chinchilla dust

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Chinchillas bathe in dust. Wild chinchillas do it, so your pet chinchilla should do it too. Practically every owner recommends blue cloud dust, but we believe that blue cloud is dangerous for you and your pet if it isn’t used properly.

How could blue cloud dust be dangerous, despite being so popular? Blue cloud dust is the common name for aluminum silicate dust which is known to damage the lungs. It may cause silicosis if breathed in frequently over a long period. Silicosis is a form of pulmonary fibrosis, which is where the lungs are damaged and scarred, reducing lung function. However, blue cloud dust is made from ‘amorphous’ aluminum silicate rather than the crystalline kind, so the link between it and silicosis is less clear. Further study is needed to claim that it’s perfectly safe.

Because of the frequency of dust baths required, and because the dust is so easy to breathe in and settles around the room, these are real risks. That’s especially true if you have asthma, lung damage from smoking, or are otherwise unhealthy. Plus silicosis takes years to develop, so even in the absence of current symptoms, your lungs may be being damaged.

As such, while they are popular, we cannot recommend the various brands of blue cloud dust. The guide below explores what alternatives there are, why blue cloud is so popular even though it may be dangerous, and what you should do if you intend to keep using it.


What Dust to Buy for Chinchillas

Author’s note: When I started writing this guide, I’d planned it to be short and simple. As I was already familiar with blue cloud dust and all the popular blue cloud brands, I was going to give an honest comparison on which brand I thought was best and be done with it.

But the more I read and researched this topic, I felt that there was more to the story than just which brand is best. Please don’t dismiss what I’ve written as the ramblings of somebody who’s obsessed with ‘health and safety’, because that’s just not me! Read the research below, especially the scientific papers linking amorphous silicate dust to serious health issues, and come to your own conclusion.

Chinchillas need to bathe in dust: that much is true. But not everything we think we know about chinchilla dust is true.

There are lots of different brands of chinchilla dust available; while most generic dusts are the same, some are made from different materials with graded levels of coarseness. Some owners will swear by one brand, other owners by another, but broadly they all do the same thing with roughly the same level of effectiveness. Here are the most common types used:

  1. Blue cloud dust. This is the common name for powdered aluminum silicate. It’s the best at keeping fur clean, and is easily the most popular dust. All of the most popular brands of chinchilla dust are blue cloud, or at least have blue cloud among their range.
  2. Sepiolite dust. This is more common in the U.K. than the U.S., and is made from a mineral called meerschaum.
  3. Pumice dust. Made from powdered pumice, this is like a less processed version of blue cloud. It cleans well. As it’s made from a kind of powdered rock, it still shouldn’t be breathed in.
  4. Sand. Owners typically don’t recommend sand as it doesn’t clean as well, but some people use it if blue cloud irritates their lungs.
  5. Corn starch. Starch is a kind of carbohydrate, and corn starch is that kind of carbohydrate but derived from corn. It’s a fine powder that works better than sand, but not as well as rock dust.

The finer the dust, the better it cleans. As such, almost every owner recommends blue cloud dust from one of various brands.

However, this guide isn’t like others that you’ll find on this topic. This page has no products for sale and doesn’t recommend the same brands that every other guide does. That’s because we believe that chinchilla dusts may be dangerous to use. Aluminum silicate and similar dusts are linked to serious lung damage. While sepiolite and pumice don’t cause as serious effects, they still leave deposits in the lungs when inhaled.

As such, the only guaranteed-safe options that we can recommend are corn starch or sand.

The Dangers of ‘Blue Cloud’ Chinchilla Dust

By far the most common kind of dust used for bathing chinchillas is blue cloud (often stylized as ‘Blue Cloud’). This is a kind of dust made from aluminum silicate. It’s mined from the ground; the first known mine was the Blue Cloud Chinchilla Dust Mine in California which operated since at least the 1950s, but was closed by 2016. There are many such deposits across the United States, however, so blue cloud dust is still available.

Blue cloud gets its name from how fine it is. When a chinchilla rolls around in it, the dust billows up into the air. Because of how fine it is, it perfectly mimicks the volcanic ash that wild chinchillas roll around in, and it’s the best at absorbing moisture and oil in your pet’s fur. But it’s the fineness of this dust that’s also its biggest drawback.

Blue cloud is commonly marketed as ‘100% natural’, which is true. Marketing for blue cloud brands state that it doesn’t contain lead, arsenic, glass and various other ‘nasties’— which is good. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe.

What Happens When You Inhale Blue Cloud Dust?

Several things happen when you inhale blue cloud dust. The list below breaks them down into simple English, which scientific studies often don’t!

