How to clean a bird bath with vinegar

How to clean a bird bath for your garden’s feathered friends

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One of the joys of looking out my patio door or quietly sitting on my back deck is when I see birds frolicking in my bird bath. They’ll splash about and then perch on the edge, fluffing and preening their bedraggled feathers. Birds also drink from the birdbath. Filling the birdbath with fresh water is part of my plant-watering routine. However in the heat of summer, that bird bath can become a cesspool of germs. That’s why it’s important to know how to clean a bird bath.

I’ve spotted sparrows, junkoes, robins, cardinals, blue jays, finches and more enjoying the cool water of my bird bath. I want to make sure it remains fresh, clean and free of diseases.

Birdbath placement

My cement birdbath is beside a cedar hedge, just off my deck. There is a bit of shade at various points throughout the day, making it a great place for birds to cool off. The birds can disappear into the bushes at any hint of danger—I live on a ravine, so predators, like raptors, are plentiful.

Cleaning out a bird bath isn’t a garden task you might have thought of. However over time, if lots of birds are frequenting your bird bath, the water can become stagnant, attracting bacteria and maybe even algae growth. No one wants to swim in that!

While it isn’t a super involved process, once you learn how to clean a bird bath, you’ll attract birds to the yard and ensure they leave healthy.

How to clean a bird bath

The first step is to get rid of any stagnant water that is in the bird bath. This might be a two-person job. My cement feeder is in two pieces, so it’s easy to lift the bowl (with help) to dump it out. Remove any debris, like bird poop, feathers, and leaves or other garden detritus (maple keys, sticks, etc.). A heavy spray of water from your hose nozzle should help with this part.

Don’t let your bird bath get this dirty! Learn how to clean a bird bath, so the birds that flock to your garden remain healthy as they drink, bathe, and preen.

Next, use a heavy-duty scrub brush to give your bird bath a good wash. I have one that I bought at Lee Valley Tools. You might also want to wear rubber gloves. If you don’t, be sure to scrub your hands with soap and water once you’re finished.

Instead of using soap or bleach to clean the bird bath, the National Audubon Society recommends scrubbing it with nine parts water to one part vinegar. You might want to let the solution soak for a few minutes. Be sure to stay close to the bird bath so no birds sneak in!

Pour the vinegar solution into a bucket and dispose of it when you’re done cleaning. Use that heavy nozzle spray to rinse the bowl of your bird bath. Allow it to dry before refilling.

Fill your bird bath with fresh water. Refill it every day or every other day, depending on how much water is lost to evaporation in the summer or how much rain you’ve had. Keep a special eye on the bird bath during fall migration when you might have more birds discovering your yard.

How often should you clean a bird bath?

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, you should clean your bird bath every few weeks, or more often if it’s being used more than usual.

When I wrote about putting up a winter bird feeder for CAA magazine (a regional publication where I live), I was alerted to the issue of Trichomonosis, an infectious disease that has been afflicting bird populations (especially American goldfinches and purple finches) in Atlantic Canada. If there is an outbreak in your area, it’s recommended that you remove your feeders and any bird baths from the property to avoid spreading the disease. But this serious disease underlines the importance of regularly cleaning your bird bath to avoid spreading other ailments.

Accessorizing your bird bath

If you’re concerned about standing water attracting mosquitoes, consider adding what is referred to as a water wiggler to the bird bath. This keeps water moving (mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water).

Learn what to plant to attract birds!

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Learn how to clean a bird bath

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5 Responses to How to clean a bird bath for your garden’s feathered friends

  1. I do what you do it but I leave the vinegar water mix in and cover the birdbath top with a large plastic black trash bag overnight Itwill be like brand new looking after rinsing

  2. Judee says:

    My birdbath leaks. What product, that doesn’t harm the birds, could I use to seal it.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Judee,
      I’m not sure, to be honest. I would ask at your local hardware store to see what they can recommend.

    • Renee says:

      There is a product called Instacrete for repairing fountains and bird baths.

    • Sarah says:

      I used clear flex seal. I painted a metal bird bath and spent a few years looking for a clear, bird safe sealer. Finally learned that Flex Seal is non toxic when it dries and water proof.

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