Keep Backyard Bird Baths and Fountains Clean

Emmaline Harvey
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Birds enjoy a nice dip in the water to escape the summer heat just as much as the rest of us. But their enjoyment will be cut short if your backyard bird baths and fountains aren’t regularly cleaned.

If left unchecked, dirty water will promote algae and debris buildup, breed unwanted bug populations, and spread disease to your backyard wildlife.

Early Prevention and Regular Maintenance

It’s easy to care for your water features if you take a few preventative steps.

Before you install, pay the most attention to location. Set up away from bird feeders and other high-traffic areas that may cause debris such as bird seed, grass clippings, feathers or leaves to collect in the water.

Choose a shady spot as it will minimize algae growth and slow evaporation.

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Every time you water your garden, direct the hose to the bird bath long enough to flush out the dirty water and refill.

Don’t forget to check your water features regularly — at least once a week — for debris, and continue to refill fountains to ensure that the water pump is always completely covered.

Now, make a wish! Toss a few pre-1982 pennies into your bird bath or fountain. Pennies made before 1982 are 95 percent copper, an element that suppresses algae growth.

Remember to help prevent mosquito breeding by dropping a mosquito tablet into the water once a month.

Routine Deep Clean

Every 30 days, or more often if you see rapid debris buildup, it will be necessary to do a quick, deep clean:

  1. Completely empty your bird bath or fountain. Make sure to turn off and remove your fountain’s water pump and place it into its own bucket to clean per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Using a pressure nozzle on your hose, carefully spray away any grimy buildup. 
  3. Use a scrub brush and a bucket of water with a few drops of dishwasher detergent added to eliminate any remaining residue. If necessary, use an old toothbrush to get into the tiny nooks and crannies.
  4. For any remaining stubborn stains, fill the basin of your water feature with a mix of 1 part chlorine bleach to 4 parts water. If you’d prefer, you can replace the bleach with vinegar and get similar results.
  5. Cover your water structure completely to prevent birds or other wildlife from drinking the harmful chemicals. It’s easiest to just pull a trash bag over the entire structure and anchor it down.
  6. Let soak for 10 to 15 minutes. 
  7. Empty the structure completely. If bleach was used, wear protective rubber gloves and empty it in an unused area of the yard.
  8. Use your hose again to thoroughly rinse out the structure. Give a quick sniff when you’re done to ensure that the bleach scent is gone.
  9. Let air dry. If possible, move your water feature into direct sunlight to speed up the process.
  10. You’re back in business! Once everything is thoroughly cleaned and dry, reinstall the pump and refill with clean, fresh water.

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