  • The dust settles in the lungs. The dust isn’t absorbed by the lungs, nor does it mix into the water in our breath to be breathed out. It settles in the lungs until it’s coughed up again.
  • The lungs become inflammed. The lungs react to the dust. Inflammation is where a part of the body swells in response to something bad. The blood vessels in the area become more open to allow more blood there, since the blood contains immune cells. This helps the body fight off whatever’s happening.
  • Granulomas form in the lungs. Granulomas are small structures that immune cells form around things that the body can’t process. Immune cells can kill bacteria, but they can’t ‘kill’ or dissolve blue cloud dust. So, they form a protective wall around the blue cloud dust specks.
  • The granulomas forms plaques. A plaque is like a small area of scar tissue with some dust mixed in. These don’t typically form after you inhale blue cloud because it can be coughed up more easily than other kinds of rock dust.

These effects have been shown in many studies, which are linked below. If these effects continue for many years, whether because the dust is continually inhaled or because it can’t be coughed up again, it can cause serious health issues like fibrosis.

Why Isn’t Blue Cloud Dust Safe?

If you take a look at this news report on the original Blue Cloud Chinchilla Dust Mine, you’ll see that the worker packaging the dust is wearing a respirator dust mask. There’s a reason for that.

Blue cloud dust is made from something called ‘rhyolite’. Rhyolite is a volcanic rock a little like pumice that’s very high in silica (typically more than 69%). It also contains a fair amount of aluminum, making it perfect for creating aluminum silicate dusts.

This rhyolite is then processed to get rid of anything that isn’t aluminum silicate. Aluminum silicate is commonly used as a dry and absorbent material, for example in cat litter. So far, so normal.

However, silicon-based dusts are known to be dangerous to inhale. There are lots of different kinds of silicon-based dusts that are known to cause problems in the lungs. The most common is silica, also known as crystalline silica, pure silica or silicon dioxide. This causes silicosis. But blue cloud dust isn’t the exact same thing as pure silica, which may be why it isn’t recognized as dangerous despite, perhaps, being so.

Amorphous Silica vs. Crystalline Silica

The key difference you need to understand is that between crystalline and amorphous aluminum silicate dusts. Put simply, crystalline minerals form in a different way to amorphous ones. On a microscopic level, crystalline silica is more jagged and rough than amorphous silica, which is round.

The link between crystalline minerals and lung disease has long been clear. Silicosis was one of the very first workplace-related health issues, because people working with or around crystalline silica have been experiencing this condition for a hundred years or more now. As the guide details below, silicosis is where the lungs become scarred and lung function is decreased, and it can be fatal.

The link between amorphous minerals and the same issues is less clear. It was long thought that amorphous silica can’t be dangerous because of its shape. However, this view has become increasingly ‘controversial’ among scientists. This paper from 2011 aimed to prove that we underestimate the risks of amorphous silica, and that products which contain it should be changed. Quote:

Inhalation of crystalline silica is known to cause an inflammatory reaction and chronic exposure leads to lung fibrosis and can progress into the disease, silicosis. Cultured macrophages bind crystalline silica particles, phagocytose them, and rapidly undergo apoptotic and necrotic death. The mechanism by which particles are bound and internalized and the reason particles are toxic is unclear. Amorphous silica has been considered to be a less toxic form, but this view is controversial. We compared the uptake and toxicity of amorphous silica to crystalline silica.

They go on to say…

Our results indicate that amorphous and crystalline silica are both phagocytosed and both toxic to mouse alveolar macrophage (MH-S) cells. The pathway leading to apoptosis appears to be similar in both cases. However, the result suggests a mechanistic difference between FcγRIIA receptor-mediated and non-opsonized silica particle phagocytosis.

In plain English, this means that both amorphous silica and crystalline silica cause the same problems, even if they cause those problems in a different way that we don’t quite understand. Macrophages are immune system cells that bind to bad things the body wants to get rid of, but when they try to get rid of both kinds of silica, they go through ‘apoptosis’—a kind of pre-programmed way for the macrophage cells to die. This means the body can’t get rid of the dust specks easily. This effect was shown by scientists working with mouse cells, which means the same likely applies to our cells.

Other studies aren’t as clear. This one, for example, similarly looked at the effects of amorphous silica. They state that:

Animal inhalation studies with intentionally manufactured synthetic amorphous silica showed at least partially reversible inflammation, granuloma formation and emphysema, but no progressive fibrosis of the lungs [Ed: which is the core issue that silica dusts cause].

They do go on to say, though, that ‘one study disclosed four cases with silicosis among subjects exposed to apparently non-contaminated amorphous silica’. This should be worrying for a chinchilla owner, especially if you frequently give your pets dust baths.

How Does the Body Process Amorphous vs. Crystalline Silica

If there is a difference between amorphous and crystalline silica, it will be due to the difficulty with which they can be expressed from the lungs. Crystalline silica is jagged, so can attach itself to the walls of the lungs. Amorphous silica, being round, stands much less chance of doing so; it can therefore be more easily coughed out.

