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How to Bathe Lizards and Reptiles (3 Simple Steps)

giving red-eared tortoise a bath

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Dr. Tabitha Henson (Vet)

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Unlike amphibians, the skin of reptiles is covered with scales that form armor, making their outer layers watertight1 and allowing them to live on land. Another peculiarity of reptiles is that they can absorb water through their skin2. Thus, unlike mammals, lizards do not need to drink but must have access to a source of water to bathe.

Moreover, in their natural habitat, reptiles will naturally seek out these water points to satisfy their thirst, but pet reptiles are obviously more restricted in their choice. Therefore, it is the responsibility of their human caretaker to give them an occasional bath and provide access to a water source at all times.

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Before You Start: Important Things to Know

No matter what species of reptile you have, certain rules apply when it comes to bath time:

  • Do not use soap or any other type of cleaner. Only water should be used, so as not to damage your pet’s sensitive skin.
  • Frequently change the water in the bowl in which you bathe your reptile. Reptiles often poop in the water, which somewhat negates the benefits of bathing!
  • The water should be lukewarm. Since reptiles are ectotherms (meaning they adapt their body temperature to that of their environment), water that is too cold or hot can unbalance their internal temperature.
  • Do not soak your reptile for more than 10 minutes. Beyond that, your pet’s skin may wrinkle.
  • Never leave your reptile unattended. Also, your lizard’s entire body should be submerged in water, except for its head to avoid any risk of drowning. Be sure to fill the container properly and watch your pet carefully.

Now, let’s take a look at the simple steps to bathe your lizard or reptile properly.

The 3 Steps to Bathing Lizards and Reptiles

sea turtle having a bath
Image Credit: pukpui228, Shutterstock

1. Place a Shallow Bowl of Warm Water In Your Reptile’s Habitat

This way, your pet reptile can soak in it at its convenience. The bowl should be big enough that the animal can submerge its whole body, but not so big that it can’t touch the bottom.


2. Change the Water Every Day

In order to avoid the proliferation of bacteria and algae, you must change the water daily, or even more if your reptile bathes in it often and leaves feces everywhere.


3. Disinfect the Water Bowl Once or Twice a Week

Remove the bowl from your reptile’s enclosure and wash it thoroughly. Use a reptile cleaning solution and hot water and scrub the sides of the container to get rid of any residue and bacteria.

You can also let it soak for a few minutes in a diluted vinegar solution.

  • Side note: It is essential that a source of freshwater be permanently available for all types of lizards (even desert species). For example, even if the chameleon does not drink from a bowl, it needs water droplets to lick to quench its thirst. Therefore, its terrarium should often be sprayed with water. Anoles and some geckos also like to drink water droplets.

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What to Do When Your Lizard Is Shedding

  • If your lizard is shedding, you can speed up the process by soaking your pet in a shallow bowl of water for about ten minutes.
  • You can also gently spray your reptile with a plant mister every other day to encourage shedding and help loosen small bits of skin around the animal’s fingers and toes.

Note: A healthy lizard, regardless of species, typically takes 1–2 weeks to complete its molt. Repeated baths during this time will help soften its skin and speed up the process.

In any case, never try to remove the remaining pieces of skin by pulling on them! Also, do not use a toothbrush or any other tool unsuitable for the delicate skin of these reptiles.

If your pet reptile is taking longer than normal to shed all of its skin, it could be suffering from a skin infection or other disease. Thus, it’s best to take your pet to the vet before performing any home treatment that could do more harm than good.

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Bottom Line

As you can see, you don’t need fancy tools, cleaners, or complicated methods to bathe your pet reptile. All you need to do is provide them with a bowl of warm water and most reptiles (including snakes and turtles) will happily soak in it, just as they would in the wild.

You can also spray their habitat every other day, so they can absorb more water through their skin. Just be sure to watch your lizards closely as they molt, as they may need extra hydration during this time.


Featured Image Credit: Maks_Nova, Shutterstock

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