Compilation of information by Vanessa Pike-Russell and Stacy Griffith
It is important that the hermit crabs are in good health when you buy them,as it is often very difficult to undo past damage, especially poor hygiene which leads to bacteria, fungus. Try to purchase hermit crabs from a pet store which has a range of hermit crab accessories, or at least from a pet shop that will get items in for you on request. If the store keeps their hermit crabs in wood shavings or other unsuitable substrate, then I would either try and recommend a more suitable one (sand, coral sand, playsand, etc) or find another pet store which will provide you with healthy hermit crabs that start off on the right foot. Studies have shown that poor conditions and bad hygiene have led to bacteria contamination, which can cause limbs to drop off, mould and fungus, leaving them stressed and in many cases, they will not make it through a moult.
Please read the PPS article how to help your new hermit crab to adjust to his environment when you get him home.
Preparing your crabarium and items for your hermit crabs is a very important part of hermit crab care. It is important that any item you introduce to your crabarium can not harm your hermit crab. Chemical residue could be fatal to these gentle creatures so it is recommended that you rinse, wash or boil the following items:
How do I prepare items for my tank?
If the tank is to heavy to lift it out, I usually spoon the sand/gravel into a plastic bag -lined bin and then wipe out the tank with a vinegar and water solution and then a cloth scented with pure vanilla essence. Just a drop is all you need to freshen up the tank, and since Vanilla is known as a natural antibacterial agent it helps fight those germs! I then wipe out the tank with paper towels and allow to dry.
Once the tank is dry I gently pour the alternate substrate I prepared earlier since I have two batches. That way you can clean your tank, put the clean substrate in and you have time in the next month to get the other sand clean and dry. It is a little bit like the two sea sponge method, where you take the smelly sponge out and replace with a clean and dry sponge and go out and see to the smelly one. I prefer to sun dry my sponges as they not only last longer but absorb more water when you most need it. It also cuts down on bacteria since the sun’s rays partially sanitise them. Another method to sterilize the sea sponge is to rinse it and boil it in dechlorinated water for 5 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and let it dry.
Cleaning Method One – House With Yard
- Take the tank outside on the grass. Tip the substrate into a clean container used specifically for this task(kitty litter tray, paint tray or bucket).
- Pour a small amount of vinegar into the bottom of the empty tank and fill the tank using the hose, aiming at dislodging any substrate and scrubbing with a scourer as you do.
- Once the tank is clean, start rinsing your substrate– stirring repeatedly, until the water runs clear. Dry in the sun, making sure that you keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t blow away. If there is no sun, then follow the directions below for cleaning the substrate inside the home.
Cleaning Method Two – Cleaning Inside Home
- Scoop out the substrate into a clean container used specifically for this task(kitty litter tray, paint tray or bucket).
- Wipe out the tank well and then wipe the sides and base down with a clean rag using a very weak vinegar (or salt) and water solution. Rinse your rag often and wipe out with paper towels until dry.
- Once the tank is clean, start rinsing your substrate, stirring repeatedly, until the water runs clear. Make sure none goes within the sink or bathtub. It will clog the drain and then you will have a plumbing bill as well.
If you cannot dry your substrate in the sun, pour the sand onto a baking tray. Heat oven to 125oC (250* F)and bake for 30 minutes. Check that the sand/pebbles is dry and if needed, continue to bake until completely dry or your substrate (especially sand) will develop a musty, stale smell. One may also use an oval roaster for this task to help prevent sand spillage within the oven. Fill the roaster about 1/2 full and stir every 30 minutes. This will take longer than the cookie sheet method, so make sure to stir the sand at least every half hour to prevent it from scotching. When the sand is almost dry, you may wish to start stirring it every 15 minutes.
If you cannot use an oven, place the empty tank over the under tank heater and add a thin layer of substrate, stirring frequently and drying in batches. There may be condensation on the side walls of the tank, so make sure to wipe it down with a clean rag/paper towels before returning tank items and your hermit crabs once the substrate is dry and cooled. Make sure for how long this process takes, to have your hermit crabs in a controlled area during this long process.
Note: Make sure that the substrate doesn’t go down the sink!
