Cleaning your bird feeder is as easy as washing a dish—and should be done almost as often.
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A birdfeeder is an outdoor apparatus that supplies bird food to birds, usually for the purpose of attracting birds for birdwatching.

The most common types of bird feeders are feeders that are filled with solid bird food like seed or suet and feeders that are filled with sugar water, also called nectar, that are designed to attract hummingbirds. Both types of feeder need to be cleaned regularly, in tandem with refills, following similar but slightly different methods.

birds on a bird feeder
Credit: Getty Images

When, and How Often, You Should Clean a Bird Feeder

Bird feeders, regardless of type, need to be cleaned regularly, and this is especially true during warm or wet weather seasons.

John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society, says, "Seed and suet feeders should be cleaned at least once every other week. Hummingbird feeders use a sugar solution, so they need to be cleaned every few days."

Seed and suet feeders will develop bacteria if they are not cleaned at least every other week during cooler, dryer months. Bacteria is more likely to grow in humid or hot weather, meaning you'll need more frequent cleaning in the warmer months to keep feeders safe for and attractive to birds.

Other signs that it's time to clean a bird feeder are wet seed or cloudy nectar. "If it has been particularly rainy and the seed has gotten wet, you should also clean it out," Rowden says. "If the solution in a hummingbird feeder has gotten cloudy, it is definitely time to change it."

What to Avoid When Cleaning a Bird Feeder

When cleaning a bird feeder, care should be taken to keep it safe for you, your home's outdoor environs, and, of course, the birds who stop by for refreshments. Therefore, there are some safety precautions to take and some things to avoid when cleaning a bird feeder.

"Avoid harsh chemicals or cleaners," Rowden says. "Mild soap and water or diluted bleach solutions will be sufficient." Rowden stresses the importance of rinsing a bird feeder very well after washing: "It's critical that they're well-rinsed," he says. "That's another reason to avoid the harsh chemicals."

If a seed or suet feeder requires scrubbing, use a bottle brush to get to hard-to-reach places and/or to scour away stuck-on food. Avoid using stiff bristled brushes, metal brushes, or steel wool scouring pads, as they can damage glass or plastic parts of the feeder.

How to Clean a Seed or Suet Bird Feeder

Cleaning a seed or suet bird feeder involves disposing of old or wet bird food, scrubbing and rinsing the feeder, and refilling it with clean food. Seed or suet feeders should be cleaned every at least every other week; because bacteria is more likely to grow in humid or hot weather, you should clean seed and suet feeders more frequently during warm weather months. If the seed in the feeder has gotten wet, the feeder will need to be cleaned, regardless of how long ago it was last cleaned. Following these steps to clean a seed or suet feeder.

What You'll Need

  • Mild soap or bleach
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • Bottle brush (optional)
  • Household gloves

Step 1: Empty the Bird Feeder

Begin by throwing out old seed or suet. It is best to dispose of leftover seed in the trash, rather than scattering it on the ground, which can attract pests. Always wear gloves when handling bird feeders, as they have been exposed to wild animals.

Step 2: Make a Cleaning Solution

When cleaning a seed or suet bird feeder, use either a solution of mild soap and water or a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.

Step 3: Wash the Feeder

Wash the feeder the way you would a dish or a glass, using a sponge and soapy water or a mild bleach solution. Use a sponge or cleaning rag that has been designated for outdoor cleaning jobs; do not use the sponge you use to wash your dishes to clean a bird feeder.

Step 4: Scrub the Feeder (Optional)

Typically, you will find that you do not need to scrub a feeder aggressively to remove old seed or suet. You do want to be sure that all traces of old food are removed from the feeder, though—if food is stuck on a hard-to-reach spot, use a bottle brush to dislodge it. Once you're confident all food remnants have been removed, rinse the feeder very well with clean running water.

Step 5: Allow the Feeder to Dry

The feeder should be completely dry before you refill it with seed, as moisture encourages bacterial growth. Allow the feeder to air-dry, or dry with clean cloths. Wash your hands thoroughly when you are done, even if you have worn work gloves for the job.

How to Clean a Sugar Water Bird Feeder

Cleaning a hummingbird feeder involves disposing of old nectar, washing and rinsing the feeder, and refilling it. Hummingbird feeders should be replenished with fresh nectar every other day and should be cleaned each time the nectar is refilled, following these steps.

What You'll Need

  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • Household gloves

Step 1: Empty and Rinse the Bird Feeder

Dispose of old nectar. Always wear gloves when handling bird feeders, as they have been exposed to wild animals. Rinse the hummingbird feeder with water.

Step 2: Soak the Feeder in Vinegar Solution

After rinsing, the hummingbird feeder should be soaked in a 50:50 solution of water and white vinegar, which will sanitize it. Once the hummingbird feeder has soaked for several minutes, rinse the feeder very well with clean running water.

Step 3: Refill the Feeder

Refill the feeder with fresh nectar; the Smithsonian's hummingbird nectar recipe calls for 1 part white refined sugar to 4 parts water (extra nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for ease of refilling). Wash your hands thoroughly when you are done, even if you have worn work gloves for the job.

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