Can You Really Put Vinegar in a Cat Fountain? The Answer May Surprise You


Cat water fountains are devices that provide running water for cats to drink from. They typically consist of a water reservoir, electric pump, filter, and fountain bowl. The pump circulates water through a filter and into the bowl, where it flows continuously in a stream.

The purpose of cat fountains is to entice cats to drink more water. Cats often prefer drinking running water to still water. Fountains keep the water fresher by filtering it, and encourage cats to drink by providing a continuous stream. Proper hydration is very important for cats’ health. Many cats don’t get enough water, which can lead to various health issues like urinary tract infections. Cat fountains help ensure cats get adequate fresh water every day.

Benefits of Cleaning Cat Fountain

Cleaning a cat fountain regularly provides important benefits for your cat’s health and safety. One key benefit is removing mineral deposits and buildup that can accumulate in the fountain over time. Hard water can leave behind calcium and magnesium deposits on fountain parts. These mineral deposits can enable bacterial growth and clog components, affecting function. Regular cleaning helps remove this buildup and ensure proper operation (Source:

Cleaning also helps prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in the fountain. The moist environment of fountains can promote bacterial growth. Over time, biofilms can develop that harbor bacteria. Cleaning and disinfecting the fountain regularly helps remove biofilms and inhibit bacteria growth, providing your cat with fresher, healthier water (Source: By removing mineral buildup and inhibiting bacteria, regular cleaning promotes good hygiene and ensures the fountain provides a safe water source.

Risks of Using Vinegar

While vinegar is a common household cleaning product, there are some risks associated with using it to clean your cat’s water fountain.

One risk is that vinegar can be harsh for cats to ingest. As cited by Paska Poo Pet Services (source), vinegar has a very low pH and can irritate a cat’s digestive system if consumed directly. Even small amounts left behind after cleaning could cause vomiting or diarrhea. It’s important to thoroughly rinse and dry a fountain after using vinegar.

Additionally, the acidic nature of vinegar means it can potentially corrode and damage plastic or metal fountain materials over time, as noted by Catster (source). Using full strength vinegar or soaking for too long could lead to cracks, cloudiness or leaks. Diluting vinegar and limiting contact time helps reduce this risk.

While occasional, careful use of vinegar to clean a cat fountain is generally safe, it’s best to avoid over-using it or leaving traces that could be harmful if consumed.

Better Alternatives

When cleaning a cat water fountain, there are better alternatives to using full-strength vinegar that get the job done effectively while being gentler on your pet’s fountain:

  • Distilled white vinegar diluted in water – Mixing equal parts distilled white vinegar and water creates a solution gentler than full-strength vinegar but still effective at removing hard water deposits and built-up biofilm. The 50/50 dilution lowers the acidity.
  • 50/50 vinegar and water solution – As mentioned above, diluting distilled white vinegar with an equal amount of water cuts the harshness and acidity in half while still providing cleaning power. This milder acidic solution won’t damage plastic or ceramic fountain parts.
  • Citric acid powder – Sprinkling citric acid powder into the fountain and letting it sit for 15-30 minutes cleans mineral deposits and bacteria, then can be rinsed out. Citric acid is milder than vinegar and won’t alter pH or harm fountain parts (Source).
  • Baking soda – Making a paste of baking soda and water and using it to scrub the fountain gently removes grime and freshens the fountain. Baking soda is alkaline so it neutralizes odors and cleans without strong acids.

Using alternatives like diluted vinegar, citric acid, or baking soda prevents damage to the fountain and materials from full-strength vinegar. They provide effective cleaning without the harshness of undiluted vinegar.

How to Clean with Vinegar

To clean your cat water fountain with vinegar, start by unplugging the fountain and disassembling all removable parts, such as the filter, pump, lid, bowl, etc. Prepare a diluted vinegar solution by mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle or container. For heavily soiled fountains, you can use a slightly higher concentration of vinegar.

Soak all removable plastic and silicone parts in the vinegar solution, making sure to thoroughly scrub inside any nooks and crevices. Let the parts soak for 5-10 minutes. Rinse everything thoroughly with clean water afterward to remove any lingering vinegar odor. Take care not to soak any electronic components.

For the fountain bowl and base, spray or wipe down all surfaces with the diluted vinegar solution. Let it sit briefly before wiping and rinsing clean. Vinegar is safe for stainless steel and ceramic bowls.

If any plastic parts still retain odors after cleaning with vinegar, soak them in a solution of baking soda and water. Rinse thoroughly afterward.

Once fully cleaned and rinsed, reassemble the fountain according to manufacturer instructions. Refill with fresh water before plugging back in and letting your cat use it again.

