Whether you are making your own nectar or not, keeping your nectar feeder clean is of utmost importance. How often should you clean your hummingbird feeder? Between 1-6 days depending on the outside temperature. The hotter it is outside, the more often you’ll need to clean your feeder and put out new nectar to avoid spoilage, mold and bacterial growth.
How often to clean your hummingbird feeder
The hotter it is, the quicker nasty bacteria will grow in the nectar. Bacteria and microorganisms can be harmful themselves, but they also drive fermentation. When the sugar water ferments, those microorganisms turn the sugar into alcohol, which a hummingbird liver cannot handle much of. Black mold is another nasty problem that shows up on many hummingbird feeders and can be fatal.
This chart we created will help you figure out how many days you can go, based on the outside high temperature, before cleaning is needed. As you can see when it is in the low 70’s or under you can leave it out for about six days. However once it hits the 90’s, you’ll need to freshen and clean daily!
Making sure you follow this chart closely, even if the nectar looks fine. However always change the nectar and clean the feeder if you notice any of the following:
- cloudy / milky, stringy, floating particles
- strong odor too sweet or too sour
- mold growing inside the reservoir or around the ports
- sticky or crystallized residue around the ports which may make it hard for them to get their beak inside and drink. happens more in upside down feeders.
Most importantly, feeders must be cleaned between refillings. You can’t just “top it off” with more nectar, you need to dispose of the old nectar, take the feeder in and wash it, then put out fresh nectar in a clean feeder.
How to clean your hummingbird feeder
When researching this I came upon a lot of conflicting information. Some people said soap was fine, some insisting on avoiding soap and only using vinegar. That’s a judgement call you’ll have to make. I think the important thing is to find something that is going to be simple for you to keep up with. Consistent cleaning is key. I would recommend a good thorough soap wash each time you refill the feeder, with soaking in vinegar or bleach as an occasional extra deep clean or if you notice a lot of problems with mold and fungus.
Using a mild detergent and hot water, scrub the feeder well and rinse very thoroughly to remove all soap residue. Air or towel dry. Make sure you are getting inside of the feeding ports and any other crevices. You will probably want to designate a sponge and some bottle brushes for this purpose and keep them separate from what you wash dishes with. Some feeders can be put in the dishwasher, however check the manufacturers instructions carefully so you don’t end up melting or warping the feeder. This method also may not be the best for cleaning the feeding holes so you may still want to scrub those yourself separately.
Peroxide / Vinegar
If you want to avoid the potential for soap residue, or make extra sure you are killing organic matter such as mold, you might want to try soaking the feeder for a few hours in either 3% Hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar (2 parts water to 1 part vinegar). After letting the feeder soak, use brushes to scrub all the surfaces and crevices. Rinse very thoroughly with hot water.
If you really want to sterilize the feeder or have problems with black mold build up, bleach is your best bet to wipe the slate clean. Literally! This is also a good idea to do every 4-6 weeks as a “deep clean” of the feeder. Dilute bleach by mixing a quarter cup of bleach in one gallon of water. You will probably want to use a small bucket for this. Allow the feeder to soak for an hour, make sure all parts of the feeder are submerged. After soaking, put on some kitchen gloves to protect your hands and use brushes to scrub the feeder well, then rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry.
- Can’t find any brushes to fit in your tiny feeder port holes? Try pipe cleaners! You can get a package cheap from a craft store and throw away after use.
- Don’t have time to clean your feeder right away, but don’t want to miss leaving food out for the hummers? Get a backup feeder. Usually hummingbird feeders aren’t too expensive so it won’t break the bank to have a second feeder. If you always have a clean one on-hand, then you can put nectar out right away in the clean feeder and have a day or two to wash the dirty one.
- Choose feeders easy to clean. When looking for your next feeder don’t just think about how pretty it is, think about how easy is it to take apart. Does it have small openings that will be difficult to get brushes into? Make it easier on yourself when it comes to washability.
Recommended hummingbird feeders
Here are some feeders I recommend specifically for easy cleaning. They will all do the job of attracting hummingbirds, but they have the added bonus of not being a huge pain to clean.
In my opinion this saucer-style feeder is the easiest to clean. The red top lifts off the clear bottom and those are the only two pieces. The shallow dish and top mean no hard to reach places, no need for brushes with long handles. The only “crevice” to speak of is the feeder port holes and a small brush or pipe cleaner will do the trick.
This is another feeder designed with ease of cleaning in mind. The tube separates off the base easily, and the wide-mouth on the tube means you won’t have trouble getting you hands & brushes in there to clean it. The base has enough room for you to be able to reach inside without too much trouble, and the feeding ports aren’t overly fancy which means they are easier to clean. Simple and effective.
I can’t keep up with all this cleaning, what do I do?
It is true, having a hummingbird feeder is a lot of maintenance. Certainly more than you may be used to having just a regular seed feeder. But it’s so important in keeping your hummingbirds healthy. So be honest with yourself if you know you won’t keep up with cleaning or making fresh nectar. However you can still attract hummingbirds to your yard by planting flowers that they love. Whether you plant them directly in the ground or have some pots on your deck, colorful tube-shaped flowers are sure to attract hummingbirds. Here is a list of plants and flowers hummingbirds are known to enjoy:
- Cardinal Flower
- Bee Balm
- Red Columbine