Terrarium Cleaning Tips

This page applies to reptile tank cleaning in general. The important part is cleaning regularly–reptile poo stinks up your house pretty fast.

Non-Chemical (Dry) Cleaning

Dry cleaning methods are typically used for daily cleaning: removal of feces, urate, and uneaten salad. You would be amazed how that stuff gets strewn around.

Paper towel

If your reptile’s substrate is paper towels or newspaper, great! Just gather, dispose, and replace. If you have a different type of solid substrate (ex: shelf liner, tile, flagstone), use a paper towel to remove wet feces.

Baby wipes

Every mother knows that baby wipes are the solution to everything. Changing diapers? A must-have. Sticky fingers? You bet. Miscellaneous reptile messes? Absolutely! It’s only a matter of time before every reptile keeper has them. Just make sure to use a natural, fragrance-free brand.

VacuumReptile sand sifter for reptile tank cleaning

Use your vacuum’s hose attachment to vacuum up **dry**crud. Wet doesn’t work and isn’t worth it, believe me. Now this can make your vacuum’s exhaust smell like poo, depending on the last time you cleaned/replaced its filter. So proceed with caution.

Kitty litter scoop

Kitty litter scoops only work for loose substrates, i.e. sand.For all of sand’s faults, it sure makes cleanup easy. And though I say “kitty litter” scoop, I mean wire mesh reptile sand sifter thing. Kitty litter scoops’ holes are too large for effective filtering of debris from the sand. Remember: sand gets smelly easily, so it needs to be changed every 2 months.

Chemical (Wet) Cleaning

Wet cleaning methods are typically used for monthly reptile tank cleaning, when you take everything out and clean it all. Depending on the size of your tank and the stuff in it, deep cleaning can take from 30 minutes to a few hours.

Boiling water

Boiling water is known to kill salmonella bacteria. But it’s inconvenient to use on the terrarium itself. You can, however, use it on the decor. I recommend sticking the decor in your dishwasher (without soap) by itself for a cycle. Adding vinegar is helpful.

Vinegar and dish soap

Making a solution of white vinegar, water, and liquid dish soap (like Dawn) makes a great, reptile-safe cleaner. Simply put in a bucket with a sponge or inside a spritz bottle and clean away!

Nolvasan / Chlorhexidine

Chlorhexidine solution, a chemical for reptile tank cleaning

As I mentioned in the post on bearded dragon health, Nolvasan is a veterinary-grade disinfectant that is totally worth the investment. Use for cleaning anything waterproof or absorbent in your reptile enclosure—a little bit can even be added to bathwater on occasion. This gets rid of 99% of bacteria, viruses, and mold. Chlorhexidine is the off-brand name and works just as well for a much lower price.


F-10 is an extremely effective disinfectant used by zoos, breeders, veterinarians, and other professional reptile facilities. It is also used by hospitals — it’s that good. The only downside is that it’s pretty pricey, but fortunately a little goes a long way.

Bleach solution

Bleach solution is an easy way to clean food/water dishes, decor, terrarium glass, and solid substrates. It kills lots of bacteria, viruses, and mold spores. The only problem is that the fumes can irritate your reptile’s lungs (as well as your own). Avoid this complication by using a 1:30 water to bleach ratio, rinsing thoroughly, and drying completely.