How to Clean Dog Bowls & Prevent Bacteria Buildup

Did you know that there could be dangerous bacteria lurking in your dog's bowl? Here's what pet parents need to know.

Published September 14, 2023
dog with dog bowl

You wash your dishes every single day without a second thought, but what about your pet's food and water bowls? When was the last time they got a good scrubbing?

This may seem like a superfluous task, but it turns out that if you skip this daily chore, both you and your pet could be exposed to dangerous bacteria. If you're wondering how to clean dog bowls effectively and how often to do it, we have all the dirty details.

How Often to Clean Dog Bowls

It turns out that pet owners should be cleaning their dog bowls every single day. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration goes as far to say that you should wash the food bowls after every single use. When you think about, it makes sense. You would never eat dinner out of a used cereal bowl, so why is the dog's bowl any different?

Many pet owners assume that since their furry friends are eating dry kibble, the bowl stays relatively clean. Unfortunately, research shows quite the opposite. A study done in 2022 found that drug-resistant salmonella, C. diff, E. coli, and staph bacteria were all present in these containers. More notably, though, they found these surfaces had higher amounts of bacteria than the TOILET!

Need more convincing that your dog’s bowls need a good scrub? Think about this for a second. You probably place the dog bowl on the kitchen counter as you scoop out the kibble from the bag. You also probably don’t wash your hands immediately after serving your pup. This means that these bacteria are transferred to you and your food-related surfaces.

Fast Fact

Research also reveals that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is present in your dog's mouth. This is probably because of the lack of food and water bowl washing, as well as the fact that dogs seem to explore a lot of the world with their tongues. Limiting your dog’s exposure to additional bacteria can help to keep everyone healthy.

How to Clean Dog Bowls Effectively

woman cleaning dog bowl

There are a few ways to make sure that your dog's food and water bowls are clean. Here's how to clean stainless steel dog bowls, as well as plastic dishes and snuffle mats.

Use Dish Soap and Hot Water

Just like with our dishes, good old soap and warm water can work wonders on washing away bacteria. Make sure to wipe any food residue into the trash before cleaning and always scrub for at least 20 seconds. Once done, allow the bowls to air dry and take the time to disinfect your sink. 

Need to Know

Sometimes soap just isn't enough. Clorox bleach can get rid of any bacteria that may still lurk. To do this, "measure 1 gallon of water (16 cups) into the plastic dishpan, then add 2 teaspoons Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach." Next, submerge the freshly washed bowl into the mixture and allow it to soak for at least two minutes. Finally, allow it to dry.

Put Them in the Dishwasher

Another option is to place your dog’s bowls in the dishwasher. This is a great choice for busy puppy parents who don’t have time to wash bowls two to three times a day. It is also the best way to ensure that you kill all bacteria. Wipe out any food residue first and always check the bottom of the bowl to make sure that it’s dishwasher safe.

Need to Know

Stainless steel and glass can always go in the dishwasher, but many dog bowls come with a rubber bottom to prevent it from slipping. So it’s always best to check the website for cleaning instructions and limitations. This goes for plastic bowls, too. If you ever have a concern, place it on the top rack to lessen your chances of having an issue.

Use the Washing Machine for Snuffle Mats

For the pup parents who use a snuffle mat as their “dog bowl,” the same rules apply! Wash the feeding surface after every feeding. Throw it in the wash on a gentle cycle on the hottest temperature setting and then allow it to air dry when the cycle is done. 

Need to Know

Most snuffle mats can't withstand bleach. Instead, throw in a quarter of a cup of white vinegar to help disinfect the mat.

How to Clean Biofilm From Dog Bowls

Ever notice a slimy substance on the sides of your dog's bowls? That's biofilm. It's caused by bacteria, and if you allow it to build up, it can become dangerous to your dog's health.

Biofilm normally forms when you go two days or longer without cleaning these containers. Thus, the best way to keep biofilm at bay is to wash your dog bowls after each use. However, if you allow it to build up, then fill the bowl with hot water and dish soap and allow it to soak before washing. Also, be prepared to add a bit of elbow grease to your cleaning regimen. 

How to Diminish Bacteria in Your Dog's Bowl

dog with dog bowl

Besides cleaning your dog's bowls daily, there are a few other things to keep in mind when it comes to avoiding bacteria growth.

  • Don't use your dog's bowl as a scoop. This can transfer bacteria to their food.
  • If your dog doesn't eat all their food, throw it away. 
  • Store your dog's food in a cool and dry place, like the pantry. 
  • Pay attention to expiration dates on your dog food.
  • Change your dog's water daily.
  • Replace plastic bowls every few months and avoid ceramic bowls that aren't glazed.
  • Wipe down plastic feeding mats with disinfectant wipes and wash towels used for the same purpose regularly.
  • Use plastic or silicone brushes to clean the bowls. These tend to grow fewer bacteria than a sponge, and you can throw them in the dishwasher when you’re done cleaning.

Keep Your Dogs Healthy With These Simple Cleaning Tips

We all live busy lives, and sometimes, something has to give. The best way to ensure that the thing that gets put off isn’t the cleaning of your dog’s bowl is to buy a handful of them so that you always have a few spare clean ones lying around. This can be a great investment in your dog’s health and your own.

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How to Clean Dog Bowls & Prevent Bacteria Buildup