It is very important that you do not use any chemicals which may cause stress to your hermit crabs. Bleach, Ammonia, Chlorine, Acetone and other powerful chemical-based cleaning agents should be avoided. If you use them in your buckets, basins or tubs make sure that you thoroughly rinse and wipe them out before using with hermit crabs.
Where possible, go for natural cleaning agents such as vinegar and water for cleaning the tank; vinegar and salt for deep cleaning; baking soda on a damp sponge for wiping out tubs and containers before rinsing; salt water for cleaning tank items such as coral, cuttlebone; vanilla essence diluted on a clean rag for a clean scent.
Natural Sea Sponges
My method is to rinse in dechlorinated water and squeeze dry. Then soak in dechlorinated and squeeze dry a second time before lowering the sponge into the water dish. Carefully cover with dechlorinated water for drinking.
As mentioned above, you can use a ‘two sea sponge method’ first suggested by Crablover Don, where you take the smelly sponge out and replace with a clean and dry sea sponge and go out and tend to the smelly one. Some crabbers microwave their sponges but one must make sure the sponge is dry or a sponge the size of a walnut will shrink to the size of a pea. I prefer to sun dry my sponges as they not only last longer but absorb more water when you most need it. It also cuts down on bacteria since the sun’s rays partially sanitise them and they don’t fall apart. Another method as mentioned above is to boil them in dechlorinated water.
Another rinse, boil and dry method. Sometimes when you buy seashells there is a gunk inside from the mollusk that had inhabited it, other times there is just dust or bits of seashell. Even if there is no noticeable gunk inside it is always best to sterilize the shells before offering them, and perhaps leaving a small amount of water in the shell if placed ‘hole upright’. I always start off by tapping the shell against the driftwood after making sure there isn’t a hermie inside. (it is always best to do an antenna count befor boiling any shells that have come out of the tank) Any substrate or bits that sometimes get caught inside the spirals are dumped into a ‘refuse’ bucket and then I rinse the shells and soak for a while, ready for boiling afterward. Sometimes if the shell is relatively clean I pour boiling water into a heatproof container (like Pyrex) filled with some shells, then repeat a few times after rinsing.
If made of wood I often rinse and either place in the microwave or sit in the sun to dry out. Some crabbers like to soak the wood before placing in a microwave in case the wood catches fire (yes it has happened before) and still others like to place the item within a plastic bag so that the steam actually helps to sterilize the wood and keep it moist, rather than evaporating off and leaving the wood too dry and thus catching fire on thin pieces.
If made of plastic, you want to be careful with the preparation method. Most plastic items are not boil friendly and definitely not bake friendly, so I often just pour some ‘recently boiled’ water onto them and let them soak for a bit
Water and Food Dishes
During the daily regime of removing the food and water dishes to replenish, I always empty excess or old food into a plastic bag-lined bucket/container and scrape with a piece of shell or plastic spoon, then wash them in water that is rather hot and with a drop of Tap Water Conditioner (or other dechlorinator) and set them to dry, either outside or on the windowsill. The ZooMed ReptiRock water dishes I use often develop a layer of ‘scum’ or residue from the bathing of the hermit crabs
Boil water and then pour it over the coral and let it sit for a while, especially if it has been bleached to whiteness and there is the faint smell of chlorine. After washing the coral, some have also baked it in the oven on a cookie sheet. Hermit Crabs often eat the coral and they definitely love to climb all over it. Try to be careful with the coral while cleaning as it is fairly fragile and usually expensive.
Items such as Dwarf RunAbout exercise balls, feeding syringes, tank items and everything plastic that isn’t microwave proof should be treated with boiling water and left to sit, then rinsed and dried. If you have used it in the tank with damp sand or gravel or foodstuffs, it is often a good idea to add a little bit of vinegar and/or salt but make sure to rinse well before returning to the tank or using again. Whatever you do, don’t boil the exercise balls, or you will need to buy more.
Resin Items should be treated similarly as Plastic Items, especially if they are delicate. Because they are usually artificial rock or wood they are usually pretty easy to clean. You can use a scrubbing brush to get into small parts with any gunk, and remember to check for dust on a regular basis.