9 EASY Steps to Clean Your Bird Feeders (Don’t forget #8!)
Cleaning your bird feeders is essential if you want birds to keep visiting!
After all, I bet you’re not visiting any restaurants with old food and dirt scattered around!
- Related: The 15 Best Bird Feeders In MY Backyard (w/Pics)
I know it sounds simple, but many people never clean their bird feeders, or they do it entirely too infrequently. Unfortunately, messy feeding stations can promote disease, along with just being very unsightly and smelly in your yard!
Today, we will answer three questions:
How do I clean my bird feeders? (step-by-step instructions)
Why do I need to clean my bird feeders?
How often should I clean my bird feeders?
How do I clean my bird feeders? (9 steps)
Follow the step-by-step instructions below to clean your bird feeders properly.
#1. Gather your supplies.
You probably have everything you need to clean your bird feeders already! However, gathering your supplies and making sure you have everything handy will help make the cleaning process easy.
- A. Rubber gloves
- B. A mask
- C. Alcohol wipes
- D. Scrubbing tools like a bottle brush, dish brush, and old toothbrush
- E. Gentle dish soap
- F. Bleach or white vinegar
- G. Large plastic bins or a 5-gallon bucket.
- (Not pictured) A hose, watering can, pitcher, or another source of water.
#2. Put on your gloves & mask.
It’s a good idea to protect yourself from the bacteria present on your bird feeders. Many diseases that infect birds can also make humans sick. Salmonella is the most common infection contracted from birds, but bird mites and viruses are also prevalent.
In addition to disease, you’ll want to prevent accidental contact with debris, dirt, and bleach.
#3. Scrape off large debris and dirt.
You’ll probably see some large pieces of dirt, uneaten seed, or bird droppings clinging to your bird feeders. It seems like the bottoms of my feeders get the most gunk stuck to them!
It’s best to scrape the larger pieces off or knock the bird feeder on something to dislodge them. That way, your water won’t get quite as dirty on the first soak, and you’ll end up with cleaner bird feeders.
If possible, you will want to take your feeders apart, especially tube feeders!
This will help access hard-to-reach areas, which are a perfect spot for waste and bacteria to accumulate.
Unfortunately, tube feeders can be difficult to disassemble. I have lost tiny screws as I’m taking apart the perches. Now, I ONLY buy quick-clean tube feeders, which you can see below!
Check out my favorite Quick-Clean Tube Feeder HERE!
On these products, the bottom easily slides out with the push of two buttons!
#4. Clean your feeders with hot, soapy water.
The next step to cleaning your bird feeders is to soak them in hot water mixed with a couple of teaspoons of dish detergent.
The hot water combined with the mild cleaner will loosen stuck-on dirt and bird droppings. Usually, five to ten minutes is plenty of time to loosen the dirt. However, if you can get most of the dirt off with scraping, you may need to spend even less time soaking your bird feeders.
Once you’ve loosened the debris on your bird feeders, it’s time to use some elbow grease!
Scrub every inch of your bird feeders as well as you can, making sure you spend extra time on feeding ports and perches. Pay close attention to seams, nails, and cracks since lots of dirt and bacteria can hide there.
It’s useful to have a few different sizes of brushes for this step of cleaning your bird feeders.
A. This bottle brush is great for cleaning the inside of tube feeders.
B. This set of brushes is perfect for cleaning small spaces and cracks that many bird feeders have. Of course, you can also use an old toothbrush!
You may have heard that you shouldn’t use dish soap or any other soaps that can leave a residue on bird feeders. I recommend ONLY using soaps if you also soak your feeders with bleach or vinegar afterward. This will remove the residue!
#5. Soak your feeders with bleach to disinfect them.
After your bird feeder is free of debris and dirt, you need to disinfect it.
One part chlorine bleach mixed with nine parts clean, hot water is the best disinfectant for your bird feeders. This solution will kill any bacteria or mites that are living on them.
Submerge your bird feeders in the bleach solution and let them soak for ten to fifteen minutes. This will give the bleach plenty of time to disinfect all the crevices of your feeders.
A word of caution – you SHOULDN’T use bleach or soap on hummingbird feeders since the small feeding ports are almost impossible to rinse thoroughly. For hummingbird feeders, it’s best to either clean in the dishwasher or use hot water and white vinegar.
#6. Rinse your feeders to remove disinfectants.
I find the easiest way to rinse my clean bird feeders is with my garden hose!
