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  1. #1
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    Question Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Hi everyone! It's time to deep clean my ball python's enclosure and do a substrate replacement. I am using Forest Floor Cypress Mulch by ZooMed that I bought at a local reptile store. I know a lot of people have talked about baking their substrate to sterilize it, especially when they buy it in person from a place that has reptiles. However, using an oven is not an option for me so I wanted to ask what else I can do? I don't have a deep freezer either, but I do have a grill. I am worried about how long it will take considering I have 3 different 24 quart bags. I know I likely will not need to use all of it (I have a 4' x 2' x 2' pvc enclosure) but I will need to use at least 2 of them if not another half bag.

    Edit: I could try returning the substrate I have and maybe reorder from somewhere else online, but I am not sure if the shop is willing to take back the bags even if they are unopened.

    Any advice is appreciated!
    Last edited by iambecomedeath; 06-14-2024 at 12:12 AM.

  2. #2
    BPnet Veteran Homebody's Avatar
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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Baking substrate packaged specifically for reptiles seems excessively cautious to me.
    1.0 Normal Children's Python (2022 - present)
    1.0 Normal Ball Python (2019 - 2021)

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  4. #3
    BPnet Veteran Malum Argenteum's Avatar
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    Substrate can be microwaved. Though I've not microwaved substrate, I microwave my leaf litter for dart frog enclosures and substrate is relevantly similar. Wood and similar products that are stored at ambient humidity have enough water in them to allow the microwave to heat them, so adding water wouldn't be necessary. Just put it in a microwave safe bowl (pyrex glass) and nuke it until it gets hot enough to kill whatever it is you're trying to kill. I use a cardboard box for leaf litter but there's admittedly a fire risk with that.

    Since the only thing that's worth worrying about in substrate is snake mites, the substrate only needs to hit 55C (131F) for 5 seconds to kill the mites (source). Any safe method for doing that would work.

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  6. #4
    BPnet Veteran Malum Argenteum's Avatar
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    FWIW, I am more cautious about biosecurity than almost anyone in the herp hobby that I have met (hand sanitizer between my own animals, air purifier and insect traps in reptile room, full QT with PCR samples sent out for every incoming reptile, very little handling of my animals allowed when I vend expos, absolutely no animals purchased for resale), and I do not process purchased substrate before use.

    If I thought that mite transmission from a shop was a risk, I'd simply not enter that shop (because I wouldn't want to have to shower and fumigate my car afterward). I would think a shop a risk if the owner's/staff's knowledge level or practices seemed to suggest it, if it was a chain shop (related to previous concern), or if I ever saw a mite in the shop.

    That's just my intuition and opinion, and YMMV.

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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Thank you for your response! The store I got it from is a local business and not a chain shop. To be honest, the owner of the store does not have the best practices and the reptiles for sale are not kept in good conditions in my opinion. The only reason I have gone there is because I was recommended the place due to its location. It is the only reptile store anywhere near I live, the next closest being several cities away. I have looked into ordering substrate online, but the shipping cost is more than the substrate itself. I don't intend to buy from this place again and will likely just eat the cost to ship from now on as I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    This all being said, I already have the substrate. Would it be best to just return and reorder online? I do not think the owner will take it but if that's the better choice than I will try.
    Last edited by iambecomedeath; 06-14-2024 at 04:26 PM.

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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Thank you for responding! I may try this then. Do you know how I long I would put it in for? Or how much I can do at once? Thank you so much again.

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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Another solution I saw was to isolate the bags for two weeks (https://dandavisreptiles.weebly.com/snake-mites.html) so all the mites die out. Two of the three bags have been in the garage and isolated for longer than that so I may just go with this!

  11. #8
    BPnet Veteran Malum Argenteum's Avatar
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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    Quote Originally Posted by iambecomedeath View Post
    Thank you for responding! I may try this then. Do you know how I long I would put it in for? Or how much I can do at once? Thank you so much again.
    If you mean the microwave, it should be put in until all parts of it reaches 131F for five seconds. I would put in maybe a half gallon at a time and see how that goes. If it doesn't heat evenly, smaller batches would be better. It would be a tedious process, and just to be clear I'm not advocating it (but I am saying it would in fact kill any snake mites).

    Quote Originally Posted by iambecomedeath View Post
    Another solution I saw was to isolate the bags for two weeks (https://dandavisreptiles.weebly.com/snake-mites.html) so all the mites die out. Two of the three bags have been in the garage and isolated for longer than that so I may just go with this!
    That's not accurate. "Under favorable environmental conditions, adult mites live up to 40 d with or without feeding."

    https://meridian.allenpress.com/jhms...and-Control-of
    Last edited by Malum Argenteum; 06-14-2024 at 11:05 PM.

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  13. #9
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    If I were buying this type of substrate, the technique of "isolation" for say, 2 months, would easily be the method I'd choose rather than baking, etc. I'd put the bagged substrate in a clean & secure designated trash can in the garage until "time's up". (That's how I store my dog kibble too, just in case ants find it attractive, you don't want them coming in your house for it.)

    It's rare (IMO) for mites to hitch rides in substrate but not impossible, & I suspect that "substrate" usually gets blamed because people don't accept that the mites may in fact have hitched home from the store actually ​on them, & they failed to shower & change clothes. Pet stores may seem to have no mites, but it doesn't take many to re-start a colony, & miserable when they do it in your home.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

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    Re: Baking and Sterilizing Substrate

    I did end up baking it in the microwave! Probably took 5-6 hours in total.

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