How to Keep Chicken Water Clean?

Water can be a transmission vector of many diseases, so keeping it clean and fresh should be a priority when raising chickens. Chickens can’t tell the difference between clean and dirty water and will drink the water even if it’s not clean.

It is your responsibility then to prevent this from happening by taking all sorts of measures to maintain the cleanliness of the water. When raising chickens outdoors, can be a bit of a struggle.

But there are ways to ensure that your chicken will only drink clean water. So, how can you keep chicken water clean? Can you prevent chicken water from getting dirty?

The tips below will help you maintain clean water, even in outdoor setups, and prevent the many diseases that can be spread through water.

Chicken Water Needs and Importance of Water

Chickens need constant access to water. And while they’ll drink from almost any water source, they do prefer fresh, clean water.

A large chicken will usually drink a pint of water per day. But this number changes based on the temperature and season, with chickens drinking more in the summer during hot days.

It’s important to keep chickens well-hydrated. Chickens can quickly become dehydrated and the condition can often be fatal to them.

Symptoms of dehydration in chickens include pale comb or wattles, panting, difficulty breathing, and keeping wings away from the body.

Chickens that are dehydrated will also stop eating, so make sure that water is constantly available to your chickens, especially during hot summer days, when heat exhaustion combined with dehydration can be fatal.

Identifying and Preventing Water Contamination

As I mentioned, water can be a transmission vector of bacteria and pathogens, which can make your chickens ill.

But how do contaminants get into the water of chickens, and what can you do to prevent their proliferation?

– Bacteria and Pathogens

The drinking water of chickens can be a vehicle of infection for poultry with various bacterial, viral, and protozoan diseases.

Many common poultry diseases can be transmitted through the consumption of contaminated water.

The pathogens that can be found in unsanitary drinking water include:

  • Escherichia coli, which causes Colibacillosis.
  • Pasteurella multocida, which causes Avian Cholera.
  • Salmonella Gallinarum, which causes Fowl Typhoid.
  • Paramyxovirus, which causes Newcastle Disease.
  • Coronavirus, which causes Infectious bronchitis.
  • Herpesvirus, which causes Marek’s disease.
  • Picornavirus, which causes Avian encephalomyelitis.
  • Histomonas meleagradis, which causes Histomoniasis.
  • Eimeria sp, which causes Coccidiosis.

Although superficial water sources can all be contaminated with these, underground water sources are also susceptible to contamination with these pathogens.

– Contamination from Feces

One of the most common sources of contamination is contamination from feces. It can be something as simple as chickens stepping into the water and leaving behind traces of feces, or it can be caused by contamination with feces at the source of the water.

The water sources – whether surface water or underground water – can be contaminated due to the inadequate disposal of dead animal carcasses and animal excreta, incorrect positioning of swine and bovine barns that produce fecal pollution as well as of septic tanks used for human dejects in relation to the water source.

Therefore, you must make sure that the water you use as drinking water for your chickens comes from an uncontaminated source.

– Discharges from the Respiratory Tract of Infected Birds

Besides contamination from feces, another way in which the drinking water of chickens can be contaminated with disease-causing pathogens is through discharges from the respiratory tract of infected birds.

When infected birds drink from a drinking water source that’s common for all the poultry raised on your farm, they can contaminate other birds due to the discharges from the respiratory tract of the infected birds.

This is why frequent water changes and constant health monitoring and isolation of infected or sickly individuals are important elements of disease prevention in poultry birds.

– Epithelial desquamation of infected birds

Just as the previous point, the source of pathogens in the drinking water can be the epithelial desquamation of infected birds, highlighting once again the importance of cleaning and sanitizing measures employed in the prevention of water-borne diseases.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Chicken Water Containers

Beyond getting the water for your chickens from a safe source (e.g. the municipal water supply or treated groundwater or surface water sources), keeping the water containers clean is also an indispensable part of disease prevention.

The cleaning and sanitizing technique that you should use depends on the type of container. Usually, you’re using either a metal container or a plastic one.

Metal waterers are usually made of double-coated galvanized steel, which means you should avoid anything corrosive or acidic like apple cider vinegar or bleach.

– Clean a Metal Water Container

Use a soft sponge and a teaspoon of mild dish soap to remove dirt buildup on the inside of the container. Use hot water or warm water to rinse the container.

Anything acidic or corrosive like a scrub brush can break down the surface making it susceptible to rust but also to the release of toxic metals into the drinking water.

Metal containers should not be cleaned with bleach or vinegar either for this very reason. Nor should you add apple cider vinegar to the drinking water of chickens. Use a plastic container if you want to add apple cider vinegar to the water of your chickens.

– Clean a Plastic Container

You can use a brush and apple cider vinegar or liquid bleach to sanitize plastic containers and waterers. You’ll want to thoroughly brush the container inside-out to remove debris, slime, algae, and other dirt and build-up.

You can prepare a mixture of 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or bleach to a gallon of water. If you’re using bleach, make sure to thoroughly rinse the container out to remove any residual bleach from the container.

Maintaining Clean Water in Outdoor Setups

Drinking water kept outdoors is susceptible to all sorts of contamination issues. Here’s how to maintain clean water in outdoor setups:

– Protect Water from Debris and Dirt

Debris and dirt that gets into the drinking water can carry all sorts of viruses and bacteria that can cause illnesses. Also, bacteria can easily proliferate in water.

One way in which debris and dirt get into the water is when chickens put their feet into the water, or if other poultry uses the drinking water for bathing.

For this reason, you should avoid shallow bowls and containers to prevent chickens and other poultry living on a mixed farm from stepping into the water.

– Dealing with Algae Growth

Make sure to keep water out of direct sunlight as that can promote the growth of algae. Also, by regularly cleaning and removing any debris and growth on the sides of the container, you can suppress the rapid growth of algae.

– Keeping Water Clean in Hot Weather

Generally, containers should be scrubbed and sanitized weekly and even more often if there’s visible dirt on the inner surface of the container.

In hot weather, daily scrubbing may be needed to prevent the growth of mold and algae, because these grow quicker in hot weather, especially if they’re out in direct sunlight during any part of the day.

Replenishing the water multiple times per day is also needed.

Solutions for Dirty Chicken Water

Other than maintaining the cleanliness of the water containers, there are a few things you can add to chicken water, which can help in keeping it clean.

– Additives to Keep Water Clean

There are various commercially available additives to chicken water that help acidify the water and suppress the growth of bacteria in it.

They don’t clean the water per se (i.e. they don’t remove debris or dirt), they merely suppress bacterial growth. These additives contain a combination of organic acids, inorganic acid, trace element copper, and bioflavonoids, which can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, molds, and yeast.

If you’re using these commercially available poultry water additives, make sure to adhere to the correct dosage recommendations.

– Using Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a natural acidifier for poultry drinking water and can be used by adding 1 tbs of it for each gallon of water. You can use this mixture for no more than one week at a time and only once a month.

DO NOT add apple cider vinegar to metal containers, only plastic ones to avoid corrosion and leeching of harmful toxins into the water.

– Using Hydrogen Peroxide

Another way to keep drinking water clean for poultry is to add hydrogen peroxide at 25-50 ppm residual in drinking water, which acts as an antimicrobial without putting your poultry off drinking.


Because unsanitary drinking water is a risk factor for the health of your chicken and other poultry, it’s important to get the water from a reliable source and then make sure that you maintain the cleanliness of the water.

Replenishing water often, properly scrubbing and sanitizing water containers, keeping water out of direct sunlight, preventing contamination, and using various additives to suppress the proliferation of bacteria in the water are the best ways to prevent water-borne diseases.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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