How to Keep Your Rat Cage Smelling Lovely

I have LOTS of pets! I love animals, art, coffee, and video games.

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 to pull everything out for a wash once every seven to ten days, depending on the number of rats you keep and their cage size.

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 they often go wherever. 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 Set Up 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 washcloths 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 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.

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. I soak other items, like toys and wheels, 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 and 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.

  • Rat Guide: Cage Cleaning
  • the Rat Report: Cage Hygiene

Questions & Answers

Question: I spot clean almost every day and deep clean once a week, but my rat cage still smells. I’ve even purchased a special spray to help get rid of the odor. I’ve also used diluted vinegar. Even after all of that my cage still smells what should I do?

Answer: Sometimes the cage itself is to blame. Wire cages can trap odors in joints, bends, and pitted spots in places we can't see. Cheap cages are especially prone to this. A weekly scrubbing with a baking soda paste (water + baking soda), then spraying with full strength white vinegar can help. Occasionally, a lingering smell is from the surrounding carpet, walls, or furniture. Be sure to give these items a cleaning now and again. Cheap carpet protectors from Walmart can be used to surround the cage, or trimmed to line it.

Question: Do you know of any pet rat rescues? My daughter left for college and was not able to take them with her and I have two cats and a dog. Not a safe environment for the rats.

Answer: Easy! You can post on to get them in a good home. It's a community of rat lovers who may be able to direct you to a specific rescue in your area, or you might find an individual able to take in the pair. The fast and dirty way, well that's always via free classifieds like Craigslist or a Facebook group. You can still be responsible, ask potential adopters questions about how the little guys will be cared for. Those two options work no matter where you are in the states.

Question: After cleaning, what else could keep a rat's cage smelling bad?

Answer: It's probably the cracks, crevasses, and bar joints that smell. It may be time for a new cage. Try changing cloth items daily. If your ratties are male, my experience is that neutering does help.

Rhyanna on June 20, 2019:

Hi! So, I have 3 lovely rat girls. I’ve been doing the white vinegar trick to take care of the odors and I always deep clean once a week anyways, but I’ve come across a problem. My boyfriend and I (being long-distance) now spend long periods of time together here. He absolutely cannot stand the smell of vinegar. It makes him want to throw up and he can’t help it. Do you have any ideas for alternatives to help at least for semi-short term (2-3 weeks) with ammonia smells without vinegar? Thanks in advance!

Barbara J Tyler on February 09, 2018:

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.

Runin1wild on January 21, 2018:

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.

Deb on October 10, 2017:

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!

Lins on September 26, 2017:

A really interesting and helpful

article, thanks :-)

Irene on April 24, 2017:

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

KokoNikole on September 12, 2016:


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

Andrew on July 19, 2016:

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.

Tammy on June 29, 2016:

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?

jennifer on June 03, 2016:

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


I had rats in my teens, lovely pets if they are well raised and handled.

They need plenty of space, enrichment and interaction outside their cage, they are almost like little dogs, very smart and trainable.

Females tend to be more active then males and IMO may require more space, they also like company, I wouldn't keep a single rat unless it was a particularly cantankerous fellow.

I'd join a rat community if you can, talk to some breeders and rescues. It's been a good 15 years since I lost my last rat so I imagine things like books and diet suggestions have moved on a bit

I had rats in my teens, lovely pets if they are well raised and handled.

They need plenty of space, enrichment and interaction outside their cage, they are almost like little dogs, very smart and trainable.

Females tend to be more active then males and IMO may require more space, they also like company, I wouldn't keep a single rat unless it was a particularly cantankerous fellow.

I'd join a rat community if you can, talk to some breeders and rescues. It's been a good 15 years since I lost my last rat so I imagine things like books and diet suggestions have moved on a bit

We've got 4 rats at the moment and they're great pets.

Have a search for fancy rats. Their forum is pretty good.

Don't just get one. They like company. Both human and ratty.

The other thing I'd suggest is don't buy from pet shops, try to find a breeder. Couple of reasons. Breeders are trying to breed from good lines which hopefully means healthier rats. Also they will have been handled from birth. Pet shops are just buying in from breeding farms. This makes a huge difference.

If you want pet rats, get at least two, maybe three but don't get one on it's own. They're great pets but social animals and like to be with other little ratties. They're not like hamsters. They don't like being alone.

In terms of the practical side, they're obviously not as high maintenance as a dog but they need to be let out of their cage every day. You can also get rat balls, like hamster balls but bigger. I found these were great because I could let my two out without them getting into trouble. Male rats are lazier, female rats are more active and inquisitive so it depends whether you want a laid back rat or one you can interact with. You will need to get them toys and make a play area for them. if you are letting them lose you will have to "rat proof" things. They do tend to chew and you don't want any cables they can chew through.

