Keeping hummingbird feeders clean

Hummingbird Feeder Cleaning Kit

Brushtech Hummingbird Feeder Cleaning Kit at Amazon.com (click image)

If you’re like me, you’ve got a collection of toothbrushes, baby bottle brushes, and even well-washed mascara brushes sitting next to your kitchen sink for cleaning hummingbird feeders. The problem is that tools made for other cleaning jobs don’t always work as well for such a specialized task, so it’s nice to see a set of brushes made especially to reach the nooks and crannies of typical hummingbird feeders. The big brush in this set could even get into the enclosed bases of some of the cheapo feeder models to remove crud you can’t see.

Of all the nasties that grow on hummingbird feeders, the nastiest and hardest to control is black mold. A 15-minute soak in a dilute solution of chlorine bleach*⇓ (1 part bleach in 10 or more parts water) is very effective at killing black mold on non-porous surfaces, but an hour-long soak in white vinegar is a less toxic alternative (NEVER use bleach and vinegar together: you could kill yourself!). In either case, follow up the soak with a thorough brushing to remove dead mold colonies and other organic growths, then rinse well and let the feeder dry before refilling to allow the odor to dissipate.

An even safer mold killer that’s much kinder to your nose than bleach or vinegar is 3% hydrogen peroxide, the medicinal kind you can buy in any drug or grocery store. The downside is that it’s much more expensive than bleach or vinegar. A frugal alternative to traditional soaking is to add a couple of ounces to the feeder bottle, screw on the base, invert the feeder and swirl gently over a sink or bucket to make sure the peroxide covers all inside surfaces, then allow it to stand for at least 10 minutes. While the peroxide is doing its work from the inside, spray the outside with more peroxide to kill any mold growing there. Follow the treatment with a good scrub, including the ports. and rinse well to remove any debris. No drying needed; the peroxide will leave no odor, and the only residues are water and oxygen.

This advice applies mainly to bottle-style feeders. Saucer feeders such as the Aspects Hummzingers can be cleaned by hand using dish detergent and the small port brush in the kit above or washed on the top rack of the dishwasher. If any stubborn debris accumulates in the built-in ant moat, the little ball-shaped brush in the Brushtech set will swish it away.

Regardless of what type of feeder you have, it will need cleaning and refilling every 1 to 3 days in hot, windy, and/or rainy weather and every 4 to 6 days in cooler, calmer, drier weather, whether the birds have emptied it or not. If you can’t make a commitment to good feeder hygiene, it’s best to plant flowers instead.


* There’s a persistent myth that using chlorine bleach to clean feeders will kill hummingbirds. It won’t as long as you rinse the feeder well, just as you would if using bleach to disinfect your own dishes or your pets’ dishes. Any minute traces of chlorine residue will be rendered harmless by reacting with the sugar in the feeder solution (the same thing happens when you mix sugar with chlorinated tap water).

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6 thoughts on “Keeping hummingbird feeders clean

  1. Great site for information about caring for your Hummingbird Feeder. So many people need to learn how to care for their feeders, and this is Perfect. Thanks for the info, and I am going to pass it on.

  2. Pingback: Search of the Week: “what can I feed hummingbirds to get them protein” | Life, Birds, and Everything

  3. The bleach dilution is way too strong, now that bleach is sold in a more concentrated form. I have been unable to find a safe dilution, but will post when I do.

    • You’re correct as far as the concentrated chlorine bleaches go, Marjorie. Based on recommendations from Clorox, 1 part concentrated bleach to 20 parts water should give equivalent sanitizing power.

      Another factor that affects the how much bleach you need for sanitizing feeders is the age of the product and how it’s been stored. Liquid chlorine bleach starts losing strength from the moment the active ingredient (sodium hypochlorite) is dissolved in the water base, and that deterioration speeds up at higher storage temperatures. The older the bottle of either standard or concentrated laundry bleach and/or the warmer its storage conditions, the more you need to use to get the same sanitizing power.

      One way around the shelf life issue of liquid bleach is to substitute granular swimming pool chlorine (calcium hypochlorite) dissolved in water. The dry product has a longer shelf life, and a little goes a very long way (1/8 teaspoon or less per gallon of soaking water should do it). It’s also free of the artificial perfumes that are often added to laundry products and may be absorbed by plastic feeder parts. This can cause a terrible taste as well as an obnoxious, lingering smell, as I discovered when Procter & Gamble added the fragrance from Gain laundry products to its Cascade dishwasher pods (we ended up discarding a bunch of plastic dishes and containers). Longer shelf life + less packaging + lower shipping weight = a “greener” alternative to liquid bleach, but still not as “green” as hydrogen peroxide (for which you can substitute dry fragrance-free oxygen bleach, provided you dissolve the product thoroughly and rinse well afterward).

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