Exactly How To Clean Feathers For Crafts (6 Steps)

“Don’t pick up that feather off the ground” is what we tell our kids to keep them from falling sick. But if you’re anything like me, you sneakily pick up pretty feathers when the kids aren’t looking to make decorations and jewelry. 

Gathering feathers worries me, though. Bird feathers often have dirt, parasites, harmful microbes, and bugs on them. 

Cleaning the feathers is necessary before DIYing it up since the germs can make you sick, and the bugs can infest the house.

Here’s my detailed guide on how to clean feathers for crafts.

Step-By-Step Guide For Cleaning Feathers

First, get rid of the mites and kill the germs in the feathers. Then, after the feathers are pest- and germ-free, clean off the dirt and debris. Finally, fluff them back up before storing them in an airtight container or Ziplock bag. If you want the feathers to remain intact and pest-free for a long time, you can choose to preserve them.

There are many different ways to approach each step. But you can use every method listed in this guide to clean pheasant, chicken, turkey, pigeon, cockatoo, and peacock feathers. 

While you can use any method to clean very delicate feathers (such as Ostrich feathers), delicate feathers can be challenging to “re-fluff” after cleaning. 

For this reason, I recommend that you find a commercial source for getting your feathers cleaned if you have very delicate ones.

With that out of the way, here’s how you clean bird feathers for crafts.

Step #1: Understand the Sourcing Rules

A bird nesting with its chicks in North America

If you have a coop, picking up attractive feathers is not something that’ll get you in legal trouble. However, laws in the U.S. prevent you from harvesting the feathers of migratory birds and raptors. So, it’s risky to pick up a pretty feather you find when you’re out and about.

You can read more about The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) at the Animal Legal and Historical Center site. What you need to know about the law is this:

It doesn’t matter that you found the feather and didn’t pluck it off a bird. If you have a bird’s feather that’s protected under the MBTA, you will be charged with a misdemeanor violation. This will require you to serve a maximum penalty of six months in prison, plus a $15,000 fine.

Collecting the feathers of the birds protected under the MBTA and selling them is a felony violation. If the jury passes a guilty verdict, the felon must serve up to two years in prison and pay up to $500,000.

So, I recommend that you stick to gathering the feathers of domesticated birds. Never pick up a feather unless you’re sure it’s a non-migratory, legally harvested bird’s feather, like maybe a turkey taken with a permit in the season.

Step #2: Get Rid of the Mites

A graphic illustration of mites

Bird feathers have parasites like lice and mites on them. It takes only a few of these to infest homes, so it’s important to remove them from the feathers before bringing the feathers inside the house. You can remove these parasites using a brush, by freezing the feathers or sealing them up with mothballs.

Method #1: Using a Toothbrush 

A lot of DIYers use a soft toothbrush to brush off dust and insects from the grain of the feathers. However, this method is time-consuming and not consistently effective. 

Method #2: Freezing

A popular way of killing off parasites in feathers is to freeze the feathers. To do this, isolate the feathers you found and put them in a ziplock bag or airtight container. Then, transfer the bag or container into the freezer. 

The temperature of the freezer should be at least zero degrees Farenheight or -18 Celsius. However, colder is better. You must leave the feathers in the freezer for 48 hours. Then, you can take them out for a day before freezing them for 48 hours again.

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Freezing the feathers is the most convenient way of killing mites in feathers. However, if you think freezing takes too long or the feathers look badly infested, you could use the third and most effective method.

Method #3: Sealing with Mothballs

Grab a handful of mothballs, the kind with paradichlorobenzene, and put them in an airtight container, and then transfer the feathers you collected into the container. Make sure you do this outside the house – don’t bring the feathers indoors. Close the container, and store it outside in a dry place that doesn’t receive sunlight for 24 hours.

It’s important for you to use mothballs with paradichlorobenzene since the chemical effectively removes mites and other parasites from the feathers.

You must also remember to store the container in a safe place since mothballs can harm kids, pets, and wildlife. After 24 hours, remove the feathers from the container, and get rid of the mothballs safely.

Step #3: Sanitize the Feathers

A sanitizing bottle with feathers and a face mask

After ridding the feathers of parasites, sanitize the feathers with a 1:1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Using this mixture is both convenient and effective. But if you don’t want to use chemicals, you can sanitize the feathers in boiling water or clean them off with dishwashing soap. 

Method #1: Using Rubbing Alcohol and Hydrogen Peroxide

Bird feathers carry several pathogenic microbes, so handling them before sanitizing them can make you very sick. The best way to kill the germs on the feathers is to soak them in a 50-50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide for 30 minutes. Don’t add water to this mix since it will reduce the formula’s strength. 

Doing this will get rid of all bacteria and render viruses inactive. The mixture will also brighten up the natural color of the feathers.

Some DIYers like to use bleach instead of making this mixture. While using bleach effectively kills germs, I found that it makes the feathers brittle. Soaking in this mixture is the best method of sanitizing bird feathers. 

