The Ultimate How-To Guide For Cleaning Bird Feeders, Tips & Practical Advice

January 6, 2022 // 10 minutes read

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how to clean bird feeders

Cleaning your bird feeders is important for maintaining a healthy birding environment in your backyard. Luckily, cleaning a bird feeder is not difficult as you’ll see in our step-by-step guide below.

Aim to clean your bird feeders every couple of weeks and perform a deep clean twice a year. The frequency of your cleaning can vary based on the weather and local conditions. Prolonged rainy periods will require more frequent cleaning. Also, reports of wild bird sickness in your area will require more diligence. You’ll need gloves, a small brush (a bottle brush will work), soap, and bleach to get the job done.

In this guide, we’ll discuss

  1. Steps for a simple cleaning 
  2. Steps for a deep cleaning
  3. Some cleaning FAQs
  4. Tips on how to clean different types of bird feeders

So without further ado, let’s jump in…

How To Perform Simple (2x per Month) Bird Feeder Cleanings Quickly

If cleaning your bird feeders is a complex task, it won’t get done as often as it should. Below are the steps that I take to perform my bi-weekly cleanings. Realistically, I don’t always get to clean them every 2 weeks, but I do my best!

Dry Food Feeders

  1. Remove the old seed (break up clumped, stuck together seed)
  2. I use an air compressor and blow the entire feeder to remove as much debris as possible
  3. Rinse the bird feeder with water
  4. Let dry
  5. Clean the area under your feeder
  6. Refill and hang it back up

Liquid Feeders (Hummingbird Feeders)

  1. Dump the old sugar water
  2. Rinse the feeder with warm water, be sure to rinse the feeding ports well
  3. Let dry
  4. Refill and hang it back up

Check out this video for a detailed explanation of how to thorough clean a hummingbird feeder:

9 Easy Steps For Deep Cleaning Bird Feeders

I perform a deep clean on my feeders at least twice a year, sometimes 3x based on the weather or if there are reported bird disease outbreaks in my area. 

Step #1: Dump The Old Food

Now, you should remember that if your feeder has thick or lumpy food in it, you’ll need to break up the bits with a spoon. If you happen to have an air compressor, I also recommend shooting compressed air over the bird feeder to remove as much debris as possible.

Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery Air Compressor

While this is marketed as a portable tire compressor which takes up very little space, it is an ideal solution for blow compressed air over your bird feeders (outside)!

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Step #2: Take Your Birdfeeder Apart

Depending on the type of bird feeder, take it apart as best you can. For example, I disassemble all of the parts of my hummingbird feeders. However, there is nothing to take a part in my tray feeders.

Step #3: Wash Your Birdfeeder Using Soap and Water

Once you’ve finished taking your feeder apart, it’s time to give everything a good scrub with soap and water.

Don’t forget to wash all parts of your feeder thoroughly, including perches and trays (if there are any).

Step #4: Soak the Bird Feeder Tray in Bleach for 30 Minutes

The District Wildlife Conservation Agencies recommend using a mixture of 1 part bleach 9 parts water to clean bird feeders. For example, I fill a bucket with 1-quart bleach and add 2 gallons (8 quarts) and 1-quart of water. Then I soak the feeder parts in this bleach solution for at least half an hour.

Bleach is a natural disinfectant and will help to kill any bacteria or fungi growing on the tray of your feeder.

Step #5: Rinse the Birdfeeder Again

Now it’s time to rinse all parts of your birdfeeder one final time. This is an important step since many cleaners leave a residue that birds will not like.

Step #6: Let the Bird Feeder Dry

You’ll need to let all parts of your birdfeeder dry completely. Don’t skip this step! If you put food back in a wet feeder, you’ll create an environment of mold growth, defeating the purpose of doing your deep clean!

Step #7: Clean the Debris Underneath the Feeder

Birds are messy! While your bird feeders are drying, take this time to clean up the area under the feeders. This helps to minimize attracting unwanted pests like rats.

Step #8: Assemble the Feeder

Now that your birdfeeder is clean (and dry), you should put all of the parts together again. It’s always smart to keep the instructions on how to put your feeder back together, especially if there are any moving parts.

If necessary, use an oil-based lubricant around moving parts for best results. Remember not to oil perches or areas that birds will touch while they eat.

Step #9: Refill With Food & Hang

Last but not least, fill your birdfeeder with the best wild bird seed or food. Hang it up and enjoy watching your backyard birds again!

Need help in finding the best wild bird food?

Wear Gloves When Cleaning

To protect yourself, it’s important to wear gloves while cleaning. I use rubber kitchen cleaning gloves that extend up past my wrists. This is important to protect yourself from bleach as well as any potential bird diseases.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Never use harsh chemicals on any bird feeders you’re trying to clean. Do not use commercial cleaners, non-diluted bleach, heavy-duty bleach, or non-diluted ammonia. These chemicals are harmful, especially on porous materials.

Instead, stick with safer alternatives like environmentally safe dish soap, diluted bleach mixtures, and warm water. 

How to Clean Different Types of Bird Feeders

Not all bird feeders are the same. Depending on the birdfeeder’s material, you may need different cleaning supplies. Here is how you can properly clean wooden, cedar, pine, copper, and tube feeders.

Cleaning Wooden Bird Feeders (Cedar, Pine, etc)

When cleaning a wooden bird feeder, make sure to use diluted bleach. This prevents further damage caused by harsh chemicals to the wood’s natural properties. Non-diluted bleach will seep into the wood pores causing an issue.

