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Many of us have beloved pets at home, and we all want to keep them safe and healthy. To keep both the human and animal members of our families from becoming ill, it’s important to regularly clean pet supplies.
No matter how clean and healthy a pet looks, they can still have dangerous bacteria on them. For example, lizards, turtles, snakes, and frogs often naturally carry Salmonella bacteria – these germs don’t harm them, but they can make people sick. Interacting directly with these animals or items like food, water dishes, or other objects in their enclosures can easily expose a person to Salmonella.
Pet food and treats can sometimes be contaminated with germs, too. These germs can easily spread to your pet items, like bowls, toys, or crates, and make your pets or your family sick. Keep an eye out for pet food recalls and thoroughly disinfect any items that may have been contaminated by a bad batch of food.
Read the cleaning instructions
It’s a little obvious, but very important. Many pet items have cleaning instructions on the packaging, in manuals, or on tags. Follow these if you can find them.
If the item has no cleaning instructions…
If your pet supplies did not come with any cleaning instructions, consider these methods:
- Clean hard items like crates, bowls, and rubber or plastic toys using soapy water. If necessary, disinfect with a bleach solution or disinfectant wipes or sprays.
- Some bowls, such as ceramic ones, can be washed in a dishwasher.
- Soft items like blankets, beds, clothes, plush toys, and rope toys can usually be placed in a washing machine and dried in a dryer.
Cleaning vs. disinfecting
Cleaning removes dirt and germs using soap or detergent, while disinfecting uses chemicals specifically intended to kill germs. Cleaning is usually sufficient for most items, but disinfecting is a more thorough precaution.
How often to clean pet items
The CDC recommends cleaning pet items as often as you clean your own items. This makes it easy to create a routine.
For more specific guidance, here are some rules of thumb:
- Clean pet bowls after every use with wet food, and daily for bowls used for dry food and water. If you have a fountain-style water bowl, refer to the instruction manual to determine cleaning procedures and frequency.
- Pet beds, blankets, and enclosures should be cleaned every week.
- Pet toys, if washable, should be cleaned each month. Items like non-refillable catnip toys that can’t be cleaned should be thrown away if they look dirty.
Pet supplies can be cleaned more often if they become dirty or smelly.
When to disinfect
Pet items that touch excrement like litter boxes should be disinfected as often as you would disinfect your own toilet or bathroom.
Disinfecting instead of simple cleaning may be needed if a member of the household is especially sensitive to germs, such as those with weakened immune systems, very young children, elderly, or if someone is pregnant.
Disinfecting frequently is also necessary if your pet is sick.
Pet rodents, reptiles, and amphibians should have their enclosures, toys, and other objects disinfected each month, or more often if the items look dirty. These animals are more likely than other pets to carry germs that can cause illnesses in humans.
Washing things with soap
Use soap or detergent and warm water, especially on items that can accumulate greasy residue like dry food bowls and storage containers. These items should be scrubbed with a sponge or brush, rinsed to remove dirt and soapy water, and then either air or towel dried.
Washing in the dishwasher
Pet items can be placed in the dishwasher with your own dishes, but you may wash them separately if the idea makes you uncomfortable. Use your regular dishwasher detergent and settings. The high temperature or sanitizing setting or the heat dry setting can kill most germs.
Washing in the washing machine
Again, you can put pet items in the washing machine with your own clothes, but you may also choose to wash them separately if the idea makes you uncomfortable. Using a laundry detergent with no dyes or fragrances is recommended for pets with sensitive skin.
Using a dryer on the highest heat setting for 30 minutes will kill most germs.
Using bleach solutions
NEVER MIX BLEACH WITH OTHER CLEANERS LIKE AMMONIA. IT WILL PRODUCE TOXIC GAS.
Before using bleach, wash items with soapy water. This will help remove germs and dirt and allow the disinfectant to kill the few remaining germs left on the surface.
Dilute bleach by mixing 1/4 cup bleach with a gallon of water.
Items should be soaked in the bleach solution for at least 10 minutes. If the item is too big to soak, wipe it with the bleach solution and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes.
After soaking or coating with bleach and waiting 10 minutes, rinse the item to remove the bleach. Let it dry by air drying or using a towel.
Using disinfectant sprays or wipes
EPA-registered disinfecting wipes and sprays are recommended. Always follow the instructions on the label of the spray/wipes, leaving the disinfectant on the item for the duration specified on the label.
Let the disinfectant dry fully, then wipe the surface with a damp towel to remove any residue from the disinfectant.
The CDC does not recommend using vinegar to clean or disinfect items, but it is a commonly used and recommended pet-safe method. People who swear by vinegar use solutions of varying concentrations of either apple cider or white distilled vinegar. Common ratios include one cup of vinegar to a gallon of water or half water and half vinegar.
The CDC cites a lack of relevant research for its refusal to recommend cleaning with vinegar.
Keeping your pet safe around disinfectants
- Keep your pet away from the area where you are cleaning and disinfecting. Pets should not lick, touch, or be near the disinfectant.
- Birds have extremely sensitive respiratory systems and must be kept away from anything that produces fumes. Disinfect outdoors or in a room away from your bird(s).
- Store disinfectants out of the reach of pets.
- Do not use “-phenol” chemicals around cats. Ingredients such as 2-Phenylphenol are extremely toxic to cats.
Cleaning in the sink
If you’re washing pet items in the kitchen sink, thoroughly clean and disinfect the sink and the surrounding area immediately after you are finished. You may have accidentally touched or splashed contaminated water on the tap, which could contaminate food/drinks prepared using water from the sink.
Litter boxes and toxoplasmosis
Cat poop sometimes contains a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. To avoid this, always wash your hands after handling litter boxes, litter scoops, litter box liners, and dingleberries.
For most people and cats, the Toxoplasma gondii parasite doesn’t cause any problems. It mostly causes severe illness in people with immune deficiencies. If someone who is pregnant is infected, it may cause birth defects in the baby.
If possible, pregnant people should avoid dealing with the litter box. Otherwise, scoop the box daily – the parasite is in its immature form immediately after your cat poops and takes one to five days to “hatch” and become infective. Wear disposable gloves when dealing with the litter box and wash your hands afterwards.