why is it important to clean a snake's enclosure?
Snake Care Guides

How to Clean a Snake Tank Thoroughly

Your snake’s tank should be kept clean and sterile. It’s hard to imagine that your snake’s living environment could get so dirty, but bacteria thrive in humid, warm environments. Unfortunately, an unclean enclosure could lead to various health conditions in snakes, but these can be prevented.

Remove any feces, urates, and soiled substrate from your snake’s enclosure each day. You should also wash the water bowl daily. Once per week, give the vivarium a deep-clean. Discard and replace all substrate before washing and disinfecting the tank and all accessories (hides, heat lamps, etc.) Avoid using any harsh chemicals.

We’ll look at all the cleaning products and tools that you’ll need to keep your snake’s vivarium clean. One of the best products for disinfecting and deodorizing your snake’s cage is Zoo Med Wipe Out 1 Terrarium Cleaner. We’ll also look at some of the alternative options. Then, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide for the entire cleaning process.

Why Is It Important to Clean a Snake’s Enclosure?

If you have cared for any other animal before, you’ll know how important it is to keep their environment clean. A snake’s body, like all reptiles, is naturally covered in bacteria.

Snakes urinate and defecate sometimes, spreading even more germs and bacteria. If we allow these microorganisms to grow and develop, it can cause a myriad of problems.

A snake’s vivarium is the perfect place for microorganisms to grow and flourish. Of course, each snake will have different humidity and temperature requirements.

Most pet snakes require an environment that is at least 50% humid, and at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions are optimal for most microorganisms, which thrive on warmth and moisture.

If you don’t keep on top of your vivarium’s cleanliness, it will start to smell and look dirty. This is unpleasant enough in itself but is the least of your problems. A buildup of bacteria could lead to an illness, such as a respiratory infection (RI) or scale rot in snakes.

Not only that, but your snake will likely show signs of stress when his vivarium starts to smell. This is because, in the wild, a strong smell would attract predators.

What Cleaning Products Should I Use?

To keep your snake’s enclosure germ-free, you will need to use hot water, soap, and a disinfectant. The soap you choose should be a simple dish detergent. If you want a reptile-safe disinfectant to wipe down your snake’s enclosure, you can use Zoo Med Wipe Out 1 Terrarium Cleaner.

Do not use anything pine-scented or containing phenol, as this substance can damage your snake’s skin. For the disinfectant, you have a few choices:

  • Chlorhexidine (e.g., Novasan). It does a great job of killing microorganisms and is a reptile-safe disinfectant, in case your snake accidentally touches any.
  • Bleach (e.g. Clorox). Although this is great at killing germs, it has a potent smell and can be irritating to the skin. If you use bleach, you must be very thorough when rinsing afterward.
  • Iodine. As this is used for sanitizing the skin, it’s safe to use in your vivarium. It doesn’t have as strong a smell as bleach and is still effective. However, it can be expensive.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol. This kills germs, but it is tricky to use. It evaporates quickly and yet must be left on the product for at least 20 minutes. It also has a strong smell and can be corrosive to some plastics.
  • Vinegar (acetic acid). This is the most “natural” of all the cleaners. It will do in a pinch, but it isn’t entirely effective at killing germs. It also has a very strong and unpleasant smell which may linger. If you’re cleaning snake cage with vinegar, use the highest strength that you can find.

Along with the soap and disinfectant, you’ll also need specific tools to help you get the job done.

  • Plastic tub: to house your snake while you’re cleaning their enclosure.
  • Rubber gloves: to keep cleaning products off your skin.
  • Sponges: 3 separate sets for washing, rinsing and disinfecting.
  • Scrubbing brush: for removing stubborn dirt.
  • Toothbrushes, Q-tips, toothpicks and a putty knife: for getting into corners and tiny crevices.
  • Buckets: for submerging vivarium accessories while cleaning, and holding soapy water.
  • Paper towels: for mopping up spills, and drying vivarium accessories.

How Often Should You Clean a Snake Enclosure?

Now that you’ve got all of your tools and products, you’re probably wondering how often you need to clean a snake’s vivarium.

To prevent bacteria from reaching dangerous levels, you’ll need to keep daily watch of your vivarium’s cleanliness. Every day, you should remove any mess such as feces, urates, water spills, shed skin and regurgitated food. You should also clean the water bowl daily.

Your snake’s vivarium will also need a thorough deep-clean every once in a while. How often you should conduct this will depend on the cleanliness of the vivarium. Some snake owners conduct a full clean once a month, whereas others prefer to do it every week. Most of us are somewhere in between.

reptile-safe disinfectant

To a certain extent, it depends on how messy your snake is. If he is a messy pooper, likes to tip the water bowl over, or regurgitates, you may need to clean more often.

It also depends on which substrate you use: newspaper or paper towels will need to be replaced much more frequently than aspen. Just use the cleanliness of your snake’s enclosure as a guide, and you’ll eventually find something that works for you.

What’s the Best Way to Clean a Snake Tank?

You’ll need to perform a quick clean of your snake’s enclosure every day and a more thorough clean every few weeks. We’ll now look at what’s involved.

Daily Snake Tank Cleaning

To keep your snake’s enclosure safe and clean, here’s where you should start: your daily cleaning tasks. These can usually be carried out while your snake is in its vivarium (unless you need to remove all the substrate).

1) Wash the Water Bowl

Your snake’s water bowl is particularly prone to developing bacteria. Because your snake will be drinking from it and bathing in it, it must remain as germ-free as possible.

To do this, wash it at least once a day. Also, wash the water bowl whenever your snake defecates in it (which may be straight after you’ve cleaned it).

