Cleaning Cat Water Bowls

Water bowl maintenance

Pet care goes beyond feeding and scooping out the litter trays. Just like we don’t like dirty dishes, neither do our feline companions. A lot of pet owners refill their cat’s water bowl daily, but don’t clean it between water changes.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) swabbed 30 household items from 22 households and found pet dishes to be the fourth germiest items in the home. Another study by Hartbury University found life-threatening bacteria in dog water bowls which included E.coli, salmonella and MRSA. The study found bacteria were more likely to thrive in plastic and ceramic bowls.

Why do cat water bowls get slimy?

Over time, a sticky biofilm develops on the side of the dish produced by slime-forming bacteria which transfers from the mouth of pets when they drink from the bowl. This sticky biofilm is much the same as plaque which forms on our teeth and protects bacteria from changes. As the biofilm matures, aerobic bacteria creating the biomass produce metabolic by-products all the while consuming oxygen. This facilitates micro-environments underneath the biofilm which can then support the growth of anaerobic bacteria.

Biofilms can not only be a harbour for bacteria (which includes E. coli, listeria, and staph) and other pathogens but contaminated water bowls can also cause the water to smell and taste unpleasant to the cat.

Choosing the right bowl

A good-quality stainless steel bowl is ideal. Other materials can develop micro-scratches and cracks over time, which can trap bacteria. Plastic bowls are not recommended for this reason, and they have been linked to the development of feline acne in cats.

How to clean a water bowl

Clean the bowl once a day with hot soapy water and rinse well and allow to air dry. Daily washing will ensure bacteria do not get the chance to form a biofilm on the bowl. Always wear rubber gloves when handling pet food bowls and have a designated sponge which is for use on pet bowls only.

Cat bowls can also be washed in the dishwasher.

Pet (and human) cleaning sponges are one of the dirtiest bacteria-laden objects in the home and should be sterilised once a day by microwaving for two minutes. Saturate the sponge with water before microwaving.

How to remove the biofilm from a pet’s water bowl

Water bowls with caked-on dirt or a thick layer of biofilm may need to be soaked in hot water before scrubbing to make it easier to remove organic material. The most effective way to remove the softened biofilm is with a sponge which has an abrasive scourer on one side.

Kitchen sponge with scourer

Do water fountains need to be washed?

Yes, it is also important to wash pet water fountains every one to two days to prevent the formation of a biofilm.



Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia