If you’ve gotten a new hamster and one of those amazing hamster cages you’ve seen at the pet shop, you should know that it’s not all fun and games and that having a pet means that you should clean its enclosure regularly (we wrote an article about some types of toys – if you’d like to check it out here).
Hamsters are a lot tidier than other types of rodents, and by comparison, rabbits can be considered messy. They like to tend to their bathroom business in one corner of the cage and eat and sleep in another. There is a place for everything, so they like to have everything well organized.
However, since they are naturally small (and even tiny, if you’re getting a Dwarf hamster), people tend to think that their cages should be just as small. The truth is that the vast majority of the cages available for sale these days are far too small for the amount of space that a hamster would actually need. Think of it this way. In the wild, a hamster runs for a couple of miles every night. How would the animal ever do that in a tiny cage?
Two types of cleaning
In most cases, and it of course depends on the size of the cage that you own, you’ll have to tend to two types of cleaning. One of them is going to happen either daily or every two days and the other, the more thorough process, will occur weekly. It’s actually a good idea to own two cages so that you have a safe place to transfer the hamster to as you clean and disinfect the one where he spends most of his time.
Since most hamster cages are made of wire, you will have to make a little effort in the way of scrubbing all of the debris. The pan at the bottom can usually be cleaned quite easily, but the wiring needs to be scrubbed. If both the bedding and the cage surfaces smell too much of urine and you can’t handle it, wear gloves and even a face mask.
You will need a pet-safe disinfectant, a washcloth or a sponge, as well as some bedding that you will have to replace. This is not a situation similar to that of a rabbit where you should keep some of the pet’s old bedding and mix it through the new one. Hamsters have nothing against tending to their business in perfectly clean bedding.
Take the hamster out and remove all the cage parts
We’re assuming that this is not a new hamster you’re handling. Otherwise, you might be a little cautious since even these non-aggressive critters can bite if they are afraid or if they are taken by surprise. Pick up your hamster carefully and move him or her to a temporary shelter. You could get an aquarium or a high-walled plastic pan if you wouldn’t want to invest in a new cage.
Disassemble your cage as best as possible. While you might not have to do this every day, you will have to tend to it every week. Your hamster’s toys, extras, running wheel, little house, feeding tray and anything else have to be taken out of the enclosure, as well. Get rid of the bedding whether it’s more or less soiled. It doesn’t really matter, after all, because you need to put in fresh and clean bedding.
Cleaning the hamster’s cage
While some might think of this task as being a tedious one, someone has to do it and it is the only way to make sure that your little friend lives in a safe and healthy environment. Hamsters can get sick if they live in dirty conditions, especially for a long time. The amount of ammonia that can be found in the rodent’s urine can affect his or her eyes, mouth, and nose.
You’ll be able to tell when you haven’t cleaned the cage for a while by the stench it releases.
Once you have taken the cage apart, you will find that cleaning it isn’t all that difficult. That is if you are doing it regularly. If you haven’t given it a good scrub in a while, you may have to leave it to soak in a cleaning solution. You should brush every inch of the cage to make sure that you get it nice and clean, and that includes all of the wires if that’s the design you have chosen.
While we do recommend using a disinfectant, you could opt for a non-toxic alternative such as a mix of vinegar and water or water and baking soda. Naturally, your hamster will not appreciate the smell of vinegar afterward, so you need to leave the structures of the cage to soak in water afterward, too.
It is a good idea to leave the enclosure out in the garden or balcony to air dry and sit under the sun. Some say that the UV rays help with the disinfection, too, but the truth is that they aren’t as powerful as those of a UV sanitizer, for example.
What to do next
Once you have cleaned your hamster’s home, you should assemble everything back. Since some hammies can be escape artists, you need to make sure that you put the cage together and close all of the doors that it is equipped with. I personally have gone through the experience of leaving the door open by mistake and then looking for the hamster for a whole day, so I advise you to double check that you’ve closed everything.
Your hamster will get used to the clean environment in no time, but it would help if you gave him some treats to make the experience smoother.
Odor control in hamster cages
Hamsters urinate several times a day, and it is simply not possible to clean the cage every time they do their business. The hamster urine is the main culprit that makes cages stink, and this is why controlling the odor in hamster cages is just as important as cleaning them. So how do you do it?