For cleaning tips and recommended products, see:

Cleaning Frequency

Proper cleaning and maintenance is crucial for keeping your cat’s water fountain hygienic and functioning properly. Here are some general guidelines for cleaning frequency:

Daily wiping and refilling: Each day, empty out any old water and wipe down the bowl/basin area with a soft cloth. Then refill the fountain with fresh water. This daily wipe down helps prevent bacterial growth and removes any hair or debris accumulating in the fountain.

Weekly thorough cleaning: Once a week, you’ll want to do a more thorough cleaning. Take apart the fountain components and clean each piece individually. The pump, filters, and bowls/basins should be scrubbed clean. You may need to use soapy water or baking soda to fully remove any mineral deposits or residue. Make sure to rinse all pieces thoroughly before reassembling. This Petlibro article provides useful tips for weekly cleaning.

Monthly deep cleaning: Do a very thorough, deep clean of the entire fountain once a month. Soak the parts in white vinegar or lemon juice to help dissolve mineral buildup. Scrub well and rinse. Also inspect each part closely – if any plastic is cracked, filters are too dirty, or the pump seems worn out, it’s time to replace those fountain components.

Following this cleaning routine will help ensure your cat has a reliable, hygienic source of fresh water. Adjust frequency based on factors like number of cats and quality of water in your area.

Signs Your Fountain Needs Cleaning

There are a few key signs that indicate it’s time to give your cat’s water fountain a thorough cleaning:

Buildup of mineral deposits – Tap water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium that can leave white chalky deposits on your fountain over time. These deposits indicate the fountain needs a deep clean (Source).

Cloudy water – Cloudiness is a sign of bacteria growth, which means it’s definitely time for cleaning. Change the water daily until you can do a full clean (Source).

Strange odors – If you notice an unpleasant smell coming from the fountain, that’s a red flag. Strange odors indicate unhealthy bacteria buildup that requires thorough disinfecting.

Algae growth – Greenish algae growing inside the fountain or on tubes/parts means it needs a good scrubbing. Bleach-free algae removers can help (Source).

Decreased water flow – If you notice the water flow getting slower, there’s likely buildup or debris clogging the fountain. Take it apart and clean the insides.

Maintaining Proper Hygiene

Proper hygiene is essential when using a cat water fountain to prevent the growth of mold, bacteria, and other contaminants that can make your cat sick. Here are some tips for keeping your cat’s fountain clean:

Clean the fountain bowl and pump regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Many experts recommend cleaning the entire fountain at least once a week. Use hot water, mild soap or dishwasher detergent, and a soft brush or sponge to scrub away any buildup or grime.

Change the filter cartridges as directed, usually every 2-4 weeks. The filter helps remove hair, food particles, and other debris that can clog the fountain (Source).

Use filtered or distilled water rather than tap water to fill the fountain. Tap water contains minerals and contaminants that can leave behind residue and films of grime over time.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling or cleaning the fountain. Oils and dirt from your hands can also contribute to buildup.

With proper and regular cleaning, you can keep your cat’s water fresh, flowing, and free of harmful bacteria.

When to Replace Your Fountain

Even with regular cleaning and maintenance, cat water fountains can wear out and need replacing. Signs that your fountain may need to be replaced include:

  • Consistent bad odor or taste – If you notice a persistent unpleasant smell or taste from the fountain water, even after cleaning, it could mean the fountain materials are breaking down and harboring bacteria.
  • Visible mold growth – Mold and mildew buildup that persists after cleaning indicates the fountain materials and circulation system allow microbial growth that can’t be remedied.
  • Corroded or damaged parts – Look for rust, cracks, cloudiness or other signs of wear on plastic or ceramic materials. Pumps with corroded or compromised wiring should also be replaced.
  • Not circulating water well – Diminished water flow, sputtering or uneven circulation can mean it’s time for a new fountain.

Generally, with proper care, cat water fountains should last 1-2 years. But if you notice any of the above issues consistently, it’s best to replace the entire unit to ensure your cat has a clean water source.


To recap, while vinegar can technically be used to clean your cat’s water fountain, it is not recommended as the best or safest method. Vinegar is an acid that can degrade plastic and rubber parts over time with repeated exposure. There are better alternatives, like using hot water, mild dish soap, and scrubbing with a soft brush for routine cleaning. For stubborn mineral deposits, a 50/50 vinegar and water solution applied briefly can help dissolve buildup that is rinsed away completely afterwards.

The most important thing is to maintain proper cleaning frequency based on your fountain model and water source. Signs like reduced flow, film buildup, odors, or algae growth indicate it’s time to scrub down the fountain. With regular cleaning and filter changes, you can provide your cat with a hygienic water source that encourages healthy hydration.

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