Reptile Odor Control

Reptile rooms and the enclosures sometimes give off unpleasant odors. Besides keeping reptile enclosures clean on a consistent basis, adding an air purifier to the room helps in reptile odor control. Unpleasant smells vary depending on the specific situation and how often it’s cleaned.

All pets, in general, need some kind of maintenance. Animals with scales instead of fur theoretically smell-less, or at least they should. This is because of the lack of dander in reptiles and amphibians. Nevertheless such animal will smell without proper maintenance.

Why does my reptile room stink?

So what makes reptiles stink?

First, it depends on the reptile and how it’s being kept. This article isn’t specifically geared towards smelly reptile enclosures by themselves. Instead, the broader focus is upon the room the reptiles are being kept in.

In most cases, smelly enclosures lead to smelly rooms where they’re kept. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have an entire room dedicated to your reptile collection. That’s great! On the flip side, maybe your reptiles are kept in rooms of human dwelling such as bedrooms or family rooms.

Air purifiers

My first recommendation to those with stinky reptile rooms in any situation is to buy a quality air purifier. These products are great! After I purchased mine, I noticed a difference after a few hours. I keep my air purifier on the lowest speed.

Reptile odor control
An air purifier tower kept in my reptile room.

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In my experience, these products are more effective on lower settings than higher settings. Perhaps it’s because the air spends more time in the filters. In this case, less is definitely more.

Choosing an air purifier

There are many air purifiers to choose from. You can buy one for under $100 or choose a far more expensive one. I can only speak about the ones under $100 since I never bought the more expensive models. Still, I have no doubt more expensive ones work well.

I’m perfectly content with the cheaper models since I notice the difference. I recommend getting a “tower-style” air purifier like my own pictured to the above right. You don’t have to go with the exact brand, but I’d avoid air purifiers that are the size of toaster ovens.

Air purifier.
A back view of the air purifier showing the duel HEPA filters.

The air purifier that helps keeps my reptile room smelling clean

My particular model has dual HEPA filters which change out every three months. Every couple of weeks, I take my vacuum with the brush extension and suck the dust and other containments out of the filters so it doesn’t have to work as hard.

This works well with dry dust, but if any moisture gathers in the filter, vacuuming them won’t work. In such a case, it’s time to replace the filter. The filters aren’t especially cheap nor are they extremely expensive but definitely worth the money.

Some air purifiers also come with scent cartridges. I don’t use mine because I’m afraid such chemical could have a negative effect on my reptiles, especially if the scent particles end up in their water bowls.

The argus monitor at Snake Hacks
Monitor lizards make great pets but don't allow their enclosures to get dirty.

Challenges for air purifiers

Under normal conditions, three months is the average lifespan of the filters for most air purifiers. Like with anything, there are exceptions. In my old house, I had a room specifically for all my reptiles.

The door was always kept closed. In the room, I kept several lizards species including collared lizards, desert iguanas, monitors, spiny lizards, and a bearded dragon. I kept the monitors on coconut nuggets while all the lizards had sand as their substrate. Eventually, the room began to smell, as one would expect.

All of my lizards were very active, always kicking up dusty sand particles. Even dust from the coconut nuggets arose when they dried out. So, I decided this room would benefit from an air purifier. I had two of the “tower” style air purifiers like I have now.

Would you believe that after three days the filters needed to be changed due to the extremely large amount of sand particles they inhaled? The room smelled great but there’s no way I could afford to change these filters every couple of days.

Cypress mulch as reptile bedding
Cypress mulch and other bedding all come with their unique smells. Some smell okay while others aren't as appealing.

While I highly recommend air purifiers for reptile rooms, they don’t work under all circumstances. If you have a dusty room when using sand as a substrate, the air purifier is going to suck up all that dust and completely fill the filters in no time.

It’s probably fair to mention that I had many enclosures with sand, not just one or two.

The air purifier is more effective if you have only one or two enclosures with sand as a substrate.

My current situation – Snakes. Lots of snakes

Today I keep both snakes and some desert-dwelling lizard species. I use crushed walnut shells as an alternative to sand. This cuts back on dust buildup.

