How to Clean Solar Water Fountains or Birdbath Fountains Safelye

See a Hint of Green? Time to CleanHint of Green, Time to Clean

If you stay on top of algae and other unpleasant things in your fountain by rinsing it out thoroughly when you change or add water, your chances of a full-blown algae bloom are reduced.

In hot weather though, fountains or fountain / birdbaths that are used by lots of birds or placed where lots of plant debris get in the fountain, algae can sneak up on you quickly

Here’s our detailed recommendation of how to clean out nasty algae, mineral scale, leave debris, seed coverings and bird “whatever” without damaging the fountain or harming your backyard birds, other wildlife pets and curious children. And: without harsh chemicals: just hot water, a hose, dish soap and elbow grease.

Preventive Maintenance Largely Eliminates Major Cleanings

Before you decide that the birdbath/fountains or outdoor fountains aren’t worth the hassle, I want to emphasize one thing:

To a certain extent, I intentionally let the fountain get dirtier than normal because I wanted to show how to clean it.  We used our fountain for six weeks and the simple act of rinsing it out every day or so kept the algae in check very well.

Once the really hot weather set in, I did start noticing the water turning green. The fact that the fountain was located very near to large trees and in shade most of the day added to the problem, as did the wild turkeys that visit our yard at least once or twice a week.

Birdbaths and any fountains (solar or otherwise) used by birds should be rinsed out regularly, at least twice a week. It’s healthier for the birds and regular rinsing with a strong hose dramatically reduces the chances of your fountain getting as dirty as the one we’re showing.

If you have a lot of feeders and birds, you really should rinse them out at least 3 times a week, more often in very hot weather. It’s easier to stop a little bit of algae by cleaning the parts you can see then to end up taking the whole thing apart.  This fountain got much uglier much more quickly than I expected.transition_3_picsHeat not only makes algae bloom faster, it means more birds use the water feature. And birds don’t just drink and bath in your birdbath: some use the communal bath as a public toilet.

On Monday (Photo A), there was a slight tinge of green in the water. A thunderstorm came right as I was about to clean the fountain and document it with pictures and video. Over the next few days, I figured extremely heavy rains would keep the algae in check.

I was wrong.

By Friday, the fountain was a full-blown mess. It went from Photo A to Photo B in a just 4 days. This post will help you get your fountain or fountain/birdbath back to Photo C. And as long as you have a good hose (and gloves if you like), you don’t even need to touch the nasty stuff.

Why We Don’t Like Chemicals in Birdbaths or Fountains 

There are there are chemicals and “natural” treatments that can prevent algae and we sell those that are safe and non-toxic when used properly.

We also recommend that they be used only when absolutely necessary and with extreme caution.

As water evaporates, everything in it becomes more concentrated, algae and treatments. Birds use fountains more when in hot weather (they are warm-blooded animals and need to cool off). But, the hotter the weather, the faster water evaporates.

If you choose to use treatments in fountains, please use those that are use natural enzymes and remember to refill the fountain each day. During really hot periods, you may need to check the fountain morning and night to make sure it’s safe for birds, pets or even children who might come in contact with it.

We view treatments as a last resort. Before adding new additives, empty the bowl completely and use less treatment than the package recommends. Though enzymes are generally deemed to be  “safe,” some studies suggest that high concentrations can result in birth defects in birds and other animals that use the water.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do…Breaking the Pump by Roughly Pulling the Fountain Apart Care Isn’t 

Make Sure The Wire Connectors Don't Get WetMake Sure Cable Connectors Stay Dry!

The hardest part of the whole process is taking it apart damaging the pump. The first thing to do is to is to disconnect the solar panel and get that out of the way. Water won’t hurt the panel or battery, but it’s important that you protect the connecting area, shown in the photo below.

To prevent this, make sure that before you unscrew the top tier from the main basin; make sure that the cord leading to the pump has plenty of slack.

Make Sure the Cable Connecting the Pump to the Solar Panel Is Slack. It’s Often Smart to Tip the Fountain On Its Side to Make Sure

Until the pump is completely removed, continually check to make sure the cord has a lot of slack to it; if it gets taut at any point, stop and readjust the cable.  If necessary, turn the fountain on its side so that you can push the cable up from the pedestal into the upper tier.

The more tiers the fountain has, the more careful you’ll need to be. The one we show has the main basin and one tiers, but there are solar fountains with 2, 3 or 4 tiers). The more tiers, the more careful you’ll need to be.

First, carefully unscrew the top tier from the main basin.  Before you lift it up, double-check that there is plenty slack in the cord.  (While you may originally leave the pump dangling, which works perfectly fine, hydraulic pressure and moving the panel to the solar cord usually means the little suction cups on the bottom of the pump will make it stick to the bottom of the basin.)

As always, it’s useful to hold on to the assembly instructions and refer to them: before you take the pump apart and again when you reassemble them. If you can’t find yours, call your dealer who should be able to email you a copy as long as the item is still manufactured and sold.