Remove the water bowl from your snake’s vivarium and empty out any old water. Then, use soap, hot water, and a sponge to thoroughly wash the bowl. Use a scrubbing brush for any stuck dirt. Make sure you get into every crevice, using a toothbrush if necessary. Rinse thoroughly to ensure no soap remains.

Once you’re done, dry the outside of the bowl with a paper towel. Fill it back up with water before returning it to your vivarium.

You can also use disinfectant once the bowl is clean. However, it’s not strictly necessary to do this daily; once or twice a week should be sufficient.

2) Remove Feces and Urates

Next, check your snake’s enclosure for any feces, urates, or liquid urine. You may not find something every day, and that’s fine. How often your snake will defecate and urinate will depend on his species and his age.

If you do spot any feces or solid urates, remove them, along with any bedding that they were touching. Remove any wet substrate, too. If you use Aspen or a similar substrate, you need only remove a small amount of the surrounding shavings, and then top it up with fresh substrate.

If you use newspaper or paper towels, you’ll need to remove the entire substrate and replace it, which will require removing your snake first. Similarly, if you use reusable reptile carpet, you’ll need to remove and wash it.

3) Perform a Final Check

Finally, check the enclosure for any debris such as pieces of shed skin, uneaten or regurgitated food, and stray moss from the humidity box. Remove anything which doesn’t belong. If you notice any water spills inside the tank, wipe them up.

You can also use this opportunity to examine your snake for any signs of illness or parasites. Check that his scales are smooth and shiny with no rot, mites, or anything else suspicious. While you’re there, also check the temperature and humidity levels. Ensure that your heating element(s) are working correctly and that all is generally well with your snake.

Weekly or Monthly Snake Tank Cleaning

As we’ve already mentioned, the thorough tank clean should occur roughly once a week to once a month, depending on how messy your snake is.

Before conducting your clean, remove your snake from its vivarium and place it into a temporary enclosure. A simple plastic box with a locking lid will do.

1) Wash and Disinfect All Accessories

First of all, remove everything inside your snake’s vivarium. This could include:

  • Water bowls
  • Hides
  • Humidity boxes
  • Decorations (e.g., synthetic plants, backdrops, rocks, and logs)

Place all accessories in a sink or large bucket for cleaning. To start with, use hot, soapy water and a sponge or scrubbing brush to thoroughly wash everything. Use a toothbrush or Q-tip to get into crevices and corners.

Next, disinfect. Use a sponge to apply your choice of disinfectant, such as chlorhexidine, according to the instructions. Afterward, thoroughly rinse with hot water.

Allow everything to dry out completely before returning it to the vivarium. Otherwise, mold growth could occur.

cleaning snake cage with vinegar

If you use natural decorations, such as wooden logs, these will also need to be sterilized periodically. Wood is hard to disinfect as it contains lots of tiny cracks and crevices in which bacteria can grow. We recommend baking in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. This should be done roughly once a month.

2) Discard All Substrate

If you use a disposable substrate (such as aspen, newspaper or cypress mulch), remove it all from the vivarium using a scooper. Safely dispose of it in a plastic bag. When your tank is cleaned and ready, replace it with a fresh, unused substrate of your choice.

If you use a reusable substrate, you’ll have to clean it. Wash reptile carpet thoroughly with hot water and soap, rinse, and leave to dry completely.

If you use sand, you can use a sand-sifter to remove any obvious debris, such as fecal matter and shed skin. Then, wash it thoroughly with clean water, until the water starts coming out clear.

Any remaining dirt and debris will float, allowing you to remove it. Bake it in the oven for 30 minutes to dry it out, or leave it in the sun.

3) Clean the Tank

Now that your snake’s enclosure is empty, it’s time to clean it. Use a sponge and lots of hot, soapy water to clean every surface of your snake’s tank.

It may be necessary to use a toothbrush to get into corners. You might need the help of a scrubbing brush to remove stubborn dried-on waste.

If your vivarium has any cracks or crevices, use toothpicks, Q-tips or a putty knife to get into them. Make sure you remove as much dirt as possible. Clean the outside of the tank as well as the inside.

Using a fresh sponge and plenty of clean water, rinse out your tank. Make sure there is no soap left, and then apply disinfectant with a clean sponge. Rinse off all trace of disinfectant, and then leave your enclosure to dry. It’s crucial that every surface is thoroughly dry before you start to add everything back in.

Your cleaning routine is done. Simply place new substrate and the freshly-cleaned accessories back into the tank, and your snake is ready to move back in.

Can You Wash a Snake?

Now that you have a nice, fresh enclosure, your snake is ready to head home. If you stick to your new cleaning schedule, your slithery friend will always have a safe and clean home to live in.

You may be wondering: do I need to bathe my snake before putting him back in? This is really up to you. It’s not strictly necessary; the vivarium won’t get dirtier any more quickly if you don’t. All snakes carry bacteria on their bodies, including corn snakes and ball pythons, whether they’ve been bathed or not.

That being said, most snakes enjoy a bath, and it won’t cause them any harm. If your snake has made a mess – for example, has slithered through his poop – you might want to give him a quick bath to help him get clean. Soaking can help to get rid of snake mites.

Use a few inches of warm, clean water (about 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the bottom of a clean plastic tub. Gently set your snake inside. You may want to include a rock so that your snake has something to anchor himself to.

Do not use any soap or product to “wash” your snake – water is good enough. Let him slither around in the water, and through your wet hands, for a maximum of 15 minutes. Dry your snake with a clean cloth or paper towel before returning him to his vivarium.

So, buy some Zoo Med Wipe Out 1 Terrarium Cleaner on Amazon and begin safely clean your snake’s tank.