Tips For Cleaning an Automatic Feeder

Many people who have pets or livestock know that feeding animals every day can be somewhat of a tiresome task. Automatic pet feeders make that process easier but one thing that even the most thoughtful animal owner sometimes forgets about is keeping the feeder clean. I trust that these tips for cleaning an automatic feeder will help you change that.

This is an important process that involves making sure your animal’s feeder is sanitized and safe for them. The feeder bowl or container can become a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. Your feeders should be cleaned often or at least once per week.

We love our animals and want the best for them. This means making sure we are feeding them and supplying water daily. One of the best ways to make this process easier is to use an automatic animal feeder.

However, one thing that oftentimes gets overlooked is the cleaning of their feeders and bowls. When things are automated it makes life easier and things run much more efficiently. To keep the harmony and benefits that these devices provide we must remember that keeping them clean is very important.

Pets and livestock can transfer germs and bacteria to their feeders and bowls. Animals do not have the ability to clean objects, therefore we must take care of that process for them.

Cats, dogs, and even livestock can have some pretty dirty habits. Anyone who has had a dog knows that they sometimes get into things that they shouldn’t and they eat things that can be downright gross.

Cat’s mouths have a ton of bacteria and when they lick the bowl clean it may look decently clean but that doesn’t mean that it’s clean of germs.

This is why cleaning and sanitizing their feeders is an important part of keeping them healthy.

woman holding cleaning tools and products in bucket

Why Cleaning Their Feeders is Important

The reason we must make sure their bowls and feeders stay clean is because food particles become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Food sanitation isn’t just a thing to consider with humans, pets also need sanitary conditions.

Even if your pet appears to lick his bowl clean, there are still germs left behind that need to be sanitized every few days.

A study done by the NFS claims that pet dishes are the 4th dirtiest objects containing germs found in your home.

Germs from your animal’s mouths transfer onto the dish as they eat from it, that combined with food particles left on the dish makes them a perfect place for bacteria to thrive.

Taking the time to clean your animal’s dish and feeders will save you’re a lot of heartache if they become sick or in poor health.

When raising livestock, diseases from bacteria can become a problem that will cost you money and grief when dealing with sick animals.

How Often Should You Clean Feeders?

When it comes to how often you should clean your animal feeders and bowls there are a few things to keep in mind. Automatic dry food dispensers should have the container that holds the food cleaned at least once per week.

The container keeps the food fresh, however, before you refill it back up again we suggest washing it out and sanitizing it.

The food bowls that the automatic feeder dispenses the food into should be cleaned daily at the end of the day.

This is because germs transfer from the animal’s mouths to the food dish and will become unsanitary.

You may be thinking, but my pets eat gross things all the time and seem to be immune, but that is not the case. You should be doing everything you can to keep your pets and animals healthy.

Automatic livestock feeders should also be cleaned every few days to once per week.

If you are feeding your animal wet food, the bowl should be cleaned after each feeding, or before more of the wet food will go back into the same food slot.


Do the Soaps and Sanitizers Need to be Organic?

Because of the process of sanitizing you do not need organic soaps or sanitizers unless you specifically like them better. In the process, you will rinse the feeders and bowls multiple times after using soap.

This will wash away any of the remaining cleaning products and keep the feeders free from any chemical residue.

You will need to make sure you do not skip any of the steps to keep up with this standard of sanitation.

On the other hand, most organic cleaners are better for your hands and it can’t hurt to want to use products that are safer for you and for the environment.

Directions for Cleaning and Sanitizing

The directions for cleaning and sanitizing are pretty easy to follow. There are only four steps in the process and as long as you stick to the steps you will have cleaned and sanitized your feeders up to the highest standards. The last step of using sanitizer is optional but we suggest not skipping it.

The four steps:

  1. Rinse
  2. Clean
  3. Rinse
  4. Sanitize

When rinsing and cleaning make sure to use hot water. The hot water helps to kill bacteria and germs. Let’s take a step by step look at the process.