I just spray them while they’re lying on the ground, turning them occasionally to make sure I’ve rinsed all the sides. It’s also a great way to water your grass! 🙂
It can take several minutes to rinse your bird feeders thoroughly. Removing as much bleach as possible is essential so that your backyard birds aren’t exposed to the chemicals.
If you don’t want to use a hose or don’t have one, you can also rinse your bird feeders by pouring water from a watering can or pitcher or just washing them in the sink. Make sure to keep your gloves on!
#7. Completely dry your feeders.
Once you’ve cleaned your bird feeders, make sure they’re completely dry before filling them.
This will prevent mildew and keep your seeds fresh for longer.
The most effective way to dry your bird feeders also happens to be the easiest! Just let your bird feeders sit in the sun for a couple of hours to dry them out. Letting your bird feeders air-dry also leaves time for any leftover bleach residue to evaporate.
While you wait for your bird feeders to dry, you can move on to the next step, which is one many people forget about.
#8. Clean your bird feeding station.
The area around your bird feeders is just as important as the feeders themselves. After you clean your bird feeders, make sure your feeding station is clean and tidy before you put them back up.
Wipe or spray down any poles, hangers, and hooks that hold your bird feeders. This can be as simple as using a rag and some warm water to get any visible debris off the structure. Or, if you’re worried about bacteria, you can use alcohol wipes to disinfect any spots where birds tend to perch.
Once your bird feeding pole is clean, rake up shells and uneaten seeds underneath your feeders, and dispose of these in the trash or compost. Making sure old food is disposed of will help keep birds safe from disease and make your bird feeding station look nicer.
The video below shows Scott taking up the ground beneath his bird feeders!
Another important step is to clean your birdbath if you have one. Making sure you have fresh, clean water is one of the best ways to attract more birds to your yard!
#9. Reassemble, fill, and hang.
Lastly, it’s time to fill your cleaned bird feeders and hang them back up.
Check out the BirdWatching HQ Live Streams Here!
Your backyard visitors will enjoy their fresh food, and you’ll probably notice an increase in bird activity! And, you can congratulate yourself on promoting the welfare of all the birds that visit your yard.
Why do I need to clean my bird feeders?
If you’re new to feeding birds, you might be wondering why cleaning your bird feeders is important. After all, when birds eat in the wild, they don’t clean up after themselves. 🙂
A. Birds won’t visit a dirty feeding station.
When birds feed in the wild, typically they’re spread out and only eat in one spot for a short time. They’re used to fresh food, clean perches, and plenty of room to spread out. A dirty bird feeder with old, uneaten food and spent shells sends the birds a message to stay away.
B. Dirty bird feeders are unsightly (and sometimes smelly!)
Bird droppings, leftover shells, and other dirt and debris pile up incredibly fast. All this waste means your bird feeders will look (and smell) terrible if you don’t take the time to clean them periodically.
C. Dirty feeding stations can make birds sick.
Bacteria growth at feeders can lead to a risk of spreading germs that make birds and even humans sick, causing diseases like salmonella, Avian flu, and Avian Conjunctivitis (also called House Finch Disease). Regularly cleaning your bird feeders will keep the birds healthy and safe.
How often should I clean my bird feeders?
When it comes to cleaning bird feeders, this is the question I get asked the most.
This 1-2-1 rule is easy to stick with, even if you have a busy schedule.
1 – Once a day, empty old food and knock any large debris from your feeders.
2 – Every two weeks, clean your feeders by scrubbing them with soapy water and rinsing them until they’re clean.
1 – Once per month, deep clean and soak your feeders in a bleach solution to disinfect them.
You may have to clean more or less often depending on how wet the weather is and how many birds are visiting. Use your best judgment and pay attention to your feeders to decide when to clean them.
This rule DOESN’T apply to hummingbird feeders, which should be cleaned each time you refill them with nectar. This will prevent the sugary nectar from molding.
How do you clean your bird feeders?
Let us know in the comments!
