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Raise your hand if you can’t remember the last time you thoroughly washed your pet bowls.
Yeah… we thought so. Hey, for what it’s worth, we’re guilty too.
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For a majority of pet parents, cleaning their food and water bowls is often an afterthought—an after, afterthought rather. But if Dr. Jerry Klein, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Chicago and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, had his way, we’d be washing them in hot soapy water every day.
The reason? Pet bowls are truly disgusting. According to public health and safety organization NSF International, pet bowls are the fourth germiest thing in our houses, behind only your kitchen sponge, kitchen sink and toothbrush holder.
The ol’ dog and cat bowl are a “veritable cornucopia of nastiness,” reports The Kitchn. We’re talking salmonella, E. coli, staph, parasites, and everyday yeast and mold. Yikes!
If you’re thinking “Hey, my dog eats poop, what’s a little mold?” you’re not alone. "A lot of people think that way," Dr. Klein told The Kitchn, yet "you wouldn't leave food out for your family and children for 12 hours and think it's OK to eat it."
To keep yourself, your family and your furry friends safe, Klein recommended using stainless steel bowls, which he calls the “gold standard” of pet dining. Ceramic bowls—as long as there are no cracks—also got Klein’s seal of approval. Plastic bowls, however, which can harbor bacteria in even micro-scratches, are a definitive no-go.
And as far as cleaning goes, Klein told The Kitchn that the bowl—and rubber mat, if you're using one—should to be washed in hot, soapy water every day. Every, single, day! You’ll definitely want to set aside a designated sponge for the task. After you've washed it, you also need to disinfect your sink (a disinfectant wipe should do the trick) and then let the bowls air dry to avoid contaminating your kitchen towels.
And once a week, Klein advised a “super sanitizing” session. You have two options here: either a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water, and a quick soak of up to 10 minutes, or tossing the bowls in the dishwasher on the highest setting.
This article originally appeared on Southern Living.