Keeping/cleaning a bird bath

DebbyO(z5bIN)August 25, 2004

I saw a post on gardenweb not too long ago,... but can not find it any more using the search option. I was wondering what is the best sure fire way to keep a bird bath from becoming so grungy and scummy during the growing season? I just cleaned mine the other day, and frankly it was beyond nasty. The algae was so think in it. I try to empty it every 3 days and add fresh water,...(to keep the water clean & avoid mosquitos) and but the algae is relentless. It just keeps getting worse. Is there a natural way to curtail the growth? And what are some of the safer means to clean the bird bath, when I can't stand it anymore? I tried a scrub brush, and a scraper this time, but I was wondering if there are some natural products out there I can use to make the job easier and more complete? Baking soda maybe?

Please advise if you can. ;o)

Thanks and sincerely,

Debby O

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faltered(Hamburg NY Z5/6)

Debby: Luckily I haven't had a problem with my birdbath so far. But if you go to your local pet store, you should be able to find an algae inhibitor. It's safe for fish and other pets, so it won't harm the birds if they drink it. I've used it in my aquarium with some success. It's not that expensive- probably $3 or $4 for a small bottle.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 9:53AM
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Ok thanks. ;o) That was a very fast repsonse! I appreciate the advice. I thought I had also read that one can put some lavender sprigs in the bird bath to minimize the algae growth. Is there any founded truth to that? Have you ever heard of that?

Also, do you think baking soda is safe to use to clean the bird bath when it needs a thorough cleaning? It seems like it would be safer for the birds etc,... than maybe ammonia, clorine bleach or ajax cleanser.



    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 9:59AM
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dgo1223(7 NW Ga)

I was wondering the same thing. I did read someplace to throw a few pennies in it, because the copper retards the algae. I'm doing that, and it seems to help somewhat. The algae inhibitor from the pet store sounds good, too.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 10:12AM
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Treat your bird bath with bleach first (which will kill every algae around). Rinse well, and add fresh water. The problem is algae inhibitors may not be too good for birds to drink. YOu didn't mention how deep is the bath, but if you can bring in an aquatic plant that produces oxygen, it would help to prevent algae growth (regrowth).

    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 3:51PM
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Besides bleach being good for cleaning there are donut things you can buy that inhibit the growth of mosquito larva and it will not hurt the birds. A tad of bleach won't either.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 5:06PM
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Thanks for the extra tips ;o) The idea of an aquatic plant is an interesting one. That would be very cool for many reasons. I have a pretty deep bird bath too,...... have you actually tried the aquatic plant method?

I did clean the bird bath out with some bleach water and scrubbed it as much as I could.
I just didn't know how the bleach would affect the birds.
I figured I would rinse it out as best as I could and let it dry in the sun for a day. Now I can throw in a penny in for good measure (good luck), and hopefully we are good to go!



    Bookmark   August 25, 2004 at 10:29PM
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When it comes to algae, let me tell you that it's tricky. There are the regular algae in which you can keep in check with fresh aerated water (lots of oxygen) and then there's the types that can suddenly bloom on you and get your water quite stagnant. The blue green algae is one such algae. It is very foul smelling and grows in thick slimy sheets. Interestingly, it is not a true plant form but somewhere half bacterium and half plant -- which is why, another way to kill off this type of algae is to use fish antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off bacteria.

I'm an aquarium owner - I have what is called a nature aquarium, meaning I grow plants in it and have fish more for the decorative aspect of it. As I was growing, my parents kept at least 2 large fish ponds which had loads of valesneria(spelling), hygrophilla, water lettuce, water hyacinths, lilies and papyrus. There was no serious problems in algae.

Algae is not somehting you can prevent, but only that you can keep in check. Algae spores travel through air and also in water. When it the conditions are right, they will grow quickly. They love low oxygen, stagnant conditions, and loads of sunlight. Also bird poops just adds to the conditions they will thrive in. There should be several type of pond plants that can grow in your bird bath and help to produce oxygen. Why don't you go and check your local pond suppliers for ideas if you wish to go with this idea. Or.....

Another thought other than plant is to place a small fountain in your bird bath. That should be enough to oxygenate the water and help clear it of algae. There are several small types around that wouldn't be difficult to install.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2004 at 11:37AM
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greenhummer(zone 5,Ohio)

I spray mine with Tilex,then hose it off with water..done

    Bookmark   August 26, 2004 at 9:54PM
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Brillo pads, and if it gets really icky - bleach!


