Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Hummingbird Feeders! (2023)
“How do I clean my hummingbird feeders?”
The above question is common for anyone who feeds hummingbirds in their backyard. Everyone that I know cares deeply for their hummers, and they want to make sure their birds have fresh and clean nectar at all times.
Unfortunately, the nectar that we use inside our feeders will eventually ferment.
The sugars in the water will break down, which causes all sorts of nasty things, such as mold, fungus, and bacteria. The last thing you want is for a hummingbird to accidentally ingest some of this contaminated sugar water because you didn’t clean your feeders properly!
Today, I am providing a guide to everything you need to know about cleaning hummingbird feeders.
Below is how this post is organized. (Click each hyperlink below to jump to that specific section.)
Step-by-step guide to cleaning your hummingbird feeders.
- Includes different strategies and materials you may need.
Why is it important to clean hummingbird feeders?
- Spoiler Alert – rotten sugar water is BAD for birds!
How often should a hummingbird feeder be cleaned?
- Easy guidelines you can follow.
5 tips that will help keep nectar fresh and clean longer!
- Simple ways to stop wasting so much sugar water!
I hope that I can provide answers to all of your questions related to keeping your hummingbird feeders clean. If you still need additional help, please post a COMMENT at the bottom of the page, and I will try my best to answer. 🙂
How to clean hummingbird feeders (6 steps).
Below, I am going to break down the exact steps you should follow in cleaning your nectar feeders.
Step #1: Prepare your cleaning solution.
Before bringing your feeders inside to wash, I think it’s helpful to prepare the solution that you are going to use to clean them.
Here are the THREE most common cleaning solutions that hummingbird enthusiasts use:
A. 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water
This mixture is the one I use to clean my hummingbird feeders.
The reason it’s my favorite is simple. I feel it’s the best combination of cleaning power and safety for hummers. Vinegar is a great “all-natural” cleaner that will kill and sterilize most germs.
B. 1 part bleach, 9 parts water
When washing your typical feeders that hold birdseed, I advise washing and soaking them in a bleach solution. The reason is that bleach will kill any bacteria that reside in the feeders. Killing all these nasty germs will help prevent the spread of any diseases that have come into contact with your feeding station.
But is a bleach solution OK to use on a hummingbird feeder?
To be honest, I have never and probably will never use a bleach solution for cleaning anything that holds the nectar. The reason is that I’m afraid that I won’t be able to scrub every last bleach residue out of the feeder.
Hummingbirds are tiny, which makes them extremely sensitive to chemicals in their environment. I don’t want to be responsible for accidentally having a hummingbird ingest a bit of bleach that seeped into the nectar.
If you decide to use bleach to disinfect an especially dirty feeder, then please take great precautions in rinsing with lots of fresh water.
C. HOT Water, with a bit of dish soap.
There are times when you can probably just clean your hummingbird feeders with hot water. If needed, you can add a bit of dish soap to help sterilize bacteria or remove dried nectar or residue.
Are you dedicated to cleaning your hummingbird feeders?
If so, and you don’t allow residue and bacteria to take over, then you are much more likely to be able just to use hot water and a bit of soap.
Step #2: Get your other cleaning supplies ready.
In addition to the cleaning solution, here are some other helpful items.
The exact types of brushes you need will depend on the style of your specific hummingbird feeder. Here are a few options that you can use. I’m sure something below will fit your needs!
Droll Yankees hummingbird brush View Cost - Amazon
Good option if you are looking for one, high-quality brush to use.
Bottle cleaning brush set (5 brushes) View Price - Amazon
Different sizes and styles should provide options for every feeder.
Micro brushes View Price - Amazon
These are perfect for cleaning small tubes and feeding ports.
Personally, I just use pipe cleaners to clean out feeding ports. Since my wife does so many crafts and activities with our kids, we have an abundance of pipe cleaners at our house!
- Old toothbrushes work great! The bristles are typically firm with a solid handle, which makes an excellent combination for scrubbing out a hummingbird feeder!
Grab a soft, dry cloth you can use to wipe down and dry the hummingbird feeder after cleaning.
Small bucket or sink
If your hummingbird feeder is especially dirty, you will want to soak it in a cleaning solution for 10 minutes or so to help sterilize it. Try to find a bucket or other small container that you can use.
Instead of a bucket, I fill up my sink to soak my feeders.
Step #3: Take the feeder apart and drain nectar.
Place your hummingbird feeder inside the sink and slowly take it apart.
If possible, disassemble every part of your feeder. This includes the base, bottle, bee guards, and feeding ports (which may look like flowers).
Take care not to lose any pieces accidentally!