Step One

Rinse out the container or the dish with hot water. Getting it wet with hot water helps loosen up the food particles.

Step Two

Soak the container or bowl with hot water and dish soap for around five minutes. After that scrub them with an abrasive pad until all lose food has been removed.

Step Three

Once they have been thoroughly cleaned rinse any soap residue off of them with hot water and set them out to dry. Make sure they dry completely before adding any more food.

Step Four

This step is optional and is mostly used in human kitchens to make sure that every dish and surface is cleaned by the highest food standards. If you are someone who wants things to be as clean as possible we suggest doing this last step. We also suggest this step if you are cleaning an automatic livestock feeder.


  • The sanitized dish does not have to be rinsed again and should be dried before adding any food.

These directions are easy to follow and they get the job done.


Hand Cleaning Feeders

Some cleaners will not be able to be disassembled or put into a sink to soak, in this case, use hot water to flush the unit, pour out, then wipe down with soap and water with a sponge.

After that flush it again with hot water, rinsing out all of the soap. If you’re going to sanitize your unit you can then wipe it down with sanitizer and let it dry.

Once your feeder has been hand cleaned make sure that it has time to dry out completely before adding more food.

Make sure all of the parts are dry if it is electronic before you plug it back in or attach the units that you cleaned.

Cleaning Plastic Feeders

A lot of automatic feeders have plastic parts. These can be cleaned with hot water and dish soap. The reservoirs should be flushed with water if they do not come apart, soaked with hot water and soap and rinsed again.

If your feeder disassembles start by taking the feeder apart, this makes it easier to put into a sink.

Some feeders have bowls that will come apart from the unit, this makes it easy to clean them, and some can be put into a dishwasher if they are dishwasher safe.

If your main container that holds the food will not come apart and your unit is electronic flush it with water and pour it back into the sink.

If you are using sanitizer you can soak or wipe the unit one final time with sanitizer.

Cleaning Metal Feeders

If your feeder is made of stainless steel metal the same process is applied. You may be able to take the unit apart, take it apart and rinse, soak and clean, rinse again. If you have a unit that can’t be put into a sink, flush it with hot water, wash it by hand with soap and a sponge and rinse.

Most metal parts that can be taken apart can be washed in a dishwasher unless they have electronic parts.

A lot of livestock feeders are made from metal, usually, they can be disassembled which helps for cleaning them. If they do not come apart, flush with water, wipe down with soap and sponge and flush/rinse it again.

If you have a livestock feeder we suggest wiping it down with sanitizer after you clean it thoroughly.


Using The Dishwasher

A lot of feeders have parts that are dishwasher safe. You can usually read in the instructions if any parts can be cleaned with a dishwasher. Most metal parts that have no electronics can be washed in the dishwasher as long as they are stainless steel, but still check your instructions.

Some units have bowls that will come apart from the unit and can be washed in the dishwasher. Once again check to make sure any parts you plan to use in a dishwasher are marked as dishwasher safe either on the piece of equipment or in the instruction manual.

Make sure to rinse and clean the pieces with a sponge to get any loose food that may be stuck to them before you put them into the dishwasher.

Allow the pieces to dry before you put them back together or place food back into the dish or container.

Cleaning Limescale From Feeders

If your feeder or any of its parts have limescale build-up on them from hard water deposits (this often happens to water bowls and automatic water dispensers) then you can clean them by warming up white vinegar in a pot on the stove.

Fill the dish or reservoir with the warm vinegar past the limescale marks and let it soak for an hour.

After that take a scrubbing brush, or and abrasive pad and scrub hard to get the limescale to break apart.

Make sure that you remove all of the limescale, this can take a little bit of elbow grease.

Once you have removed all of it you wash the bowl with warm water and soap. After that rinse the container and let it dry.

