Keeping A Bird Bath Water Clean: Steps and materials

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Birdbaths are one of the most attractive items in the backyard for birds. However, I’ve recently realized that birdbath water gets dirty really easily and it takes a bit of effort to get it cleaned up. I did a little research online and decided to compile some simple advice for you guys. Here’s what I found.

To keep your bird bath water clean, you’ll need to do the following: (1) Change it out two to three times a week, (2) Use some basic cleaning equipment to scrub out the dirt and remove contaminants (3) Place your bird bath in a location where less debris is likely to fall inside (i.e. under trees, near bird feeders)

Keeping your bird bath waters clean is absolutely essential and you are responsible for the cleanliness of your own bird bath! Well, not to fear, read on and I will give you some tips and steps on how you can perform your own bird bath cleansing routine as painlessly as possible.

The Importance Of Cleaning Your Bird Bath Water

Cleaning and changing out your bird bath water is absolutely essential. I cannot imagine anyone bathing in water that is contaminated, let alone any birds! So I’m glad and suppose you are probably one of the more responsible birders out there who is concerned about the cleanliness of your bird bath water. That’s a great step!

Before we dive right into the details of bird bath water cleanliness, let me quickly highlight why it is important to clean your bird bath water. Quoting from Geoffrey LeBaron, director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count program, “If you don’t take good care of your birdbath, either it will dry out completely, which is no use for birds, or it’ll get fetid,” LeBaron says. “That’s when mosquitoes might become a problem.”

Yes, I’m talking about mosquitoes as the main problem here. Especially in the fall, it is the season where you can expect mosquitoes to be more of a problem. Dirty and stagnant water attracts mosquitoes and can become a potential breeding ground for them.

Dirty bird bath water not only causes disease-related problem for us humans, but also for the birds. Any unsuspecting bird that takes a bath in the water can potentially cause your entire backyard bird flock to be infected.

Anyways, if you’re searching this up, you’re on the right track! Let me continue on the case of cleaning dirty bird bath water.

What Actually Is Contaminating Your Bird Bath Water?

In order to figure out how to clean your own bird bath water, you’ll first need to understand the problem. Basically, we need to know our enemies in order to get rid of them.

Common Sources of Contamination:

  • Bird feces
  • Seeds
  • Grass fragments, leaves, or other debris
  • Dust and dirt
  • Algae
  • Feathers

While some of the contaminant sources are only natural, it can quickly build up into a stinky source of contaminants for your bird bath. Next up, we need to get cleaning!

Steps To Clean Your Own Bird Bath Water

Before we get started cleaning, you’ll first need to obtain the following items for the cleanup process:

Items and Materials Needed:

  • Water
  • Scrub Brush / Pressure washer
  • Rubber gloves
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Black plastic trash bag

Step 1) Pour Out All The Residual Water

Before we begin with any cleaning, you’ll want to start with removing the contaminated water. The water may contain all sorts of organic contaminants like those mentioned above, so it’s best you dispose of it responsibly. A suggestion would be to pour it out in an area to be recycled in your garden. If your basin is attached to the entire bird bath, then you can choose to tilt and let the water flow. If the bird bath basin contains any physical items, do remove them before proceeding to the next few steps.

Step 2) Scrub The Basin

Next, you’ll need to add water to your basin and use your scrub brush to scrub the basin. Do be careful not to use any sharp metal objects to scrub, because it may cause the paint on the bottom of your basin to peel and that can spell trouble as some paint can be toxic to birds.

If you happen to have any pressure washers or a water jet of any kind, this will be a perfect time to use it to dislodge any large debris stuck to the bottom of the bird bath. The aim is to remove surface materials so it can be cleaned more thoroughly later on.

Step 3) Refill The Basin With Water

Next, you’ll need to remove the chemically more resistant stains that do not belong on the bird bath basin surface. These include stubborn dirt or algae. Be sure to add enough water for it to have a higher water level than algae growing on the sides of the basin.

Step 4) Add Chlorine Bleach

Next, we’ll use some chemicals to remove the stains. Add a generous amount of chlorine bleach to the water. I would suggest to add about 10% of the amount of water you have added.

