Wood Sanitationby Richard Brooks
Wood sanitation is an absolute necessity for all pieces that are collected from the outdoors for use in a reptile enclosure. In sanitizing the wild collected pieces, you are preventing bacteria and parasites from being introduced into your enclosures. The method used for sanitation will depend on the size and shape of the wood you need to cleanse.
The first step in sanitizing any size branch is to remove any leaves that may be present. Additionally, you should remove any smaller branches that you do not require, as well as any loose bark.
Smaller branches that can be placed in an oven, and watched, can be cleansed in a few hours. Larger branches that require soaking will take a few days to prepare for use.
Baking a branch or piece of wood at 200-250° F for 2-3 hours will destroy any internal parasites that the wood may be harboring. Increasing the temperature will NOT increase the speed in which the process is complete. It will however increase the likelihood that the wood catches fire. For safeties sake, please follow the directions as they are outlined.
If you are baking the wood, you must not leave it unattended. While the baking temperatures you are using are not typically capable of starting a fire, hot spots on the wood could cause combustion. The actual ignition point for wood exceeds 500° F. Regardless, be responsible and watch the wood.
The second method, which is often used for pieces of wood that are too large to fit in the oven, is to soak them. Soaking the wood takes more than a couple hours of your time, and requires that you have something large enough to contain the wood item while it soaks. Bath tubs and portable totes are ideal for soaking. Items that are even to large for those can be soaked in a childs baby or wading pool.
To properly soak wood, you should use a bleach solution. A ratio of 1/2 cup of bleach to one gallon of water will be sufficient. If you use a more concentrated solution, you will find it difficult to extinguish and leach the bleach out of the wood.
Using the ratio above, soak the wood for 24 hours in the solution. The bleach will seep into the wood and kill any parasites harboring inside. Once 24 hours has elapsed, remove the wood and rinse it thoroughly. You will now need to soak the wood again. This time soak the wood in clean water, that doesn't have any bleach. This process will need to be repeated several times over a 1-2 day period. The idea is to leach the bleach out of the wood. Every few hours you should remove the water in which the branch is soaking and replace it with fresh, clean water. This process will force the bleach into the clean water, diluting it with each replacement. As you continue to replace the water, the amount of bleach that will remain will dissipate until it has been leached completely.
Now you should allow the branch to air dry for several days, preferably outdoors. Hanging the branch from another item will help prevent any re-infestation from occurring.
Taking wood from nature is a great way to save money. It isn't always the best idea however. If you do not invest the time in sanitizing it, that money saved could end up being used to treat your reptile for parasites you introduced to the enclosure.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time. Save yourself a headache and sanitize the wood properly.