Gravity Fed Cleaning Tips

Most gravity-fed feeders do not have electronic parts and are very easy to clean. If these feeders do not have electronic parts, take them apart, rinse them with warm water, soak them in the sink with warm water and dish soap.

After that rinse them and let them dry before adding any food to them. If they do have electronic parts, check to see if the container or bowl comes apart and repeat the above process.

If they do not come apart, flush the reservoir with hot water. Clean them with hot water and soap using a sponge and then flush/rinse again.

Electronic Feeder Tips

If you have an electronic feeder or smart feeder make sure to start by reading the instruction manual to find out if any of the parts can be removed for cleaning.

Most electronic units have bowls that can be taken apart and be hand-cleaned or cleaned in a dishwasher.

Always unplug your electronic device or remove the batteries when cleaning it. If you can remove parts, remove them, rinse them with hot water, soak them in the sink in hot water and soap. Scrub all of the food particles off of it.

Drain the water and rinse them one last time. Let them dry before reassembling them or putting food into them.

If you need to clean them by hand follow the process of flushing them with water, wiping them down with hot water and soap with a sponge to get all of the food particles, then flush them out with hot water and let them dry.

Make sure they are 100% dry before you plug them back in or add batteries.

Cleaning Automatic Waterers

If you have an automatic watering device that is not electronic, take apart the pieces, rinse them with water, soak them in hot water and soap and remove any hard water scaling with an abrasive pad.

Then rinse them again and let them dry. If you have heavy limescale build-up from hard water follow the process of removing the limescale.

If the device is electronic, check the instructions to find out if any pieces will come apart. If they do not, make sure it is unplugged and follow the hand cleaning process. Flush, Clean, flush again, dry.  

If the pieces are marked dishwasher safe then you may wash them in the dishwasher with dishwashing detergent.

How to Clean Livestock Feeders

Livestock feeders can get a lot of build-up of food particles. We recommend cleaning them every few days or at least once per week. If the feeder is not electronic remove any feed that is left and flush the unit with hot water.

Manually scrub the feeder with hot water, dish soap, and a sponge. Once it is clean and has no food particles flush it one last time and let the unit dry before adding any more feed.

If your feeder is electronic check the instructions to make sure there are no special specifications and also check if you can remove any of the parts for easier cleaning.

Make sure to unplug the feeder before cleaning. Flush the unit with hot water, scrub the inside and outside of the feeder with hot water, soap, and an abrasive sponge.

After that flush the unit with water, make sure that there are no pieces of food blocking any of the parts that would keep the feed from going through.

Once you have it nice and clean flush with hot water and let it dry.

Tips on Cleaning Hunting Feeders

Hunting feeders should be cleaned in a similar manner as the livestock feeders. Manually flush the unit with hot water, scrub the unit with hot water, dish soap, and an abrasive pad.

Once you have cleaned all of the food particles from the unit flush one last time with hot water and let the unit dry.

If it is an electronic feeder make sure to check the instruction manual for any specific cleaning instructions. Remove the power supply and manually clean the device.

Let it dry completely before plugging it back in our putting the battery pack back into the device.


If You’re Going to be Out of Town

Automatic feeders allow you to feed your animals for a couple of days, however, they still need to be cleaned. You should have someone looking after your animals while you are gone.

They should use the same instructions for cleaning provided in this article. Usually, it only takes 15-30 minutes to clean an automatic feeder.

Related Questions

Do you have to use a sanitizer? The sanitizer is optional, however, we suggest using it if you are worried about germs. Kids will oftentimes pick things up and get there hands into things. Make sure things are as clean as possible. If using a livestock feeder we suggest sanitizing it after you clean it.

Can all feeders be taken apart? Not all feeders come apart for cleaning but most of them do. If yours does not, hand clean them using the instructions that we have provided. Get them as clean as possible and let them dry before adding any more food to them.

Chad Kilpatrick

Chad Kilpatrick is a writer who loves animals and is dedicated to bringing reliable information to people about automatic animal feeders.

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