How to Clean Feathers

feathers

Katrina asked: How do I clean and sanitize feathers found in the duck coop? I raise Pearl, White and Purple Guinea’s, Pekin Ducks and Sebastopol geese. They often drop beautiful feathers that get soiled by mud and/or droppings. I want to remove the visible soil and stains from the white feathers and sanitize them for use in my Native American crafts. I also find tons of turkey feathers on my property.

Feathers are delicate and require special care when cleaning. There are two types of feathers, contour and down. Contour feathers are the beautiful wing feathers that are collected for art projects and crafts. They are firm in structure, but delicate as they can easily lose their beautiful form to water and improper handling. The down feathers are soft and do not have the sturdiness of contour feathers. They are often used as filler for pillows, comforters, etc. Proper cleaning is crucial for keeping feathers looking good and keeping their form. Here are several methods for various types and colors of feathers.

“Dry” Cleaning Method

You Will Need:

  • Corn meal
  • White flour
  • Powdered borax
  • Bag

Steps to Clean the Feathers:

  1. Fill a bag with ½ cup flour, one cup corn meal, and three tablespoons borax.
  2. Place the feathers in the bag.
  3. Close the bag and shake the feathers around in the powdery mix.
  4. Once the feathers are clean, remove them.
  5. Shake the feathers to remove any excess powder.

Gasoline Method

You Will Need:

  • Gasoline
  • White flour (for white feathers)
  • Bucket

Steps to Clean the Feathers:

  1. Fill a small bowl or bucket with gasoline.
  2. Dip the feathers into the gasoline.
  3. Rub the feathers in the direction of the tip.
  4. Shake off excess gasoline and dry.
  5. If the feathers are white, make a paste out of gasoline and flour.
  6. Rub the paste over the feather from the bottom to the tip.
  7. Continue rubbing until the feather is clean.
  8. Rinse in plain gasoline.
  9. Shake to remove any excess gasoline.
  10. Dry completely.

Soap and Water Method

Though it is not recommended to wash feathers in soap and water, some have had success. Here is a method that can be used if the feathers can tolerate it.

You Will Need:

  • Woolite
  • Water
  • Bucket or tub
  • Blow dryer

Steps to Clean the Feathers:

  1. Fill the bucket or tub with warm water.
  2. Add a small amount of Woolite and agitate the water to mix.
  3. Swish the feathers around in the water. Do NOT scrub the feathers as this will damage them.
  4. Rinse by swishing in clean water.
  5. Reshape the feathers.
  6. Dry with a blow dryer on a low setting.

General Cleaning/Dusting

You Will Need:

  • Soft brush (ex: paint brush)

Steps to Clean the Feathers:

  1. Cleaning feathers that have been removed from a bird for any length of time is a tricky action.
  2. It is best to avoid washing the feathers regularly, but rather, remove the dust and dirt in a gentle way.
  3. Rest the feather on your hand for support as you brush away the dust that has accumulated with a soft brush.
  4. Follow the natural direction of the plumage as you carefully brush the dirt away.
  5. Keep supporting the back of the feather and be careful not to apply too much pressure to the quill or it may break.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Gasoline is flammable and should only be used outdoors.
  • Always protect your hands with rubber gloves and use protective eyewear when necessary.
  • Birds secrete oils that keep the feathers waterproof. Once removed from the bird, these oils quickly deteriorate and make the feather more vulnerable to damage from water and cleaning methods.
  • Insects are problem for feathers as they like to eat through them. Check your decorative feathers regularly to ensure they are not being eaten by any unwanted guests.
  • Store feathers in a pH neutral box for safe keeping.
  • If insects do invade your feathers, shake them in some Sevin dust. Allow them to sit for a few hours, then carefully brush away the dust with a soft brush using the methods above.

Comments

  1. Bette says:

    Thanks for the cool info; wow…very interesting!
    My children will be holding them; my concern is how do you disinfect the quill?
    Thanks for your help! :)
    Bette

  2. L says:

    We sprayed ours with either vinegar or peroxide. Borax mixed with water is also a disinfectant. Don’t breathe in Borax.

  3. Jeanne says:

    Did you ever get an answer on how to clean the quill? I want to make pens with school children.

    Thanks, Jeanne

  4. Rick Crazy Bear says:

    I am specifically interested in preserving Eagle, Buzzard, & Hawk feathers, as they are crucial to the Spirit of my Sacred Staff and regalia. In addition, Turkey, Goose, Crow, Blue Jay, and others are present.
    I travel for my job, and I carry my Staff with me many miles.
    Any good advice is appreciated.
    Peace.

  5. Delaney says:

    I just found 10 feathers while taking a walk with my grandmother, so the first method will be really helpful! Thank you so very much!

  6. Abs says:

    What about freezing them? Would freezing kill any mites or otherwise?

  7. C. V. says:

    My uncle hunts. He saves the turkey wings and tail for me. I would like to pull or separate the feathers and clean them and then use them for projects. Can someone give me some advice on how to collect them? I tried to pull and twist as suggested, not good. I do not have much strength in my hands and arms now, getting older. A shoulder injury keeps me from being able to grip and pull and twist. Help! Thanks!

  8. Jacob says:

    I do not have any ducks yet, so excuse me if this is a silly question, but are the down feathers possible to clean? And if so, how would I go about cleaning them for use in pillows and other crafts?

  9. Connie says:

    Eagle feathers, as well as hawk and other feathers, are illegal to keep even if it did fall from the bird while in flight. It can cost $100,000, so don’t use just any feather. You can dye chicken or turkey feathers to look like something else. In any case, research it before you pick one up!

  10. Jenn says:

    C.V.
    In reply to your question, we use wire snips to remove the large feathers from turkey and goose wings. Simply spread the wing feathers to reveal the thick quill, and then snip them as close to the wing as possible. This is the easiest method for not damaging the feather. Hope this helps!

  11. Brenda says:

    An addendum to Connie’s statement. It is illegal to posses any feathers from a raptor, UNLESS you are Native American. But, you must be able to prove that you are… in other words, you should have a tribal card.

  12. Maureen says:

    I have some turkey feathers that unfortunately have blood on them. How would they be cleaned without ruining them? Got them from a friend of mine who legally hunts turkeys.
    Thanks

  13. Melanie says:

    Maureen.
    The gasoline method for cleaning feathers would be the best for blood stains. The soap and water method could also work. If not, here is an article on removing blood stains that has some other ideas: How to Remove Blood Stains. Any of those methods might work (salt solution, meat tenderizer, milk, etc.) without damaging the feathers, however washing the feathers is usually not recommended, so you may want to test one feather first. You could also try turpentine instead of gasoline.

    Source: The Limp Cobra – “Agitating the Barbules”
    Source: Google Books – Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting: A Complete Handbook… by William Temple Hornaday and William Jacob Holland
    Source: Google Books – A Manual of Instruction to the Amateur in Collecting… by Montague Browne

  14. Mari says:

    Thank you; this is so helpful. Now I will know how to work with my wild turkey wings.

Leave a Comment

*