Drain the nectar down the sink. I usually turn the sink on when I’m doing this to wash as much old nectar and other debris away with fresh water before using my cleaning solution.
Step #4: Soak every piece and part.
Fill up your bucket or sink with whichever cleaning solution you choose, which can be either a mixture of vinegar, bleach, or warm and soapy water.
Place all the pieces and parts from the hummingbird feeder you just disassembled and put into the sink or bucket. Let everything soak in there for at least 10 minutes. This step helps to disinfect bacteria and loosen any sugar that has crystallized on the feeder.
Step #5: Wash and scrub with your cleaning solution.
Now comes the part where you start cleaning!
Get your cleaning solution and brushes and start scrubbing.
The key is to make sure you have cleaned all surface areas of the feeder. This is where having different-sized brushes come in handy. The large brushes are great for the nectar reservoir. Small, skinny brushes ensure that the feeding ports are sanitized.
I love using toothbrushes for VERY dirty areas. I can scrub and scrub until the mold, or crystallized nectar has washed away.
Finally, it’s time to give the hummingbird feeder a thorough wash with fresh, warm water from the sink. Make sure all of the cleaning solution has been washed away, and then dry with a soft cloth towel.
Step #6: Make new nectar and hang back up.
Finally, you are ready to put new, fresh nectar in your hummingbird feeder.
Your feeder should look almost brand new, with clear sugar water that looks delicious. I’m sure if your hummingbirds could talk, they would THANK YOU over and over.
Why is it important to clean hummingbird feeders?
There are a few reasons why you need to make sure that your hummingbird feeders stay clean.
First, drinking fermenting nectar can be extremely BAD for hummingbirds. As the sugar breaks down over time, it can lead to the growth of bacteria, mold, and fungus. None of these things are suitable for small, sensitive hummingbirds to ingest.
Also, old sugar water will crystallize over time. It can be a huge pain to clean this out of the ports of your feeder. If you let this happen enough times, combined with the accumulation of bacteria, mold, and fungus, your hummingbird feeder can become ruined beyond repair.
Second, YOU are not going to see any hummingbirds if the nectar has spoiled. The BEST way to attract hummingbirds is to ensure the sugar water is fresh!
Take a look at this old nectar that has been allowed to ferment and rot, along with having many ants die inside. If you were a hummingbird, would you want to drink this?
One look, smell, or taste is all that it will take for the hummingbirds you have attracted to decide that it’s better to explore other territories.
How often should hummingbird feeders be cleaned?
This is a difficult question to answer. Let me first start by saying that you can’t clean your feeders too often, so it will never hurt to conduct a washing.
But if you’re like me, then you like to avoid any undue maintenance as much as possible. It’s nice to know an approximate length of time before you HAVE to clean.
The two factors that influence how long your nectar will last before starting to ferment are SHADE and TEMPERATURE.
Luckily, you can control where you put your hummingbird feeders. Try to keep them in the shade, or at least as much out of the sun as possible. If the nectar is allowed to bake all day in the sunshine, then know that you will need to replace sugar water often. Can you find a spot under a tree? Or how about the side of your house that faces north?
Unfortunately, we can’t control the temperature. The more hot and humid your local weather happens to be after setting out your feeders, the quicker that your nectar will spoil.
During hot weather, change it every two days. In milder weather, once a week is fine.
So, how do you know if your nectar has spoiled?
The best way to see if your nectar is spoiled is to examine it. With a little practice, it’s easy to take one look and decide if the sugar water needs to be changed.
Here is what to look for:
- Cloudy water that almost looks like watered-down milk. You may also see fibrous structures floating around. If the nectar isn’t 100% clear, then please change it.
- Mold or fungus, which is usually black, growing around the feeding ports or inside the reservoir.
- Sugar water that has crystallized around the feeding ports. This is a problem for bottle-style feeders, where the nectar is stored above the ports.
- Floating insects, such as small flies or ants, which have made their way into the nectar.
I can’t stress this enough. If you’re not sure if the nectar needs replaced, then clean the feeder and add new sugar water!
5 tips that will keep nectar fresh and clean longer!
#1. Put your hummingbird feeders in the shade.
You can’t argue with science.
The warmer your nectar becomes, the faster that it will spoil and ferment.
So keep your hummingbird feeders as cool as possible! Make sure to place them in the shade, or at least in an area that is shaded during the hot mid-afternoon sunshine.
#2. Use Nectar Defender
Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender View Price - Amazon
After you have made your nectar, mix in a small amount of Nectar Defender.
Nectar Defender is an all-natural product that significantly extends the life of your sugar water!
To be honest, when I first heard about Nectar Defender, it sounded too good to be true. But after using it, I can say that it seems to work.