While it remains in the lungs, however, it seems that the two kinds of silica do the same damage. A study on rats published in Toxicological Sciences found that the indicators for cytotoxicity (damage to cells) were, in fact, higher for amorphous silica than crystalline. But they also found that the effects of crystalline silica were irreversible, while rats that inhaled amorphous silica arguably made a full recovery.

Where Is Blue Cloud Dust From?

We also don’t know exactly where the various brands of blue cloud dust get their dusts from. This is a problem because mines have to publish data on the what they dig up, what it is, and its mineral content. We know, or knew, what was dug up from the original Blue Cloud Chinchilla Mine. But that mine has since closed.

It’s now thought that the dust which blue cloud manufacturers use is made artificially. Synthetic amorphous silica, referred to as SAS, has been implicated in fibrosis.

What Health Issues Might Blue Cloud Dust Cause?

There are two core issues related to the inhalation of silica dusts. These are pulmonary fibrosis and cancer. Cancer is primarily associated with crystalline silica, and no studies have, as of yet, proven a definitive link between amorphous silica and cancer. But markers for cytotoxicity (cell death), plus markers of DNA change, have been found after exposure to amorphous silica too.

Pulmonary Fibrosis & Silicosis

Studies like this one have shown a causative link between aluminum silicate dust and pulmonary fibrosis, which is where the lungs are damaged by tiny scars from inhaled dust. When this is caused by silica of some kind, the condition is referred to as ‘silicosis’, and it’s serious. It kills thousands of people a year, mostly tradesmen who are frequently exposed to silica and silicon-based dusts; it can kill either through direct damage to the lungs, or through facilitating lung cancer.

What happens is that when the tiny particles are inhaled, they cause inflammation. This same effect has been demonstrated in other studies, although some argue the link specifically between aluminum silicate and silicosis isn’t clear. Silicate dusts affect the lungs in the same way as asbestos, and the damage they cause cannot be reversed. If the study above about amorphous silica is to be believed, then it would have this same effect. If you inhale these dusts frequently, or can’t cough them up, they cause inflammation.

Considering that you need to dust your chinchilla frequently, and that the residue of the dust remains long after bathing, this is a genuine problem. It’s only in the face of repeated exposure that silicosis becomes a real possibility. As you’ll know from experience, chinchilla dust hangs in the air, and for days afterwards is present as a thin coat on all your belongings. You’re therefore constantly breathing it in if you use it. It’s repeated exposure like this that the worker in the picture above is wearing a mask to protect against.

The effects of blue cloud dust on a chinchilla’s lungs are less clear. While no studies have been done on silicosis in chinchillas that specifically relate to aluminum silicate, it’s possible that it would have the same effect. As chinchillas are mammals, their respiratory system is the same as ours. And general silicosis has been demonstrated in other rodents, too. So it’s possible that blue cloud will shorten your pet’s life.

Aluminum Silicate & Cancer

Besides silicosis, crystalline silica is also shown to cause cancer. Cancer begins when DNA in a cell is mutated, and spreads to form a tumor. If this tumor spreads to other parts of the body, it’s classified as cancer.

The link between amorphous aluminum silicate (blue cloud) and cancer is less clear. But there is possibly a link there.

Let’s begin with what we know. This study states that while evidence of cancer stemming from inhalation of amorphous silicate is scarce, there are cancer markers that are present after inhalation. Quote:

The increased TUNEL staining in epithelial cells of the amorphous silica-exposed rats supports this suggestion. The increased numbers of cells showing positive TUNEL staining after 90 days of amorphous-silica inhalation suggest significant increase of intracellular damage, which may lead to cell death. Cells that were predominantly affected were macrophages and epithelial cells lining the terminal bronchioles. In contrast, only a small population of cells stained TUNEL-positive after exposure to crystalline silica.

TUNEL staining is where scientists detect DNA breaks that form during apoptosis (cell death). This is therefore one of many ways of assessing how something damages a cell. Damaging the DNA in cells is how substances cause cancer. What’s interesting is that amorphous silica seems to cause more damage visible during TUNEL staining than crystalline silica! This doesn’t prove that amorphous silica can cause cancer, as studies showing this link definitively haven’t yet been performed, but it’s an interesting result nonetheless.

Besides this, there seems to be a link between inflammation and cancer. This effect isn’t well understood yet, but it seems that chronic irritation and inflammation are an ‘indispensible participant’ in the process of cells turning cancerous and spreading. This would explain why crystalline silica can cause cancer so easily: it’s causes both direct damage to DNA and long-term inflammation.

The likely reason that amorphous silica isn’t shown to cause cancer is that it doesn’t remain in the body as crystalline silica does. As mentioned above, the jagged and sharp nature of crystalline silica allows it to catch and stick onto the walls of the lungs. But amorphous silica, being round, is more easily gotten rid of. It can therefore result in the same sudden flare-ups as crystalline silica, but without the same long-term effects.

