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Introduction and General Information

The cleaning process is key to successful rehabilitation of oiled birds. Birds depend on the interlocking structure of the feather barbs, barbules and barbicels for waterproofing and flying. (D60.7.w7, B23.38.w2)

Note: It is essential that facilities setting out to clean oiled birds have adequate space, hot water, oiled and non-oiled waste water disposal, detergent and trained personnel to carry out the procedure properly. A small wildlife hospital or rescue centre is likely to be able to undertake the cleaning of an individual oiled bird or a small number of casualties, however the facilities required for dealing with the substantial numbers of casualties which may be involved in a sizeable oil spill should not be underestimated.

  • Cleaning of birds takes two people per bird (three for large birds), time (e.g. an hour for a swan and 45 minutes for a duck or small seabird) and care, and should not be attempted without adequate facilities. (B11.35.w3)
  • Cleaning should be carried out as soon as possible in order to minimise the time during which a bird may ingest oil while trying to preen the oil from its feathers. However, cleaning is a stressful procedure and birds must not be washed until their physical and mental condition is such that they are likely to survive the procedure. (B188, D135.6.w6, D9, J29.8.w1, P14.5.w8, P24.335.w12)
  • The cleaning procedure involves pretreatment to soften tarry deposits, if required, washing in warm dilute detergent solution, thorough rinsing and drying. 
    • The use of solvents for removing oil from animals is NOT recommended. (D60.7.w7, P14.7.w16)
  • It is essential that oiled casualties are both washed thoroughly and rinsed thoroughly, since residual oil and/or detergent will interfere with waterproofing and insulation. (P62.1.w1, J59.16.w1)
  • The following procedural descriptions are NOT a substitute for hands-on training by personnel experienced in washing oiled wildlife. 
  • Persons wishing to assist in oiled wildlife care should attend appropriate training classes or otherwise obtain training from experienced personnel.
  • Members of the public finding oiled animals should report or take the casualties to an appropriate wildlife hospital/rehabilitation facility, NOT attempt to clean the animals themselves.
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Human Health and Safety

Potential chemical, physical and psychological health and safety hazards must be considered.
  • Gloves should be worn when washing birds in order to minimise exposure of human skin to both oil and detergents. (P14.5.w8)
  • Personnel must wear appropriate personal protective equipment including safety goggles, waterproof covering over clothes, long wash gloves and rubber boots. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, D135.6.w6, D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1)
  • Traction floor mats should be provided in the wash area to reduce the risk of personnel slipping on wet floors. (D135.6.w6)
  • Personnel washing birds may be susceptible to overheating, dehydration and exhaustion, due to the protective clothing and the high ambient temperature of the washing room. (B363.10.w10)
    • Personnel should be given sufficient rest breaks, provided with plentiful drinks and encouraged to drink adequate quantities, to prevent exhaustion and dehydration. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6)
  • To reduce the risk of discomfort and back injury, personnel on a given washing team should preferably be of similar heights, and if possible the height of the wash table should be matched to the team of washers. (B363.10.w10)
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Assessment for Washing

Washing is a stressful experience. Before a bird is subjected to the stressful experience of being washed it is important that it is has been stabilised (see: Oiled Bird Admission and Stabilisation) and is assessed as being fit to withstand this extra stressor. (B188, B363.App3.w16, B363.Intro.w21, D135.6.w6, D9, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12, D159.III.w3, D160.5.w5, J312.16.w1)

  • Birds must be stabilised before they are washed. Often, 48 hours of stabilisation treatment may be required before birds are in a fit state. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1, J312.16.w1)
    • Individuals which are subject to cleaning before they are physiologically stable have a high risk of collapsing and requiring intensive resuscitation efforts, or dying, during the cleaning process. (B363.App3.w16, D9, J312.16.w1 P24.335.w12)
    • However, washing within 8-24 hours of capture if possible is advantageous in order to reduce absorption of toxins through the skin and possible resultant liver and kidney damage. (B23.38.w2)
    • If birds are stable and fit for washing within just several hours of admission (e.g. urban waterfowl caught very soon after oiling) then washing should take place at that time. (V.w5, V.w73)

