How To Clean Bird Feeders – Our Step-by-Step Instructions

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Cleaning your bird feeders just isn’t optional!

When we decide to start feeding the birds in our backyard, we are taking on the responsibility of being a safe food source. When it comes to bird feeders, a dirty feeder is an unsafe feeder!

The risks of an unclean bird feeder include:

  • Rotten and moldy food can make birds sick
  • Bird waste can spread diseases between birds, including Avian flu
  • Messy feeders may attract predators

The good news is that it’s not terribly difficult to clean your feeders. Make it a habit to keep your feeders clean and you will end up providing safe, reliable food to your neighborhood birds.

The Easiest & Best Way to Clean Your Feeders, In 5 Simple Steps

As people who love birds, we have spent a lot of time figuring out how to turn the process of cleaning your bird feeders into a relatively easy and simple process.

We also offer some advice: only get a bird feeder that you’re willing to clean!

If you buy 20 bird feeders and hang them at once, are you really going to keep them clean? Our recommendation is to start small and develop the good habit of cleaning your feeders regularly.

Add more as you go along!

Step 1: Pick A Day To Clean All Feeders At Once

It just makes good sense to clean your feeders all at once.

This will prevent one of them from being forgotten and becoming a hotbed of mess or illness.

Cleaning feeders can be a messy process by itself, and you don’t really want to create that mess over and over for each individual feeder. If you clean all of your feeders at once, you just have to deal with one mess and one clean-up time.

If you are an avid birder and have many feeders, it may be too much to clean them all in one day. In that case, clean them for two days in a row. That way, you can still limit the number of times you’re cleaning up everything from start to finish.

The only exception to this rule is related to hummingbird feeders. Because hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned more often than most other kinds of feeders, you don’t necessarily have to clean every other feeder just because it’s time to clean the hummingbird feeder!

Step 2: Set Up a Cleaning Area – Outside!

Bird feeders can spread salmonella and Avian influenza, among other diseases. It is important to protect your home as well as prevent the spread of disease among our feathered friends.

One of the best ways to do this is to do the job outside.

Some people like to set up their cleaning station on a picnic table or other outdoor surfaces.

This allows you to do the work without hurting your back! Just keep in mind that you will want to disinfect any table or surface that you work on when you’re done cleaning your feeders.

Step 3: Assemble All Your Cleaning Tools

Here is what you’ll need:

  • 2 pails of water
    • One pail with warm water + a drop or two of dish detergent + a capful of bleach or 1/4 cup of vinegar.
    • One with clear, cold water for rinsing*
  • An assortment of brushes to help you reach all the nooks and crannies. (There are a lot of convenient cleaning sets on Amazon!)
  • Rubber gloves (which will protect you from any bacteria)
  • Wet wipes to clean the perches

*If you only have one bucket available, you could rinse with the garden hose.

Step 4: Clean Feeders Thoroughly

Before the feeders are completely emptied by the birds, take the feeders down and remove any leftover birdseed. You may need to dig out any feed that is stuck in the corners or crevices of the feeder.

As long as the seeds aren’t moldy, you can spread the leftover seed all over the ground, and the birds can forage for it later.

You may be wondering, why should I clean the feeders before they’re totally empty? Well, the birds still get to eat the food, so you’re not really wasting it, but there’s a more important factor to consider: empty feeders aren’t popular!

Birds will abandon empty feeders and may not return.

While wearing your cleaning gloves, use the water with detergent and bleach to submerge, scrub, and wash the feeders, inside and out, using your brushes.

Take special care to wash the perches and feeding ports especially well!

Rinse your feeders thoroughly, either in the clean water bucket or with the hose.

Step 5: Allow Seed Feeders To Completely Dry Before Refilling With Fresh Seed

After you’ve washed your feeders, let them dry in the sun.

Do not put fresh seed into your feeder until it is completely dry – otherwise, you will create an opportunity for mold growth and wasted seed.

Because you’ve already spread any leftover seed from the feeders onto the ground, you can’t reuse the same birdseed. If you’re tempted to reuse the same birdseed, remember that using contaminated seed could make your backyard bird friends sick!

Re-hang your feeders and enjoy the return of your visitors!

Important Information About Keeping Your Bird Feeders Clean

how to clean bird feeders

After completing those 5 steps, you may still have some questions about the best ways to keep your bird feeders clean and safe.

Let’s break down some FAQs about feeding the birds!

How Often Should You Clean Your Bird Feeders?

This is probably one of the most common questions that people search for when they’re thinking about cleaning their feeders. How often am I supposed to clean them?

The answer is dependent upon what kind of feeders you have, how many birds visit your feeders, and what the weather has been like.

A good, standard piece of advice is to clean them every two weeks.

However, there are times when you need to clean more frequently, and other times when you can wait longer between cleanings:

  • In the winter, you may be able to reduce the frequency of your cleanings to once a month. However, as long as it’s not bitterly cold, we still recommend every two weeks if possible!
  • Winter can bring increased activity to your feeders. If you see an increase in the number of birds visiting your yard and feasting at your feeders, you may need to increase your cleaning frequency.
  • In especially hot weather, you may need to clean more frequently than once a week.