Does Blue Cloud Trigger Allergies?

There are many reports of blue cloud dust triggering ‘allergies‘. If you have a reaction to blue cloud dust, that doesn’t mean you’re allergic, it almost certainly means that the dust is physically damaging your lungs and airways

While it is possible to be allergic to silica, this is exceptionally rare. Until recently, it wasn’t even thought to be possible. But with so many chinchilla owners reporting ‘sensitivity’ or ‘allergy’ to silicate blue cloud dust, that points to physical damage being the cause, not allergic reaction. The confusion stems from how similar the effects of this physical damage are to allergies. Silicate dust causes:

  1. Persistent coughing that continues after the dust dissipates
  2. Tightness and dryness of the skin (because the dust dries the air, and dries out the skin on contact)
  3. Dry and sore eyes
  4. Shortness of breath and/or rapid breathing
  5. Chest pain
  6. Worsening of symptoms from related respiratory issues, e.g. asthma

You may experience one, some, or all of these symptoms. Crucially, many people report that they’re ‘allergic’ to the dust but not other far more common allergens like hay, which really do cause allergic reaction.

Silicosis is where the lungs are so damaged that these symptoms persist continually, even in the absence of dust. The condition takes years of repeated exposure to reach this stage, so it’s highly unlikely that your health has been severely affected if you’re a new chinchilla owner. But if you’ve owned chinchillas for years, and always bathed them in blue cloud, there’s a real possibility that the dust could have damaged your lungs.

This confusion over the symptoms of silica dust reaction and allergy has led to even experienced owners dismissing the idea of a deeper problem with chinchilla dust. What has likely also played a part is the idea that you can be ‘allergic to dust’, which is true; but a dust allergy is an allergy to dander, not to mineral dust. That’s a completely separate issue.

Why Do People Use Blue Cloud If It’s Dangerous?

This is a reasonable question. Practically every single chinchilla owner, even experienced owners and breeders, recommends blue cloud dust. How could so many people be wrong?

To understand why, we can draw a parallel to how other pets are cared for. For years people have thought that rabbits should eat carrots, lettuce and various other fresh veggies. If you didn’t have a chinchilla and you’d never owned a rabbit, you’d likely think the same. Whether that’s because of outdated advice or because of Bugs Bunny isn’t relevant; what matters is that rabbits do far better on a diet of hay than of vegetables. Vegetables cause the exact same issues in rabbits as in chinchillas (bloat, high sugar levels, excess water, etc.) But that hasn’t stopped generation after generation of busy parents and happy children feeding their bunnies vegetables.

Another example is the idea of the exercise ball. Kaytee, a popular brand among chinchilla owners, make exercise balls supposedly suitable for chins. But experienced owners call these ‘death balls’ because:

  1. Chinchillas overheat in them very quickly
  2. Chinchillas can trap their toes in the gaps in the plastic, breaking them
  3. Chinchillas pee frequently, so will get pee in their fur when inside the ball

Here, experienced owners can see that just because something is popular, and just because a popular brand manufactures and sells something, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for chinchillas/chinchilla owners. It’s that same reasoning that applies to Blue Cloud dust.

If Dust Is So Dangerous, How Come Wild Chinchillas Use It?

Natural doesn’t necessarily mean good. It also doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.

Chinchillas are already a good example of this. We feed our chinchillas a diet unlike that which they eat in the wild. Our pet chinchillas eat hay and processed hay pellets, and we’re advised never to feed them fruits, vegetables and living grass as hay is a healthier choice. But wild chinchillas don’t eat hay; they eat living plants and grasses. We feed our pets hay because:

  1. We can be sure that it’s of a consistent high quality
  2. We know exactly what’s in it and can therefore give our pets the exact nutrients they need (e.g. calcium) in precisely the right amounts
  3. Because it’s processed, we know it’s not dirty, rotten or moldy and that it doesn’t contain parasites

The upshot of all this is that chinchillas live longer on an unnatural diet than they do on what they eat in the wild. We know better than our chinchillas and can provide for them better than they can provide for themselves. That’s only possible because we’ve done lots of scientific research into what nutrients chinchillas need, how their digestive systems work, and so on.

It’s in the exact same way that we recommend against using blue cloud dust. Scientific studies have shown the link between silica dusts and lung damage. Through industry, we’ve also created various other kinds of safe dust that don’t cause this damage. It therefore makes sense to use these instead, even if blue cloud is the most ‘natural’—the most similar to what wild chinchillas use.

Other Kinds of Chinchilla Dust

Not all chinchilla dusts have silica in them. There are lots of different elements that can be crushed into a powder found in rocks and clay. These clean a chinchilla’s fur in the same way as blue cloud—in some cases not quite so well, but not to the point that your chinchilla would be greasy after it bathed.