In terms of cage bedding, I suggest a paper based cat litter like Bio catolet. Like other rodents, their teeth constantly grow so they have to gnaw. Dog chews are a good option for this such as dentastix.

Don't get them a cage with a wire mesh floor, get a plastic floored cage. I found that I had to clean the cage out about twice a week.

In terms of diet, they will eat just about anything APART from oranges. There is an enzyme in oranges that are poisonous to male rats, but you will find that rats won't go near them regardless.

In terms of illnesses, rats can be prone to respiritory (sp?) diseases, hence use a paper based cat litter for their cage as then sawdust is not getting on their lungs. Not good for them.

In terms of set up costs, get them the biggest cage you can afford, that you can fit as well. The more room the better. They like to be high up in the cage so a cage hammock is great for them and you will find that they will sleep in it.

They also like salt, so they will appreciate a salt lick.

As for food, specific foods can be bought but this can be supplemented with little treats and veggies and meat as well. They love chocolate but go easy. Rats don't have a gag reflex so if they eat anything poisonous, they can't vomit it back up.

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Odor Control
Wood shavings for guinea pigs are cleaned and filtered so you don’t have to worry about dust reducing and mess inside and outside of the cage. It will help with odor control, so your pet can enjoy a fresh environment and have an enjoyable time.

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It has a great natural aroma, that will provide freshness in your pet cage. Because of the aroma, make sure you have an open guinea pig cage or some with good air ventilation. Your pets will love this cedarwoodshaving bedding for guinea pigs.

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These wood shavings for guinea pigs are made from 100 % natural pine wood. It comes in the package of 24 L, and if you have an indoor guinea pig cage for 2 this will last you pretty much long. It is also a great option to try the smaller package of shavings for guinea pigs.

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So Phresh Bedding

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When you have your new dove, you should keep them away from stress and place them in a warm and quiet area with an ample amount of fresh food and water. Through this, they will feel secured and comfortable with such simple effort.

The quarantine should last at least three weeks before exposing your pet dove to handling, noise, and stress. You also need to remember that when handling your pet dove, you must use your two hands because they are stronger than they look.

They can quickly shrug their wings and kick their feet off showing an abrupt attempt. So, choose perches and supplies that you need for your lovely pet dove.

To be considering some pet rats?

Anyone have pet rats? Have DD11 and DS8, hamster and cat. How hard are rats to look after? How cute and cuddly? How smelly (kids will clean out v regularly). Any advice welcome, thankyou.

we bought a house from someone who had a couple of pet rats. Took months for the smell to go

I have two and they are gorgeous, all snuffly and cuddly, they're easy and cheap to care for and don't smell bad if they are regularly cleaned out.
Go for it.

I had one many years ago, in my teens. They're very good pets: clean, tame, intelligent. I used to take mine to art school in my pocket (I know: just the sort of thing art students do).

I assume you mean a white fancy rat rather than a brown house rat? I got mine from a lab, and it had its nest in a big drawer sitting on a tabletop. I don't think we ever gave it a cage - it just had the run of the place.

Now I'd disagree with Brucies. Rats are far less smelly than hamsters or mice. They can also be housetrained and make fantastic pets, far less skittish and nervy than hamsters, not nocturnal so more fun for the family, very sociable and able to be trained to come if you call them with a treat.

They take more effort than a hammy and being sociable should ideally be kept in pairs and need more human interaction. Lots of handling makes for a very handle-able rat. They rarely bite and if folk can overcome their natural distaste for them can make you many friends. We used to take ours on the school run, they'd have the kids coming up for a stroke and a chat about the rats and the mums shuddering in a corner!

They need a fair amount of room too, a small cage is not for a rat and they need toys which you should swap around regularly.

Lovely pets, I'd recommend them and would still have some now were it not for owning a killer cat who looks like butter wouldn't melt. >

I had one as a teenager, she was great. She used to sit on my shoulder when I was out riing my bike.

PS best cage is not a cage but a huge old aquarium or similar, with levels and toys and somewhere to hide. And best place to obtain one is from a rescue or a breeder via a breed club and NOT a pet shop where they are often not well kept, over bred or obtained from unsuitable sources.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

I've been obsessed with the idea of getting pet rats for years. Haven't got any at the moment as I'm making babies instead, but when DD is older I intend to give it some more serious thought. From what I've seen, they make brilliant pets and give so much back. There's a wealth of info on the web, so get researching!

Rats are great. I have three at the moment and have had anywhere between two and eight for the last 7 years.

They're smart, sociable and very easily tamed. They need interaction and at least one (same-sex!) ratty friend, or they get very lonely and miserable. Females are more active, boys are more cuddly - girl rats tend to be all over everything, climbing, exploring, running about, boys are more likely to curl up on your lap and go to sleep.