If you offer hummingbird feeders, you should clean them every few days. The same is true for oriole feeders that use jam or jelly.

Why Should You Clean Your Bird Feeders Regularly?

There are several reasons for cleaning your feeders regularly, including a reduction in diseases that can affect birds, such as:

  • Salmonella
  • Trichomoniasis (a throat infection)
  • Pigeon Paramyxovirus
  • Avian pox
  • Avian influenza

What Should You Use to Clean Your Bird Feeders?

In our step-by-step guide above, we mentioned the key components for cleaning your feeders: water with bleach and detergent + a good set of brushes.

The water-to-bleach ratio is 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. To simplify that even more, that’s 14 oz for every gallon of water. You can add a small amount of detergent to get some suds and bubbles for extra cleaning power.

When it comes to choosing brushes, we recommend:

  • A multi-brush kit with a variety of sizes and shapes
  • A sponge or washcloth
  • Wet wipes or bleach wipes

Can You Use a Dishwasher to Wash Your Bird Feeders?

This is a topic of debate among experts.

While the Audubon Society says it’s fine to use a dishwasher, many health experts advise against this practice. It seems that the dishwasher will get your bird feeders relatively clean, but doing so is accompanied by a number of risks.

First of all, dishwashers don’t get hot enough to kill many of the bacteria that are spread by birds. If you’re using detergent plus a dishwasher, that’s really not enough to do the job.

Second, germs can spread from the feeder to your dishwasher, possibly contaminating other dishes. Even if you wash the bird feeders by themselves, the dishes you put in the dishwasher next could easily be contaminated.

If you absolutely must use a dishwasher, consider the following additional steps:

  • Completely empty the feeder before putting it in the dishwasher
  • Remove any bird droppings that are on the feeder, too
  • You may want to soak the feeder in hot soapy water before putting them into the dishwasher
  • Don’t put anything else in the dishwasher with the feeder
  • Clean the dishwasher with bleach wipes after you run it
  • Double-check any ports, corners, and crevices for materials that may be stuck

What to Avoid When Cleaning a Bird Feeder

Some birding experts say to avoid using soap or detergent, but most say that using a little bit of soap or detergent is fine. Avoid using strong detergents or anything with ingredients that are considered toxic to birds.

Whether you decide to use soap or not, you definitely want to avoid creating a mixture with too much bleach.

Avoid leaving a mess behind. I mentioned this earlier in the article, but I’ll say it again for emphasis: if you clean your feeders at an outdoor table, you need to sanitize the surface when you’re finished – especially before you eat anything from there.

How Long Will It Take to Clean the Feeders?

It shouldn’t take long to clean your feeders! If you have one feeder, you can expect to spend 15-20 minutes cleaning it. For each additional feeder, it might take 5 extra minutes.

That’s because setting up your cleaning station and cleaning up afterward actually takes more time than most of the cleaning process for each feeder.

Why Is There Moldy Seed In My Feeder?

If you find that your feeder has moldy birdseed in it, these may be the culprits:

  • The seed has been left in the feeder far too long.
  • The seed is getting wet in the feeder and is not able to dry out quickly enough.
  • Poor-quality seed will have dirt, dust, and twigs which all turn moldy more quickly.
  • Poor-quality seed also has underdeveloped seed or moldy seed to start with.

Discover Different Types of Bird Feeders

There are many different kinds of feeders for you to use! Choose the best ones to meet your needs and your interests.

For example, if you want to attract hummingbirds, you’ll need to provide plenty of nectar-rich flowers and feeders with sugar water. If you have a lot of squirrels, you’ll probably need to use a squirrel-resistant feeder.

Here are some of our favorite types of feeders here at Wild Bird Scoop:

  • Best Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders – Keeping the squirrels away is a challenge, but there are several options in this article to help you do it!
  • Platform Feeders are often referred to as tray feeders, table feeders, or fly thru feeders. They are appropriately named “fly thru” because they are open allowing the birds to fly in, grab what they like, and go.
  • DIY Bird Feeders are a fun thing to try out, especially if you’re an “arts and crafts” kind of person! Kids can get involved, too, especially for the holidays. Here’s a fun list of Christmas-themed DIY bird feeders.
  • Oriole Feeders attract orioles using jam or fresh fruit. They typically come with both a saucer for jam and a spike for hanging up orange halves.

However you choose to feed the birds in your backyard, I hope you will maintain the good habit of consistently cleaning your feeders. You’ll end up with a healthier, happier bird population thanks to your efforts!

Plus, when you offer a variety of types of bird food, you end up with more – and more interesting! – birds at your feeders.

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Liz Ranfeld

Liz Boltz Ranfeld is an independent educator and writer from Indiana. She lives on the edge of the woods with her husband, 2 kids, dogs, chickens, and hedgehog. One of the best things of living in rural Indiana is spotting hawks, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and other wild creatures. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, and gardening, and one of her personal heroes is the conservationist and birdwatcher Rosalie Barrow Edge, who paved the way for the protection of birds around the globe.