I’m seeing a lot of conflicting info… What’s a good enclosure-cleaning schedule?

I wasn’t sure whether to post this under “All Reptiles” or not, since my question is technically about a specific animal… but I’m also curious about how often people deep clean enclosures in general, with all species.

When I was doing research on keeping blue tongues, I heard different things from different sources regarding how often to deep-clean the enclosure. I wanted to see what everyone thinks is best, as I’m still new to reptiles, and want to provide the best/healthiest care I can.

Nova is a northern bts, approaching her first birthday. She sheds approximately monthly, and likes to “swim” in her mulch to help with that. I spot clean daily, removing any mulch (I use cypress) soiled by waste, food, or spilled water. I clean “furniture” (branches, hides, plants, etc.) whenever I notice anything looking dusty or dirty. Her mulch is around 3-4” deep, spread over a 4x2x2 enclosure with multiple hides, (fake) plant cover, branches, basking slate, and a large cork round. I buy the Zoo Med Forest Floor mulch, and each time I replace the mulch entirely, it takes about a bag and half of the largest volume they sell. Just out of paranoia, I also cook the mulch ahead of time in my oven (400F for 45 minutes, in a roast pan) to ensure there aren’t any mites or bacteria hiding inside.

When I read into how often to “deep clean” (remove furniture, throw out all the mulch, steam clean enclosure, and add fresh mulch), I heard that every six months was appropriate (obviously with incidental cleaning as needed). I also heard that deep cleaning TOO often could be stressful to lizards, as it removes their scent “markers” (which is also why I clean “furniture” separately, and never all at once). Another guide I found recently recommended more frequent deep-cleans, though… and I ended up finding guides/advice that suggested everything in between. :face_with_spiral_eyes: Thoughts? I’m asking specifically with regards to bts, but I’m also curious what people think is best for other lizards, or reptiles in general.


I think this is one of those things (of which there are many in this hobby) where there’s probably more than one right answer. I feel like if you’re spot cleaning, doing a deep clean every 6 months is probably sufficient with your setup. That said, I don’t keep skinks (or any lizards right now), so I can’t give you any species-specific input.

With my snakes, it honestly depends on the species and the setup in question. With my sand boa, I spot clean, and I do total substrate changes and deep clean every 3-ish months. The reason why I don’t wait longer between deep cleans is because as a fossorial species, it’s hard to always know if I’ve spot-cleaned effectively. I dig around through the substrate every couple of weeks to look for poop, but there’s always a chance that I might have missed some, so I feel the need to not go too long between substrate changes for that reason. With my blood python, I do total substrate changes about once a month (sometimes a little longer), because of her liquid urine output, and the fact that the species seems more prone to developing RIs from unsanitary conditions (from what I’ve read). I scoop out wet substrate when she pees, but I just want to be sure she’s not breathing that stuff for too long if I miss a bit. My new baby boa is still in her quarantine setup on paper towels, so I just change the paper towels whenever she poops. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I want to set her up in her eventual adult enclosure, so I’m not yet sure what my cleaning schedule will be like for her in the future.

I’m not sure how helpful any of that was to you, since it’s not really relevant to your situation. :person_shrugging: :joy: Hopefully someone who keeps BTSs will chime in with some more practical advice for you.


It depends on the setup and your specific animal. For your setup, I would recommend a substrate change every 1-3 months or so and do a deep clean every 3-6.

As for cleaning everything at once, I actually think it is beneficial for Blue tongues. While many species may stay in a general area for most of their lives, blue tongues don’t. Most are constantly on the move and can end up miles away from where they were a couple weeks ago. When I do a substrate change I clean everything at once. he seems to “like” having everything different and is out and about a lot more for a couple days than before the cleaning. That is one of the only reasons a once a month substrate change is needed for blue tongues- enrichment. every 3 months is perfectly fine as well though as it is still clean just doesn’t provide the same enrichment


I mean yeah, I haven’t been in this end of animal keeping long but I’ve had pets for over 15 years and my answer is…
When it’s dirty. :laughing: Sorry I realize that’s not as helpful as a number but it’s how I roll.

I can spot clean for the snakes unless they make a big mess. I have two species who are pretty tidy, compared to like, an Indigo or an SDRetic. I have a Ball python, and a House Snake. They tend to have dry urates and if I scoop that, then the cocoblock under it, then use a sterilizing wipe to be sure the plastic underneath is clean, they can go quite a while between changes. Their poo is either tiny, or once per shed and hard to miss!

On the other hand, if it smells musty in there… I switch things up. Sometimes it’s just time to refresh things.

I kinda rely on sight of clean substrate, and my touchy sense of smell. It should smell like clean snek and coconut husk in there, not like musty closet and definitely not like poo.


No, I really appreciate you sharing what you do with your other reptiles! I want to learn whatever I can about how people keep their animals, since I don’t have solid grasp of what’s “typical” for them. There are some really great and in-depth guides, videos, etc. out there, but sometimes I still can’t find clear answers on things like this. :sweat_smile:

I do tend to hunt for… “buried treasure”… in the mulch from time to time, since once in a while she inadvertently buries her poops as she’s burrowing. I don’t think she’s ever actually gone while under the mulch, since she likes to climb up on something and suspend her back legs off of the ground when she does her business. :rofl:

Oooohh, interesting! I never considered that. I knew blue tongues travelled around more than a lot of species, but I never translated that to getting enrichment from new smells or environments. I’ll try that next time, thanks!

The one thing I’m wondering about is… when I buy her mulch, it’s around $30-ish a bag (Zoo Med Forest Floor). Replacing it completely uses between 1 & 1/2 - 2 bags. If that’s what she needs to be happy and healthy, I will pay it—no question! But it did leave me wondering if I was doing something wrong, since I could see where that would quickly become cost inhibitive for some… and especially if they kept multiple skinks (or other fossorial species)?

I actually have a medically-diagnosed sensitivity to smells… finally, it has found a purpose! :rofl: I’ve definitely never smelled “mustiness”—that would set off my nose for sure. I can almost always detect “sneaky” poops hidden under mulch or hides that way, though. I actually am getting over a flu, and I missed seeing one of her “presents” for the first time… because my nose is too stuffy to smell anything. :confounded:

What “sterilizing wipes” do you use? I’ve been really nervous about soaps/detergents/cleaning products, because I’m worried it could irritate her respiratory system. So I’ve been using paper towels, water, and intensive, routine scrubbing to keep her water bowl clean… Also for cleaning up anything that gets on the actual enclosure floor (which is rare, because of how deep the mulch is). I’m a bit traumatized, since I once had a friend who told me she lost several of her tarantulas to an unwisely-placed air freshener. :cold_sweat:

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You definitely aren’t doing anything wrong. One way I know a lot of people get around the huge cost is by using a 60% organic topsoil 40% play sand mixture. It provides everything that the mulch provides plus more. It should only be about $30 at most. Others use non reptile mulch such as the NoFloat cypress mulch which I believe only is about $5 a bag.

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You could use coco husk instead of cypress mulch. Pretty sure they have a lot of the same properties, and the coco husk is cheaper, especially if you’re willing to buy an off-brand. I think the big compressed blocks I use for my blood python cost me about $25-30 on Amazon, and I use roughly half a block per substrate change (for a 4’x2’ enclosure). So basically $15 a change. Not too bad. Often I find them on sale for even cheaper. I’ve never had any issues with the off-brand stuff. Especially since you’re already in the habit of baking it, I think you’d be totally safe saving some money by not buying the name-brand stuff (I freeze mine for at least a week, just as a precaution). Just make sure it’s organic.

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I’m not sure what @athleticshoelace uses, but I use diluted chlorhexidine. It’s a safe veterinary disinfectant. I buy a bottle on Amazon, dilute it in a spray bottle, and use that to clean water bowls and enclosures. It’s good stuff. The bottle of concentrate lasts a long time, so it’s very cost-effective.


Yeah I am using properly diluted Chlorhexidine. It comes with instructions and is a safe veterinary grade disinfectant. If I want to be extra safe I wipe or rinse the surfaces i have used it on with water afterward. I keep some of that on hand in a labeled spray bottle so I always have some to clean things.