What You Need to Clean Your Fountain Safely

cleaning_basics_smallHot Water, Hose (not shown) Foam Brush, and Dawn Does the Job Without Harsh Chemicals or Scrubbers
  • A hose with a sprayer, the “pistol-type” sprayers work much better than a plain nozzle. They are easier to control and usually have more water pressure.
    Let_The_Hose_Do_Most_of_the_WorkLet the Hose Do Most of the Work
  • Mild dish detergent or even baby shampoo. I use Dawn because it’s what the pros use to clean birds fouled by oil spills.Most types of Dawn are biodegradable, and a good rinsing takes care of most, if not all, residue.
  • A bucket of hot soapy water
  • A soft sponge or foam brush
  • Gloves are also a good idea MainBasin_Before_After_Small

Here’s How to Clean It Up

First, take the pump itself and set it in the bucket of hot soapy water and swish it around now and again. Even after the algae and other gunk is gone, you may find debris (the photos shows bits of corn) stuck in the pump itself. You can use an old toothbrush or tooth picks to carefully remove these.

Pump_smallSoaking Dissolves Most of the Gunk. Any Remaining Debris Can Be Removed with Old Toothbrush or a Toothpick

We don’t have a photo, but the second time I cleaned the pump, I cut up an old pair of pantyhose, wrapped a small section around the pump and secured it with a rubber band.

While not necessary, particularly if you rinse the fountain regular and clean it periodically, this is a low-tech but effective way to keep annoying debris from entering the pump. And while the photo doesn’t show it well, it’s pretty difficult for any solid material from getting deep enough into the pump to do real damage.

Next, spray all parts down with a hose. The more you get off that way, the easier the rest of the clean-up will be.

Before taking out a soft sponge, cloth or foam brush, pour hot soapy water into the basin and the top tier section and let it sit 10 minutes or so.

After that, refill the bucket with hot water and a small amount of dish detergent.  Then, scrub with a soft brush or sponge and rinse. Our pump was cleaned and working in under 25 minutes: including time spent withe the still and video camera.

Hard Water or Lime Stains

The side of the basin and the top of our fountain did have hard water stains.  Unlike algae, leaves or pollen, this won’t come off with just a hose.  While it took a bit more scrubbing to get rid of these than the algae, overall they came off pretty easily. Harsh chemicals weren’t needed to completely eliminate them.

Hard_Water_Stains_smallAs the pictures show, hot soapy water and a bit of elbow grease quickly removed not only the algae, but also the orange/brown mineral deposits.  Lime Away, CLR, etc. weren’t need. And, these chemicals can be toxic to animals if not rinsed completely, or for those that may try to drink the water while you’re soaking the parts.

Unless you have a really bad problem, stay away from them. Some of these materials, like bleach, also can damage the finish of the fountain. If you really feel the need to use stronger cleaners, test them out on an inconspicuous area of the birdbath or fountain to make sure the surface and its finish doesn’t change texture or color.

What Never to Use

  • Abrasive pads or bristled brushes, since these can damage the finish of the water feature.
  • Bleach, ammonia or harsh cleaners
  • Mr. Clean Eraser Pads, or generic versions of these.  (I don’t care what the commercials say: I’ve used them to clean woodwork and doors and it is my opinion that they are not as effective or safe as advertisements claim.)

Where to Clean Your Fountain

If it’s warm enough to do it outside, it’s a lot easier and less mess to do so.  I do not recommend bringing something with algae and sorry, bird crap, into a room used by humans. If you have a dedicated “utility sink,” that’s one thing. But a shower, or tub?

If you do choose to clean the fountain indoors, make sure you clean the area afterwards with the strongest strongest cleaner you feel safe using, such as bleach, Lysol, rubbing alcohol or another disinfectant.

If it’s too cold to do a thorough cleaning job, at least take the fountain apart and spray it down with a hose to get off the most debris and algae. And, let it dry before you store it.

You will have a bit extra scrubbing next year, and there is a chance that algae could leave green stains even after a good cleaning. OxyClean and hot water will usually do the trick, even if you have to change out the water a couple of times and/or let it soak for a couple of hours.

For really stubborn stains, try a trick I use to remove mildew from our awning and outdoor cushions. Mildew removers almost always contain chlorine that ruins the color and breaks down even the toughest canvas.  I mix OxyClean and very hot water into a paste, then use it to scrub the item with a soft brush.

Putting It Back Together and Storing the Pump

Once you’ve rinsed it as well as possible, just reassemble the fountain using the instructions that came with it.

If your storing it, keep all pieces separate until they are dry, especially the pump.

Remove the Battery Before Storage and Label It Clearly

Before storing it, remove the battery (usually it’s located on the back of the solar panel.) Put the battery in an envelope or plastic bag and write “for birdbath fountain” so that if you store multiple items, you can easily you get match the right batteries to the right products.

Then, we have to tell the customer something we really hate to say: Sorry, your warranty is void. We can’t fix the item for free, and we can’t reimburse you for the return shipping costs.If a customer calls about a malfunctioning product that isn’t brand new, we always have to ask them if they used the wrong battery, intentionally or by accident.  You may not be able to what parts get fried, but it’s one the first things most manufacturers and distributors check for when a warranted item is returned.

We don’t like to be the warranty police, but in the long run, we’re saving you time and money. (By the way, if you pump is damage for whatever reason and is no longer under warranty, we usually can get you a replacement one designed specifically for your pump, or at least a pump that will work with your solar water fountain.

When it comes to batteries, it’s just like ignoring that first sign of green.  An ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure.

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