Method #2: Using Boiling Water

Put a shallow pot of water on your stove and bring it up to a boil. Next, put the feathers in the water and leave the water boiling for a few minutes. This will kill off any germs on the quills.

If you notice that the boiling water has loosened up some gunk from the feathers, grab a soft cloth and remove the gunk gently. Then, place the feathers flat on some paper towels before moving on to the next step.

Method #3: Using Dishwashing Soap

Cleaning the feathers with dishwashing soap liquid will remove dirt and debris from the feathers in addition to sanitizing them. You must pour some liquid into a container and dilute it with enough water to clean all of the feathers you have.

Note: This is the method you want to use if you have feathers that have been at the bottom of a cage and have spent seed husks or other things stuck on them.

You can use Lysol or ammonia instead of dishwashing soap. Regardless of which sanitizer you use, though, remember to swish the feathers in the water gently. Swish the feathers around enough for the soap to reach all parts of the feathers.

If you swish the feathers too hard, you may accidentally create folds in the feathers that aren’t fixable. So, if you have a lot of feathers to clean, cleaning them in batches is what I’d recommend. Accidentally damaging the feathers because you cleaned too many at a time is not worth it.

Remember to rinse the feathers off with water at least twice to remove the sanitizer from the feathers.

Step #4: Clean and Dry the Feathers

After cleaning the feathers with the isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide mixture or sanitizing with boiling water, use mild hand soap to clean the feathers. Mild hand soap is potent enough to remove any remaining dirt, chemicals, or oils from the feathers. 

If you used dishwashing soap to clean and sanitize your feathers, skip ahead to the “Drying” section.

Mix in some hand soap with water in a moderately large container and swish the feathers around in the water. Don’t scrub or pinch the feathers. Instead, swish the feathers in the water till they appear clean. 

Remove the dirty water from the container and rinse the feathers in clean water. Rinse the feathers twice (or thrice, if there’s a lot of gunk coming off the feathers), and then you can dry them.

Drying the Feathers

You have to dry your feathers off quickly. The longer they’re damp, the higher the chances of mold or fungal infestations. Some dry the feathers off in the sun, but according to Dr. Chuck Trost, Emeritus Professor, Idaho State University, feathers lose color when exposed to sunlight. Soaking up the water and drying with a hairdryer is the best way to dry feathers.

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Lay out a clean, dry towel and spread the feathers out on it. Next, grab another towel and lay it on top of the towel with the feathers spread out. Finally, gently press the towel down to soak up water from the feathers.

Next, spread out some paper towels on a dry surface, and place the feathers on them. Turn your hairdryer to the low setting. Hold the dryer just far enough for the feathers to not fly about. The feathers will fluff up a little in the process.

You can dye your feathers after cleaning them if you want to. Make sure you rinse the feathers off in cold water after dyeing before moving to the next step.

Step #5: Fluff the Feathers Up

A woman using a steamer

Steaming your feathers is the best way to get them looking neat and smelling fresh. You can use the steam from a tea kettle or an electric kettle and preen the feathers back in perfect shape. But this takes time since you have to preen the feathers one at a time. Using a garment steamer is a faster way to go about fluffing up feathers. You could also use a power steamer if you own one. 

The vanes of the feathers you find are often twisted up, making the feather look torn. Regardless of your steam source, you must dampen up the feathers and preen them back into shape with your fingers one at a time. 

Garment steamers release steam faster, so I recommend that you use it if you have one. Electric kettles are your second-best choice since a traditional tea kettle takes longer to heat up. You can also use a power steamer to repair feathers.

Periodically steaming your feathers is a good idea to keep them looking happy. Additionally, regular steaming will prevent your feathers from getting too dry and breaking.

Step #6: Preserve and Store Your Feathers

An airtight plastic container

Rubbing citronella or cedar oil on your hands and massaging the feathers is a great way to preserve the feathers. You can also cover the feathers with boric acid and clean them off to protect the feathers from insects and help them remain intact. You can then store the feathers in an airtight container. Store the container in a safe, dry place that doesn’t get any sunlight.

Method #1: Using Citronella Oil

Massaging the feathers with citronella oil works great because the oil has antifungal and pest-repellent properties. Rubbing a few drops on your hands and coating the feathers will keep the feathers pest-free for months. 

A quicker way of going about it is putting a few drops of the oil on a clean cloth and putting it in the bag or container where you stored the feathers.

Method #2: Using Boric Acid

To treat the feathers with boric acid:

  1. Put all the feathers in a large envelope.
  2. Sprinkle boric acid into the bag. Cover the feathers with the powder.
  3. Fold the bag closed and shake the contents for 30 seconds.
  4. Rotate the bag horizontally and shake the contents a couple of times. The contents must settle down horizontally inside the paper bag.
  5. Let the feathers and boric acid sit in the paper bag for three days. The boric acid will kill the parasites in the feathers and prevent future infestations.
  6. Remove the feathers from the envelope one by one and flick each feather gently to remove the boric acid.
  7. After flicking, grasp the feather by the quill in your left hand, then preen it by rubbing it from bottom to top. The fibers of the feather will adhere like they’re supposed to.
  8. Put the feathers away in an airtight container till you want to use them.

