The reason chinchillas almost became extinct is their lovely coats. 70 or more hairs can grow from one follicle. This is also what makes it impossible for most parasites to live on them. Their dense furs keep them warm in their natural habitat which can get bitterly cold. Unfortunately it is also the reason they can overheat in South Africa.
Chinchillas need a dust bath every few days. This removes grease from their coats and keeps it soft and shiny. Imported dust is now available but is very expensive.
We use sepiolite as bath dust. It is a natural clay that is highly absorbent and doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. Most of the imported dust is either sepiolite or pumice. I prefer the sepiolite because the clay is softer. Pumice is molten lava and is also highly absorbent. It is glass dust, which is why I don’t use it. The sepiolite we used is mined locally and crushed especially for us to our specifications. It contains fine dust, which penetrates right to the skin. It also contains coarser sand that acts as a brush to remove loose fur. If it is only fine it doesn’t remove the loose fur as effectively and if it is only coarse it doesn’t penetrate the thick fur. With a balance you achieve both.
I leave the bath dust in my cages and only sift out the poop every second day. My cages are big and it is part of their environment. My decision is based on what I observed from their behavior in the wild. Because the got used to it they do not urinate in the dust. In times of high humidity they will bath more often and on hot days they will sleep in the dust bath. The sepiolite is always cool.
A plastic fish bowl, glass bowl or a stainless steel bowl can be used as a bath. Even a wooden box made for the purpose is fine. I used to let them bath 3 times a week but since I started using sepiolite over 2 years ago I leave it in. They are more comfortable with it and will take short baths frequently, just like they do in nature. I sift out the poop about 5 times and then replace the dust. Just keep in mind that if they can nibble the container, they will.
You can make your own dust with playpen sand and a lot of the dust sold in South Africa is playpen sand. It is just not very absorbent. It is made “softer” by adding corn flour and baby powder. Most sand is silica based. Silica is a carcinogen, it can cause cancer. Baby powder is talc. Talc is magnesium silicate. Even the manufacturers of baby powder warns against eye contact and inhalation. Corn flour is organic and inhaling anything organic can cause lung infections. Natural clay and pumice are both sterile. Pumice just tends to also contain silica, making my choice to rather use sepiolite an easy one. The added benefit is that where playpen sand colors the chinchilla yellow, sepiolite removes any unnatural color, makes the natural color brighter and gives the chinchilla a beautiful shine. In Europe sepiolite the the bath dust of choice. It is also catching on amongst show breeders in the USA because of how it brings out the natural color and makes the white pure.