Just like any piece of outdoor equipment your bird bath will need to be cleaned from time to time. Birds won’t drink or bathe in a dirty bird bath and stagnant, polluted water can harbour diseases and bacteria that can harm birds. A dirty bird bath may also attract mice, rats, and other pests that you don’t want to visit your garden.
Bird baths can become dirty over time due to bird droppings, leaves and other plant matter, dead insects, dust, and feathers. A build-up of algae will eventually turn the water into a pool of green or red slime.
You should thoroughly clean your bird bath at least a couple of times a year, although if you let the dirt build up it will become more difficult to clean, so try and do it as often as you can. You will probably need to clean your bird bath more in the summer or when the weather is warm. And if you put your bird bath away over winter give it a thorough clean beforehand.
To keep on top of things each time you fill the bird bath remove any old water before topping it up.
Only use bird friendly products to clean your bird bath; those designed to be used to clean ponds and pools can be harmful to birds.
Once a week tip all the water out of your bird bath and remove any loose pieces of debris.
Wipe the bath with a dilute bleach solution and rinse it well before refilling with fresh water.
First of all, remove any stones or gravel from the bottom of the bath and any attachments like a pump or decorative objects.
Empty the bath or any water that’s already in it; either tip the bath over to one side or remove the plug on the underside of the bird bath. Don’t empty it where it can form a puddle as birds may try and use it. You can pour it on your lawn or flowerbeds or if it is very dirty down a drain.
Wearing a pair of gloves, remove as much of the dirt, leaves, and other debris from the bath that you can.
Use a high-pressured garden hose to spray the bird bath down. If you don’t have a hose, then tip a few buckets of water over the bath. This should get rid of most of the dirt from the bottom of the bath.
Make up a weak bleach solution of one part bleach to ten parts water (eg 200 ml bleach in 5 litres of water) or a solution of one part distilled white vinegar to nine parts water.
Do not use a stronger solution or any other chemicals in your bird bath which may harm birds, and be aware that soap or washing up liquid will not remove algae.
Take a stiff brush or some wire wool and using the bleach or vinegar solution scrub the bird bath to remove algae, faeces, and anything else stuck to the basin. It’s up to you whether you want to clean the outside of the bird bath. Algae and moss can create a nice weathered, natural effect particularly on stone bird baths, and as long as it’s only on the outside it’s fine to leave it be.
Fill the bird bath with the cleaning solution and cover the entire bird bath with a black bin bag. This will prevent birds trying to drink and bathe in the water and the black will absorb solar radiation which will warm up the water and make the bleach work more quickly. Weigh the edges of the bin bag with some rocks or stones or tuck it under the pedestal so it doesn’t blow away.
Leave the bird bath to soak for about 15 minutes. If it’s very dirty you might need to leave it for longer.
While the bird bath is soaking clean the stones and other pieces you removed from the bath. Give the stones a scrub with the bleach or vinegar solution and clean anything else following the manufacturer’s instructions.
After soaking for 15 minutes remove the bin bag and check that the bird bath is clean. If necessary, replace the bin bag and leave it to soak for a little while longer.
Once the bird bath is clean tip the water away. Don’t pour it directly onto grass or plants as the bleach will kill them, or anywhere where it could birds, pets, or children.
For very stubborn stains sprinkle a little baking soda over them and add some water to form a paste. Give them a good scrub to remove them, but don’t go at them so hard that you damage the bird bath.
Rinse the basin with the hose or by pouring over a few buckets of water. You can give the bird bath a sniff to find out whether all traces of bleach or vinegar have been removed. A faint smell of chlorine is normal, but it shouldn’t smell like a swimming pool or chip shop!
If it’s a sunny day, leave the bird to dry in the sun. This will sterilise the surface and help prevent the formation of algae.
Refill your bird bath with fresh water and watch as your garden birds return to an attractive, clean space where they can drink and bathe safely.
Don’t place your bird bath under trees or bushes where leaves and other plant debris can fall or blow into it.
Keep your bird bath away from bird tables and feeders so birds won’t drop or knock food into it.
Place your bird bath somewhere shady to minimise the growth of algae, and to keep the water cool which keeps it fresher for longer.
Change the water regularly to prevent a build-up of dirt and algae.
A fountain or pump which keeps the water moving will prevent stagnation and discourage insects and mosquitos.
A small piece of copper placed in your bird bath may keep algae at bay.