But crucially, as they don’t contain silica, they won’t cause silicosis. They can still damage the lungs if inhaled frequently, but this is less likely.

Sepiolite Dust for Chinchillas

Sepiolite is a mineral that’s also known as ‘meerschaum’. It’s a kind of magnesium deposit that can be broken down into a fine dust. It’s great at absorbing water, which is why it’s also used in soil for potted plants.

This material is more commonly used in the U.K. than the U.S. Breeders use it to bathe their chinchillas before shows. It can be found in pet stores or, alternatively, hardware/DIY stores. It’s no more expensive than blue cloud. Make sure any bag you buy doesn’t contain unusual additives; you want pure sepiolite.

Sepiolite seems safer than silicate dusts. Studies on whether it causes lung damage have so far stated that it doesn’t, although that doesn’t prove definitively that it can’t. We recommend sepiolite over blue cloud dusts, although it may only be available online where you live.

Pumice Dust for Chinchillas

Pumice dust is dust made from powdered pumice stone. Pumice is made of amorphous silica just like blue cloud, but it may contain other things besides if it isn’t perfectly pure. It’s easy to break down, and it’s mined in great quantities, so it’s available almost anywhere. Many common chinchilla dust brands are made of pumice powder, and it’s seen as a viable alternative to blue cloud.

There are reasonably well-known brands that use pumice. ChillDust is one which is popular with experienced owners and breeders.

Like silica, pumice shouldn’t be inhaled as it damages the lungs when you breathe it in. It will cause breathing difficulties and coughing. However, inhalation of pumice doesn’t seem to cause as serious issues as silicosis, likely because powdered pumice granules are typically larger than those of blue cloud dust. We would recommend sepiolite, corn starch or sand instead.

Pure Silica Chinchilla Bathing Dust

Silicon is one of the elements of the periodic table. Aluminum silicate, the only ingredient in blue cloud dust, is a combination of aluminum and silica. But you can also get pure silica which has nothing else added to it.

Again, though, pure silica can cause pulmonary fibrosis. The problem isn’t the aluminum or the silica; rather, it’s the inhalation of any fine powder that can’t be broken down inside the body. This powder, whatever it is, scratches and scars the lungs. The lungs then have reduced capacity and can even get infected. This applies to any kind of fine silicate dust, be that pure silica, aluminum silicate, or silica mixed with something else. But pure silica dusts are just as bad, if not worse, than less-processed dusts. As such, you either have to avoid these dusts or only use them safely.

Can Chinchillas Bathe in Corn Starch?

Corn starch (or corn flour in the U.K.) makes a reasonable alternative to rock-based dusts.

Corn starch is, of course, made from corn; it’s dry and fine, so wicks moisture and oil from fur in the same way as other dusts. Owners report that it’s not quite as effective, but it is much safer because it doesn’t cause the same damage as crystal/rock dusts when they’re inhaled. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using corn starch, plus how to use it compared to normal dusts.

Advantages of Using Corn Starch for Bathing Chinchillas

The key selling point of using corn starch is that it cleans fur in the exact same way as regular chinchilla dust does. It’s a fine, dry powder. Each tiny particle can soak up oil and moisture, and some of the starch will stay in your chinchilla’s fur, stopping it from getting damp or dirty between baths. That’s exactly what blue cloud does.

Another advantage is that corn starch doesn’t billow as much as rock dusts do. Blue cloud gets its very name from the fact that it billows up in tiny clouds when your chinchilla rolls around in it. While this is a sign that it’s fine, so is good for bathing, these clouds make it a task to clean up after your chinchilla’s bath. But because corn starch doesn’t billow as much, there’s less to clean. Other advantages include:

  1. Because it doesn’t billow, it’s less likely to get in your chinchilla’s eyes, and if it does it’s not as painful
  2. It’s safe to ingest, so if your chinchilla eats some, that’s not a problem
  3. Corn starch is available from almost any store
  4. You likely already have some corn starch at home

Corn starch isn’t a kooky home remedy; it’s already used by many owners. That’s because it doesn’t trigger allergies like rock dusts, so it’s perfect for people with asthma or lung disease. It’s also used for cleaning yellow fur in chinchillas. And on top of that, it’s cheap, and can be bought in large bulk bags.

Drawbacks of Using Corn Starch for Bathing Chinchillas

The reason why owners don’t use corn starch is that it’s not quite as effective as regular dust. It doesn’t clean fur quite as well. As such, we recommend offering your chinchilla longer or slightly more frequent dust baths, and keeping on top of cage cleaning to counteract this fact.

