Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Q&A- Cage Cleaning

In case you didn't already know, you can email me your questions to askratwhisperer@gmail.com. I'd love to answer them here on my blog and if there is something I don't know, I would be happy to find out :)

My first Q&A comes from Deanna who writes:
"Hello! I found your awesome ratty blog from The Rat Forum, and I was wondering if you could give me some pointers on cleaning the rat manor, or keeping the urine odor to a minimum between cleanings. I'm a new rat owner, and my three young girlies stink up their cage so quickly! I've been fully cleaning their cage and accessories in the shower every 3 or 4 days, with daily spot cleaning, but their cage already reeks by the end of the day. I use aspen bedding, but I think they are peeing up the top level the most.

Is it necessary to fully clean the cage so frequently? I figured since you have two of these cages, you might have found a more efficient way to go about this. Or am I doing it right so far? I don't mind cleaning the cage much, but I was hoping there were some simpler methods to make for less frequent full cleanings. Some kind of vinegar solution to wipe down the top levels perhaps? I'm scared to try anything like this without being assured by an experienced rat owner that it won't destroy my girls.

Anywho, thanks in advance if you have any tips for me! Very nice blog, and your ratties are extremely adorable. :)"

First off, thank you so much Deanna for the lovely compliment on my blog and ratties! I think they are pretty freaking adorable myself, LOL! And thank you for taking the time to send your email. :)

As far as cage cleaning goes, I usually only do a deep cleaning once a month. That's right- only once a month. My deep cleaning consist of completely disassembling the cages and rinsing them in my shower. With my daily and weekly cleanings, I have no odors!

I use diluted bleach, rubber gloves, and a rag to completely wipe down all the bars, mesh floors and ramps of the cage, as well as wiping the bottom of the cage inside and out. Then I rinse it all very well, then wipe it all dry with an old bath towel. All the cage toys, bowls, litter boxes, hammocks, etc get cleaned as well. The toys and other plastic items soak in a bucket of diluted bleach water while I am cleaning the cage in the shower. Soft items, such as hammocks and fleece scraps (used in the hanging basket beds) get sent to the laundry (so its good to have backups!). This is the most time consuming cleaning. It can take me over an hour per cage as I like to really scrub it good.

For daily spot cleaning, I simply wipe the bars, floors, and ramps with baby wipes. Just regular ol' baby wipes. Every day. Old pee is very smelly pee, so it helps to wipe down everything daily so nothing is sitting. And nothing is smellier or stronger than old pee on fabric!

 I also give the hammocks and fleece scraps a sniff test. Yup, I get my nose right into them and see if they are getting smell. Once in a while the girls pee in their plastic hanging basket bed so the fleece scraps get smelly. If this happens, I simply send them to the wash early and wipe the inside of the bed with the baby wipe to freshen it up.

 I can also tell if my ratties have been laying or sleeping in pee by sniffing them. Male rats have a wonderful, natural sandalwood-like smell to them, when they haven't been "marinating", or sleeping/laying in their own urine. Lady rats have a sweeter scent to them, almost like a very faint grape soda smell. If either smells like wee, then I know to clean out all the bed areas...and perhaps give the ratties a bath.

 So bottom line for daily cleaning just wipe down the cage with a baby wipe and do a sniff test. I don't like using vinegar directly on the cage as I think its just too powerful smelling. Baby wipes are mild enough for ratties' sensitive noses, but also strong enough to clean up urine (after all, they are used to clean baby bottoms!) If you are really concerned about possible toxicity or fragrances, you can purchase unscented baby wipes. This cleaning takes just a few quick minutes, and I usually do it in the mornings when I am refilling water bottles and refilling food bowls.

Every Saturday, I do my weekly cleaning of the cages. This is not as intensive as the deep cleaning, but requires a bit more time than a normal daily cleaning, maybe about half an hour per cage at most- and that might be an exaggeration. This is when I change out the litter and cage covering. I use Planet Petco paper pellet cat litter or Yesterdays News to cover the bottom of the cage. I found it to be the least dusty and very odor absorbent. I buy paper pellet cat litter because of two reason: 1) its cheaper than paper pellet litter marketed towards small animals or ferrets and 2) if it can help with cat pee, the most potent urine there is, it can certainly help with my ratties.

