How To Properly Clean Your Dog’s Food Bowl (Steps, Tools, and FAQs)

When was the last time you washed your dog’s food and water bowls? Yesterday? Last week? Last month? When you bought them? Even the most caring, diligent pet owners forget — or don’t realize — that dog’s bowls need to be cleaned regularly, just like the dishes we humans eat off of.

Dirty dog dishes do more than look gross. They can be hazardous to you and your pooch’s health! Both water and food bowls can become breeding grounds for bacteria and germs — yuck. That’s why it’s time to “clean up” your act and get to scrubbing those dog bowls. We’ll guide you through it.

Why Thoroughly Cleaning Your Dog’s Dish Matters

In one study, the National Sanitation Foundation ranked dog bowls as the fourth most germ-contaminated object in the house (after kitchen sponges, sinks, and toothbrush holders).

A dog’s saliva can mix with small bits of leftover food — wet or dry — to breed bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and E. coli. These germs grow rapidly without proper cleaning and disinfecting. Touching the dog bowls or getting a kiss from your pooch can easily spread the bacteria to your household members.

Algae and mold may also lurk in or under your dog’s bowls if they aren’t washed regularly. And although it’s not a safety issue, no one likes the smell of a stinky food bowl!

In other words, swishing some water around in your dog’s dishes won’t cut it. It’s important to both clean and disinfect. Let’s quickly clear up the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing:

  • Cleaning removes germs and dirt using soap and water, but doesn’t kill the germs.
  • Disinfecting kills germs using chemicals, but doesn’t necessarily clean surfaces.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs to an acceptable level, either by cleaning or disinfecting.

While we’ll focus on dog dishes in this article, make sure to apply your lean-mean cleaning skills to your pet’s toys too.

Recommended Equipment and Cleaning Products

Here are some of the items you’ll need to thoroughly clean and disinfect your dog bowls. Grab the following items before you get scrubbing:

Dog-Safe Dish Soaps

In most cases, the dish soap you use to wash your dishes is a safe choice for your dog’s food and water bowls too. Another option? Make a DIY, dog-friendly cleaning solution with common household ingredients.

If your pup has allergies, double-check the soap or detergent ingredient list. You may want to watch out for chemicals and fragrances made from ingredients that are toxic to dogs, like peppermint or tea tree oil.

Sponges Just For Your Dog’s Bowls

Always use sponges and dish rags that are specially reserved for dog-bowl cleaning time. It may help to buy distinct colors — red sponge for your pooch, green sponge for your family — or cut them into unique shapes so you don’t confuse them with humans-only scrubbers. On the same note, wash your dog’s bowls separately from human dishes.

Disinfectant to Banish Dangerous Germs

Many experts recommend disinfecting your dog’s bowl at least once per week to kill the germs left behind during your regular cleaning. Choose a commercial disinfectant that’s suitable for the material the dish is made of (plastic, stainless steel, etc) and follow the instructions on the bottle.

We know what you’re thinking — what about a homemade vinegar solution? Research shows that white vinegar only removes certain germs. It’s a poor disinfectant, but it’s still an excellent all-purpose cleaner.

Step-by-Step: How To Clean Your Dog’s Bowl

Get your dog’s dishes sparking clean by following the simple steps below.

Step 1: Let It Soak for Dried-on Foods

Dishes looking a little crusty? To remove stuck-on food, fill your sink with hot water and dog-friendly dish soap and let the bowls sit for 5-10 minutes to loosen everything up. If stubborn spots won’t come off, try a grit-busting vinegar and baking soda mixture.

Step 2: Hand Wash or Use the Dishwasher

You can either hand wash or load your dog’s dishes into the dishwasher.
If you’re handwashing, grab your dedicated sponge, use fresh, hot, soapy water, and apply some elbow grease. Keep your dog’s dishware separate from any human dishware or utensils.

If you’re opting for the dishwasher, first check whether your dog’s bowls and platters are dishwasher safe. If so, use dog-friendly dish detergent and start a separate load for your dog’s dishware. Choose the “sanitize” or “disinfect” cycle if you have one.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry Thoroughly

Wash soapy dishes with more hot water and dry with a clean towel that’s reserved for your dog’s bowls. Alternatively, pop your dishwasher open and remove your pet’s squeaky clean bowls.

Step 4: Repeat Daily (or More Often)

Your dog should eat from clean dishes each meal, so plan to clean their dishes morning and night at a minimum. If you feed them dry food instead of wet food, you may be able to clean less often.

Step 5: Disinfect Weekly (or More Often)

The final step to maintain health and safety for your entire household is to disinfect your dog’s dishes (and any other feeding-related items like food mats) at least once per week. You can buy a commercial disinfectant or make one from scratch — just make sure it’s compatible with the type of dog bowl you use.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning A Dog’s Food Dish

Now that you know how to sanitize your dog’s bowl, we’ll answer some cleaning FAQs:

How Often Should I Wash My Dog’s Bowl?

The ideal scenario is to wash your dog’s food and water bowls after every use. It sounds like a lot of work, but think about your own dishes and eating every meal off of an unwashed dish. Yep, pretty gross.

Now that you’ve got that image in your head, start washing your dog’s food bowls in the morning and at night. Pro tip: Buy extra bowls or platters so you can sub in clean ones at any time.

What Should You Use to Disinfect Dog Food Dishes?

You can buy a premade cleaning solution or make a disinfecting solution at home with strong chemicals like bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and more. (Never combine chemicals.) Your dishwasher may also have a handy “disinfect” cycle.

Should I Hand Wash or Put My Dog’s Bowl in the Dishwasher?

When it comes to cleaning dog bowls, the dishwasher wins, hands down. While hand-washing with soap and hot water will get the bowls clean, the dishwasher is much more likely to fully disinfect. Most bacteria that collects on pet bowls needs scalding hot water (135-140° F) to remove and kill it.

Do Dogs Need a Food Mat?

Dog food mats aren’t just decorative — they’re an important part of keeping your dog’s eating area clean. Most dogs are messy eaters and drinkers. Food mats catch spills and messes, as well as drool and slobber. Some food mats have a raised edge to assure that the food never touches or dirties the floor, making your life easier too.

Remember to give the food mat a good hand washing or wipe on a daily basis to avoid bacteria growth.

When Should I Buy New Dog Bowls?

Inspect your dog’s dishes regularly. If you see scratches, grooves, bumps, or deep bite marks, it’s time to replace them. These spots are a hub for bacteria and other icky things that are invisible to the eye.

Dog’s Dish All Clean? Fill It With Our Healthy Meals

Wash, disinfect, repeat — add dog-dish washing to your daily routine to keep your household safe and healthy. Next up? Fill your sparking clean bowls with tasty and nutritious dog foods, treats, and supplements from The Honest Kitchen.

Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet’s veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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