how often do you have to clean out a gerbil cage?
Care Guide

How to Clean Out a Gerbil’s Cage

Gerbils don’t smell as much as other rodents, but gerbilariums must be cleaned to keep them hygienic. Learn how to clean a gerbil cage properly, to avoid the buildup of bacteria and odor.

Every day, spot-clean the gerbilarium. Remove any soiled bedding, and wash the water bottle and food dish. Once a week, replace a fourth of the bedding and clean the wheel, hides, and shelving. Every 3-4 weeks, wash and disinfect the tank and replace all the bedding.

We’ll discuss how often you need to clean a gerbil cage, and what cleaning products to use. We’ll then provide all the steps to clean a gerbil cage, from daily spot cleaning thorough to disinfecting.

How Often Do You Have to Clean Out a Gerbil Cage?

Gerbils are one of the most hygienic pets. They come from desert climates, so gerbils have evolved to conserve as much moisture as possible. They don’t pee often, and their droppings are dry.

For this reason, gerbilariums don’t smell as bad as other animal habitats. Gerbils can go for several weeks with minimal cage maintenance before their cage starts to smell.

Cleaning out a gerbilarium too often can also cause unnecessary stress for your gerbil. According to Behavioral Neuroscience, gerbils mark their territories using their scent glands. Both male and female gerbils use scent trails to recognize where they are.

When you clean a gerbilarium, you remove all the scent trails that your gerbils have created. This can cause confusion and alarm. It’s advisable to clean out the gerbilarium as infrequently as possible.

Gerbils also build extensive burrows in their homes. That’s why you should always give them at least 6 inches of bedding. When you clean their cage, you destroy all their tunnels, which can be stressful.

When to Clean Gerbils Cage

You will need to clean the gerbilarium occasionally, to prevent the buildup of odor and bacteria. How often to clean out gerbils cage will depend on:

  • The number of gerbils. The more gerbils living in the same tank, the more often you’ll need to clean them out. This is because there will be more poop and pee.
  • Type of bedding. Some beddings, such as Carefresh, are great at controlling odors. But others, such as shredded newspaper, don’t disguise smells as easily.
  • Type of gerbilarium. Well-ventilated gerbilariums don’t get smelly as quickly. And the bigger the tank, the less you’ll notice the smell.
  • Individual differences. Some gerbils are neat, and pee and poop in one place. But some gerbils are messy and will need more help keeping their cage clean.

For best results, spot clean your gerbilarium every day. Once per week, partially clean the cage, replacing a small amount of bedding each time.

Occasionally, conduct a thorough clean-out, replacing all bedding and disinfecting the tank. You’ll know it’s time when the smell starts to build up even after spot-cleaning. For most gerbil owners, this is every three to four weeks.

how to spot clean a gerbil cage

What Can I Use to Clean a Gerbil Cage?

To clean a gerbil cage, you’ll need a product that can cut through grime, and remove strong odors. But it’s important not to use anything that might affect your gerbil’s wellbeing.

Strong scents from soaps and disinfectants can cause stress, as they can cover up scent trails. So, don’t select a product which is highly perfumed.

Not only this, but fumes from certain cleaning products can be toxic if inhaled. For example, according to the EPA, inhalation of ammonia can cause respiratory problems and eye irritation in rodents. Safe gerbil cage cleaning products include:

  • White vinegar. Its acidity helps to dissolve dirt, and it’s non-toxic.
  • Mild dish soap, such as Dawn, diluted in hot water.
  • Food-safe disinfectant, designed for use on kitchen counters.
  • Cage cleaning spray designed for small animal habitats, such as
    Kaytee Clean Cage on Amazon.

Never use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners, or anything labeled toxic or dangerous. Whatever cleaner you choose, rinse it off thoroughly afterwards, just in case.

As well as cleaner, you will need rubber gloves, a sponge or scrubbing brush, and a litter scoop. You’ll also need a large bucket for washing cage accessories, and paper towels or lint-free cloths for drying.

How to Spot Clean a Gerbil Cage

The easiest way to clean a gerbil cage is to spot-clean it every day.

If you neglect the gerbilarium and let things get grimy, it will be harder to clean. You’ll also have to clean it more regularly, as the smell will build up quicker.

Spot-cleaning your gerbilarium will keep everything tidy and hygienic between deep cleans. Your gerbils will also be happier in their environment.