Step 5) Cover Up Bird Bath With Black Plastic Trash Bag

This step is extremely important so please don’t skip it or miss it! You must cover the bird bath with a black plastic trash bag. This is to discourage birds from being led to believe the bird bath is ready for use. You do not want any birds to be bathing in your chlorine bleach water!! The black color will allow the sun to heat the water and dry the bath ore quickly. Also, secure the plastic bag firmly so it will not fly off.

Step 6) Leave The Bird Bath To Soak

You’ll then need to leave the bird bath to soak for about 10 to 15 minutes. For bird baths that have not been cleaned for months or more, you’ll need to soak longer for it to be fully clean. I would encourage you to soak it for an entire day if you haven’t cleaned it for so long.

Step 7) Rinse The Treated Basin

Remove the trash bag and begin to rinse the treated bird bath basin. Check if there are still algae stains on the basin. If there are, then repeat steps 3 – 6 and wait for a longer duration before removing the trash bag. Be sure to give the bird bath a thorough cleansing with your water hose or water pressure washer. It is important not to leave the bird bath unattended at this point until you have done the thorough cleansing.

A good way to gauging if the basin is thoroughly rinsed is to sniff the basin. If the basin still smells of chlorine, you need to literally rinse and repeat multiple time to get rid of the residual chlorine water. You do not want to be stingy with the number of washes here, as chlorine in the water of your bird bath can cause harm to the birds if used.

Step 8) Refill The Cleaned Basin

You can now proceed to refill the cleaned basin with your clean water. You want to fill a depth of no more than 2 inches as this is the right depth for smaller birds to easily drink and bathe. If you would like to find out how much water to fill for the bird species that frequent your bird bath, you can find out more information in another article that I’ve written here.

How Often Should You Clean Your Bird Bath Water?

You might then ask the question: “how often should I clean my bird bath water?” Well, you should aim to clean your bird bath water around 2 to 3 times a week. Of course, if you wash your bird bath so often, washing it every time will not be as difficult as washing it after months of not doing so! Do observe the cleanliness level of your bird bath though. If you feel like your bird bath needs cleaning more often than the recommended frequency above, then by all means please do so! I wrote another article that’s packed with information on this, so please do check it out here!

How To Minimize Contamination Of Your Bird Bath Water

You can minimize the contamination of your bird bath water and thereby decrease the frequency of your washes. Here are some practical ways to do so:

  • Position your bird bath away from the feeders so they do not spill onto the bird bath water
  • Position your bird bath away from areas prone to falling leaves and debris
  • You can consider adding a copper source to the water to inhibit algae growth

Final Thoughts

Though keeping our bird bath waters clean may be a tiresome process, I would say that keeping a clean bird bath for the birds to bathe in is worth every effort. Just seeing the birds using the baths that you set out will definitely instill a sense of pride and ownership of the backyard birds that frequent your backyard ever so often. Here’s to cleaner bird bath waters and healthy backyard birds!

Happy birding!

My Recommended Birding Resources:

Hey there, Justin here!

Here’s a list of all my favorite resources, products, and brands I trust and love.

My Celestron Nature DX 8×42 Binoculars: It’s a great budget pair for beginner birders. Highly valued for its price! Read my review.

Safe Paint for Bird Baths Guide: Learn about non-toxic paint for painting bird baths.

Safe Sealers for Bird Baths Guide: Learn which sealers are safe for bird baths.

Safe Paint for Bird Feeders Guide: Learn what special care needs to be taken to paint bird feeders with the right paint.

Safe Paint for Birdhouses Guide: Learn about non-toxic paint for painting birdhouses. (Not the same as bird baths!)

Bird Identification Apps Guide: 2 of my favorite birding apps are Merlin Bird ID, and eBird Mobile! Merlin is great for tracking and identifying birds, and eBird Mobile is great for tracking the birds sighted when birding.

Check out my resources page for the full list of resources I recommend!

Justin Chia

Justin is the founder and author of Birding Outdoors. He is a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) alumnus with a Bachelor of Biological Sciences and a former data analyst.

Now, Justin runs the Birding Outdoors blog full-time, hoping to share his deep love for birds, birding, and nature with others.

To unwind, Justin enjoys gaming and reading.

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