    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 1:12PM
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I found that scrubbing with toothpaste worked better than Brillo pads.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2004 at 12:20AM
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WestEnder(z7 Atlanta GA)

I have an unfinished cement birdbath that has this same problem. The more the birds use it, the harder it is to clean. But since I have to fill it with water at least every other day, I just bought a scrub-brush from Walmart and scrub it out every time I fill it with water. I had to try a couple of scrub brushes before I found the one that works the best. My birdbath has a raised design on the inside, so the best brush for me is one with a long handle, bristles that are plastic and round like a half-baseball, and a small 1-2 inch long brass-bristle scrubber. I think they called it a potscrubber and it cost me about $2. The brass bristles are the best for getting down inside the design and cleaning out the mold. Now it takes me just a couple of minutes every day or two to keep the birdbath clean. If you wait until it gets really dirty, though, it's much harder to clean.

I would be very hesitant to use any kind of chemical cleaner, even bleach or toothpaste. Our wild birds are already exposed to more than enough chemicals, in my opinion.

I have also wondered whether adding a glaze or finish to the inside surface of the birdbath might help. I have a glazed pottery one, but I've been using it as a pot base for the last few years (it's impossible to find anything else big enough to fit under some of my large pots). I've never noticed mold or algae growing on the edges of this ceramic birdbath (that's all I can see for the pot.)

    Bookmark   September 21, 2004 at 12:06PM
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Putting a sealer will help make it easier to clean. Frequent scrubbings with a brush and the occasional bleach water solution and let it dry in the sun for a day should help. Mostly keeping the water fresh by using a dripper is the best bet.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2004 at 3:13PM
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Pennies work great for me. I put 3 copper pennies in mine and only have to dump the water to put fresh water in. It keeps any dirt very loose and does not stick to the cement. Try it!!! It sounds to easy, but it works...

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 3:59PM
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kaymidga(Z7 GA)

I have a bird bath question also. Mine is made of concrete that seems to be extremely porous. Is there something I can paint on that will keep it from being so porous but will not hurt the birds?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2004 at 1:42PM
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garden_of_mu(Z7/8 PNW)

The chlorine in bleach will evaporate in no time after cleaning and rinsing, especially if your birdbath is in the sun, and is not going to be around long enough to harm anything.

I'm glad this thread got started as I am having the same problem and am tired of scrubbing. Prevention of bloom to start with would be great.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2004 at 11:08AM
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I must be the only person who power-washes my birdbaths,

My resident algae is reddish brown and sticks like glue. No amount of scrubbing removes it, short of power washing.

I make mosaic bird baths and if the tesserae can stand up to a power wash, I figure it's a keeper!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2004 at 11:28PM
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I use vinegar once every two weeks. My bird bath is a terra cotta planter resevoir -- and it can get a buildup of salts from our alkaline water. I remove the birdbath, dump in some vinegar and let it soak an hour. Come out, scrub it out with a toilet brush and rinse it out.

Works great at that nasty stuff from the bird doo.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2004 at 4:19PM
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cheribelle(Z5 IA)

Apple cider vinegar is good for the birds, a source of vitamins and minerals. It also keeps the algae and slime down. I got this from a poultry forum, and have been using it in my bird waterers now. Just a teaspoon or so in a gallon.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2004 at 11:20PM
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I just put a piece of copper pipe in my birdbath and it stayed clean all summer.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2004 at 11:04PM
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Flowerkitty(Z6 or Z5 SE MI)

I use a terracotta saucer as a birdbath and it gets green fast. I dump the water. Add a teaspoon of baking soda with enough water to make a thin paste. Crumple up a plastic grocery bag, or similar item I was going to throw away anyhow. Use the crumpled bag to scrub out the algae with the paste of soda and water. Takes just a few seconds. Rinse out the soda with clear water. Soda is a mild abrasive. You could then rinse with vinegar and water which dissolves any soda traces and also kills germs. I read somewhere that straight vinegar kills more germs than lysol but there is no money selling vinegar as a cleaner. If you want to test how well vinegar dissolves soda, wash your stovetop with baking soda and water. Rinse well. Let it dry. The stovetop will still have a baking soda 'haze' that is almost impossible to rinse away. Now sprinkle the stove top with a bit of vinegar and wipe down with a wet sponge. Rinse off with water. The soda haze will be gone and the stove will sparkle

    Bookmark   January 17, 2005 at 12:26AM
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shirl36(Zone 5b West Central Illinois)

Our birdbath got to looking so bad I was seriously thinking of doing away with it....Mentioned this to our daughter and she said she heard put a copper penny in it.
Well I cleaned it one day, filled with new water and dropped the 4 " copper tube my husband had cut for me....Last summer the birdbath looked good, When watering the flowers I would swish out the old water and fill with new. I am a believer in that copper story. Saf

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 6:09PM
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Kaymidga, to answer you question about a porous birdbath, I found a type of paint/sealant just for that purpose. I donÂt remember the brand name, but found it in the paint isle of a home improvement mega store. It is specifically for sealing water prone areas like pools. My concrete birdbath would empty itself after a few days due to a hairline crack, after applying the sealant two years ago itÂs not leaked since.

