How to Clean a Birdbath for Your Feathered Friends

By Marilyn Syarto

You wouldn’t want to sip filthy water or take a bath in a slimy bathtub, and neither would the birds that visit your birdbath. Learning how to clean a birdbath is one of the simplest, most satisfying yard tasks you can tackle. It adds sparkle to your yard and it gives birds a clean, safe place to refresh themselves either in warm weather while they are on their journeys.

This guide will teach you how to clean a birdbath properly so that you can keep the birds in your area safe, clean, and coming back for more.

dirty birdbath in garden

Photo via Debbora

Why Birdbaths Need to Be Cleaned

It’s easy to “let it go” for a while, but if you’ve ever seen a dirty birdbath, you know that it can get pretty disgusting and smelly. It’s usually filled with plant dander, dust, bird droppings, feathers, mushed berries, dead bugs, and sludge-like algae. Other than presenting your feathered visitors with an aesthetically pleasing birdbath, there are some sound and healthy reasons why birdbaths need to be cleaned:

  • Still water can attract mosquitos and turn the birdbath into a bug-infested and virulent swamp.
  • Algae can quickly develop in a birdbath that is kept dirty or left in the sun.
  • Fallen and wayward seeds or berries left to rot in a birdbath can become moldy and can make a bird ill if consumed.
  • Cleaning the ground around the birdbath can prevent rodents or other animals attracted to seeds or berries.
  • Cleaning a birdbath gives birds fresh water to bathe in and drink, keeping them healthy and vibrant all year round.

Concrete vs. Plastic Birdbaths

Concrete birdbaths are most durable and easy to find. But, they can be heavy to move, tend to leak if cracked, and their stubbly texture can be tougher to clean than plastic versions.

How Often to Clean a Birdbath

Clean your birdbath every two weeks to keep the water in optimal condition and birds in their best health.

If you can’t fully clean your birdbath, at least change the water every five days during the summer and fall. If you replace the water in the birdbath every five days, a mosquito can’t complete its life cycle from egg to adult, which takes them seven to 10 days, say the experts at Mosquito Squad.

hose spraying birdbath

Photo via Desiree | Our Cottage on Mary

How to Clean a Birdbath

White distilled vinegar can safely clean a birdbath without much fuss or elbow grease. Because chemicals can be tough to completely rinse from a birdbath (which gives baths the potential to harm birds), distilled white vinegar is the safest choice for birds. But if you’re particularly sensitive to vinegary smells or you simply don’t have any distilled white vinegar on hand, hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean birdbaths, too.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Protective gloves
  • Garden hose
  • Bucket
  • Clean water
  • Distilled white vinegar (or hydrogen peroxide)
  • Large garbage bag, plastic cover, or tarp
  • Stiff wire scrub brush
  • Old towels, rags, or paper towels

Step 1: Remove Water

Put on protective gloves. Remove the existing water from the birdbath by slowly tipping the bowl. Rinse the bowl out with the garden hose, draining the water onto the ground.

Step 2: Mix Water and Vinegar

In a bucket, mix clean water and vinegar in any ratio you prefer (up to 50 percent of each). Use your gloved hand to mix the water and vinegar.

Step 3: Let Mixture Stand

Pour the mixture into the birdbath, covering the bowl interior as much as possible. Use a garbage bag or tarp to cover the birdbath (so birds don’t flock to the dirty and vinegar-filled bowl). Let it sit for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Scrub the Bowl

Use the wire brush (used solely for this task) to scrub the birdbath’s bowl to remove all the grime.

Step 5: Pour and Rinse

Pour the dirty water out onto your grass. Rinse the bowl with the garden hose thoroughly.

Step 6: Repeat

If the bath is still grungy, simply repeat Steps 2-5, starting with a fresh mix of water and vinegar.

Step 7: Dry Thoroughly

If you can, move the birdbath to a sunny spot to dry it thoroughly. If you can’t move it, use old (and clean) towels, rags, or paper towels to dry it out.

Step 8: Fill Birdbath

Fill the birdbath with fresh water from the garden hose.

How to Get a Birdbath Ready for Birds

Where you put a birdbath counts when getting it ready for your winged visitors. Consider these three tips on the location:

  • Choose a shady location or one with dappled sunlight. Too much sun encourages algae formation.
  • Keep a birdbath close to protective shrubs for birds to dip into, but don’t place the birdbath directly underneath them. Falling foliage, blooms, and fruits can quickly cause a mucky mess in the water.
  • Avoid hanging a bird feeder directly over a birdbath. Falling seeds can cause a problem, but the birdbath can serve as a quick boost for squirrels to get into the feeders, as well.

Consider a Heater

In wintertime, consider adding a heater to your birdbath to de-ice it. Heaters simply plug into outdoor outlets, they’re safely constructed and tend to look like rocks to make birds feel at home. As a note, heaters won’t heat the water, they just keep the water from freezing.

birdbath nestled in garden

Photo via Julie

How to Keep Birdbaths Clean

Take these small but important extra steps to keep your birdbath clean. After all, you want your bird B&B to get the best ratings, right?

  • Consider adding a fountain or water wiggler feature to your birdbath. The movement of the water attracts birds and deters mosquitoes because they won’t lay eggs in running water.
  • Add diluted apple cider vinegar to newly-added water in the bath to keep algae away, says Stephanie Rose, ornithologist, biologist, and founder of birding site Add no more than one teaspoon per gallon of water to make the water slightly acidic.
  • Change the water even more frequently. We mentioned changing the water every five days for mosquito control. If you change the water every two to four days, however, you will reduce the amount of algae spores in the birdbath, too.

Have you successfully cleaned a grimy birdbath? Let us know how you were able to keep a birdbath clean and inviting.

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