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Learn : Pet Care

How to Properly Clean a Dog Bowl

puppies eating out of bowls

A dash of dish soap. A little warm water. Slosh it around, dry it off and repeat once every… however many months?

If that’s your typical routine for cleaning your dog’s food and water bowls, you’re likely in the majority. Between dishes, laundry, floors and everything else in your house that needs routine maintenance, dog bowls have an unsurprising tendency to sag on your list of priorities.

But consider, for just a moment, the sheer amount of bacteria that has a chance to wriggle onto your dog’s stainless steel. Whether it’s from snouts, footsteps, pawprints or food itself, there’s a higher likelihood for any object that lives on the floor (and allows for consumption off the floor) to sop up a higher bacterial count.

One 2006 study, in fact, found that of 32 common household surfaces, dog bowls retained the 9th highest level of contamination. Another 2010 study goes so far as to suggest that dog food bowls in some households may retain a higher level of contamination than even the toilet.

What the germ authorities say

The FDA manages and maintains their own recommendations for keeping a cleanly feeding surface, and generally speaking, they work as rules of thumb:

  • Wash bowls and any feeding utensils after every use
  • Wash water bowls daily
  • Watch out for odors, growths and discoloration

Beyond that, however, is a lot left to be desired. How exactly do you wash your dog’s bowl, aside from washing it daily? What’s the best way to wash it? How often should it be replaced? And above all, what’s at stake?

Rinsing isn’t everything

In analyzing one study performed in part by our very own Scientific Affairs Veterinarian, Dr. Caitlyn Getty, it’s easy to see that these FDA guidelines (along with better known FDA guidelines, like washing your hands for 20 seconds), while necessary, don’t account for certain factors at mealtime.

  • Bowl degradation, such as the chipping or wearing down of the bowl’s surface material over time, may contribute to eventual contamination. Layers of the bowl beneath its surface may not be as resistant to bacterial build-up, and could allow for bacteria to hang around longer than expected.
  • Cross-contamination isn’t common in dishwashers, but it can happen. Salmonella, E. Coli and other bacteria have been known to survive on a trip through the dishwasher when traveling via raw meat.
  • Communal bowls carry their own risk. Bacteria and viruses may tread water longer in the more frequented bowls outside of restaurants and coffee shops, and their upkeep is almost entirely out of a pet parent’s control.

Cleaning your dog’s bowl in 5 easy steps

  1. Wash your own hands before and after washing your dog’s bowl.
    A surprising amount of bacteria can latch onto new surfaces by way of your palms and fingertips, and there’s no sense in putting your dog at risk to it. A quick sanitization goes a long way.

  1. Wash your dog’s bowl by hand.
    This alone can help eliminate the risk of cross-contamination from other bowls, plates and utensils from the dishwasher, and also gives you total control of the bowl’s cleanliness. Remember to replace your sponge regularly, and consider dedicating a sponge for your dog’s bowl alone.

  1. Use hot water.
    Washing with hot water and the rough end of a sponge can help you hack away at any remnant morsels or films that have been building up in your dog’s bowl over time. That goes for the water bowl, too. 

  1. Ask yourself: What type of bowl am I using?
    Most vets and pet experts will recommend stainless steel for its strength and durability. Ceramic bowls and plastic bowls are much more likely to crack, dent, morph or even emit unwanted residue if left in heat. Stainless steel has also shown a certain bacteria resistance in scientific studies, potentially offering your dog another layer of protection from contamination.

  1. Ask yourself: When’s the last time I treated my dog to a new bowl?
    Biofilm, the slick, greasy substance that often forms in dog bowls over time, may serve as a breeding ground for unwanted bacteria. While you can’t do much to avoid it outside of proper sanitation, you can replace your dog’s bowl every six months to a year to ensure the buildup never reaches a fever pitch.