
If you’ve never owned a reptile pet before, you’ve arrived at the right place. Today, we will discuss how to clean your reptile’s tank without any commercial chemicals.
It’s only vinegar. But is this chemical useful in this sense, and does it carry any risks to your reptile’s health?
Let’s have a look!
Is Vinegar Good for Cleaning Reptile Tanks?
Yes, it is. Vinegar is actually great for the task because it is highly acidic, so it dissolves mineral buildups, removes dirt, and eliminates fungi, bacteria, or other harmful pathogens.
It also evaporates fairly quickly, although you still need to clean any residues afterward to make sure there are no traces left.
We’ll discuss any potential health concerns related to vinegar use later on.
Benefits of Using Vinegar to Clean Reptile Tanks
Vinegar is a handy and cheap substance that everybody can get relatively easily.
It also comes with several benefits compared to other cleaning solutions, such as:
- Safe and non-toxic – Vinegar is a natural product and qualifies as non-toxic to animals, including reptiles. It is the best eco-friendly substance you can get for cleaning purposes if you want to avoid chemical cleaners that can be toxic to humans and animals. However, keep in mind that qualifying vinegar as non-toxic relates strictly to cleaning jobs. That’s because vinegar is toxic if ingested, especially by animals like lizards and snakes. It is also highly acidic, so it can affect the reptiles’ skin in high enough concentrations.
- Effective – Vinegar is great for cleaning and sterilizing hard surfaces by removing mineral buildup, dirt, and grime with ease. This makes it a great tool for reptile maintenance since reptiles, like in warm and humid environments prone to fungi and bacteria.
- Affordable – Vinegar isn’t only cheap but easy to find as well. It is readily available at most food shops because this is primarily a food-related substance.
- Easy to use – There are no special instructions to follow to the letter, as vinegar isn’t toxic, unlike other cleaning substances. You only need to mix it with water and use the mix to clean the reptile’s tank. The vinegar’s exact concentration depends on what you’re dealing with. If the dirt you’re trying to remove is more stubborn than you would expect, go for a higher vinegar concentration. But it shouldn’t get to that place anyway, as reptiles generally need to live in healthy and clean habitats. If you’re dealing with massive mineral and gunk deposits, you have a problem.
- Natural deodorizer – Few people really appreciate vinegar’s odorizing abilities, but these are invaluable when it comes to reptiles, particularly snakes. It’s a given that your reptile’s enclosure will begin to emanate a rather unpleasant odor over time. This isn’t necessarily related to filth but rather the reptile’s specific smell. The situation is even worse in an enclosure with multiple reptiles, producing poop and urine everywhere. Vinegar’s acidic composition neutralizes the harmful chemicals and the smells they’re producing, contributing to a cleaner and more olfactory-pleasant habitat.
In short, vinegar is cheap, easy to use, and effective at what it’s supposed to do. There are little-to-no downsides to using it.
Preparing for Tank Cleaning
Now that we’ve laid out the basics let’s see how to prepare for the cleaning job:
- Relocate the reptile – You’re getting ready for a generalized cleaning job, which means that the reptile cannot be present. Relocate it to another side enclosure until the cleaning job is complete. Remember to always handle your reptile with care to prevent stress.
- Gather the necessary supplies – Make sure you have everything you need within reach distance. Get a bucket to mix the vinegar with water, a spray bottle, a sponge or a piece of cloth, and a scrub brush for more stubborn filth deposits. Paper towels may also be necessary to dry up the enclosure faster after the cleaning job is done.
- Remove decorations – You now need to eliminate everything from the tank, including branches, rocks, substrate, and anything detachable. You need to replace the substrate completely because substrates harness bacteria and fungi and are unsafe for use after a while. That timeframe depends on how many reptiles you have, their species, and how dirty they are. For instance, omnivorous lizards tend to produce more mess than snakes because they consume a variety of foods more frequently. Snakes only consume live or dead animals once every several days, weeks, or even months.
- Ensure proper ventilation – Vinegar produces intense vapors that can cause respiratory issues when inhaled. The effect you’re getting from inhaling vinegar vapors is similar to that of bath salts. It’s unpleasant, to say the least. It can also affect your lungs. So, I recommend cleaning the tank outdoors or ensuring adequate ventilation in the room to dissipate the vapors.
- Use protective gear – While vinegar isn’t as toxic as other cleaning substances, you don’t want to inhale its vapors or get the substance in your eyes. Vinegar is highly acidic and can cause skin irritations as well. So, prepare a pair of gloves, eyewear, and even a respirator if you don’t have the means to ventilate the area properly.
Now that you’ve prepared the tools, it’s time to get to work.
Cleaning the Reptile Tank with Vinegar
With everything in place and ready to go, follow the next steps:
- Prepare the solution – Mix the vinegar with water in the bucket. How much vinegar you need to use depends on the filth you’re dealing with. As a standard recommendation, most situations can be handled easily with a 50/50 mix, so go for that.
- Apply the solution – Once the mix is complete, which shouldn’t take more than a minute or 2, fill up the spray bottle and spray the content throughout the entire tank. Make sure you cover everything, including the area around and underneath the unmovable decorations and equipment. Apply several additional sprays in areas with more gunk and mineral buildup to increase the vinegar’s effect.
- Wait it out – Vinegar is relatively slow-acting, especially when having to deal with a lot of filth. So, give it around 5-15 minutes to soak in and break down the dirt. This should be enough for the vinegar to moisten up everything.