I also mentioned that coconut husk nuggets also release airborne dust particles after they dry out. The good thing about keeping tropical monitor lizards is that moisture in the nuggets is beneficial. I never experienced shedding issues with any of my monitors.

Coconut nuggets bedding
Coconut nuggets.

Other solutions

Now that air purifiers are an option (in most cases), it’s important to talk about other ways of keeping the smell down in the room you’re keeping your reptiles in. While an air purifier is an excellent tool, it can’t handle extremely filthy enclosures that have been let go for too long. The solution is basic common sense.

Keep all reptile enclosures clean

Keep all reptile enclosures clean of feces, uneaten food, and other forms of waste. Don’t allow feces to sit. The longer you do, the more time it has to work its way around the room clinging to surrounding surfaces.

This is why I suggest wiping down surfaces like shelves and other furniture once a week. The cleaner you keep the enclosure, the less unpleasant smell you’ll have to deal with.

Female collared Lizard
A collared lizard with a sandy substrate.

Not just snakes

We’re talking about all kinds of reptiles here, not just snakes. Different reptiles need different setups and different setups lead to different challenges in keeping them clean.

It’s extremely easy to keep up with a snake rack that uses plastic tubs. In my opinion, snakes kept this way are the lowest maintenance pet available besides having a goldfish in a fishbowl. Depending on the bedding you use determines what kind of odors you can expect.

Also, the dietary needs of the specific reptile you keep determine the kind of smell which results from defecation. You may keep a tortoise, or a pond turtle in a tub or fish tank (definitely use a filter to help keep the water clean).

Other pungent problems

If a bearded dragon is your pet of choice, you don’t necessarily have to keep them on sand as I did. Sand is convenient when using a scooper to filter out the droppings, but it also kicks up a lot of dust. Out of all my lizard’s, my bearded dragon had the strongest smelling feces. It was unbelievable. You could smell it as soon as you walked into the house.

Many people love monitor lizards, I know I do. The problem is, monitor lizards are messy, often defecating in their water tub requiring cleaning and sterilization once or twice daily. The dirty water stinks after they do their business and it certainly adds to the smell of the room. If you work, the feces will sit longer than if you’re home all day.

Substrate and bedding

Some substrate actually smells good. I like the smell or Repti Bark but wouldn’t want my bedroom smelling like it. Many reptile keepers use aspen bedding, especially for snakes. I don’t care for the smell of aspen and I think it’s even worse when it gets wet.

This is why I choose to keep most of my snakes on paper towels. They’re highly absorbent and change out quickly and easily. Paper towels don’t work in every situation. I certainly couldn’t imagine keeping a tortoise or rhino iguana on paper towels although I have seen green iguanas kept in cages with newspapers as bedding. A newspaper is cheap but not very absorbent and doesn’t offer much odor control.

Commercially available pet sprays

There are many commercially available pet sprays that are supposedly safe for the animals. Many of them advertise as being natural and organic. Supposedly, the enzymes in the product clean the surface areas of the enclosure. I cannot give my opinion on whether they work since I’ve never experimented with them.

I like hot water, paper towels, and a diluted vinegar solution for properly disinfecting enclosures that smell persistently. If you use any amount of vinegar, make sure it’s not in the same room as your reptiles and have plenty of fresh air to breathe. After the vinegar cleaning solution is complete, thoroughly wash the enclose our with warm water at least three times.

Allow time enough to dry and don’t put your reptile back in the enclosure until the vinegar has dissipated by 100%. You don’t always have to go with a diluted vinegar solution, it depends upon how filthy the enclosure is. Sometimes water by itself removes most odors if you scrub hard enough.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that enclosures need a thorough cleaning to keep bad smells away. If a reptile room smells, there’s a reason for it and solutions are available. Air purifiers help but you must always stay on top of keeping enclosures clean. Only keep enough animals that you can manage.

Do you have a solution for keeping reptile rooms smelling fresh and clean that wasn’t mentioned in this article? If you do, let us know in the comments section below!

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