Corn starch also sticks to fur more than rock dust. You may view this either as a positive or a negative. On the one hand, that means the starch will still be there between baths, stopping the fur getting greasy. But your chinchilla’s appearance will be changed and it will spread the corn starch around its cage. This is, at least, something you don’t have to think about with other dusts.

How to Use Corn Starch for Bathing Chinchillas

If you do plan on using corn starch, you can change slightly how you bathe your chinchilla to counteract the drawbacks above. We recommend slightly more frequent, longer dust baths if you’re using corn starch. So, instead of twice a week, consider every other day. And instead of fifteen minute baths, consider half an hour.

This may be slightly less convenient for you. If it makes things easier, consider changing the schedule by which you bathe your pet, e.g. switching from evenings to mornings. Alternatively, get somebody to help. It’s better to be inconvenienced than to risk the health of you and your pet.

You can also consider bathing your chinchilla in water infrequently. Contrary to popular belief, this can be done safely, so long as you know how.

Chinchilla Sand vs Dust

If you don’t want to use corn starch, you could consider using sand. It’s not as good as fine dusts for cleaning chinchilla fur, but it’s better than using nothing, and it will trigger your pet’s bathing reflex. It does also have certain advantages, and is completely safe, with no chance of causing silicosis/pulmonary fibrosis.

Advantages of Sand over Dust

The key advantage of using sand is that it isn’t dangerous. It won’t billow up when your chinchilla bathes in it, so it can’t be breathed in. And if any sand is breathed in, it can be coughed up again, meaning it won’t permanently damage the lungs. The problem with fine dust is that it can’t be coughed out, so it stays stuck in the lungs forever. That doesn’t happen with sand.

Furthermore, sand is less likely to get in your chinchilla’s eye and cause irritation. When fine dust billows up into the air, it hangs there for a few seconds. During this time, it can get into your chinchilla’s eyes. You can spot this irritation if your chinchilla’s eyes are red and watering. If an infection develops because of this, it can cause serious complications. Sand could still get into your chinchilla’s eye, but its big eyelashes should stop that happening.

Another advantage is that sand can be reused indefinitely. Dust can be reused to an extent, but must eventually be thrown away. Sand, however, can be reused by:

  1. Sweeping it up after use. It doesn’t billow around the room like dust, so can easily be collected after each bath.
  2. Rinsing and washing it. Sand can be placed in a tub and rinsed. Once dried, it can be reused.
  3. Sterilizing it. If you repeat the process but with sterilizing fluid, even the bacteria in the sand can be killed.
  4. Storing it correctly. Dust can get wet if not stored correctly, and you’d have to throw it away. But sand can easily be dried or washed if stored wrong.

So in the long run, you can save money, too. Bathing dust is very inexpensive, although the cost can add up if you have lots of chinchillas.

Disadvantages of Sand over Dust

The kinds of dust that chinchillas like are fine, but are also exceedingly dry and absorbent. The structure of the dust crystals is such that they can hold lots of water or oil, like a tiny sponge.

Sand doesn’t work like that; it’s made of tiny, solid rocks and shells. These can’t absorb dust, but they can pick up small amounts on their surface. This means that sand has a slight cleaning effect, but isn’t as good as dusts. That’s why owners report that when they use sand, their chinchilla’s fur is still greasy afterwards.

You could try offering longer or more frequent baths to combat this issue. Or, again, you could give your chinchilla occasional water baths to stop grease building up too much.

What Kind of Sand Should You Use in a Chinchilla Dust Bath?

Not all kinds of sand are created equal. Some are rougher and sharper, while others have finer grains. We recommend children’s play sand, as this sand is:

  1. Fine, so picks up oil better than other kinds of sand
  2. Filtered and cleaned before it’s sold, because it’s a product for children
  3. Soft, because again, it’s a product for children

Even generic play sand is typically fine. Just make sure it’s not treated with some kind of chemical before using it. Avoid using builder’s sand because this is rougher and has larger grains.

Alternatively, you could use reptile sand. This is a kind of sand sold by pet stores for reptiles to bathe in. While chinchillas aren’t reptiles, rodents can use this same kind of sand.

Again, we have to reiterate that no kind of sand is as effective at cleaning a chinchilla’s fur as dust. But because of safety concerns, we nonetheless have to recommend it. So play sand won’t work as well as blue cloud, but it also won’t damage anybody’s lungs.

How to Safely Use Blue Cloud Dust

While we don’t recommend it, we do recognize that blue cloud dust is easily the most popular among chinchilla owners. There will always be owners who swear by it and have never reported a problem, so will continue using it.

As such, we’ve made some recommendations below that should mitigate some of the risks associated with its use. These safety guidelines aren’t ridiculous and excessive—they’re very basic and won’t cost you a ton of money. At the same time, they will prevent the dust from entering your lungs.

