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How to Clean a Hummingbird Feeder
If you’ve been feeding hummingbirds for a while, you know their feeders can get, well… a little icky. Between bugs crawling in and dying, mold, algae, and all the invisible diseases we know the sweet hummers carry even if we don’t see them, their feeders can be a hotbed for nastiness.
The good news is that there are a variety of ways to clean and sanitize your hummingbird feeder! We’ll cover a basic, thorough water cleaning, a bleach clean, a vinegar clean, and the tools and precautions you’ll need to take.
Why You Should Keep Your Feeder Clean
Like all of us, hummingbirds can get sick from eating spoiled food. In their case, spoiled food is sugar water that has been left out too long and fermented. In addition, the water can be contaminated by illnesses other hummingbirds have and by insects, like earwigs and ants, who find their way into the ports and die.
Mold and diseases can be particularly harmful. Black mold can give hummingbirds a condition that swells their tongues, making them unable to eat. Many diseases transferred from ill-kept feeders can cause the birds to develop tumors and other problems, leading to illness and ultimately death.
Luckily, that only happens if the hummingbirds don’t notice the food has gone bad. Most of the time, they can tell! Hummers will avoid your feeder altogether if they know their water has spoiled, which means they’ll have to go hungry, and you’ll lose valuable bird watching time.
Lastly, regular cleaning allows you to spot potential issues with your feeder, like damaged parts and leaks, as well as clean out gunk. If the feeder goes too long without a cleaning, it can become permanently damaged by sugar crystallization or otherwise become unusable. Regular cleanings help your feeder last longer.
How Often to Clean Hummingbird Feeder
When it’s extremely hot out, you should clean your feeder and change the water for your hummingbirds twice a week. If it’s not too hot, you can clean it once a week. We like to give them approximately the amount we know they’ll drink each week. Once it’s gone, we clean the feeder and refill it.
In addition, if you notice dead insects, cloudy water, or mold, it’s time to change the water and clean the feeder.
Where you hang your feeder will also affect how often the feeder needs cleaning. Water in a feeder that’s kept in the shade stays safe far longer than one kept in the sun.
What You’ll Need
• Two buckets or a sink
• Hot water
• Paper towels, a disposable rag, and/or an old toothbrush for scrubbing
• Cleaning agent, such as unscented dish soap, vinegar, or bleach (optional)
• Straw cleaners or a Q-tip to clean the ports
• Waterproof cleaning gloves (optional)
Cleaning Your Hummingbird Feeder
No matter where you clean your feeder or what disinfecting solution you use, some parts of the cleaning process stay the same.
Start by disposing of any water remaining in your feeder. Even if there’s a lot of it left, it shouldn’t be reused. Hummingbirds can get sick from water that has sat too long in the sun, and they’ll start to avoid it altogether if it isn’t fresh.
Second, disassemble your feeder into its component parts. Then follow one of the methods below:
Cleaning a Hummingbird Feeder with Water/Dish Soap
Hummingbird feeders generally don’t need more than a thorough wash with hot water and possibly a little dish soap. If you do use dish soap, the feeder will be more fully cleaned and sanitized, but make sure you rinse the soap out completely. The residue it leaves behind can be bad for your birds. Dawn is generally considered the best option.
Start by filling two buckets or your sink with hot water. Adding a few drops of dish soap if you choose, let the feeder soak for a while. Depending on how dirty it is, this can be anywhere from a few minutes to two hours.
Once they’ve soaked, scrub all parts of the feeder thoroughly. Use the straw cleaner to scrub inside of the ports.
Once finished, rinse the feeder in either the second, non-soapy bucket or in fresh tap water in the sink. When you’re sure there’s no more soap, reassemble the feeder. Put fresh sugar water in, and put it back out for the birds to enjoy!
How to Clean Hummingbird Feeder with Vinegar
Vinegar is a fantastic all-natural sanitizing agent. To clean your hummingbird feeder with vinegar, first prepare a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts water in your bucket or sink. Use one cup of vinegar mixed with two cups of water, or a half gallon of vinegar mixed with a gallon of water, or any other variation. Any 1:2 ratio of vinegar to water is fine, as long as you have enough to clean your feeder.
Soak all parts of the feeder in the solution for at least 10 minutes, then scrub each section completely. Use the straw cleaner to wash the ports.
When you’re satisfied, rinse all parts in the fresh water bucket or from the tap in your sink. Once there’s no vinegar left, reassemble the feeder, fill it with fresh sugar water, and set it back up outside.
How to Clean Hummingbird Feeder with Bleach
For an exceptionally dirty feeder, you can clean with a 1:9 bleach to water mixture. That means 1 cup bleach to 9 cups of water, or 1/3 cup bleach to 3 cups water, or whatever other variation results in enough to clean the feeder. You can use less bleach, but you might want to let it sit longer to make sure the feeder is clean.
With the bleach mixture in your bucket or sink, soak all parts of the feeder for at least 10 minutes. Once the time is up, scrub each part with a paper towel or disposable rag.
Once they’re clean, rinse the feeder parts COMPLETELY with fresh water, either in the second bucket or the sink. Make sure there’s no trace of bleach left, since it’s just as bad for hummingbirds to ingest as it is for us! Let it dry completely to let all possible bleach evaporate.
When the feeder is dry, reassemble, refill the feeder, and put it back outside.
Other Feeder Cleaning Tips
If you don’t mind the thought of cleaning your hummingbird’s dishes with your own, you can put the hummingbird feeder in the dishwasher. Make sure you get a dishwasher-safe feeder though, since many feeders can’t handle machine washing. Scrub it beforehand if you notice any mold. You can also consider letting it sit in a bleach or vinegar solution before putting it in the dishwasher to ensure all germs are killed. Rinse again after it’s been through the dishwasher to get rid of any lingering soap residue.
If your feeder has a very narrow opening, you can use rice to help clean it. Pour a 1:2 ratio of dry, uncooked rice to water (generally a quarter cup of rice to a half cup of water) into the feeder, close it off, and shake the feeder vigorously. The rice will scrub off gunk from the inside.
Clean Your Cleaning Area, Too!
Like all birds, hummingbirds can harbor many diseases like salmonella. Because of that, it’s important to thoroughly sanitize the area you clean your hummingbird feeders in so YOU won’t get sick!
One of the best ways to avoid germs is to wash feeders outdoors. Use two buckets, one for cleaning and one for rinsing. Wear gloves and keep all the cleaning materials outside. This greatly lessens your risk of contamination in your home.
If you do clean it in the sink, sanitize it afterward. I keep a bleach spray handy at all times for cleaning after washing feeders, working with raw meat, and pretty much anything else that might require sanitation in the kitchen. Thoroughly wash down the area you’ve cleaned the feeder in with a homemade bleach and water solution or a store mix, like Lysol with bleach. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
If you have a utility or laundry sink, it’s better to use that rather than contaminating your kitchen or bathroom sink.
Happy Hummingbird Watching!
While birders sometimes debate at length, there’s no one “right” way to clean a feeder. As long as you’re cleaning it thoroughly and not leaving any bleach or soap particles behind, your hummingbirds will thank you. Remember, a steady routine of cleaning goes a long way to keeping your hummingbirds happy and healthy throughout the summer!
If you’re having trouble bringing in hummingbirds, check out how to feed hummingbirds in your yard.
Wonder why they always chase each other away from the feeder? Here’s why hummingbirds fight.