How to Clean Wood for Reptiles

Why buy a piece of wood to decorate your reptile’s enclosure when you can just go outside and pick one out yourself?

Wood is a common decoration piece for a reptile enclosure. Dry, cured wood adds a natural look to any reptile environment. 

I love how driftwood looks in my snake’s enclosures. It gives them something to climb and it’s appealing to the eye.

The problem is the wood pieces you find at chain pet stores are either too small or too expensive. 

Finding a piece of wood in nature offers a great solution to not finding the perfect piece of wood at the store. 

The problem is that wood pieces from nature often carry live bacteria and other pollutants that may threaten your highly sensitive reptile. 

Luckily, there are ways that you can sterilize wood you find in your backyard so that you can safely introduce it to your reptile enclosure including baking, boiling, and chemical treatments. 

Choosing wood

Although most outdoor woods are safe for reptiles, some are more sensitive than others. Some woods contain toxins that may cause irritation or death to your reptile, depending on the species. 

Wood safe for snakes

  • cypress
  • aspen
  • oak
  • maple
  • ash
  • dogwood

Stay away from pine, cedar, plywood.

Wood safe for lizards

  • ash
  • oak
  • dogwood
  • aspen 
  • cypress
  • most fruit trees

Stay away from pine, cedar, eucalyptus, fir trees.

A good rule to follow when deciding if wood you find is safe for your reptile is avoiding any trees or branches that have oils, resins, thorns, or chemicals. Make sure to find wood that has recently fallen and doesn’t have too much rot on it. 

Preparing wood for the enclosure

Sterilizing wood for your reptile enclosure is important, even for the wood you buy from the pet store. 

Pet store and warehouses carry pollutants that can stay and settle into the driftwood they put on the shelves, so it’s always good to sanitize anything you purchase from the store before adding it to your reptile enclosure.

Disinfecting store bought woods

Wood that you buy at a pet store for your reptile enclosure has already been treated and processed. 

However, you may find that you’ll have to clean the wood before placing it into your reptile enclosure. 

Luckily, the wood manufacturers have done most of the hard work for you by treating the wood for any bacteria or microorganisms that live in the wood. 

All you have to do is sanitize it by using your favorite pet-safe cleaning spray or solution. 

HERE is a list of reptile-safe cleaning products around your home. 

Sanitizing Wood for Your Backyard

Nature is bountiful with items we can add to our reptile’s enclosure. We just need to make sure that there aren’t any microorganisms that can harm our pets before putting them in. 

Ideally we want to get rid of all of the bacteria from wood you find before placing it into the enclosure. Adding decor before treating it will throw our reptile’s habitat out of balance. 

After cutting the wood into the desired shape and sanding down any sharp edges, you’ll need to sanitize it. 

Bleach soak

While most people want to avoid chemicals when cleaning reptile enclosures, a bleach soak is one of the best ways to eliminate microorganisms from a piece of wood. 

Soaking the wood in a bathtub is ideal for larger pieces especially for the ones that can’t fit into the oven safely. 

I like to use Original Clorox bleach since it doesn’t have any added scents or additional chemicals. 

The key soaking your wood safely so it doesn’t leech chemicals into your reptile’s enclosure is using the right portion of bleach to water ratio. 

1. Fill a tub or container with water and bleach. Always follow the directions on your bleach product. According to Clorox you should use 1 cup of bleach for every 3 gallons of water. For a stronger solution use 1 1/3 cup of bleach for ever 3 gallons of water.

Bleach Portions Safe for Snakes

2. Make sure that the wood is fully submerged by adding weights on top. When I soak my pieces I use buckets of water to weigh it down. If the wood is too large to submerge, rotate it halfway through the process so it gets into all areas of the wood. 

3. Soak the wood for at least 24 hours to let the water seep into the wood as much as possible, killing any organisms that are embedded inside. 

4. Drain the water and bleach solution. Add fresh water to the tub and soak for another 48 hours. 

It’s best to change out the water every 8 hours or so to get rid of any bleach that’s pulled from the wood. 

5. Let the wood air or sun dry for at least 24 hours before putting it into the reptile enclosure. The drying process will prevent the wood from rotting or molding in your reptiles cage. 

Bake it

Baking the wood is faster than a bleach soak, but it requires more attention and increases risks of fire. 

The key to baking the wood to sanitize it is slow and low. You’ll want to keep the oven at a low temperature and bake it for a long time. 

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. A higher temperature won’t make the process any quicker, it will just increase the risk of fire.
  2. Bake for 2 hours, keeping a close eye on the wood to make sure nothing combusts. Wood burns at 400degrees, but any loose grass, leaves, or bark can catch on fire in the process and you want to make sure you’re there to stop it. 


Now that your wood is disinfected and sanitized it’s ready for your reptile’s enclosure. You don’t need any sealant on the wood since it’s natural and sanitized, especially since you want to keep chemicals to a minimum when adding it as reptile enclosure decor. 

This wood will last a lifetime as long as you don’t have bioactive soil. It’s perfect for climbing, enrichment, and will help with humidity which is very important for most reptiles.