How to Keep Your Rat Cage Smelling Lovely

Updated on December 5, 2016

When I first started keeping rats, I was overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning (I thought) they required to keep their home and mine smelling fresh. There are certain things you must do daily, but with a proper setup, they don't need to take more than 5 minutes. You should only need pull everything out for a wash once every seven to ten days, depending on the number of rats you keep and their cage size.

Mr. Reuben Sandwich
Mr. Reuben Sandwich | Source

DIY Wipe Recipe

  1. Start with a Rubbermaid-style container large enough to hold a roll of paper towels
  2. Add a roll of heavy-duty paper towels (the cheap ones fall apart, don't use them)
  3. Add diluted white vinegar until the towels are damp, about like baby wipes.
  4. Use your wipes to clean your cage daily.

Daily Cleaning Practices

The stinky part of keeping rats is the pee, not so much their poo. Pee from the same day is not smelly, but give it overnight to develop ammonia and it will snowball into a stifling odor, and a risk to your rats' respiratory health. That's why it's so important to wipe down surfaces where urine can accumulate every day.

While both boys and girls will poo in their litter pans, they will not always be so discriminating in where they pee. Girls may or may not urinate in a specific area, and often go where ever. Boys mark, and while it does not smell any worse than normal pee, it's dribbled all over the place just to make a point.

Everything your pets' feet touch is a potential smell waiting to happen. This is especially true in a small space like a bedroom, which is where my rats live so they can get their eight hours of darkness to stay healthy. These are the spots you should wipe down daily with baby wipes or a homemade equivalent. That's it. That's the big secret to a nice smelling, rat-loving home. Just wipe.

How to Setup a Cage to Make Daily Cleaning Easier

Running around their cage, rats can get urine on a number of items both inside and out of it. You need to wipe down areas surrounding their cage like walls and flooring. Fortunately, there are urine and litter guards you can buy or make to eliminate out-of-cage cleaning requirements. These pieces will still need cleaning, but your carpet is safe. You can also use sheets of plastic protectors for carpet and furniture to set the cage on. These are cheap and easily wiped down. Find them in hardware stores.

If your cage has multiple levels, and these levels are comprised of wire shelves, you can bet that what's below them is getting peed on. Not only that, but as drips of urine make their way down, they spatter when they hit. I know from experience that these shelves are not easy to wipe and generally contribute to more mess. My Silent Spinner exercise wheel has been kept under this type of shelving and is not easy to clean. It is one of the main culprits of odor accumulation in my rats' home. It is not easily taken in and out for cleaning, so I had to devise new shelves that didn't allow urine to travel.

Some solutions include:

  • Wrapping levels in puppy pee-pads
  • Clipping on fleece linings
  • Suspending new, solid DIY levels
  • Removing levels entirely and replacing with hammocks and/or climbing toys

Fleece and Fabrics in the Cage

These can be some of the smelliest items. I find I need to swap out hammocks every three to four days, which is when it becomes noticeable in my small space. It can be more frequent in my boys' cage than in my girls' because of the difference in their elimination habits. For this reason, I choose not to line the entire cage with fleece, as many owners do. I throw a number of small towels and rags into a tub/pan for a bed and generally use newspaper or shredded paper for regular lining. Some kind of actual small animal bedding should be used in their litter pans. My favorite is Yesterday's News from the cat litter aisle of the pet store.

Because they need changing out so frequently, hammocks and bedding rags should be numerous. You can get a pack of 20 plain white wash cloths from Wal-Mart for something like $4. Toss them in a grocery sack as they get soiled and wash with bleach once a week in the laundry.

You can make several hammocks yourself for as little as $5 for six to ten of them, without a sewing machine or needle/thread. Just buy one skein of Red Heart Saver yarn, any color, and one crochet hook. Google how to single crochet and off you go. It's MUCH easier than it looks, and it lets you feel somewhat productive while you catch up on your favorite show during a Netflix binge. Hang them with 1" - 2" aluminum carabiner rings, also called D-ring clasps. I have learned to skip some spots in the very middle for little poops to escape so my ratties aren't sleeping in a pile of poo in their hammocks.

How often did you DEEP clean your rat cage before reading this article?

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The Deep Clean

The deep clean is the part of your cleaning routine that actually takes work and should be done once a week, or every seven to ten days. This is when you pull out the shelves, toys, and cage bottom for a good soaking and disinfecting. If the rest of the cage cannot be disassembled, wipe down the bars inside and out as best you can.

Vinegar will neutralize ammonia, so I soak all my rat rags and hammocks in a tub of diluted white vinegar before running it through the laundry. This also has the benefit of removing food crumbs and pellets that could clog up your washer later. It comes out smelling fine. Other items like toys and wheels, I soak in vinegar for a few minutes first, then add bleach to disinfect. Make sure everything is rinsed well and totally dry before you put your ratties back.

References & Further Reading on Cage Hygiene

In addition to my own experiences, I found the following sites were particularly helpful in developing proper cage cleaning routines.


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    • profile image

      Barbara J Tyler 2 months ago

      Great post. I used flannel and fleece with my ratties, but no litter. Litter was just too messy. I change their "linens" at least every other day and wipe down the cage wires with diluted vinegar. My 3 ladies don't seem to like being inside anything like past ratties have; they make a nest on a shelf with their linens so I give them plenty of loose pieces. Like you said, I put their laundry in a bag until I have enough to wash after shaking off the loose the raisins over a waste bin.

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      Runin1wild 2 months ago

      I always use white vinegar cleaning everything, even my floors in my house . Vinegar is also a disinfectant and safe on my other pets paws. I rather see them lick the vinegar then the other chemicals that are dangerous and more harmful to pets.

    • profile image

      Deb 6 months ago

      Great tips and advise. I've heard of using white vinegar but not apple cider vinegar. Also putting the entire cage in the shower, is the way to go!

    • profile image

      Lins 6 months ago

      A really interesting and helpful

      article, thanks :-)

    • profile image

      Irene 12 months ago

      Please don't mix vinegar and bleach together, EVER! Not safe. (Google it). Thanks for the rest of the article!

    • KokoNikole profile image

      KokoNikole 19 months ago


      Did you ever find an answer to your question? I've never heard of the apple cider vinegar solution!

    • profile image

      Andrew 21 months ago

      Good Article. One trick I found for cleaning the cage wire is to put it in the bathtub and run the shower (Adjusting the shower head periodically to get the whole thing rinsed.) Once its been completely rinsed i set it on a towel with the fan running and play with my rats until it dries.

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      Tammy 22 months ago

      We will soon have our very first rat friends and I am trying to learn as much as I can. We add a little apple cider vinegar to our pet rabbit's water and that eliminates about 98% of that bad ammonia smell from her little box - seriously! It also seems to entice her to drink more water. I know it is OK for bunnies to ingest vinegar but wonder if you know if it is OK for rats to have?

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      jennifer 22 months ago

      fantastic article. I am using vinegar now and it makes such a difference. Lots of great advice here!