How To Clean Bird Feeders And Bird Baths To Avoid Harming Birds (6 Ways)


Neglecting your bird feeders and bird baths can be problematic for both you and the birds.

Dirty feeders can attract pests. Pests often prevent birds from using the feeders, and they might even become interested in entering your kitchen or pantry.

Filthy bird baths can make birds sick, and they could also attract pets. Mosquitoes can become a true problem in summer if you don’t clean your bird baths regularly.

A few ways to clean the bird baths include: 

  • Scrubbing the feeder with mild soap
  • Cleaning with a diluted vinegar solution 
  • Scrubbing with hot water 
  • Rinse and clean in the dishwasher 
  • Use diluted bleach

6 Ways To Clean Bird Feeders And Bird Baths 

The most important thing to keep in mind before cleaning a bird feeder or bird bath is that you must consider the material. Plastic and metal bird feeders, for instance, need a different treatment compared to the wooden ones. 

The same goes for bird baths. While all basins should be cleaned in the same way, algae in metal basins may need a different treatment than moss growing on a stone basin.

With this in mind, here’s how to clean your bird feeders and bird baths – don’t forget to wear gloves and a respirator to avoid inhaling or touching contaminants. 

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1. Clean the Feeder with Mild Soap

Plastic and metal bird feeders are the easiest to clean. If you don’t neglect them, you can remove the grime easily with mild soap. 

Take down the bird feeder, throw away seed or suet residues, and soak it in warm water to soften any hardened gunk. 

Mix a few drops of dishwashing liquid into a gallon of hot water and soak the feeder parts in it. Scrub each part thoroughly with a brush to remove all residues. Rinse all parts and transfer them into a pot. 

Fill the pot with water and heat until the water reaches 150°F. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes to kill or inactivate harmful microorganisms, including salmonella, shigella, giardia, cryptosporidium, and endameba. 

Leave the pot until the water cools down to room temperature. Take out the feeder and rinse it again under a stream of tap water to remove all traces of soap.

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Let it dry, put the parts back together, and fill it with new seeds or suet. 

2. Use Diluted Bleach

Cleaning the feeders with soap can be quite laborious, but skipping some steps – especially the one that kills harmful microorganisms – can put both you and the birds at risk of disease. 

There is a way to avoid some steps by using a bleach solution. 

You still need mild soap and a scrub brush for this method, but the entire process shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. 

Depending on how dirty the feeder is, you can pre-soak it or start cleaning it right away. If pre-cleaning is needed, soak in hot water for a few minutes to loosen debris. 

Use the scrub brush and soapy water to thoroughly clean all parts of the feeder. If there are crevices, use a smaller brush or a toothpick to clean them. Rinse thoroughly when you’re done. 

Prepare a bleach solution by mixing one part bleach to nine parts water. Soak the feeder in this solution for about 10 minutes. 

Rinse thoroughly to remove all bleach residues, then let the feeder air dry. Make sure the feeder is completely dry before refilling it, as moisture may encourage mold and bacteria to grow. 

This method is the only one you can use for wooden feeders.

While you can’t boil or clean wooden feeders in a dishwasher, the treatment coat on the wood makes it possible to wash it with bleach. Just use lukewarm water for the purpose.

3. Clean the Feeders in the Dishwasher

When looking for methods to clean a bird feeder, the last thing you might consider is the dishwasher. 

However, plastic bird feeders are often dishwasher-friendly – metal cages made for suet might be dishwasher-friendly too, but avoid this method if the coating is scratched and the feeder shows signs of rust.

In this case, you should throw it away and replace it with a new feeder.

Depending on how filthy the feeder is, you might want to rinse it beforehand and scrub off caked grime and bird droppings. 

Once you’ve gotten rid of these contaminants, place the feeder in the dishwasher. Plastic feeders should go on the top rack, but metal ones can sit at the bottom.

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Run a cycle on the hottest temperature setting, then sanitize the dishwasher with bleach before running a load of your own dishes.

4. Use a Bottle Brush and Needle

Cleaning hummingbird feeders is perhaps the most straightforward task. These tiny creatures are pretty fussy, so you shouldn’t use any dish soap or other scented products. 

If the feeder is not particularly dirty, soak it in hot water to soften sugar residues. You can unclog the openings with a needle first if you haven’t cleaned the feeder in a while and the syrup dried out inside. 

Use a bottle brush to thoroughly scrub all parts. You can use a mild bleach solution to clean out bird droppings, but only use unscented bleach and rinse all parts thoroughly to get rid of any unpleasant odors. 

Let the feeder air-dry when you’re done, then fill it with newly diluted nectar

5. Clean Bird Baths with Water and Vinegar

Cleaning a bird bath is a bit different than cleaning a feeder. Since birds actually soak their feathers in them, you shouldn’t use bleach or dish soap. 

These substances can alter the bird’s skin pH and wash off the natural oils they have on the feathers. If this happens, they become more vulnerable to contracting skin diseases and other illnesses.

These oils are also responsible for maintaining the plumage waterproof.

Birds whose oils have been washed off can still fly and keep warm, but they may have difficulty flying when their feathers are wet. Hence, they can become vulnerable.

The best way to clean a bird bath to avoid all these issues is with a diluted vinegar solution. 

Mix one part white vinegar to nine parts of water. Throw away the water in the bird bath and fill it with the vinegar solution (keep some aside in a bucket). 

Scrub the bird bath with a stiff brush to remove grime, algae, and moss. Use the solution in the bucket to clean the outer parts of the basin as well. Rinse thoroughly with hot water when you’re done.

To avoid problems with mosquitoes and other insects, and to prevent the water from getting too filthy and potentially dangerous for the birds, change it every other day.

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You should rinse the bird bath with a vinegar solution at least once a week – this prevents the growth of algae and moss.

6. Sanitize with Veterinary Disinfectant

Photo: fishhawk / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bleach is a strong disinfectant that can kill most harmful germs. However, if you use any other method and are concerned about diseases, you should sanitize the feeders and bird baths with a veterinary disinfectant after cleaning. 

Veterinary disinfectants are typically unscented, friendly for birds and animals, and able to kill a wide range of germs and parasites. 

This type of substance is usually sold at pet shops or vet supply stores. If you don’t know where to source it, ask a vet in your area.

Key Takeaways

Bird feeders and bird baths should be cleaned regularly – at least once a week for the bath and once every two weeks for the feeders, depending on usage. 

Plastic and metal feeders can be cleaned with dish soap, a bleach solution, or in the dishwasher. Wooden feeders can only be cleaned with bleach, and you should reapply the treatment at least two times a year to prevent wood rot and decay. 

Hummingbird feeders are best cleaned with plain water. You can use a diluted bleach solution or veterinary disinfectant to sanitize the outer parts. 

To keep the bird bath clean, scrub it with a diluted vinegar solution and a scrub brush. Remove all residues of moss and algae and use vet disinfectant to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms. 

Get Our FREE Bird Feeder Cheat Sheet
Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
Download The FREE Cheat Sheet

James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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