- Scrub and clean – You can now use the scrubbing brush to eliminate all of the dirt present on the walls and the remaining decorations. Make sure you cover all of the crevices and angles that could harness bacteria and fungal deposits. Use the sponge or the piece of cloth to further clean the tank’s walls and eliminate the smaller particles that the brush couldn’t remove.
- Rinse the area with warm water – Rinse everything thoroughly, preferably several times, to remove any loose dirt. The tank should remain clean and shiny by the end of it.
- Dry it out – You can now use the paper towels to suck up all of the moisture and water still lingering on the walls and floor. After that, allow the tank to sit for 15-20 minutes in a properly ventilated area to dry out completely. You don’t want any moisture left because that will speed up the formation of fungi and mold once the new substrate is added.
- Clean and replace the decorations – You should clean the decorations that can be cleaned and replace those that can’t. Bring in the new substrate and spread it out to cover the entire floor. Always allow the decorations to dry out completely before adding them back to the tank.
Once everything is clean and dry, you can now bring the reptile back into its tank. The entire cleaning process shouldn’t last more than 15-30 minutes, depending on how serious the situation is and the tank’s size.
Just make sure you’re thorough about it and don’t skip any steps. Reptiles don’t generally need frequent in-depth cleaning and maintenance so you might as well be thorough about it when the time comes.
Tips for Maintaining a Clean Reptile Tank
Learning how to keep your reptile’s tank clean is key to reducing the need for frequent maintenance jobs.
Here are a few tips in this sense:
- Remove the waste immediately – Poop and food leftovers need to go immediately. Don’t let them sit in the tank because these are free tickets to a world of bacteria, mold, and fungal growths. You might even need to remove a portion of the substrate each time as well if tainted by poop and urine.
- Spot clean – This is a job worth several seconds to a couple of minutes each time, and it’s quite necessary. Spot-clean any dirt or filth you observe accumulating on the walls. You can use a paper towel for the job, as the dirt is most likely humid and will go away easily. This is a great strategy for preventing mineral buildup, which tends to harden and thicken over time.
- Clean decorations and accessories – Bacteria, mold, and fungi always develop in tiny crevices and shaded areas, so you need to be thorough about it.
- Control the humidity – Different reptiles require different humidity values, depending on the species. Stick to the animal’s preferred humidity metric and keep in mind that habitats with higher humidity levels are more prone to mold, fungi, and bacteria. Especially when mixing high humidity with high temperatures and lack of cleaning, leading to an unhealthy accumulation of food leftovers and fecal matter.
- Use a water conditioner – You might need to spray your reptile’s habitat regularly to bring humidity levels to the desired values. Don’t use tap water for that. Tap water generally contains a variety of chemicals and minerals that could hurt your reptile and contribute to calcium deposits on the tank’s walls. Mix the tap water with a water conditioner beforehand to neutralize those chemicals and make it safer for your pet.
- Quarantine newcomers – You should always quarantine any new reptiles you plan on adding to your tank. This is even more important if you already have one or several reptiles in the enclosure already. The newcomers may arrive with their own bacteria and parasites that could infect the rest of the population and contaminate the habitat. Aim for a quarantine period of 2 weeks, which is generally enough to eliminate the risk of bacteria, parasites, mites, and other dangerous pathogens.
These strategies should reduce the need for in-depth maintenance considerably, although they cannot eliminate it completely.
Safety Considerations when Using Vinegar
While vinegar is considered generally safe as a cleaning and cooking product, it does come with some safety recommendations in the package.
Because yes, vinegar can be unsafe if not used properly, which isn’t a contradiction.
Salt is considered safe to eat, but it’s not recommended to eat a pound of it at once or pour it in your eyes, is it?
This being said, let’s check some of the basic safety considerations when it comes to vinegar use:
- Protect the lungs – Vinegar vapors are not to be messed with. Only use vinegar in a well-ventilated area and keep your nose out of the substance’s impact area. Never hold your head above the vinegar bottle as you’re opening it. A respirator might be a good idea, especially if the area you’re working in isn’t properly ventilated.
- Protect the eyes and skin – Vinegar has a caustic effect and can cause severe irritation to your eyes and skin. Especially if you’re a bit more sensitive than most people.
- Do not mix with other chemicals – If you’ve ever had the idea of mixing vinegar with any other chemicals for enhanced effects, erase it from your mind. You’re not a chemist, so you cannot tell what reaction could result from mixing vinegar with a cleaning solution or any other chemical. The resulting fumes alone can burn your lungs or skin, or you can even obtain something flammable that will sterilize everything. Including you. Only mix vinegar with water.
- Rinse with care – Clean the tank thoroughly after completing the job. You need to remove all traces of vinegar to prevent your reptile from experiencing skin irritations.
- Vinegar isn’t a universal cleaner – Keep in mind that vinegar is very acidic and can damage certain surfaces, depending on the material. Natural stone and some types of plastics are worth mentioning here.
- Don’t use it on food or water dishes – Residual vinegar can hurt the reptile and produce digestive issues if ingested. So, you should either refrain from using vinegar on those areas altogether or rinse them thoroughly once the cleaning job is done. No residual vinegar should remain.
Vinegar is an affordable, easy-to-procure, and effective chemical cleaner, but it also has some well-known toxic effects.
Take the necessary precautions during the cleaning job and rinse the reptile’s habitat thoroughly to make sure no vinegar is left behind.