Dust Somewhere Ventilated

The worst thing you could do is use blue cloud somewhere that isn’t ventilated. Ventilation stops the dust from hanging in the air when it’s in use. This will largely reduce the amount that you and your chinchilla breathe in. Plus, the dust will settle on every surface in the room. It will then stay there until it’s dusted away, and when it’s disturbed, you’ll breathe even more of it in.

Cracking open the window an inch isn’t enough to fully ventilate a room. Ideally, you want a room with an extractor fan, like your bathroom.

If none of your rooms has an extractor fan, pick a room that has large windows. Then, when you’re done dusting, open the windows to allow a through draft in. This will get rid of much of the dust.

Cleaning, Sweeping, Vacuuming & Dusting

Once your chinchilla is done bathing, you must do what you can to stop the dust settling. As you’ll know, it goes everywhere, and can settle on your belongings for days afterwards. It’s just as bad to breathe this dust in as it is to breathe in as your chinchilla is bathing; repeated, frequent or constant exposure is what you have to avoid.

Cleaning and tidying is one way to achieve that. Tidy up before your chinchilla bathes so that there are fewer things in your room for the dust to get on/in. Then afterwards, sweep or vacuum to get rid of as much dust as possible. You could even consider dusting if you have a feather duster you can use.

Wear a Respirator

Easily the best way to avoid breathing in dust is to wear a respirator. Respirators are masks that have filters in them. These filters pick out particles from the air to stop you breathing them in. They’re used on building sites to prevent silicosis. All you have to do is wear one when your chinchilla is bathing, and you won’t breathe in any of the dust.

If you do plan on doing this, don’t use a surgical mask or a cheap face mask. These masks let in air from above and below, so do nothing to combat tiny particles of dust. You want a mask with a filter, like a 3M mask, a P2 mask or a P3 mask. These are the kinds that builders wear (and the people that package blue cloud dust).

Buy an Air Purifier

Air purifiers are like fans with filters attached. They suck in air, as fans do from behind before blasting the air forward. But unlike a normal fan, air purifiers have filters attached. These filters filter out particulate dust, while some even claim to filter out smoke, germs and molds.

If you do want to use an air purifier, pick one that’s capable of handling large amounts of rock dust. This dust isn’t like regular dust; it doesn’t break down. It could therefore damage the purifier if it isn’t built to handle that kind of dust. So, check before you buy.

The major drawback with real air purifiers is that they’re expensive. They cost hundreds of dollars. You may also have to frequently change the filter in the purifier, especially because it’s filtering rock dust rather than something organic. Rock dust can break purifiers unless you change the filter frequently. But if you absolutely must use blue cloud dust, an air purifier would be an effective defense.

So… Can You Use Blue Cloud Or Not?

If you stick to these safety recommendations, you won’t breathe in enough dust to make you sick. That’s why builders and tradesmen who work in environments with lots of silicate dust in the air can stay safe just by wearing a respirator.

But even so, we don’t recommend using blue cloud. That’s because whatever safety precaution you take, your chinchilla would still breathe in the dust. While it isn’t clear what effect aluminum silicate has on chinchillas, we know that silicate dusts can cause silicosis in other rodents, and that the chinchilla’s respiratory system is just like ours; we therefore recommend steering clear of any dust that could harm your pet’s health.


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10 Replies to “Is Chinchilla Dust Harmful to Humans?”

  1. Great site! Thank you so much for this informative article. We recently added three chinchillas to our home and they reside in our kiddos’ bedroom. I definitely want to avoid using anything that could cause harm to our children and to our chinchillas. So, thank you for this information! We will be avoiding blue cloud dust going forward. I was curious if, in your research, you came across anyone using and advocating for arrowroot powder as a dust substitute?

    1. I don’t think I’ve read of arrowroot being used before, but since it’s so similar to corn starch, I would guess that it would be roughly as good! I would say give it a go, and if it works for you the same as or better than corn starch, go for it. So long as your chinchilla’s coat seems clean it should be fine! 🙂

      1. Excellent, thank you! I’ve been doing some more reading on this topic and was reading some people expressed concern that starches—because they are so fine—could be easily breathed in by the chinchillas and cause respiratory issues. Did you come across any validation of these concerns in your research?

        I also just came across a forum discussion about using aragonite sand as a substitute. If we were to use a sand, is this the best kind or is there a better option?

        Thank you for your guidance on these matters!

      2. Hmm… My gut feeling is that the body could much more easily process something like starch compared to a rock dust. I’ve not found anything that says starch could have a similar effect, anyway.

        Aragonite sand isn’t something I’ve seen before, but so long as it doesn’t puff up into the air, it should be fine! The problem would be if it’s fine enough to inhale. Any kind of nice, clean sand that doesn’t puff into clouds when your chin rolls in it should be OK.