 I purchased a mini sweeping brush and dust pan set from the dollar store than fits inside the cages to sweep up and dump the majority of the cage bottom litter. Then I use my little shop vac to vacuum around the sides and any bits of paper pellet litter left behind. Then I clean out the litter boxes completely.

In the litter boxes, I use Kaytee Soft Granule bedding. I just vacuum out the boxes and replace it with fresh bedding, about 1 1/2 inches deep is all you really need. The shop vac is a HUGE time saver! You could wipe down the bottom of the cage and the litter boxes with each changing if you wanted...sometimes I do, other times I don't, depending on how messy they were to start with. I can definitely tell when I have forgotten to do a weekly cleaning or did not have time to, as that is when things start smelling funky. Usually its just a dirty litter box than needs cleaning.

Somethings I have learned from experience to keep the smell down are:

1) Fleece lined shelves, while nice and comfy on a rat's feet, are major stinky-stinker-uppers. I had them once before and found that while they made the cages look colorful and happy, I was not only wasting a lot of money because my rats would chew them up, but I had to change them out every single day. Clipping them into place and changing them out was getting too time consuming and I just didn't find them worth it anymore. Now I just make sure my ratties have nice soft hammocks and fleece scraps in their beds that are smaller and easier to change out. Don't stress out about Ulcerative pododermatitis, a.k.a 'bumblefoot'. Bumblefoot is seen more in  rats that are overweight placing continued or excessive pressure on the feet, trauma, or minute abrasions from rough or irregular cage flooring, or rats having a genetic predisposition. It is also thought that the use of pine or cedar shavings used to cover cage floorings may play a part. If your rats walk around on rough "chicken wire" or other galvanized wire mesh then yes, they are placed at a higher risk to get bumblefoot, but the Petco Rat Manor, as with most other small animal cages now-a-days, are powder coated to prevent this. I have yet to ever have a rat with bumblefoot.

2) If your ratties tend to dirty up their litter boxes too fast, purchase a pooper-scooper. This is nothing more than a plastic spoon clearly labeled "POOPER SCOOPER", LOL, that is used to scoop out the ratty "raisins" from the litter boxes. Some weeks it seems my ratties dirty their litter boxes up faster than others so if the litter boxes are looking especially disgusting, I just scoop out what I can. This helps keep the smell down too.

3) Keep a bottle of distilled white vinegar and water solution in a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels close by. Use it to wipe down any surrounding surfaces around the rat cages. Try to do this when they are NOT in the cage, breathing it in (I let them have free range time in the bathroom while I do it). You'd be surprised how much stink is NOT coming from the rats' cages at all, but the surfaces around them. I have my cages on a table, up against the wall, in my bedroom. I wipe down the wall and the table about every other day as its amazing how much pee gets outside the cage (this happens when the rats back up into a corner to urinate while on the second floor or one of the shelves). If this becomes too much of a problem, you can invest in urine guards that attach to the cage (I am thinking of getting some myself).

4) And lastly if all else fails, keep an opened box of baking soda near the cages to help absorb any airborne stink particles, LOL.

I hope this helped answer any questions you might have had regarding keeping your rats' cage(s) smelling fresh and clean! Feel free to comment with your suggestions on how YOU keep your cages stink-free :)


  1. Awesome! Thanks for this in-depth answer! I will definitely be taking your baby wipe advice, and probably copy your bedding/litter choices, as mine is a little dusty. All of this should definitely make the cleaning routine less of a hassle.

    Your blog has been very helpful! I am also taking notes from your rat diet section, and the bathing link you provided. :)


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  3. Thanks for the info, I also have a Petco Rat Manor and have been looking for cleaning tips.

