I recall getting to the beginning of my second year of purple martin landlording. I had a bit of a mess on my hands, but it wasn’t as bad as you might think. Did I wait too long though? Should I have done this earlier?

Purple martin houses should be cleaned out at the beginning of each season, but it is recommended that you clean them out at least twice a year. Once at the end of the season and once at the beginning.

Since I am suggesting that you clean out your purple martin house at least twice a year, I want to look into that a bit further.

Majestic Purple Martin Surveys His Territory

How to Clean Out a Purple Martin House at the Beginning of Season

Step 1: Lower your purple martin house to a comfortable height. If you do not have a purple martin house that can be lowered, I highly recommend that you look into one of our Telescoping Poles or Easy Lift Poles that can help you do the necessary checking and cleaning on your purple martin house.

Step 2: If you have any door plugs, it may be time to go ahead and remove them. If you aren’t sure about these, you can check out the product description for door plugs. Please note that when you remove door plugs at the beginning of a season it is absolutely crucial to start making routine checks on the purple martin house for any other types of birds that may want to attempt to builds nests. The good news is that our purple martin houses have starling resistant entrances, which may keep some of the more common birds out of the birdhouse to keep availability for your purple martins!

Step 3: Get your water hose or a bucket of water with a cloth. My recommendation is actually to spray down your purple martin house at the beginning of each season, even if it’s the first time you set it up. You don’t know exactly what types of chemicals might be on it and you certainly want to ensure there isn’t a grease or other residue from the time of putting it together. I always feel better about it if it has had a little water on it before the season begins.

Note that there are many landlords that prefer to leave nests that are relatively clean. My experience is that these harbor bugs and other things that are a bit more harmful. That being said, if you wish to give the purple martin a good start, some may include hay or pine needles into each compartment after cleaning them out or leaving old nests all together if they are not a mess.

Step 4: My recommendation is to give it a brief rinse with the water hose. You don’t have to worry too much about it if it is a brand new purple martin house, but I always like to start the season out feeling rest assured that the purple martin house is in good condition for the birds to come.

If you have a purple martin house that has been setup for a season or more, then you may want to spend a little bit of additional time rinsing it down.

If you have already had your purple martin house up for quite a while, then there are many out there that recommend one of two things. If you’re a purist, you won’t use any chemicals. However, there are some people that suggest cleaning with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. So, use very little bleach if any at all. My preference is to only use bleach at the end of a season to help prevent mold and things from growing on it as much but giving it plenty of time to air out before the martins arrive for the season. I use only water at the beginning of the season unless there is any indication of mold or issues that I think may grow to be a bigger problem for me once the martins arrive.

As mentioned, my preference is to not use any bleach at all in the early season. Instead, it is a simple water hose and paper clothes where I wipe everything down. I try to give a good, thorough washing inside each of the units with the water and wipe it down as well as I can. The only time I have felt it was necessary to use any bleach is if the inside looks to be carrying mold at all. The bleach will help with this, but I am worried about the impact it may have on the birds so when possible, water only is the way to go!

Step 5: I prefer to dry out the units with paper towels. This may be especially important for martin houses where there could be standing water in them. If the purple martin does not feel as though it is a safe environment for the babies, then it will not stay there. For this reason, try to dry it out so that if you have any coming soon there isn’t any indication to the purple martin that it may be a flood zone for their nest.

How to Clean the Purple Martin House at the End of Season

The end of season is a little bit different for me than the beginning. The first thing to keep in mind is that late in the season there may be purple martins passing by looking for new spots to come back to the following season. I would recommend you wait until the purple martins have migrated back to South America before taking this step. This should be around Mid-October to early November for the vast majority of areas in the United States.

Step 1: Lower the purple martin house to a comfortable height that you can access all of the units.

Step 2: Remove any debris of old nests. If you have waited a while for this step, it may smell pretty bad! Try to clear anything that is left in them. The birds do not need you to replace any materials and for the winter, you are only inviting problems by leaving anything in them.

The debris in a purple martin house may sometimes affect the drainage of the unit as well. This is why it may be that much more important to ensure that you clear it out so that you do not have foul-smelling water that grows things in it!

Please note that there are several landlords that prefer to simply remove any debris that looks like it could cause issues, but primarily leave the nests intact and close down the unit with door plugs. This may be a good option for those units that have good looking nests with no “trash” in the nest as well.

Step 3: I do like to use a small water / bleach compound for cleaning after the season. I have found that 10 parts water to 1 part bleach is the best combination for keeping mold from growing in the units, but not putting too many harsh chemicals on my bird house.

Step 4: Consider using door plugs to keep other birds out of the bird house throughout the off season. If you do not have door plugs for your purple martin house, I highly recommend checking your purple martin house throughout the winter, particularly in relatively warm times just before and after the winter season. This is just a good opportunity to make sure you don’t have any mold growing, but also to ensure nothing is living in it.


Ultimately I feel as though you should clean a purple martin house at least twice per year. Once at the beginning of the season and once at the end of the season. That being said, there is always a necessity to check on your purple martins regularly after they arrive. There are many that may assist the martins with nests if there is any damage to it due to weather or predators mid-season. If this is the case, you can replace an entire nest with hay or wood shavings. I have never done this, but others do this regularly to keep bugs out of the nests as well.

Regardless, if you see any bugs or critters that shouldn’t be there, make sure you evict them and rinse the unit out for the purple martins so that your purple martin house remains clean and in good condition for them. If you do this, it will not be long before purple martins arrive!