How To Clean a Bird Feeder

Learn how to maintain your bird feeders in six easy steps.

Related To:
White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

A white-breasted nuthatch visits a tube feeder, snatching seed that it stores for winter. Nuthatches stash seeds in fissures in tree bark for a winter feast.

Photo by: Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

Bird feeders are a sure bet to bring color and activity to a yard, beckoning birds by the dozen. Keeping the feeder full quickly becomes a top priority, but it’s equally important to keep it clean. A dirty bird feeder can actually help incubate and spread diseases among birds.

How often should you clean your bird feeder? One to two times per month, according to the National Audubon Society. If you spot signs of a diseased bird, double your cleaning efforts, and tackle the job twice as frequently. It’s also a good idea to clean your bird feeder during rainy weather, when birdseed has become wet. Damp birdseed provides the ideal breeding ground for molds and fungus, which can harm birds. Any time you notice seed clumping, that’s a definite sign of dampness, the precursor to bird-harming mold and fungus.

Not sure how to clean your bird feeders? Follow these six steps to take the guesswork out of the task.

1: Empty

Remove all birdseed from the feeder. It’s best to dump this seed, especially if it’s wet or moldy, into a plastic bag for putting out with the trash. Use caution spreading seed in a garden area, because it may sprout. Also be careful scattering seed that appears dry over a lawn, thinking birds will eat it. They may, but seed can also attract rodents, such as chipmunks, voles and mice, which in turn can attract stray cats, snakes and hawks (which may prey on the birds at your feeders).

2: Soak

Soak your feeder in hot water with mild soap to help loosen food remnants or bird droppings. Boiling water can increase the effectiveness of this step. With suet feeders, use a degreasing dish soap to cut through suet film and stickiness. Let feeders soak for at least 15 minutes—longer if they’re really dirty. A soak helps loosen any stubborn seed stuck in the bottom of the feeder. It’s a good idea to disassemble feeders prior to soaking.

Downy Woodpecker on Suet

Downy Woodpecker on Suet

A suet feeder beckons many birds, including downy woodpecker and other types of woodpeckers.

Photo by: Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

3: Scrub

After feeders have soaked, scrub all surfaces with a stiff brush to remove any seed, dirt or waste. With tube feeders, use a bottle brush or specialized tube feeder brush. If you have long (24 to 36 inches) tube feeders, purchase a feeder brush designed to fit that length. Quality bird feeder specialists offer these, and they’re well worth the investment. Rinse feeders well after scrubbing with a gentle spray of water and inspect for any remaining dirt. Repeat the soak and scrub steps until all dirt is removed. Be careful using a strong spray of water from a garden hose nozzle on bird feeders. It can blast through plastic that’s become rigid through sun exposure.

4: Disinfect

Once feeders are clean and rinsed, disinfect them. Soak in a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and water, or make a 9-to-1 water-bleach solution. Rinse after disinfecting.

Common Redpoll Bird

Common Redpoll Bird

A redpoll is a type of finch and flocks to feeders filled with nyjer seed. Native to the arctic tundra and boreal forest, common redpoll often visits bird feeders in the Lower 48 in winter.

Photo by: Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

Courtney Celley for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at FWS.gov

5: Dry

Allow the feeder to air dry before refilling. Mesh feeders dry quickly, but tube feeders may need a day or two until all crevices are dry. When you think the feeder is dry, turn it over to make sure no water remains. An easy way to dry bird feeders is to set them in the sun.

6: Clean Beneath

While feeders dry, clean up the area around and under where they hang. Rake up spilled seed or empty hulls. Keeping the ground beneath feeders clean is important to help keep unwanted critters away and prevent certain bird disease outbreaks. Some bird diseases are caused by organisms that can survive in seed remnants.

Tips For Keeping Feeders Clean

Besides maintaining a regular cleaning schedule, try these tips to keep your feeders in prime condition.

  • Cleaning feeders is a breeze when they disassemble easily. Replace worn feeders with ones that come apart for easy cleaning (yes, they make those). 
  • Look for feeders (especially tube feeders) made from plastic with Microban antibacterial technology, which fights growth of damaging bacteria, mold and mildew.
  • Consider adding a bird feeder guard to protect seed from wind and rain. These guards often have names like weather dome, weather guard, rain guard or feeder dome. When searching online or in a bird feeding store, look for these items under bird feeding accessories.
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