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Disinfecting

Written by Ariane, Dahija

This article is an extension of a post that I had written on the Budgie Dangers and Health forum. I had put some thought to it, and decided that people may benefit from a more general article about disinfection of various materials that could be found in a bird's life (or other pets you may own).

First, a bit of an explanation of the difference between normal cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning is the process of removing mostly visible debris off a material, usually with soap and water, or some other cleaning solution that does not contain an anti-bacterial/anti-microbial component. Cleaning will get rid of many microbes by the act of wiping and rinsing, but some are left behind to breed. Bacteria can reproduce very quickly, some doubling their whole population every 20 minutes.

Disinfecting (sometimes called sanitizing), on the other hand, is the destruction and/or removal of microbes such as bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, Stapholococcus spp. etc.), fungal spores (molds and mushroom-like organisms), viruses and other things you cannot readily see with the naked eye. These are the "nasties" that hide in the corner of the cage pan where your sponge does not quite reach. It may look clean, but in reality is crawling with many thousands of bacteria that could harm your beautiful bird if they are ingested or wind up in a open wound.

Different materials have to be disinfected with different solutions, depending on their composition, characteristics, or accessories. For example, using the oven to bake that new plastic food dish shaped like a green pepper would not be a very good idea. For one, you would end up with a pile of bubbling, green goo in the bottom of your oven, and possibly a fire within your oven. Secondly, burnt plastic can let off toxic fumes, bad for both your pets and yourself. So before you decide to disinfect anything, note what it's parts are made of, and whether each part can handle the specific treatment you are about to give the whole object.

Chlorine Bleach and Water

A 5-10% bleach solution (10 parts water to 1 part bleach = 10%) can be used to disinfect most everything metal or plastic. It is very good for porous materials also, because it fills all holes and spaces, especially those you can't reach with a brush or sponge. Bleach kills the bacteria that cause bad odors, so items will smell better after a good disinfecting with bleach. I also recommend using hot water when possible. To start, remove as much solid debris as you can from the item. Immerse in bleach water solution for 20 to 30 minutes. If any debris still remains, scrub some more. Soak again. Rinse very well and allow to air dry, preferably in the sunshine. Any remaining chlorine will dissipate during the evaporation process; the sun just helps speed it along.

If you are cleaning a large cage that cannot be immersed, wipe the bleach water solution on all sides of the cage, working from the top down to make sure you reach all surfaces.. Let sit for 20 minutes or so. If you can, stand it in your shower to rinse it. If you rinse it outside with the water hose, the bleach solution may kill your grass or ornamental flowers. If the shower option is out of the question, the cage can be wiped with wet cloths until there no longer is a bleach smell. Remember that bleach is used to make clothes whiter, so if you have any cloth or plush toys, do not use chlorine bleach, it will discolor them.

You can also soak branches in a bleach solution and scrub off any "green stuff" (probably lichens and moss, but in case that it isn't, try to find a piece of wood without any). Rinse very well and let dry in the sun. The chlorine will dissipate if any remains, and if you are still worried about any residue clinging to the bark, you can rinse them again and let dry in the sun a second time to be safe. Stone, bones, and brick can be soaked overnight will no ill effects.

"Baking" in a Conventional Oven (DO NOT USE TOASTER OVEN)

Below are a couple of temperatures that I found to use myself, you probably could take a good guess based on what you're going to bake...just remember that these are just estimates and ALL attempts should be VERY closely supervised to assure no accidents occur, such as a broken oven door from an explosion or a burned down house. Please don't double the temperature and half the time thinking it will work just as well. Certain stones, such as slate WILL explode if it gets too hot (trust me, I was almost burned when a fire pit lined with pieces of slate exploded on me while I was camping a couple of years ago), and branches WILL start to scorch and burn. Put the item on aluminum foil in a preheated oven, heat for desired time, then turn off the oven and let it cool without taking out the item. The temps are all in degrees F, by the way.

