How to clean a birdbath — and keep it clean

Oh my goodness, the birds love our birdbath! It’s nothing fancy, just an old cement bath that has the benefit of being near a wooded area. In our previous home, the birdbath was taken over by crows. Not to play favorites, but crows don’t share nicely. Here, we’re seeing goldfinches and house finches and cardinals, and robins, and chickadees, and other sweet birds every day. (I’m on the lookout for an indigo bunting, because I hear they’re in the neighborhood!)

Anyway, the birds and I both appreciate when the bath is sparkling clean. Besides being much more fun to look at (and play in, if you’re a bird), clean water is also important for disease protection for birds and mosquito and gnat avoidance for us. 

Here’s what I found is the best way to maintain the birdbath:

To clean the birdbath

• Empty the bath of water and debris.

• Use a pressure nozzle on your hose to loosen any remaining, stuck-on debris or dirt. (If you have a bath that’s a little delicate — say with mosaic pieces or a delicate glaze — use a lighter spray.)

gray and white bird perching on edge of bird bath

• Combine distilled white vinegar and water (about one part vinegar to nine parts water) in a bucket or wash basin.

• Using a scrub brush (designate one for this task only), wash the entire bath with the vinegar water, including the lip where the birds perch.

• If the bath is especially dirty, pour the vinegar solution in and let it soak for about ten minutes (Make sure no birds come during this time — either cover it or stand guard. This is when I deadhead nearby flowers.) Empty the vinegar soak.

• Rinse well. Very well. 

• Let the birdbath dry, ideally in the sun.

• Fill with clean water. 

How often should you clean a birdbath?

It depends on how popular it is with the birds, but if you’re lucky enough to have frequent visitors, you may need to clean it a few times a week. 

How to get stains out of a concrete birdbath

If your birdbath is badly stained, scrubbing with vinegar water may not do the trick. Simply make a paste of baking soda and water and scrub it into the stains. Leave the paste on for a few minutes, then scrub some more. Rinse well. I like to follow this with the vinegar wash described above.

Is it okay to use bleach to clean a birdbath?

Lots of people do. I don’t like to use bleach, even though it’s supposed to be safe for the birds as long as you rinse the birdbath well afterwards. I find vinegar effective, safer, and more environmentally friendly.

How to keep your birdbath clean:

These steps won’t eliminate the need to clean the bath regularly, but they can help between washings:

robin splashing in a cement birdbath

• Keep the birdbath away from birdfeeders so seed doesn’t wind up in it.

• Dump out the old water when you refill the birdbath with clean water between washings. My big cement bath is a little heavy for this task (though I do it for cleanings), so I blast the old water out with the pressure nozzle on the hose before adding new. 

• There are natural plant enzymes that you can put in the water to minimize algae growth. Gardening shops and wildlife supply stores carry them.

• Add a fountain pump. Keeping the water from becoming stagnant helps keep it clean.

A couple of extra birdbath tips:

• If your basin is deep (more than an inch or two), add a couple of flat stones for the birds.

• Birds also like bubblers and drippers — anything that keeps the water moving a bit will attract them. 

You might also like: Garden tool care and keeping and Hanging flower baskets — How to keep your hanging flower baskets pretty throughout the summer.

4 thoughts on “How to clean a birdbath — and keep it clean”

  1. Thanks guys. It is very useful for sharing the way to clean bird bath and prevent disease. Dirty water can make the birds sick and they can spread diseases to other birds in their flock.

    • I’m just in from cleaning and refreshing mine, Jessica. Good idea to put maintenance and fresh water on a regular to do list! Thanks for the reminder!


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