    I got two boys a bit over a month ago (first ratties) and have been trying unsuccessfully ever since to litter train them. I started with fleece liner on the bottom with Yesterday's News in the litter pan, but the fleece got soooo smelly and still stank after the wash so I've been trying other things. I tried Carefresh but I really didnt like the smell and it made the boys itchy. I also tried newspaper and paper towels but the boys ripped them to shreds, cute but messy. Now I'm trying shredded printer paper that I get from the office, is this an ok bedding to use?

    As for the levels, I was also worried about all the bumblefoot warnings so I'm using plastic liners that I wipe down with a vinegar/water mix every couple days...I'm going to switch and try the baby wipes now. The person who originally gave me the idea used flexible cutting boards but I'm using Ikea place mats and they work well, worth a try for those who are worried about bumblefoot.

    1. The only thing you might want to be careful with using shredded printer paper is whether or not it has ink on it. Some ink could be toxic to rats. The other thing you would have to worry about is the ink coming off and staining your ratties' fur, especially if they are light colored (hooded, PEW, etc). Printer paper also isn't very absorbent or odor neutralizing. It is very fun to use as a dig box though! Throw some shreds in a box or tub, toss in some treats like pieces of nuts and seeds, and just add rats!

    2. What a creative idea, using the placemats and flexible cutting boards! I was at the dollar store the other day and was eyeing the plastic placemats for this same purpose. I have heard of people using that plastic needlepoint canvas. I tried it a long time ago to cover some ramps and my rats were mighty quick to chew it to shreds!

      Seriously, the rats I really worry about having bumblefoot are those that live in homemade cages because I just know the majority of people who make them use the same galvanized wire mesh you find in home improvement stores. Its not covered, its raw metal under their feet- I feel uncomfortable thinking about it, and I don't have to walk on it! I am certain those using the Petco Rat Manor won't have any issue, unless the rat is extremely overweight- but then again, bumblefoot is really only one of the many problems that rat would be at risk for!

  4. What is your bleach to water ratio? (Ie: 1 table spoon bleach to 1 gallon of water)

  5. Thanks for this! Also, how do you clean out water bottles...and how often?

  6. Just a thought - to cover the wire floors, I used outdoor carpet - the kind that boaters use on docks. It works great. It stays pretty much in place by itself and when it stinks, I can just shake it out and throw it in the wash.

  7. Thanks for your info. I just got two rattie boys and I had no idea the mess they would make with their pee and poo! It actually has me doubting being a rat owner but I can see I'm not alone in dealing with pee everywhere!

  8. Thanks for explaining about deep cleaning and stuffs you have used for that.

  9. Hi, I have been using bleach to clean out my cage but I noticed not long after I started to get bad chest pains. I then read up that rat urine contains ammonia and ammonia and bleach should not be mixed. So could using bleach to clean your cage be releasing 'mustard gas'

  10. Hello, Thanks for all the info. I am a littel confused though.. You use paper pellt cat letter for the bottom of the cage but use the kaytee bedding in the litter box? Forgive me I get my 2 girls tomorrow and an tryint to learn- but does litter box mean something I dfferent in the rat world? Im thingk it as a toilet - so it leaves me wondering what they sleep on? Can you help me understand?

    thanks! off to find your food reccomendations

  11. Hi there. I take in "rescue rats." I currently have 2 girls and 7 boys, 4 of which I adopted with the instructions that they must be housed separately, or they will try to kill each other. Hence, I have 6 cages, all in my relatively small bedroom. It's a long story, but that's the only place I can keep them for now.

    Anyway, my room smells bad all the time. In the warmer weather, I take all the cages out and power wash them each weekend, but it's too cold and snowy for that now. So, I take them apart each Saturday and scrub all the shelves, bases, igloos, etc. with hot water and a mild dish soap. I use Carefresh bedding. Things still stink. :(

    Today is only Tuesday (4 days before "cleaning day") and I did the cages again because it was so bad. I don't wash the bars down much because they are older, more sedentary rats that only climb around on their igloos and shelves but don't seem to urinate on the bars .I bought bamboo charcoal in a health food store, which is supposed to neutralize odors...no luck. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. <: 3 )----