3 billion birds gone since 1970, due to habitat loss and human intervention. So, clearly “we” don’t know what were doing when it comes to protecting this incredible form of wildlife. For some reason though, backyard birding is a facet of human intervention that those that participate in, and those that endorse the wildly popular hobby are convinced that they DO know what they’re doing when it comes to supporting the well-being of wild birds. Please name another form of wildlife that we nurse along year-round with supplemental feeding like is done in backyard settings with wild birds. Backyard birding is a 5 billion dollar a year industry in the US alone. That’s a lot of staying power, for sure. It doesn’t mean though that it is a harmless hobby for the sake of the health of wild birds, and the backyard birder. Keeping feeders clean and sanitized as this article endorses is important, but it’s no silver bullet that prevents the spread of avian pathogens in garden birds. It’s no silver bullet because birds visiting feeders will still all too often be exposed to harmful bacteria in droppings deposited on feeder surfaces in between cleanings. Avian salmonellosis can easily spread from bird to bird like wildfire, as it did with Pine Siskins in the Spring of 2022, resulting in mortality rates in the thousands for these affected birds. The culprit of the spread of the disease was exposure for these birds to salmonella-contaminated droppings on feeders. So, how is exposure to salmonella-contaminated droppings on feeder surfaces less of a threat to the health of backyard birds when they happen be deposited on a feeder that was sanitized 1 week before, 1 day before, 1 hour before? Exposure is exposure, and it doesn’t matter when the feeder was last sanitized. By the way, salmonella-contaminated droppings are quite often deposited on feeders by nuiscance birds, especially house sparrows. How long does it take for house sparrows to mass on your freshly cleaned feeder and deposit their bacteria-laced droppings on it ? 30 seconds ? Again, I’m not saying that sanitizing your feeders isn’t important, but there are no inherent qualities in any recommended bleach solution that magically zap the bacteria out of droppings deposited on feeder surfaces that birds will be exposed to in between cleanings. Attracting birds to your feeders always causes them to gather in mass across your garden, so regularly hosing down droppings accumulating on various surfaces besides the feeder is just as important as feeder maintenance. So, do you do that, too? Another thing you have to consider is that your backyard birding neighbor a couple of doors down may not ever bother with feeder and garden environment maintenance at all. Chances are 100% that your backyard
birds are dining in both yards, yours, and theirs. So, this is the mixed bag of cleaner, more sanitary feeders and garden environments as well as bacteria-laced, unsanitary feeders and garden envrronments garden birds are exposed to season in, and season out across as many as 40 million households in the US on a yearly basis that participate in the hobby. So, is it fair to ask if we know what we’re doing when it comes to participating in the hobby to support the well-being of garden birds? Maybe you do, but maybe MILLIONS of your backyard birding neighbors don’t.
If I’m using vinegar instead of bleach (due to allergy), what is the ratio to hot water and how long should I soak the feeder?
Avian Flu gets a lot of attention, as it’s in the media quite often. Sadly though, many other avian pathogens caused by backyard birding that are much more common and can easily spread from backyard bird to backyard bird like wildfire include avian salmonellosis, avian aspergillosis, as well as other pathogens. Cleaning feeders regularly is certainly important, but birds can still be exposed to bacteria-laced, dropping-covered feeders and garden environments, in between cleanings. Not to mention,
not all backyard birders are diligent about feeder and garden maintenance for the sake of the health of backyard birds. You may be diligent about keeping your feeders and gardens as sanitary as possible, while you’re backyard birding neighbor a few doors down may not bother with regular maintenance, at all. Like it, or not, your neighborhood’s backyard birds are pretty much 100% dining in both backyards. This exposure for garden birds to a mix of sanitary and unsanitary feeders and garden environments is rarely discussed, but it’s an unfortunate reality for garden birds. Also, backyard birding enables birds of different species to closely intermingle across species at feeders, as they never would in the wild. This also causes transmission of avian pathogens across species. Feeding wild animals is typically discouraged because human intervention like this can cause the spread of disease when animals of different species gather in a concentrated are to consume supplemental provided food by humans. But, somehow feeding wild birds is seen as acceptable, even though it’s long been proven through scientific study that the hobby can cause the spread of many avian pathogens.
My problem is where do we dispose of the dirty water and bleach/water mix. I guess it would kill everything if I dump in the garden/lawn and carrying in and out of the sink in the house is difficult.
Usually I try and dump a little of the leftover bleach water on weeds in my grass till it’s all gone. I fill up an old pitcher and “water” the weeds. Even if a little bit gets on the grass, it’s diluted enough that a small amount won’t hurt. =)
Birdcages can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other harmful organisms, so keeping birdcages clean is necessary. I usually clean them once a month. My cleaning steps are: prepare some cleaning tools like gloves, dish soap vinegar or bleach solution, paper towels or cloth rags, …….. The next step, remove all the toys, perches, and trays inside the cages. And then, wipe down the birdcage with a damp cloth, then rinse it with water. Next, wipe bird droppings off of perches and bird toys. Last, clean the trays and place everything back in their Places. I find your tips very complete and detailed. I will consult more. Thanks for this great guide.