Girls (generally, there's always exceptions) smell less than boys, and they don't smell much anyway. You can further help this by getting a large cage with coated (not just bare metal) bars, doing a full clean once a week and wiping shelves and littertrays with a fragrance free baby wipe once a day, and regularly changing paper nesting material and hammocks for clean ones. The best litter for smell purposes I find is Aubiose hemp bedding, which comes in large bales because it's designed for horses - it's a bit awkward to store but it's awesome stuff.

They really are fantastic pets. Feel free to PM me if you want to know more, I'm always happy to talk ratlings!

And I must respectfully disagree with Vallhalla on cage issues - rats love to climb, which they can't do in a tank, and they are quite sensitive to respiratory issues, which is why the obviously better ventilation of a cage is better for them.

I do agree on going to a rescue or breeder though, pet shop rats have so many issues of health, rodent farm origin, bad animal husbandry, overbreeding, etc.

I have had loads of pet rats over the years, they need a big cage, more beds than rats and lots of toys. They only smell if not cleaned out and love company.

Thankyou all! Generally hear more good than bad re ratties. How do I find a local breeder? We are going to a local small animal park on Sat so we can all cuddle rats and ask more Questions.

Have a look here jollymary, it lists the email address to contact for a list of breeders registered with the National Fancy Rat society

Had two sets when I was a child, they make great pets for the reasons others have outlined above.

Second what Naoko has said about tanks, I had a tank and although I cleaned them out every three days and let them out to run around my room everyday both sets I had developed pneumonia in their old age. Vet said it was probably linked to poor ventilation and too much amonia from urine in the air in the tank. I also got them from a pet shop which I later found out was notorious for having rats with respiratory infections

I had two boys first, they didn't fight as much as the set of girls I had funnily enough, but their wee did smell stronger. The girls were also expert escape artists whereas the boys were much more chilled out.

Naoko, I bow to better knowledge.

I was going on what I was told by a rescue when I took my second rat on, having had a cage with the first pair. (I did say about creating levels in a tank though, in my own defence!).

Our tank was nigh on 6 foot long and had a custom made (well, made by ex DH) wire mesh top not a solid one so there was plenty of ventilation, which I should have mentioned, shouldn't I? It was cleaned every other day at least and dirty bedding removed daily but I take on board what you say with gratitude and when I have rats in the future, a cage it shall be.

I love my rats
I really like it when they see me and push their noses through the bars in greeting

though one of them did push a candle and its glass container off the mantlepiece this evening

I'd go for a cage rather than tank for reasons stated above
Ours have little plastic containers in the corner of the cage to poo in which makes cleaning easier
We also use hammocks and other material "shelves" rather than plastic shelving as its so much easier to clean, just unclip and bung in washing machine

and other such sites show a variety of hammocks etc

They do love company so pairs or more are best

Rats are fabulous pets, intelligent, clean, friendly. They do like a lot of human interaction and should definitely be kept in same-sex pairs. I second cages over tanks, rats are very prone to chest infections. They need toys, a secure and private place to sleep and lots of cuddles from you.

They are much nicer than hamsters and guineapigs, we will be getting some when the DCs are a little bit older and can look after them properly.

I second boy rats as being more laid back too, btw. Our first was, according to our vet, a hermaphrodite. Most confusing, but a lovely little soul. Used to wander the house at will (housetrained). At the time we had 2 cats, both of whom loved Baxter, and who would be found in the morning sitting on the stairs watching Baxter wandering around our long hall having come out of his house in the sitting room with their, "Mum! The rat's having a stroll again!" looks on their faces.

We were really lucky and got 2 beautiful rats off Gumtree
The people would only let the litter go in pairs and questioned us as to how we'd look after them

My daughter got some lovely pet rats from the city farm

Rats are inquisitive, friendly, excellent pets. I recommend the Fancy Rats forum for information, tips, links for rehoming and so on.

my brother always had rats when we were growing up, dp had some at old house but dont have room for them here. Loved them all, cute cuddly, and not in the least smelly.

Rats in the house? You must be suffering from temporary insanity. Those hairless tails, the beady black eyes, the smell.

They are lovely, like little dogs.

However, they DO wee everywhere when out of the cage - but, you have to let them out, it's cruel not to.

They DO chew everything, computer wires etc, if they can get to them.

They die young - a two year old is an old rat - of distressing conditions - respiratory ilnessess and tumours. I've read that pet rats descend from lab rats that were bred to develop tumours easily, don't know if that's true.

we have two rats, mario and luigi. we all love them. they are so funny and DD (2yo) absolutely loves them but you have to stop her feeding all her food to them. we also have a terrier mix dog and she even likes them! however my mums cavalier freaked out at them. one did nip DD when they first came home but they have learnt not to nip and she has learnt not to stick jam covered fingers through the cage. overall i highly recommend them as pets. i didn't really want them DH did but i really have fallen for them

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