You can leave your gerbils in the gerbilarium while you spot-clean it. To spot clean a gerbil cage:

  1. Search the cage for feces (gerbil poop). Remove it using a litter scooper. Don’t forget to check the sand bath.
  2. Remove any wet patches of substrate, such as underneath the water bottle.
  3. Look for discarded gerbil food, such as seeds that have spilled out of the bowl. Remove them to prevent them from germinating or going moldy.
  4. If any shelving or accessories are wet, wipe them down with an unperfumed baby wipe or damp cloth.
  5. Remove the food dish and water bottle, and wash them in soapy water. Dry and refill them before putting them back in the cage.

Many gerbil owners also use this opportunity to examine their gerbils’ health. Inspect your gerbils and check that their coat and eyes are shiny, and they seem alert and active. Feel for any lumps, bumps, or cuts.

How to Partial Clean a Gerbil Cage

As well as daily spot-cleaning, once per week you should give your gerbilarium a partial clean. This is like a more thorough spot clean that will help keep on top of the smell.

Partially cleaning the gerbilarium weekly will allow you to wait longer before doing a thorough clean. Your gerbils will appreciate getting to keep their scent trails and tunnels for as long as possible.

For best results, choose the same time each week to conduct your partial clean. Move your gerbil into a secure container, such as an empty fish tank or bathtub.

Start by conducting a spot-clean, by following the above steps. Then, remove approximately one-fourth of your gerbil’s bedding. Replace it with an equal amount of fresh substrate.

Each week, remove a different section of bedding, so that you rotate the area which gets cleaned. That way, the smell won’t build up in one area, but your gerbil will still recognize its scent.

Take out any cage accessories, such as hides, toys, shelves, the wheel, and the sand bath. Wash them in water with mild dish soap added. Dry them thoroughly, and return them to the gerbilarium in the same place as they were before.

If there is any visible dirt on the tank, wipe it away with a cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle Cage Cleaner (from Amazon.com). But don’t remove the substrate to clean underneath it, as you’ll disrupt your gerbil’s tunnels.

How to Clean a Gerbil Cage Thoroughly

Even with daily spot-cleaning and weekly partial cleans, the smell will build up eventually. From time to time, you will need to conduct a full and thorough gerbilarium clean.

Most gerbil owners conduct a full clean every 3 to 4 weeks. This may vary depending on the size of the gerbilarium and how many gerbils you own. The more gerbils that you have, the more often it will need cleaning. Here are the 6 steps to clean a gerbil cage thoroughly:

1) Relocate Your Gerbils

You can’t clean out your gerbil cage without first removing the gerbils. Ideally, they should be kept in a different room during the cleaning process. This is so that they don’t breathe in any fumes from cleaning products. You have several options for where to put gerbils when cleaning a cage:

  • The bathtub. Bathtubs have smooth sides that gerbils can’t climb. Make sure the plughole isn’t big enough for your gerbils to fall down.
  • A spare glass tank, such as an unused aquarium, that has a lid with ventilation.
  • Small animal travel cage. Make sure the bars are made of metal, as gerbils can chew through plastic.
  • Gerbil exercise ball. Some gerbils dislike exercise balls and become stressed out, so check on them often.
  • Small animal playpen. Gerbils are skilled climbers, so place wire mesh over the top to stop them from escaping.

Don’t worry about the size of the temporary enclosure — your gerbils won’t be in there for long. But wherever you put your gerbils, make sure it is clean and escape-proof. Add a water bottle or dish, and some snacks and toys to keep your gerbils occupied.

2) Empty the Gerbilarium

When your gerbils are safely in their temporary home, empty the gerbilarium.

Take out all the cage accessories, such as hides, tunnels, toys, and the food dish. Detach anything attached to the cage, such as the water bottle, shelves, and exercise wheel.

Place all the cage accessories in a large bucket ready to be cleaned later. Remove and throw away any chewed up cardboard tubes or toys that are no longer usable.

Remove all of the used substrate, bedding and nesting materials, such as wood shavings and hay. Don’t worry about destroying the gerbils’ tunnels this time. Unfortunately, you have to replace all the bedding from time to time, to prevent the buildup of bacteria.

If the tank is light enough to tip, pour it all straight into a refuse sack. Otherwise, remove it using a dustpan or shovel scooper, or your hands. Wear gloves while doing this.

