Cleaning and disinfection

Everyone in terraristics has experienced it before: You laboriously set up a beautiful terrarium, but don’t take it so exactly with quarantine and place the newly acquired chameleon in the great cage. After the first faecal samples examined by a reptilian veterinarian comes the disillusionment: The new roommate has brought along subtenants who have to be treated – and thus, in addition to the quarantine of the chameleon, cleaning and disinfection of the terrarium is usually required. But how do you do this “right” so that the chameleon doesn’t catch the remaining parasite stage later?

First of all: It depends on what exactly you want to remove with the cleaning and disinfection. Bacteria and fungi are easy to remove, as are viruses, depending on the species. Parasites, on the other hand, differ greatly: some can easily be rendered harmless by heat, others such as coccidia are extremely resistant and are often not completely removed. The following table gives an overview of various pathogens and the necessary cleaning and disinfection measures. In principle, any disinfection must always be discussed with the veterinarian who is familiar with reptiles in order to separate the necessary from unnecessary measures and to find out the correct procedure for the respective chameleon and its terrarium in the individual case.


Pathogen Cleaning Disinfection
Bakterien not necessary
Viruses As described below Disinfection agents with an alcohol base (matching the virus you want to kill – many disinfection agents are only limitedly virucide!)
As described below As described below p-Chlor-m-Kresol
Nematoden, Trematoden,
Cestoden, Einzeller
As described below Heat (oven or thoroughly disinfect with steam jet)


The first thing you have to do is completely strip the cage of its contents. Plants, branches, back panels and substrate has to be removed. Generally, plants cannot be disinfected sufficiently, so you should not use the plants of the infected cage again for another cage. Please also remove all back panels. Then the completely empty cage is washed with hot water and customary cleaning agents. It is really crucial to work very, very thoroughly. Even the smallest crumb of soil or glue has to be removed, otherwise you will get so-called disinfection failres later (which means disinfection cannot work properly). After cleaning, the cage has to dry completely.



A small steam jet

Disinfection is the process to eliminate the existing parasite stages, so they cannot infect your chameleon again after successful quarantine. There are two ways of possible disinfection: Physically (e.g. by heating branches in an oven or using a steam jet) or chemically (e.g. with disinfection agens with an alcohol base or chlorine compounds).

For a working disinfection, the material of the cage is important. Smooth surfaces such as glass, rigid foam plates (Forex, Dibond), screen printing plates or aluminium boards are easy to disinfect and well suitable. Rough surfaces such as cork (back panels), wood or OSB cannot be disinfected properly. Even a new sealing with epoxy resin or tile cement often means only transferring the parasite stages from one to the other place. In cases of very resistant parasites and an existing OSB or wooden cage, you should think about building a completely new cage.

When using physical disinfection, please pay attention to reach the necessary temperatures on the cage’s surfaces to kill the parasite stages. For example, boiling water cools down quickly, and you will not have it hot enough for so many minutes that are needed to eliminate all parasite stages. Steam jets are commonly used as physical disinfection, but they have the same disadvantage you have to take care of: You have to process every surface of the cage with the steam jet from very short distance centimeter by centimeter for a sufficient effect. For an average chameleon cage, you need to spend one or two hours for this procedure. People often do a “quick disinfection” with the steam jetzt from 50 cm distance, panning the steam jet back and forth. For most parasite stages, this is not sufficient, because the steam might have been cooled down already when hitting the cage surface.

Concerning small cages, you can heat up branches in an oven for over an hour at 100°C to safely eliminate all parasite stages. But we generally recommend to throw plants and branches in trash and get new. Please be careful when using heat as disinfection. Glass surfaces may burst in heat or fragment, branches can catch fire and silicone seams may soften.

Beispiel für ein Desinfektionsmittel mit dem Wirkstoff p-Chlor-m-Kresol

Example for chemical disinfection with p-Chlor-m-Kresol as working agent

When using chemical disinfection, it is important to avoid disinfection failures: All parts of the cages need to be thoroughly cleaned and dried, so the disinfection agent can reach all surfaces and is not accidentally diluted. Moreover, you need to look for a disinfection agent with working ingredients in sufficient concentrations – most disinfection agents you can buy in pet shops cannot kill any parasite stages. Then you have to adhere the given exposure time, so the disinfection can become fully effective at all. Concentration has to be correct, too, that is why mixtures should be done by your reptile vet or exactly and carefully after instructions on the canister. Potencially harmful substances such as p-Chlor-m-Kresol should only be used after being instructed by your reptile vet, with sufficient precautions and only if really necessary.

After complete disinfection of the cage, it is important to wash out all residues of chemical disinfection agents with water and additionally let the cage air for some days if applicable.

The chameleon can come back into its cage after successful quarantine time.