Follow the steps I listed above. Here are some additional tips:

  • Use a toothbrush or a small nylon brush to scrub the wood surfaces. This works well in removing any tiny debris that is caught in the wood grain.
  • I scrub against the wood grain and then with the grain, trying to be as thorough as possible.
  • I don’t soak wooden feeders in a bleach solution as long as I soak plastic or metal feeders as I don’t want the wood to swell with water.

Cleaning Tube Bird Feeders

Depending on the diameter and the length of the tubes as well as how easy it is to remove the bottom and/or feeding ports, these feeders can be a bit of a challenge. 

Here are some cleaning tips

  • When buying, select the best tube feeders that are easy to clean!
  • If possible, remove the roof and the floor of the feeder
  • Use a long-handled nylon brush to clean the inside
  • Use a toothbrush to scrub the feeding ports

Long Cleaning Brush

This product has multiple brushes, perfect for handling a variety of bird feeders.

  1. Extra long length large bamboo handle brush (17″ x 2.5″)
  2. Long brush (16″ x 2.5″) for narrow tubes
  3. Long skinny brush ( 15.5″ X 2/5″),
  4. Shortie brush (10″ x 0.8″)
  5. General purpose brush (4.6″ x1.2″)
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Cleaning Hopper Bird Feeders

Hopper feeders tend to be somewhat easy to clean due to the large hopper openings. Here are some cleaning tips:

  • Remove the glass or plastic window and carefully clean with a soft cloth to avoid scratching
  • Use a toothbrush to scrub the floor around the food openings and the groove that holds the glass partitions

Cleaning Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders

Squirrel-proof bird feeders tend to have mechanical parts that move base don the weight of the squirrel. Here are some tips:

  • If you have a battery-operated feeder (as in a spinner), be sure to turn off the battery first. Also, DO NOT soak that portion of the bird feeder
  • After following the above general bird feeder cleaning steps, consider lubricating the moving pieces. But, be careful to not get lubrication in the areas where the bird food goes.

Cleaning Wreath and Suet Cage Feeders

I find these types of feeders fairly easy to clean. The biggest challenge is to thoroughly scrub the metal with a nylon brush as the suet sometimes sticks pretty strong to the cages or wreaths.

Another tip is to spray with a garden hose set to a strong spray.

Bird Feeder Cleaning FAQs

What are the Benefits of Cleaning a Bird Feeder?

Cleaning your birdfeeder is extremely important, especially if you want to attract the greatest number of birds possible.

While some people don’t think it’s necessary or do not have time to clean their feeders either every couple of weeks, this is actually one of the most effective ways to attract more birds. Also, keeping a bird feeder free of bacteria is ideal for keeping them healthy and safe.

Here are some other benefits of cleaning a bird feeder:

  • Waste and birdseed won’t clog your feeder, saving money on seed.
  • Cleaning a bird feeder stops the spread of germs.

What Type of Debris Gets Found in a Bird Feeder?

Tray feeders end up collecting all kinds of debris over time which makes sense since they are open to the environment.

I have heard other birds talk about spiders using a birdfeeder as their home or hideout, often making elaborate webs that turn seed into unusable mounds. I have never run into this issue. Maybe that’s because I clean my feeders regularly and they are very active with birds.

The biggest issue I have is during prolonged rainy times. The feeding ports get clogged with wet, clumped food.

How Can a Dirty Bird Feeder Make Birds Sick?

Birds are much more vulnerable to bacteria than you might think. Whenever they come to eat at a bird feeder, they have no way of knowing if it’s diseased or not.

If there is just one type of disease-causing bacteria that gets into their system while eating here, it can make them sick for a long time. This can even lead to death for some species.

This is why it is important to clean your feeders regularly AND clean the areas underneath them!

What Cleaning Supplies Should You Avoid When Cleaning a Birdfeeder?

It is important to remember that you should never use any type of oil-based cleaning product with a bird feeder.

If you’re using an oil-based soap, it may get washed down into the seed below, causing mold to grow and making it unfit for consumption by birds.

You should also avoid non-diluted bleach and ammonia when cleaning a bird feeder with perches or holes in it. These areas are small enough that they’ll be impossible to clean properly without harming the birds inside your feeder.

Should I Use Wildlife-Safe Soap?

When using dish soap, you should only use wildlife-safe products.  These types of soaps don’t include any harsh chemicals or additives that may harm the birds at your feeder.

What are the Most Common Diseases Found in Bird Feeders?

Your bird feeder may house a number of different bacteria and parasites that can make birds sick.

The one you’ll most commonly find is called “Histomoniasis,” also known as Histomonosis or Blackhead disease.  

This can affect many different species of birds, causing diarrhea, vomiting, and even death for some of them.  There is no cure once a bird becomes infected with this illness.

Another common problem is salmonella infection from eating food that was contaminated by rodents during the wintertime. Other diseases include

  • Avian pox
  • Aspergillosis
  • Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis

Final Wrap On How To Clean Your Bird Feeders

As you can see, cleaning a bird feeder doesn’t have to be challenging. If you use the right cleaning materials and follow these steps, cleaning should be a breeze.

All in all, cleaning your birdhouse will help you protect birds from deadly materials and keep them coming into your yard for many years to come.

Happy Birding!

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