The magic ingredient is copper, which helps delay the formation of bacteria, fungus, and mold.
The only complaint I have heard about Nectar Defender is that if you use too much, then the hummingbirds may sense the copper in the sugar water and turn away. If you decide to use it, then it’s worth doing some tests to make sure you’re not accidentally driving your hummers away!
#3. Use smaller hummingbird feeders.
As much as I’d like to say that my hummingbird feeders are full every day with dozens of birds, this is not the case. Typically, we see a few each day and rarely more than one visits at a time.
Because of the number of hummers in my yard, I don’t go through that much nectar. My feeders rarely run out of sugar water before it starts to spoil, so I always end up wasting a bit.
And the feeders I use only hold between 12 – 16 oz of fluid. Imagine if I had a hummingbird feeder that held 32 ounces of nectar! So much would be wasted!
To not waste so much nectar, I recommend using smaller hummingbird feeders. You should only upgrade to a larger one when you are consistently running out of nectar.
I prefer making a large amount of nectar at one time, but I keep the extra in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. That way, I can put a small amount of sugar water in my feeder, then just quickly refill it with additional nectar when needed!
#4. Sterilize your feeders EVERY time.
As we have discussed, the reason that nectar eventually spoils is that bacteria causes fermentation. The dirtier your feeder, the quicker that sugar water typically goes bad.
If you get into the habit of conducting a thorough cleaning EVERY time that you change nectar, you ensure that all the bacteria and mold that you can’t see yet is destroyed.
The cleaner that you keep your feeders, the longer the nectar will last. At least you are starting as clean as possible, which should help prolong the inevitability of spoilage.
#5. How easy is it to clean your hummingbird feeder?
There are dozens and dozens of different hummingbird feeders available for purchase. Some of them are much easier to clean than others. Typically, the simpler your feeder is to clean, the more likely you are to complete the job!
To see my favorite hummingbird feeders, then try reading this article: The 8 Best Hummingbird Feeders (That Actually Work!)
Here are a few things to consider:
Dish feeders are the easiest to clean.
Hummingbird feeders that resemble a dish or “flying saucer” are the simplest to wash. These products resemble a small bowl with a cap put on the top, which is where the feeding ports are located.
The reason is that the top will easily pop off, and then all the nectar is located in the dish. All the surface areas are easy to reach and disinfect.
The other type of hummingbird feeder resembles a bottle. The nectar is located in a reservoir ABOVE the feeding ports. As the nectar is drunk, more liquid comes down.
With a bottle feeder, there are typically more parts to take apart and clean. Also, you have to make sure that you have a brush that can reach up inside the bottle.
Avoid THIS type of bottle feeder!
Even though dish feeders are easier to clean than bottle feeders, don’t avoid bottle feeders. I think they look more beautiful in my yard, and it seems that my hummingbirds may prefer them a little better.
But there is one type of bottle feeder that I complete avoid:
Feeding reservoirs that have a TINY opening!
Look at the feeder above. Specifically, look at the tiny opening of the feeding reservoir! Just think how hard it would be to fit a brush inside to clean the inside surface properly. It’s sort of like trying to clean the inside of a soda bottle, which would be impossible. Even though these feeders look beautiful, you are asking for bacteria and mold problems.
Is your feeder dishwasher safe?
If your hummingbird feeder is dishwasher safe, then you have an effortless way to clean and disinfect it. Just throw it inside the dishwasher and turn it on!
If this is the case, I would have additional hummingbird feeders to use while the ones in the dishwasher were getting cleaned. You would hate to have hummingbirds show up and not have anything to eat during the time the dishwasher was running!
Keeping your hummingbird feeder clean is a necessity if you decide to feed these beautiful birds. Seriously, you can harm hummers if you let rotten sugar water sit outside. Not to mention, having a smelly container full of fermented sugar water is disgusting and an eyesore in your backyard.
Please know yourself. If you are dedicated to cleaning your feeders consistently, then I hope this guide was helpful, and that you keep enjoy feeding hummingbirds.
But if after reading today, you know that you won’t be able to keep up with the cleaning schedule, please know there are other ways to attract hummingbirds.
For example, you can try planting lots of native flowers full of nectar. These natural food sources can provide food all summer long with almost no effort on your part!
And the best part of a hummingbird flower garden?
NO CLEANING! 🙂
Thanks for reading. Please COMMENT below if you have any other tips for cleaning hummingbird feeders.
