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How to Bathe a Chicken

Washing a chicken is necessary so that it will look its best when in a show, or just to clean a chicken that's a bit dirty. If you've never heard of washing a chicken, don't worry, it's not hard and your chicken will come out clean!


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    Check if it's a good day for cleaning your chickens. Obviously, check the weather to ensure that it's sunny and warm; you wouldn't want to wash and get a poor chicken all wet in the cold weather!
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    Prepare the washing containers (tubs). Prepare three tubs; plastic trash cans work well, or feed buckets, or other similar items. When selecting a bathing container, ensure that the container is just wider than the chicken, but deep enough to be half full and still submerge each chicken entirely, except for the head. This keeps the bathwater from displacing and spilling over. A narrow container also restrains their flapping, which is important to reduce panic and mess.
    • In the first tub, pour Ivory Liquid or Liquid Castile Soap. Then pour in the water (so it gets nice and foamy.) Use warm or lukewarm water unless it is a very hot day. Adding 1/2 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax to the bath makes it more effective, especially if your chicken is light or white.
    • In the second tub, just pour plain old water. This is the tub where you rinse the bird.
    • In the third tub, pour in a mixture of vinegar and water. (2 cups of vinegar to a gallon/3.7 liters of water). You might also add a tablespoon of glycerin for an extra 'poultry show shine', but make sure the chicken doesn't drink any, or it will be very embarrassing at the vet.

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    Pick the chicken you're going to wash. This is the one that needs to be clean, or is the dirtiest.
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    Put the chicken in the first tub, slowly. If they've never had a bath before, this tub is where they'll freak out. By tub two, they will hopefully be too tired to struggle.
    • Gently agitate them up and down in a smooth plunging motion. Do not scrub or rub or you will break their feathers.
    • After they're soaked through, pull them out and hold them with both hands over the tub to 'drain'. They will have soaked up a surprising amount of water! If you have an assistant, this is a good time to have them use a washcloth to clean their feet while they are 'draining'.
    • If the vent feathers are matted with poo, you may need to soak for a few minutes to dissolve it with light agitation of the water. Any scrubbing of matted feathers must be done with utmost care, and only in the direction of the feather tips. Be patient, as poo usually dissolves in warm soapy water.
    • Don't leave the chicken unattended, at any stage! Poultry can drown easily, even in a small container, if they panic or misplace their footing. Always keep the head above the water.
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    Transfer each chicken to the second tub and gently plunge up and down again to get all of the soap off.
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    In the third tub, just make sure the vinegar water gets all over the chicken's body. This will make their feathers shinier.
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    Dry your chicken! Drain them by holding them over the rinse tub until they mostly stop dripping.
    • If it is a warm day, you can towel-dry them carefully by putting a dry bath towel over them and pressing without rubbing - simply pat very gently. Do the same under each wing.
    • If it is cold, you'll want to bring them inside and blow dry them completely on the lowest setting so the blow-back does not break and frizz the feathers. (Probably best not to tell your wife what you did with the blow dryer.)
    • Warning: This can smell a little funky. You'll also want to keep your hand between the blower and the chicken at all times. If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for the chicken.
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    Trim their beaks and nails if needed. Do their beaks or nails need to be trimmed? If so, then start trimming! You'll only want to file back obvious over-growth so it returns to a natural shape. On the nails, cut tiny bits at a time and watch the blood line! (That's the little red line you may or may not be able to see in the nail.) If your chicken has dark nails, you'll want to cut teeny little bits at a time. If the nail starts bleeding, dip it into a powdery substance, like flour or baking powder.
    • Roosters may need their spur nails trimmed and filed blunt to limit damage if they get into a fight with other roosters.
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    Dust with flea or lice powder to control any mites.[1] This step isn't necessary unless you have a mite problem.
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    If preparing for a show, consider rubbing Vaseline on the comb and wattles of each chicken, to bring out the red color.
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    Take the opportunity to clean out the coop. Don't return show-ready chickens to a dirty coop! Either clean it out or place them in clean cages in readiness for showing.


  • If it's a show you're washing them for, you may want to bring a rag or little towel if they suddenly get dirty. Also bring a water bottle with vinegar water to help quick clean the chicken.
  • If washing for showing, try to wash them three days in advance, to give everything time to settle back into place neatly.
  • A toothpick can be used to clean out the scales on the bird's legs. Don't be afraid to dig, the bird will tell you if you're going too deep. Occasionally whitish looking scales will come off (A dead/old scale). Doesn't the scale underneath look all clean and shiny? A fingernail brush works well for this too.
  • Using a pair of tweezers and small scissors are helpful for getting out lost feathers and they help to make the bird look more show ready.
  • Don't hesitate to invite your friends to watch. It promises to be entertaining for all.
  • You can use an old toothbrush (thoroughly cleaned) and gently scrub the beak,comb,wattles,legs & feet to get dirt off.
  • Always hold the chickens wings down when you are bathing them because you will get quite wet if they start flapping. Is is also good to have an assistant to hold the chicken down while the other person washes it.


  • Whatever you do, do not let the chicken put its head down, it is very possible that it will drown; the water fills the breathing passages and disorientates the bird. This is where you will be glad you invited your friends over: They can hold the head up while you do the bathing.
  • If you see the chicken stick its head up high, it is looking where to fly! If you're willing to take the risk of becoming wetter, clamp the bird's wings to its body (with your hands, of course- silly you!). If not, back away!

Things You'll Need

  • A dirty chicken
  • 3 kitchen trash cans for wash tubs
  • Ivory Liquid dish detergent or liquid castile soap
  • 20 Mule Team Borax (optional)
  • Lukewarm water (all three tubs, especially second tub)
  • Bleach (optional, second tub)
  • Glycerin (optional, third tub)
  • White or cider vinegar, of good quality (third tub)
  • Nail trimmers (use one meant for a human baby or a small dog) (use only if necessary)
  • Old bath towel
  • Hair dryer (if the chicken is shivering)
  • Toothpick or fingernail brush (optional, see tips)
  • Pen to put clean chicken in until fully dry so it won't go for a nice dust bath and become a mud-ball.
  • Friends or spouse with a good sense of humor. Remember, there is a reason for the saying: "Mad as a wet hen."

Sources and Citations

  1. Trisha Fisk, Practical Smallfarming in New Zealand, p. 161, (2009), ISBN 978-0-14-301089-0

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