Cleaning her environment, not her intestines.
June 1, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

[Cat-Sanitary, NOT-Pee Filter]: What is the best way to disinfect a pet water fountain thoroughly, without poisoning the fountain itself? We want to be more through than just a dishwasher, but not disinfect the cat's innards...

We have a cat with a very sensitive tummy, that has been having digestive issues - not the direct topic of this question. We've been dealing with the Vet on that one, and playing a very careful game of "change one variable in the environment at a time" so that massive change doesn't either A) make it hard to tell which change worked, or B) stress the cat, which may be the root problem as it is.

One of the variables in the intake was a Drinkwell Platinum water fountain, which we suspected might be harboring something nasty that the normal dishwasher routine wasn't cleaning out. We stopped using it, and have had it dry and in storage for a while, but we'd like to introduce it again so that she has a fresh and steady water supply (She had no problems using it, so I think it's better to use it than not, and make sure she's getting more water than a bowl).

My question is this - what is the best solution out there to disinfect any possible beasties on the plastic fountain, without making the fountain itself toxic? Bleach will kill things, and while it needs to soak enough to be effective, we don't want it to soak too long. Previous questions give differing answers on Vinegar and other options, but I'm not sure how they would apply to a pet fountain made of plastic. I am planning on cleaning it, then washing it again in the Dishwasher, to be sure.

Me (and the cat!) thank you!
posted by GJSchaller to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have a plastic cat fountain, and what I do is fill it 1/3 with bleach and water. Pour in a 1/4 cup of dry white rice. Then I shake it like I'm making martinis, for a good, five, ten minutes.

The rice is totally inert, but it does scrub away everything inside the fountain with no problem. Then I rinse it with hot water, rinse it again, rinse it again, and then I fill it with cold water and it's good to go.
posted by headspace at 12:48 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What is the ratio of bleach to water you use? One of my concerns was making sure it was strong enough, but not TOO strong.
posted by GJSchaller at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2009

Bleach destroys plastic so a very low dilution. I'd say 1:10.

Isopropyl alcohol would work too.

Whatever you use to clean it, just make sure you rinse it well.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:55 PM on June 1, 2009

My breeder suggested soft scrub lemon (doesn't have bleach), and that seemed to work well.

Of course, we stopped using the fountain after a while because our cat prefers a regular bowl. Go figure.
posted by fusinski at 12:56 PM on June 1, 2009

Quatramine A is a sanitizing product we use at the bar and restaurant I work at in our old 'bleach' buckets. It was recommended to us by the Washington state Department of Health. It evaporates after just a few minutes of sitting on a surface leaving behind no residue, no detectable odor, nor a film. I use it at home in place of bleach. You should be able to buy it from any store decent store that does sales to businesses in regards to cleaning supplies, or maybe order it direct from Bargreens.
posted by ZaneJ. at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding Quatramine or similar products. We used to use this in a lab where extra chemical residues hanging around would contaminate experiments.

You could also try hydrogen peroxide, which oxidizes like bleach but doesn't leave a chemical residue.
posted by benzenedream at 1:32 PM on June 1, 2009

In terms of ease of handling:

Quants work well, but I've always felt the need to rinse throughly afterwards. They're not good to drink, but they're usually innocuous to handle.

Hydrogen peroxide should be about 5% in solution and should be fresh from the store. It's not so good if it sits for months. Also, wear gloves when handling it. Peroxides will breakdown in a few hours with warm water and light.

Bleach works just like hydrogen peroxide does, but it persists longer, a couple of days at most. If you use bleach you need to rinse well. You don't need much bleach, a tablespoon per gallon will kill most biofilms.

Alcohols will work in principle, but solutions need to be in excess 60% alcohol. I would not advise this. Aside from the handling issues, concentrated alcohol is no better than bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
posted by bonehead at 1:42 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and other products, soaps, lemon juice and vinegars, for example, will help clean the fountain and do kill bacteria, but none should be considered effective sterilizers. They knock the bacteria levels down, but only temporarily, not permanently. If it's sterilized, the bacteria need to recolonize, which takes much longer.
posted by bonehead at 1:46 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my lab, where we work with several different strains of bacteria and have to maintain sterile conditions, we use Lysol (or sometimes Lysol with bleach) on anything that doesn't fit or belong in the autoclave or sterilizing oven. Just make sure to follow the directions, i.e. let it soak the surface or pump it through the internal mechanism and then wait for at least 10 minutes, and rinse everything several times (in my lab, six) with clean water. Oh, and wear gloves: that stuff is not kind on skin.
posted by halogen at 2:17 PM on June 1, 2009

I put in like a quarter cup of bleach to 2 1/2, 3 cups of water. I can't remember how big the fountain cantina is, but that ends up about a third full!
posted by headspace at 2:21 PM on June 1, 2009

bonehead: What handling issues are there using isopropyl alcohol? I use 80% at home via wipes as well as alcohol soaked towels for disinfecting and cleaning all the time.
posted by wongcorgi at 4:17 PM on June 1, 2009

I am not your occupational health specialist, but it's absorbed by skin contact. It defattens tissue and causes skin irritation, prolonged exposure can lead to nerve damage. It's not a huge danger, but it's not something you want a great deal of exposure to in relatively pure form.
posted by bonehead at 4:36 PM on June 1, 2009

Best answer: Go to a homebrew shop and ask for a no-rinse sanitiser. They're cheap, easy to use, food safe and kill pretty much anything.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:16 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, diluted Oxyclean solution is the same thing as the homebrew sanitizer. (DH is a homebrewer.) As long is you rinse it really well, it works great and isn't toxic. Even safer yet would be using cheap vodka; dump in a half a bottle of the $5 stuff with a handful or two of unpopped popcorn kernels (or rice like the suggestion above) and shake it like you really mean it. Vodka is completely kitty safe & sterilizes too. Rinse, of course.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 7:09 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Make sure you change the filter. All the cleaning in the world won't help if the filter is grungy. Although it seem obvious, it wasn't to me as a newbie fountain owner, because I couldn't understand why my fountain got all gross again almost the very next day after cleaning.

Also, I've found denture cleaning tablets to be really useful for getting gross gunk out of tiny places.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:42 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all, for the advice. I have B-Bright Cleaner for my homebrewing tucked safely away from the cat - I hadn't thought of that. Barring that, I can try one of the other solutions.

Thank you, VERY much!
posted by GJSchaller at 1:48 PM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: One thing about the Drinkwell...there's a square intake tube inside the unit, and occasionally it picks up a slimy-feeling residue over time. It's easy to overlook when you're cleaning. Use a bottlebrush or toothbrush. I've been cleaning mine by hand with dish soap, rinsing thoroughly, and my cats have suffered no ill effects.
posted by Thistledown at 5:53 AM on June 4, 2009

Response by poster: Awesome, thank you - I would have missed that if I hadn't checked back!
posted by GJSchaller at 7:20 AM on June 4, 2009

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