Storage Instructions

Regardless of which method you use to preserve your feathers (or you choose to avoid preserving the feathers entirely), you must bear the following storage instructions in mind:

  • It is best to store feathers in an airtight container. Put the container in a humidity-free area that doesn’t receive any sunlight. Sunlight causes feathers to fade, and storing feathers in high humidity can lead to mold growth or cause the feathers to decompose. 
  • If you’re worried that the feathers’ storage conditions are too humid, you can put some hygroscopic crystals in the container.
  • Ideally, you must store the container in a cupboard or drawer if you have a cedar chest and store your feathers in it since cedar repels insects.
  • If you don’t have a cedar chest, you can put small cedar planks in the container or use cedar mothballs.
  • You could put some flea powder in the container instead of cedar. It kills mites and beetles, but the powder is toxic, so I don’t recommend you use flea powder unless you’re using it temporarily in a pinch.
  • If you see tiny holes or loose fluff in some of the feathers, remove the affected feathers and freeze them as instructed in the section above. You can then put the feathers back into storage, preferably in a separate container.
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How to Clean a Lot of Feathers for Crafts

A big bunch of feathers in a pile

Going through the aforementioned six-step process isn’t possible every time. If you’re looking to clean, sanitize, and dry your feathers in one go, you can put all your feathers in a cotton pillowcase and toss the pillowcase in the washing machine.

Make sure you only fill the pillowcase halfway and tie a tight knot to keep the feathers from coming out. Use anti-bacterial laundry detergent, and when the pillowcase spins dry, transfer it to the dryer and turn it to the “air” setting.

The feathers will dry off and fluff up in the dryer.

Note: Using this method comes at the expense of less thoroughly cleaned feathers.

How to Clean Feathers on Dream Catchers

Feathers hanging off a dream catcher

Over time, dream catchers get dusty and absorb nasty odors. If you’ve made a dream catcher with your feathers, you will need to clean it periodically. You could clean the feathers with some dishwashing soap or dry clean with salt or baking soda.

Wet Method

Fill up a large container with water and mix in some dish soap. Wash a small area of the dream catcher in the water, and notice if dye starts to come off it.

If no dye comes off and the dream catcher does not appear damaged, dip the dream catcher into the water and rub every part of it with your fingers. 

Rinse the dream catcher off and dry it with a dry towel or some tissues.

Dry Method

Put the dream catcher in a container or a bag. Pour in a cup of baking soda or salt, then shake the bag so the powder coats the entire dream catcher.

Let the dream catcher sit in the bag overnight. Remove it from the bag in the morning, and shake excess salt/baking soda off of it outdoors.

Alternatively, if you have a vacuum cleaner, wrap the hose with some cloth and use it to pull away all of the powder from the dream catcher. The powder will get stuck on the cloth, and you can throw it away with ease.

If the dream catcher still looks dirty or smells bad, repeat the process until it’s cleaner.

How To Clean Feathers For Crafts

Learn how to clean feathers you collect and use the for crafts in 6 simple steps!
If you want to collect feathers with your family, clean them from any bad bugs like mites and use them safely in crafting stuff with your kids – then this is the recipe for you.
Feathers make a great addition to crafting interesting designs with the kids and really getting their creativity going, or even to be used in your own homemade dreamcatchers.
Prep Time2 d
Active Time2 hrs
Total Time2 d 2 hrs
Keyword: Crafts
Cost: $10-30

Equipment

  • Toothbrush
  • Freezer
  • Hairdryer
  • Steamer
  • Pillowcase
  • Airtight Container

Materials

  • Feathers
  • Mothballs
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Boiling Water
  • Dishwashing Soap
  • Citronella Oil
  • Boric Acid
  • Anti-bacterial Laundry Detergent
  • Hand Soap

Instructions

  • Make sure you are not breaking the law with the feathers you collect!
    Feathers
  • Get rid of any mites using a toothbrush, putting the feathers in a freezer, or put mothballs with the feathers into a container
    Feathers, Mothballs
  • Sanitize the feathers using rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide
    Feathers, Rubbing Alcohol, Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Clean the feathers with a watery solution of hand soap
    Feathers, Hand Soap
  • Dry the feathers using a hairdryer
    Feathers
  • Use steam to fluff the feathers with a steamer or the steam from boiling water
    Feathers, Boiling Water
  • Preserve your feathers using Citronella Oil or Boric Acid and store in an airtight container
    Feathers, Citronella Oil, Boric Acid

Notes

Most of the time it takes to clean feathers properly is getting rid of the mites. The best way is to put the feathers in an airtight container and then in the freezer and leave it in there for 48 hours.
Once that’s done, the rest should be doable within an hour – so don’t be disheartened! It’s worth the process to get nice, clean, fluffy feathers that are safe for you and your children to use in crafts!