Search through the bedding before you discard it, to ensure there are no toys or accessories buried inside. You can throw used substrate in the trash, or place it on a compost heap. Alternatively, mix it with dirt and use it as plant fertilizer.

3) Wash and Disinfect the Gerbilarium

Now that the gerbilarium is empty, it must be cleaned and sterilized.

This serves three purposes. It gets rid of the smell, makes the cage shiny and attractive, and kills bacteria. Bacteria can get into tiny cracks and crevices and make your gerbil sick if not dealt with.

Take your gerbilarium apart so that you can access the inside of the lower tank and the cage topper.

Use a disinfectant that is labeled as food-safe or pet-safe. Choose one that is unperfumed or lightly perfumed if possible.

Spray the disinfectant all around the inside and outside of the gerbilarium. Wearing gloves, use a clean cloth to wipe the disinfectant around, dislodging any dirt.

Rinse the cage and tank thoroughly several times, using clean warm water. Gerbils have sensitive noses, and dislike strong chemical smells.

If there is significant dirt buildup, you may struggle to remove it with standard cage cleaner. In this case, fill the tank with hot water and dish soap, and let it soak. This will soften any stubborn debris.

After thoroughly rinsing the gerbilarium, dry it fully using lint-free paper towels or cloth. Alternatively, allow it to air-dry, but be aware that water spots may form on the glass.

how to clean a gerbil cage

4) Wash and Sterilize the Cage Accessories

All permanent fixtures inside the cage have to be cleaned and sterilized:

  • Exercise wheel
  • Water bottle or bowl
  • Food dish
  • Hides
  • Tunnels
  • Litter tray
  • Sand bath
  • Toys
  • Shelves and platforms

Empty the water bottle, food dish, and sand bath, and discard the old contents. Then place all the accessories into a large tub of hot water with some added cleaning vinegar or dish soap.

Wearing gloves, use a scrubbing brush or sponge to wash all the accessories thoroughly. Ensure to get into all cracks and crevices, using a smaller brush like a toothbrush if necessary.

You can also sterilize the accessories, to kill bacteria. Use a food-safe disinfectant (available on Amazon), such as PURELL, or something labeled as non-toxic. Rinse and dry everything fully after disinfecting, so that no product remains.

If any accessories are made out of wood, like bridges and chew toys, they’ll need further attention. Wood has a porous surface, so germs and bacteria can get inside. The Journal of Food Protection found that wooden surfaces can harbor bacteria even after being hand-washed five times.

To sterilize wooden cage accessories, they must be heated to a high temperature. Boil them in water for an hour, or bake them for 2 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

5) Replace the Bedding

Now that you have a clean and dry gerbilarium, you can place fresh substrate inside.

Ideally, you’ll have placed the new bedding in the freezer overnight first, to kill off bacteria and mites. Let it thaw out for a few days before the gerbilarium is due to be cleaned.

Once warmed to room temperature, sift the bedding thoroughly to remove any dust. Dust can irritate your gerbil’s eyes and nose, and cause breathing problems.

Fluff the dust-free substrate with your fingers and add a thick layer to the tank. There should be at least 6 inches of substrate for your gerbils to tunnel in.

Optionally, use some hay as well. This will help your gerbils to build sturdier tunnels. Add it in layers, or place it on top for your gerbils to mix in themselves.

Ensure you use the same brand of bedding every time, so as not to shock your gerbils. If you ever want to change beddings, do so slowly, mixing a little new bedding each time.

6) Replace the Cage Accessories

Make sure all the tank accessories are cool and dry, and there are no traces of soap left. Then, fix the cage topper back onto the tank, if applicable.

Place the food bowl, water bottle, hides, sand bath, wheel, and shelving back in. Add some toys, such as cardboard tubes and wooden blocks to chew. You can bury these in the substrate for your gerbils to find.

Set all accessories on solid shelves or platforms, or affix them to the sides of the cage. Don’t balance anything directly on top of the substrate, especially not heavy things like ceramic food dishes.

When the gerbilarium is ready, your gerbils can move back in. They’ll get to work investigating and digging tunnels straight away. They might also rearrange the furniture.

Your gerbils may seem stressed or on edge for the first few hours after their cage is cleaned. This is because their tunnels and scent trails have been destroyed, so they don’t recognize their environment.

Leave your gerbils in peace while they get used to their surroundings. They’ll soon feel at home and start acting themselves again.