Cleaning Reptile Tanks

Different cleaning methods are recommended for different types of reptiles. However, whichever type of reptile remember that Salmonella is a real threat and protective gloves and masks should be worn to prevent inhalation of airborne bacteria. Ideally, children, the elderly and the immuno-compromised should not clean reptile tanks. Make sure also that you disinfect all areas used in the cleaning (such as the bathtub or sink) afterwards with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.


The tank should be cleaned any time you see faeces or if there is a musty smell (this is also a sign of an overly-humid environment, which must be rectified before further problems develop). If you are using a single-piece substrate, such as “cage carpets”, these can be easily washed and any spilled food or general waste can be easily picked up.

If you are using paper substrate, remove it altogether and clean the cage with a spray cage cleaner (you can make this yourself with a solution of one-third alcohol, two thirds water and a few drops of dish-washing detergent). Wipe the tank clean with paper towels before replacing the paper substrate.

If you use a mulch or gravel substrate, pick up any faeces with a paper towel and then change the substrate monthly, cleaning the tank while you do so by misting with cage cleaner and then wiping clean.


Snakes are similar to lizards in that the substrate you use will decide how you approach cleaning. Since the substrate will act as a repository for your snake’s waste, it should be removed and replaced whenever your snake relieves itself. This is also a good time to clean the tank – use alcohol-based glass cleaners, dilute bleach solution or just mild soap and water. Never use phenol-based cleaners (e.g., pine cleaners) and always make sure that the cage is completely dry before you re-introduce your snake, to prevent it inhaling toxic fumes.


It is vital to keep your pet turtles living areas as clean and bacteria-free as possible. Keep the water clean through filtration (if you clean the tank often, you can use sponge filters) and periodic changing. The more turtles you have, the more often you will have to change the water and this is the same whether you are keeping them in a garden pond or an indoor aquarium. It is best to use a self-priming pond pump, both for outdoor and indoor enclosures, rather than siphoning through a tube as this can cause a protozoa or bacteria invasion.

Since turtles need substrates to dig and burrow in, these substrates will need to be changed and replaced every week to prevent bacterial contamination. You can use newspaper or brown paper for easier cleaning. Astroturf is another option but this will need to be changed and replaced with a new piece every day because it requires 48 hours to dry completely after cleaning.


Although not reptiles, amphibians will be included here for completion. It is absolutely essential to maintain a clean and moist environment for amphibians as they are especially sensitive to environmental pollutants. An immaculate terrarium is crucial. Water should be changed every 2 weeks and to make things easier, you can add a submersible water filter if space allows. The land area should be changed on a monthly basis.

As amphibians live in a semi-aquatic environment, clean this by setting up a siphon in the water area (alternatively, if your aquarium has a plug at the bottom, take the plug out). Next, pour two to three gallons of clean water onto the land area, which slopes down into the water. This should flow down the land mass and into the water area, flushing any debris and dirt with it. This dirty water will now be sucked out by the siphon or down the plughole. Repeat until the water flowing out looks relatively clean, then remove the siphon (or replace the plug) and fill up your aquarium again with fresh, clean water.


Like fish tanks, reptile tanks do best if you keep them clean through ongoing maintenance, rather than leave everything for one nightmare spring-clean. And similarly, make sure that you separate any buckets or other equipment you may use for this purpose alone, so that your reptiles will not be exposed to any potentially harmful chemicals from other household cleaning solutions.

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