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 hot and humid 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, bowls, etc.)
We’ll look at all the cleaning products and tools that you’ll need to keep your snake’s vivarium clean. We’ll also look at some of the alternative options, as well as a step-by-step guide for the cleaning process.
Why Clean a Snake’s Enclosure?
If you have cared for other animals before, you’ll know how important it is to keep their living environment clean. A snake’s body, like all reptiles, is naturally covered in bacteria, such as salmonella. Snakes urinate and defecate, spreading even more germs and bacteria.
Each snake has 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 bad and look dirty. A buildup of bacteria could lead to an illness, such as a respiratory infection (RI) or scale rot in snakes.
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 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 these substances can damage the snake’s skin. For the disinfectant, you have several choices:
- Chlorhexidine (e.g. Novasan): This is a reptile-safe disinfectant that kills microorganisms.
- Bleach (e.g. Clorox): Although great at killing germs, it has a potent smell and can be irritating. Rinse off thoroughly when done.
- Iodine: As this is used for sanitizing the skin, it’s safe to use in your snake’s vivarium.
- Isopropyl Alcohol: This kills germs, but it evaporates quickly. However, it must be left on for at least 20 minutes. It has a strong smell and can be corrosive to plastics.
- Vinegar (acetic acid): The most natural of all the cleaners, but it isn’t as effective at killing germs and bacteria.
Along with the soap and disinfectant, you’ll also need specific tools:
- Plastic tub: Needed to house your snake during cleaning.
- Rubber gloves: Help keep cleaning products off your skin.
- Sponges: Three separate sets for washing, rinsing, and disinfecting.
- Scrubbing brush: Used for removing stubborn dirt.
- Toothbrushes, Q-tips, and putty knife: Used for getting into corners.
- Buckets: Needed for submerging vivarium accessories while cleaning.
- Paper towels: For mopping up spills and drying accessories.
How Often To Clean a Snake’s Tank
To prevent bacteria from reaching harmful levels, you’ll need to keep a daily watch of your vivarium’s cleanliness. Every day, you should remove any mess (feces, urates, water spills, etc).
Your snake’s vivarium will also need a thorough deep clean every 3-4 weeks. If your snake 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 more frequently than aspen.
Daily Snake Tank Cleaning
To keep your snake’s enclosure clean, you should perform a few daily tasks. These can usually be carried out while your snake is in its vivarium.
Wash the Water Bowl
Your snake’s water bowl is prone to developing a buildup of bacteria. Because your snake will be drinking from 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.
- 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.
- Rinse off 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.
Remove Feces and Urates
If you notice any feces or solid urates, remove them along with any bedding that these substances were touching. If you use Aspen or another quality substrate, you need only remove a small amount of the substrate.
If you use newspaper or paper towels, remove and replace it. Similarly, if you opted for a reusable reptile carpet, you should remove and wash it. Ideally, you should have two pieces of carpet as it takes time to dry off.
Monthly Snake Tank Cleaning
Remove your snake from its vivarium and place it into a temporary enclosure. A simple plastic box with a locking lid will suffice.
Disinfect Accessories And Decor
Remove everything inside your snake’s vivarium, including:
- Water bowls
- 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.
Use a sponge to apply your choice of disinfectant, such as chlorhexidine, according to the instructions. Thoroughly rinse with hot, clean water.
Allow everything to dry out before returning it to the vivarium. If you don’t, mold growth could occur.
If you use natural decorations, such as wooden logs, these will also need to be sterilized. Wood is hard to disinfect as it has tiny cracks and crevices where bacteria can grow. We recommend baking them in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Discard Used Substrate
If you use a disposable substrate (aspen, newspaper, cypress mulch, etc), remove it all from the vivarium using a scooper.
Now that your snake’s enclosure is empty, it’s time to clean it. Use a sponge and hot, soapy water to clean every surface of your snake’s tank. It may be necessary to use a toothbrush to get into corners.
If your vivarium has any cracks or crevices, use toothpicks, Q-tips or a putty knife to get into them. Make sure you remove all of the dirt and grime. Clean the outside of the tank before applying disinfectant internally and externally with a clean sponge.
Rinse off all traces of disinfectant and then allow the enclosure to dry. You can speed up the process with a hairdryer. Place the new substrate and the freshly-cleaned accessories/decor back into the tank.
Can You Wash a Snake?
Now that you have a fresh and clean enclosure, your snake is ready to be returned to its home. If you adhere to your new cleaning schedule, your slithery friend will always have a safe and healthy home.
It’s not strictly necessary to wash your snake. All snakes carry bacteria on their bodies, including corn snakes and ball pythons, regardless of whether they’ve been bathed or not.
However, most snakes enjoy a soak. If your snake has made a mess, and has slithered through its poop, you might want to give it a quick bath. Soaking can also help with controlling the number of snake mites.
Put a few inches of warm, clean water (90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the bottom of a clean plastic tub. Do not use soap to “wash” your snake. Let the snake slither around in the water and through your wet hands for 10-15 minutes. Dry your snake with a clean, soft cloth to avoid scale rot.