Cage Cleaning • Sanitation ISTYT (Part 3) Deep Cleaning

Deep Cleaning

Supplies: paper towels, sponge or scrub brush, gloves, eye protection, dish soap like Dawn, chlorine bleach diluted (never ever mix beach and ammonia) or an activated hydrogen peroxide like Clorox Healthcare® Hydrogen Peroxide Cleaner Disinfectant
Optional: Clear household ammonia, hot steam cleaner or quaternary disinfectant cleaner

No matter what products you use, read and follow the manufacturers directions and pay special attention to the warnings. Used incorrectly they could harm you or your pets. Never ever use bleach and ammonia together.

Every six months to a year I do a serious cleaning with disinfectants and rinse very thoroughly. Deep cleaning is a chance to knock down anything growing in the hard to reach areas of your cage. I do this when I pull my plants out to trim the roots, add some fresh soil and fertilize while the plants are out of the cage. It's also probably time to change out the UVB bulbs. While I have the cage taken apart and my chameleon settled in the outdoor cage I do a thorough cleaning and disinfection. You might want to set up a temporary cage or free range.

I will go thru cleaning options from least expensive and handiest to the more professional choices. If you have not read the basics of cage cleaning from Part 1 this might be a good time to check them out. Cleaning from dirtiest area to cleanest will still apply.

You need to start with soap and water to remove any organic debris if you want to disinfect. Grime interferes with the action of most disinfectants. The action of scrubbing with soap and water is a very effective way to reduce contamination in your enclosure whether or not you go on to disinfect. Either way it is the important first step. Plant foliage can be cleaned with a mild soap solution. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and remove any soapy residue. You don't want your chameleon drinking soapy water off of the cage or leaves.

Chlorine bleach is an inexpensive and effective disinfectant at the 1:20 or 1:32 dilution range. Unless you have an important reason, I will go over next time, I would not use it in higher concentrations. Germs can only be so dead and more bleach isn't going to make them deader. Bleach is caustic and can damage your cage or fixtures. When mixing bleach solutions add the bleach to the container first then slowly fill with water to avoid splashing. To be safe and effective don't mix chlorine bleach with anything but water. Acids and ammonia make it release toxic gas and some other things render it ineffective. Plan on using your solution with in 24 hours as it losses potency. If you prefer convenience there are pre made solutions in spray bottles. It's there in the name but bleach will fade or destroy some fabrics so don't wear anything you care about. It is also tough on your skin so gloves and eye protection are a good idea for this. This is not an option for cleaning plants that you want to live. Plan on doing your cleaning outdoors or in a ventilated area away from your chameleon. Apply and allow a minimum 10 minutes of *contact time for disinfection before rinsing well. Rinse until there is no longer any bleach odor. Allow to dry.

*Contact time is the amount of time the surface to be disinfected is actually wet with disinfectant. If the solution dries before time is up it will need to be reapplied to get adequate contact time.

I'm going to mention clear household ammonia not the lemon scented kind. The fumes are very strong and will irritate your eyes and mucous membranes so take precautions. Seriously take precautions like gloves and goggles or just stick with soapy water. It's not known as a disinfectant but does kill some germs. I use it to clean plants fresh from the nursery and during a deep cleaning. I have used it on pothos, schefflera, dracaena and croton successfully. I would test other plants first to be sure. Because it is the main component in fertilizer I get some fertilizing while I clean the plants. I spray the leaves and stems with it full strength but don't soak the soil with it. I give it 15 minutes of *contact time in the shade outdoors only in a well ventilated area away from open doors and windows, children and pets. It evaporates quickly so expect to reapply. Rinse the plant well and water the soil to dilute the fertilizer into the soil. Let plant dry completely before taking indoors.

Activated hydrogen peroxide products are a little pricier but a convenient and safer option. This is not the stuff in the brown bottle in the first aid section of the market but is in with the cleaning products. It can be purchased premixed in a spray bottle. Some are available in the grocery store. Most need less than 2 minutes of *contact time (read the label to be sure). They don't require ventilation and don't have a ton of cautions (See Part 2). I have not tried them on plants so if you want to try a test leaf and wait a few days to see if it is OK that's at your own risk. As always rinse well and allow to dry. One down side I have found is that they tend to leave a white residue if allowed to dry completely before rinsing or wiping away.

Quaternary disinfectant cleaners are used in many veterinary hospitals and human hospitals to clean surfaces. F10 SC is a quaternary disinfectant readily available from some site sponsors and of course Amazon. They vary widely in their strength and dilution factors so you just have to go with the manufactures directions. If you do dilute them from a concentrate don't dilute them with hard water and use the dilution promptly. They are more effective when sprayed on rather than wiped on. Some applicators absorb or deactivate the active ingredient. Rinse and dry to be safe.

Heated steam is a very effective way to kill germs without leaving any residue. It can melt plastics, cook plants and burn the inattentive so be careful. You need to work slowly for it to be effective. If you rush you won't get long enough duration of sufficient temperatures to actually disinfect. Follow the manufacturers instructions on your steamer for best results.

To be continued...
I will cover disinfecting used cages and more disinfectant options in Part 4


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