In the September/October 2002 edition of Bird Watcher's Digest, a
reader E-mailed Kevin Cook, editor of "Bird Watcher's Question Box," a regular
feature of the magazine, about whether or not it is safe to use soap to cleanse bird
feeders and baths.
What follows is Kevin's answer:
Soap is a natural organic compound produced by many different plants, hence such names
as soapwort and soapweed. In chemistry "organic" means carbon-based in
structure. Soaps and detergents are not the same kinds of organic compounds and so cannot
be used synonymously, but they do function much the same way.
Most naturally produced soaps are very mild and diluted, not at all concentrated. We
use concentrated soap because it improves the ability of water to penetrate and dislodge
dirt but without the caustic effects on the skin induced by detergent. This penetration is
why we use soap or detergent to clean anything.
I consulted an organic chemist, a medical pathologist, a veterinary pathologist, and an
ecotoxicologist about the potential harm soap might cause a bird. They all offer the same
opinion. The soap itself is harmless but any additives such as fragrances might be a
problem. This is analogous to using chlorine bleach as a cleaning agent for birdbaths and
bird feeders. The chlorine volatilizes very quickly and is also easily handled by birds
Thorough rinsing eliminates virtually all the soap or detergent; what little residue
might be left will be so diluted as to be negligible.
Many thanks to Mr. Cook and Bill Thompson, III, Editor, Bird Watcher's Digest for
permission to "reprint" the above. BWD is based in Marietta, OH; for more
information call: 1-800-879-2473.