  2. Thank you for your reply! I’ve done more digging online and found (for me) sufficiently compelling links to powder aspiration and poisoning in humans that I am inclined to think chinchillas would be at an even greater risk. So, sand it will be for our chillas! 🙂 Thank you again for your guidance! I really appreciate your article—it is the only one I’ve seen that publishes the information in such a logical, organized way. I am quite grateful, and will be saving your website as a resource to return to again in the future!

    P.S. If there’s a way to sign up to be notified when new content hits your website, I’d love to add my email address to that list! My apologies if I missed it while viewing the site on my phone.

  3. P.P.S. Can you point me in a direction for a children’s play sand that does not contain crystalline silica? If I can find one, that’s my first choice right now, I think. Aragonite sand would be my second because of terrain location considerations (i.e., chinchillas dwell in the mountains; aragonite sand comes from the ocean seabed).

    1. I’m really glad you like our site! 🙂 We do have a newsletter, and there should be a form you can find at the top of this page. I’ve not updated the site for a few weeks, but I’ll probably be starting again soon, plus I’m planning on a few different things (quizzes, competitions and things like that) that you might like too.

      That’s really interesting, I’ll have to do some more research on corn starch too then! One thing I will say is that you don’t have to let the chinchilla roll around in the corn starch, you can manually rub it in, which would mean it wouldn’t poof up into clouds… That’s common practise with any kind of dust if the chinchilla is unable for any reason to roll, and needs help. So that could work for you, too.

      Pretty much all sand is quartz, which is made of silica, but that isn’t a problem so long as it doesn’t poof up into clouds. I would say try a hardware store, or there are lots on Amazon (maybe more expensive). Some sands you can buy have reviews that say they’re dusty, if you find that yours is, just wash it in a bucket of water and it should be fine.

      1. Thank you! That’s great. I will look for your newsletter and sign up. 🙂 I look forward to new issues!

        Oh, good tip on the cornstarch. I’ll keep that in mind!

        Okay, thanks. I’d like to avoid silica because it’s a known carcinogen, so I think I’ll try out the aragonite sand instead and see how well it works. In some of the forum discussions I found, it sounded like there were several chinchilla owners who were using it with success. No idea if they were supplementing with blue cloud or cornstarch, so we will see how well it works!

        Thanks again for your responses and follow-up thoughts! So appreciate knowing I’m not alone in my concerns and my journey to find better health options for our entire family!

  4. Just had another thought: I wonder if organic, lead-free bentonite clay would be a safer option, and possibly just as effective as blue cloud? Another option to consider, perhaps….

  5. Hi again!

    I’ve done more research and thought I’d circle back here with some updates on what I’ve found, in case it’s of help to other chinchilla owners. After quite a bit of research, my top picks for chinchilla dust options currently are:

    —ChillDust. ChillDust settles faster than other chinchilla-marketed dusts and is only classified as a nuisance dust by OSHA. ChillDust’s manufacturer, Hess Pumice, has a plethora of helpful product information available on their website, including human safety analysis information. It’s also a dust that is marketed for chinchilla use and is used extensively in the chinchilla breeding/owning community, with a history of success and chinchilla safety.

    —Sweet PDZ in powder form. Sweet PDZ is usually used in horse stalls to eliminate and reduce odors. I have read in several groups/forums that several owners/breeders use/recommend this power as an alternative dust for those with allergies. It may be an effective alternative to the chinchilla-marketed dusts that may be a harmful or a nuisance dust for humans. Sweet PDZ is a non-toxic refresher that helps neutralize ammonia and odors; captures noxious, ozone-burning odors from animal waste to improve the respiratory health; is organic, recyclable, and compostable; and is made in the USA from 100% premium grade clinoptilolite mineral, which should be safe—even beneficial—for humans. Even with beneficial minerals, though, it would be wise to take care and minimize the amount of mineral breathed in while dusting chinchillas.

    I did also look at and considered using the following:
    —other chinchilla-marketed dusts (ruled out for human safety concerns)
    —starches, including corn, arrowroot, etc. (ruled out for respiration concerns for humans and chinchillas)
    —playsands (ruled out for human safety concerns)
    —aragonite sand (ruled out for concern over the presence of microorganisms and the difference in natural terrain, which chinchillas from mountainous regions and aragonite sand harvested from the ocean seabed)
    —Montmorillonite clay (was one of my top contenders, actually, following Sweet PDZ, because it could offer similar benefits to chinchillas and humans, but ultimately ruled out because I couldn’t find any chinchilla owner using it, so I would want to run this by an exotic vet first. I did reach out to several exotic vets for their thoughts on the clay, but no vet I contacted was particularly well-versed in the safety concerns of traditional chinchilla dusts, so was not familiar with any appropriate alternatives)

    Hope this follow-up information is helpful! Thanks again, LoveMyChinchilla, for posting this article and prompting my research deep-dive! My entire family thanks you!

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