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How to Clean Bird Feeders in 8 Easy Steps (Long-Term Care)

Last Updated: September 20, 2022

When did you last clean your feeder?

If you answered more than a month ago, your avian friends secretly wish you'd do it again soon.

Why?

Wet bird feed mixed with droppings grows mold and bacteria.

Consequently, when you're entertaining hundreds of wild birds, clean feeders every two weeks, more so when it's wet and rainy outside.

We'll show you how to clean bird feeders in a simple routine. If you'd like a video tutorial, there's one too.

How To Clean A Bird Feeder Fast 

All feeders need regular cleaning, and each design brings its set of challenges. Let's look at how to clean a tube bird feeder at home.

What You'll NeedCleaning Materials for bird feeder

  • Bleach
  • Measuring cup
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Dishwasher
  • Gloves
  • Bucket/tub
  • A bottle brush

Step 1

Wear hand gloves, and take the feeder apart. You want to scrub all feeder parts to remove debris, so disassemble it to reach the interior. 

Step 2

Fill a bucket or tub with water and pour the detergent to make a solution.

Step 3

Put the feeder in soapy water and scrub it with a brush.

Soaking cleans all parts, from the feeding ports to the perches and lids. A tube feeder needs a bottle brush to reach inside the ports. Also, splash soapy water on large feeders that don't fit in the tub or container.

A plastic, glass, or metallic design doesn't give you a headache as you clean it. Wooden designs with paint finish can lose their appeal after washing them, but you can always apply a fresh coat afterward.

If a dishwasher is suitable for your feeder's design, you can wash it in one. 

Step 4

Dilute bleach in water in the ratio 1 is to 9, meaning one part bleach to nine parts water.

Do this in a second container or pour out the soapy water from Step 3.

Soak it in the bleach solution for about 10 minutes. Rotate it in the bleach to disinfect all parts.

Step 5

Rinse the feeder in clean water.

Use running water to spray the interior of the feeder and get rid of the bleach.

Step 6

Dry the clean feeder in a spot that's airy and uncontaminated.

It wouldn't make sense to place it on the ground with fallen bird feed and droppings. Thus, dry a clean bird feeder in the sun. That'll also remove the odor of bleach and detergent.

Step 7

Assemble the dry feeder and refill it with bird feed.

Step 8

Sweep bird droppings, fallen bird seed, and other debris on or under your bird table.

A ground-feeding wild bird may consume moldy seeds unknowingly. These seeds may also attract rodents.

Change the mulch under your feeder. If you're using a platform feeder for ground feeders like northern cardinals, move it to a new spot to let the grass breathe.

Maintenance Tips For Hummingbird Feeders

hummingbirds in a feeder

Hummingbird feeders are different because they contain a liquid.

In summer, remove the nectar in three to five days to prevent mold and fermentation. Clean the sugar water feeder every week if possible using hot water.

Remember not to wash your hummingbird feeder with soap, as its residue is harmful to wild birds. If it has black mold, use a mixture of water and bleach.

Don't wait until mold destroys your bird feeders.

How To Prevent Mold In Bird Feeders

Some designs, such as the mesh suet feeders, let the waste fall on the ground below. But, other feeder designs, such as hopper feeders, harbor conditions that promote bacteria and black mold.

Don't Overfill

Refill enough for a day or two so that avians don't defecate on the bird seed.

Change Bird Seed Regularly

Remove wet, moldy seeds so that mold doesn't reach the walls or floor. After cleaning a bird feeder, when it dries refill it with your favorite bird seed.

Change Your Feeder Location

A hummingbird feeder in the sun encourages mold when the sugar water turns sour. Also, leaving a feeder with poor drainage in the rain encourages mold to grow.

What else may happen when you don't clean feeders?

Bird Diseases That Thrive In A Dirty Bird FeederClassical pox in Male Pigeons

Infected birds contaminate bird food and spread diseases when you're not cleaning bird feeders regularly.

Worry about:

Avian Pox

If there's a sick bird in your backyard, you'll see growth on parts without feathers, such as the feet. Avian pox can also infect the mouth and lungs, making it difficult for sick birds to eat or breathe. There have been reports of avian fox among sparrows, hawks, and owls.

Conjunctivitis

It affects house finches more, and that's why you'll hear it called the house finch eye disease. A backyard bird with conjunctivitis displays swellings around the eyes.

Salmonellosis

It's more prevalent in winter during the irruption of pine siskins. Wild birds with salmonella bacteria display puffed feathers and sluggishness. Even more worrying is that you and your pets can get this songbird disease.

The Cornell Lab notes that even though such diseases may infect a few wild birds at a bird feeder, it spreads more in the wild where birds nest and roost together.

If you spot infected birds or hear reports of these three diseases in your state, clean feeders and disinfect them with bleach. Do the same for water sources, such as a birdbath. Further, don't refill your bird seed feeder or water points for at least a week when eliminating salmonellosis. If there are sick avians around one feeder, take it away from the feeding station for a while.

If you'd prefer a visual guide on how to clean a bird feeder, watch this short clip from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to see how to set up the cleaning station.

Let's look at a few questions about cleaning feeders regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean a bird feeder with vinegar?

Vinegar is a super ingredient in any household chore, from cooking to cleaning. You can use it to clean your bird feeder as a disinfectant. It has 5 to 8 % acetic acid that dissolves dirt and kills various pathogens, including Salmonella.

You'll clean your feeder in the same process, as described in the 8-step routine above. Empty the feeder, soak it in water with soap, then scrub stubborn stains and dirt. Mix equal portions of vinegar and water and soak your feeder in it for about 10 minutes. After disinfecting, rinse the feeder with water, then dry it.

Can I use dish soap when cleaning a bird feeder?

Yes, use hot soapy water to do so. The dish soap also removes the odor of droppings and bird seeds. However, research shows that cleaning wild bird feeders with soap and water cannot eliminate pathogens like Salmonella completely. Do a bleach soak after scrubbing it in soapy water afterward.

How often should I clean my bird feeders?

It's wise to clean feeders twice a month when hosting flocks and once a month in other seasons.

Final Thoughts

After feeding birds, you ought to take care of the feeders and the feeding station because maintaining a clean bird feeder is one way of preventing avian diseases.

The cleaning method matters as you'll be removing so much stuff inside, from bacteria and mold to droppings and wet seeds. Warm water, detergent, and bleach do the trick.

Dry the clean bird feeder before refilling it so that the sun removes any remaining odor or mold. 

Simple, right?

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