I use PlantNet
I agree with everything you say, Mike. Clean vessels with water/vinegar solution (1/4 C vinegar to 1 cup water). To make nectar, bring water just to a boil, turn off and add sugar, stirring until all dissolved (same ratio as you mention). And I never – ever – use that red food dye. The hummingbirds don’t care, so why take the chance? Also, I have a schedule made up, so the feeders are cleaned, and changed, every 3 days in Fall, Winter, Spring. In warmer weather/summer, I clean and change the feeders, at a minimum of every 2 days, sometimes once a day, if really hot. I don’t take any chances, at all.
Well I have used Perky Pet Hummingbird instant nectar and regret that I have. They say that they use a FDA approved food grade red dye in their product but but some zoo animal care givers say that “red dye, is red dye and do not use this!” So use pure fine white sugar, one cup for every four cups water that has been brought to a boil to disinfect it, then mix in the sugar until it has blended into the water well. I also had been cleaning my feeders with high pressure water to remove any bacteria. This might be okay, but just in case, I am going to now clean each feeder, by taking them apart and soaking them in a clean sink with hot water and vinegar and I will do this every few days along with changing the nectar mixture. I would hate to think I may have hurt these amazing and beautiful creatures.
can you recommend an app to down load plants. if it could also be used for plot planning
I use the bleach and water solution. I have added a couple drops of Dawn but will discontinue that based on other comments. I have used many different feeders, some were beautiful elaborate gifts, but after many years I have settled on a 4 ounce 2 piece dish type feeder made by Aspects. It is easy to use and clean and I can easily see the amount of nectar in the feeder. I have 10 feeders and use 5 at a time, spreading them out over a good area to reduce hostilities. Usually there is a little left when I change them, but it is easy to see if one is almost empty so I can change them out early if needed. One of the best prices I found for this feeder was at Nottawa Wild Bird Supply who also offers free shipping at a low minimum. Thanks to all who want to feed these irresistible little creatures.
I have yet to find a feeder that is protected from rain. When it pours, the water gets into the nectar and dilutes it. This is an even bigger problem with dish feeders. I use a small feeder and make a small canopy from a red plastic plate to protect it from rain. It isn’t perfect, but it helps and the birds not deterred.
I suggest that you make the #1 reason for cleaning feeders be that mold can lead to a slow, painful death for your hummers. You can find heartbreaking pictures online showing a hummer with its tongue sticking out permanently because it has swelled from mold. Folks aren’t going to respond to ‘would you dring that?’ but might respond if you tell them they are harming the birds. Thanks for the detailed article!
Steve, this might be late in your response looking at the date posted, but we disinfect every time we change the nectar at our place. We change our nectar every other day and still sometimes get tiny residue of slimy sugar water and the start of mold. I do a thorough cleaning of bottle and tray. To me, any traces of bad residue help jump start new bad stuff. At least that is my feeling. Better to be safe by spending a little extra time than not. If you do this in the evening to clean, plenty of time to air dry and then fill up and place outside in the morning when they start coming to feed. Hopefully you have BBC already found your answer, this is just my 2 cents on your question.
YES…every single time you must dispose of the old nectar and clean your feeder…ever 3 to 4 days in warm/hot weather! In cool/cold weather you should clean them every 5 to 6 days and add clean freshly made nectar. BUT do NOT use dish soap as it leaves a harmful residue …this comes from Audubon Society…experts on migratory birds of which hummingbirds are….some hummers migrate thousands of miles. Use a vinegar and hot water solution, 1 part vinegar in 2 parts hot water, and soak for several hours! Always visually inspect for mold floating (looks like grey cotton) in the the feeder or in crevices! Another solution to use is: 1 part BLEACH in 9 parts hot water and soak for several hours. And really rinse well to remove any residual vinegar or bleach! If your feeder is really moldy…throw it away and get a new one…because mold, even if unseen, can get into the parts and live inside the tiny micro scratches. Hummingbirds get very sick from mold…it causes their tongues to swell and they die! Also, never use red dye…also kills them…slowly. Fermented nectar also will make them sick. It’s actually a big responsibility to hang feeders and requires diligence!
Audubon states, “DO NOT USE DISH SOAP!” LEAVES HARMFUL RESIDUE! As for using any feeder that uses metal for the nectar chamber…another BIG NO! The metals are coated and leech toxic substances into the nectar…also the metal rusts…These 2 factors make metal in hummingbird feeders another BIG NO!! Also, metal flower feeding ports are very sharp and easily injure hummingbird tongues, beaks and feet!
NO METAL FLOWER FEEDING PORTS! NO METAL NECTAR CHAMBERS!…EVER!!
Steve, thanks for the comment. I will try to go back and clarify in the article. You should disinfect every single time to make sure there is no mold or bacteria in the feeder.
So the feeders are cleaned in a disinfecting solution every time the nectar is changed or when bacteria and mold are noticed?