Also, I canÂt wait to try some of the great ideas posted to keep alge down! Hurrah! I had given up on it being clean between scrubbings.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2005 at 10:07AM
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Does it matter where you put the birdbath? Does it get more algea in full sun........part sun.........shade? I just got one for sweetheart's day and don't know where to put it.....

    Bookmark   February 19, 2005 at 9:52AM
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I hope that copper trick works. I mosaiced my old birdbath and made a couple of the pieces pennies

    Bookmark   February 19, 2005 at 12:47PM
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I put water plants in mine . I gathered them when we took the canoe out on the river last month. I have water lettuce and a water hyacinth and some other tiny green plants. It has been three weeks and the plants are still alive and the bird bath is clean. I just keep adding more water. Funny thing- the birds don't seem to mind the plants at all. I had a robin and two gray tufted titmice there yesterday -- all splashing around at the same time ! Sometime soon I will have to gather more but only because the birds splash them over the sides. Some one else suggested this and it really works- especially if you live in a warm climate.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2005 at 5:50PM
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I've found bleach to be the only real help and then, in my case at least, it only lasts for a few days; and of course the bath should be thoroughly rinsed before putting it out again.

The pennies/copper idea is interesting, presuming that it doesn't harm the birds at all. I guess if the bath is flushed and renewed every day it should be ok. Must try that.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 6:41AM
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lellie(z9 Anna Maria Island)

I must be the obsessive-compulsive type (LOL), cause I empty, rinse and refill my birdbaths every day.
I normally put a half a bucket of water from the pool in them along with tap water...seems to keep down the algae.
I'll be adding a couple of pennies and some water plants........what a capital idea!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 7:47PM
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pennies dated before 1982 are 95% copper. 1982 and later are 97.5% zinc. So use copper pipe instead.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 4:26PM
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A million thanks to the person who suggested copper! We have 2 solar powered birdbaths that were just disgusting from the algae. I had tried everything I could think of  scrubbing them every day, and periodically cleaning them with vinegar or Clorox. Nothing worked. I went to the hardware store and got some copper tubing and put a circle of about 18" in each birdbath last weekend. The results have been nothing short of miraculous! Not only did the algae stop growing, but every day a little bit more of it scrubs off the bottom of the birdbaths. It's even coming up out of the little indentations where the scrubby doesn't reach. The birds don't seem to be bothered in the least by seeing it either. (I did have some concern that it might say "SNAKE" to them, but apparently not.) It sounds like an old wives' tale, but it works like a charm.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 6:10PM
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Thank you for all the suggestions. An old barn Grandma used to put copper pennies in the water buckets of our Mares. She said it helped keep them calm when they were in heat: maybe it just controlled algae build-up.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 11:34PM
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I have a resin birdbath and it forms algae quickly I added the copper pennies the last couple of years and it does slow it down but it still builds up. I will try the copper pipe method this year.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 1:55PM
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I tried the penny idea and it slowed the algae down but the pennies becomes a nuisance. Ive also read that pennies are not 100% copper, I will try the copper pipe method next.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 11:50AM
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LINE, OR NOT???!!!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 10:38AM
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I heard that if you add pennies before the date of 1982, that elimates the alge problem.... Something that's in the copper. and it's safe. As long as the birds don't fly off with your money. I'm gonna try it.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 10:00AM
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If too much copper is harmful to humans, I was also wondering about the birds. cornmeal slows down algae growth, but does not eliminate it. at my previous home I only had green algae, but here on well water I have a red growth. my bird bath is hard to drain, therefore harder to clean.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 1:07PM
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sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

I agree about the apple cider vinegar. I use 1 Tablespoon to a gallon in my chicken waterers to keep the algae down. We are in well water here and it will turn the waterers green in a week without it. It is harmless to birds. One thing though, you should use the apple cider with the 'mother' in it. It is the cloudy kind that you can get at health food stores not the distilled type from most grocery stores.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2012 at 2:32PM
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Everything above is very helpful. However, sometimes I'm gone for 2-3 weeks at a time. I have an automatic watering system but how do I keep it clean? It's a white cement model (from Mexico) and is only about 6" deep.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 2:10PM
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I am so glad I found all these comments! I finally got a bird bath last weekend and didn't even think about it getting that green algae stuff. Now I know how to safely clean it and keep it nice for all the birds!! It's really hot here in Texas! 100 degrees on my front porch!!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2012 at 12:30PM
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Using copper in the birdbath to keep it clean makes sense to me. I recently had a strip of zinc put on my roof (this metal was used as it went better with the color of my roof, copper would have been used if my roof was dark)This was to prevent mold & algae buildup. I am going to try the copper myself & hope it helps. I don't think the copper would harm the birds as they do make copper birdbaths (must get HOT!)

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 9:36AM
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Try vinegar,it wont hurt the birds.

Bill A very long time gardener.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 3:42PM
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Whenever I need to add water to my bb's, I also add a little pool chlorine and that takes care of it.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 1:58PM
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