  • Branches: 200 degrees for 30-40 minutes
  • Stone/Bricks/Sand: 200-250 degrees for 1-2 hours (good if the branches/driftwood you want to use is attached to a piece of stone for a base but please see "NOTE")

I have heard that sand can be "cooked" for 3-4 hours, and that a longer time is better, but I have not tried that length of time myself. Don't just heap a large pile of sand on the pan in the oven, it needs to be spread out rather thinly to heat to a high temperature all the way through. Several turkey basting pans work well, with 1" of sand in them.

Note: Do remember if you bake combination branches attached stone and they are hooked together with silicone sealant or have any form of plastic accessories, that you should use a bleach solution instead of baking because the sealant/plastic will melt or catch on fire. If they are nailed or screwed together, you should be okay.

Antibacterial Soap

There are mixed views on using commercial antibacterial soaps to regularly disinfect things (including items of your own personal use, such as hand soap or dish washing soap). It is safe for most materials and will not discolor or stain if rinsed properly. But bacteria are very adaptable creatures and will soon become immune to a specific brand of soap. In my own opinion, avoid so-called antibacterial soaps unless absolutely neccessary. But for those of you on the other side of the fence, you can buy anti-bacterial soaps under many different name brands. I know that Dial and Dawn each make a soap of this sort. Be careful to rinse the item well. Many dish/hand soaps contain color and fragrance, both which can irritate a pet's skin and eyes. Something that smells "April Fresh" to you, may cause quite a reaction when put near your bird.

Vinegar

Vinegar is the most amazing all-natural cleaner that I have used. Great for those who are worried about the environment, it may smell bad, but is very powerful. Otherwise known as acetic acid, most vinegar is really fruit wine that has turned bitter. When used diluted or straight, it creates a very acidic condition that kills bacteria. It also can take the finish off of metal, so use with supervision. A test patch (a small hidden area that you can use vinegar upon to see if it discolors or eats away the decorative finish) is recommended. A straight 100% solution can be used to clean plastic dishes. Pour a bit of vinegar on a rag and wipe out the dishes. Rinse well.

I use a 50%-75% vinegar/hotwater solution to remove hard water stains (lime) from ceramic and glass bowls also. Fill bowl with solution and let soak for an hour or two. Chip off lime with a toothpick or scrub with a sponge. Rinse before using.

You can also soak your used sponges in 100% vinegar for several hours to keep them from smelling sour.

Commercial Solutions

Many companies have created bottled or powdered solutions that can be used to disinfect animal living areas, including birdcages and accessories. I prefer those that I make myself, and know what they contain. If you decide to use any of these products, please check to see that they are safe, not just for the bird, but for yourself and other pets. Dogs can take a lick from a cleaning bucket before you know it or you can accidentally spray something in your eyes. Use common sense and your best judgment when buying these products. Read the fine print. Call the company with questions. Most are willing to answer questions if they think they will convince you to buy their product. Since I do not use these personally, I can only mention the ones I have heard of, regardless of their ability or safety. Please don't just run out an buy the first one you come across. Do your research, your pet's life may depend upon it. Petsmart.com carries several brands of "cage cleaner" as does Petco.com.

Rubbing (Isopropyl) Alcohol

Just like the doctor rubbing this on you before giving your arm a shot, this is a quick evaporating disinfectant that can be used for quick clean-ups such as wiping down your new plastic perch. Small metal pieces (Quik Links, screws, nails) can also be soaked in alcohol to kill bacteria. Rinse all pieces well to prevent any residue.

Misc. Stain Removal

For the leather/cloth bits on your toys, organic material (especially blood) can be removed with Hydrogen Peroxide. Pour a bit on the leather/cloth, watch it bubble for several minutes, then rinse well. If the stain is especially hard set, you may need to repeat this several times. Blood sometimes will leave a blotch even after treatment. I have not attempted this one personally, but decided to include it in case it can help someone else.

I hope you have found this information useful. If you have any questions or comments, you can address them to me (Dahija) by leaving a post at Tailfeathers.

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