The first step is to invest in a proper cage for your hamster and avoid purchasing models that are made entirely out of plastic since plastic as a material is very good at trapping odors. Aquarium-style cages are also not a good choice since the poor airflow that this type of cage offers means that ammonia will build up quickly inside and exit slowly.
If you are stuck with an aquarium-style cage, one method you can use to improve odor control and airflow is to add a cage tank topper and use it as a second story. Not only will this improve odor control, but it will also provide your furry pal with extra space to play and exercise.
Ideally, you should get a fully caged enclosure that can prevent the hamster from escaping while giving the best odor control and airflow. Keep in mind that while having a wider space between the bars can improve airflow, it also gives hamsters the means to plan a getaway. Make sure that your critter can’t fit between the bars.
Another method to improve odor control is to pick the right substrate for the cage. Try to avoid straw and hay since while these options are certainly comfortable for the pet, they are not very good at absorbing bad smells. Instead, you should use hardwood shaving or any other product that uses wood pulp.
Adding an extra layer of bedding to the enclosure can also help absorb urine and keep smells under control until you get to cleaning the hamster cage. Ideally, you should add an even 1-2” extra layer. Not only will the added layer absorb the urine, but it will also allow your pet to burrow and make nests.
Lastly, if your hamster cage gets smelly quickly after cleaning it, then you can also try to teach your hamster to use a litter box. Since it is the urine that causes the foul smell, convincing your critter to use a tray can help you get rid of the smell quickly without having to remove the soiled bedding multiple times a day.
How to teach a hamster to use a litter tray
The idea of training a hamster to use a litter box may sound difficult, but it is much easier than you can imagine. All you will need for this task is a litter tray that you can purchase from any pet shop, or you can make your own at home. You can use any container that is slightly larger than your hamster, and that can be cut down to size with scissors.
For the litter inside the tray, you can use chinchilla sand, purpose-made hamster litter, shredded paper, or sterilized sand. All of these options are very cheap and easy to buy in bulk so that you can save money in the long run. Ideally, you should use a filling that is different from the substrate inside the cage so that the pet can differentiate between the two.
It is normal for the hamster to ignore the litter tray during the first few days, so you shouldn’t feel discouraged by it. Instead, you should try to pay attention to the spots in the cage where the critter usually does its business and then place the litter tray in that area or in proximity to it.
You should also get some of the soiled bedding and throw it inside the tray so that the pet can associate the tray with its usual peeing area. Cleaning my hamster’s cage is much easier now that the critter has gotten used to the litter box. As long as the tray is cleaned daily, the cage stays mostly odor-free.
How often do you clean a hamster cage?
Because hamsters like to eat, sleep, and defecate in separate areas, cleaning the cage is relatively easy, and it shouldn’t take too much of your time. Things such as cleaning the litter box and removing soiled bedding should be done daily, and they won’t take you more than a few minutes.
A thorough cleaning should be done weekly, but only if your hamster is particularly messy since turning its habitat upside down each week can stress the pet.
As long as you don’t forget to do small cleaning chores inside the cage each day and you have a toilet-trained hammy, you shouldn’t have to do a thorough clean-up more frequently than once every two weeks.
The number of hamsters that you keep in one cage can also affect how often you will need to clean the cage. If you keep multiple critters in a single cage, then you will definitely need to clean the cage entirely at least once a week and as often as twice a week, depending on how messy the hamsters are.
Hamster cage cleaning tips
If your hamsters are not litter tray trained, you should put a big emphasis on the area that the pets use as their toilet when cleaning the cage. This is usually around the corners, within their sand baths, or their hideouts.
When putting the bedding back after cleaning the cage, you should make sure that it covers the entire floor and that the layer is thick enough to keep the hammy warm when sleeping. You won’t have to arrange the bed since hamsters prefer to arrange it on their own.
It is important to know how to clean a hamster cage, but you will also need to care about your critter’s grooming needs since a clean cage won’t help if the pet is dirty. While most hamsters will groom themselves just as cats do, some breeds, such as Teddy Bear hamsters, will benefit from weekly brushing to remove the dirt and food that might be stuck in their coat.