Criteria for washing:

  • Birds should be bright, alert and responsive, and need to meet established criteria for core body temperature, weight, hydration level and blood values (Adequate PCV, total proteins, and blood glucose), as well as absence of apparent infectious disease. (B11.35.w3, B363.10.w10, B363.Intro.w21, D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, P24.335.w12, J312.16.w1)
    • PCV of at least 30% and total proteins of at least 2.5 g/dL (25 g/L) on a blood sample taken within 24 hours of the proposed wash (NOT based on any sample taken at admission). (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1); or PCV and total proteins within 10% of normal limits (i.e. within 90% of normal) (B363.10.w10, D160.5.w5).
    • For birds with PCV below 30% and/or total proteins of less than 2.5 g/dL individual examination and clinical judgment by a veterinarian experienced with oiled birds is required. (D133.6.w6)
    • N.B. Birds may have a near-normal PCV at initial assessment but a much lower PCV if this parameter is checked a few days later. As the bird is rehydrated, and as the spleen removes damaged red blood cells, the PCV may drop severely over a short time (e.g. from 22% to 12% in three days). (B23.38.w2)
    • Normal core body temperature, suggesting that the bird is in a stable condition. (P24.335.w12) i.e. 39-40.5C. (B363.10.w10)
    • Normal hydration status. (B363.10.w10)
    • Weight within the range for the species, age and sex. (B363.10.w10)
  • Note: Birds of species which do badly in prolonged captivity and/or are highly susceptible to development of secondary problems such as Keel Lesions or Hock Lesions (Loons, grebes (Podicipedidae - Grebes (Family)), seaducks etc.) should be prioritised for washing ahead of birds such as dabbling ducks and gulls, which can be successfully rehabilitated even after a longer period before washing. (D60.7.w7, D186, D214.2.w2, , P4.1990.w1)


  • In certain circumstances a quick wash may be given to individuals which have not been stabilised:
    • Birds arriving oiled with highly toxic oil such as diesel or jet fuel may be given a "quick-wash" soon after arrival to remove the bulk of the oil and thus the fumes from the oil, but without trying to restore waterproofing. (D133.6.w6, D135.5.w5, D185.w5, J29.8.w1, J312.16.w1)
    • Birds with very heavy oiling severely impairing movement may be given a quick wash to remove sufficient oil to allow some mobility. (D185.w5)
    • Note: a quick wash and rinse in these circumstances should only take about one to three minutes. (D185.w5)
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Immediate Pre-wash Preparation

Hypoglycaemia (see Hypoglycaemia) may be induced in birds which are already low in body fat reserves that are then subjected to the stress of washing. The risk of this occurring should be minimised by ensuring that birds have been fed in the hours prior to washing, or by providing energy as a specific part of the pre-wash preparation.
  • Individuals should have received at least one gavage with rehydration solution and one with nutritional slurry on the day of washing prior to being washed. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
    • This reduces the risk of development of hypoglycaemia in birds with low body fat reserves during the wash. (J29.8.w1)
  • Stomach tubing (50 mL/kg body weight) with rehydration fluid containing added dextrose (to give dextrose of 5-20%) about 30 minutes before washing is useful to decrease the risk of hypoglycaemia induced by washing (D6); about 15 to 20 minutes before starting washing. (B363.10.w10)

Pretreatment for tarry substances

  • Tarry deposits of oil require pretreatment before the bird is washed. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, P62.14.w1)
  • Note: Pretreatment adds another substance which must then be removed; it should only be used when absolutely necessary. (D160.5.w5)
  • Pretreatment solutions which may be used include:
    • Oilseed rape (canola) oil; (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
    • Light olive oil; (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1, P62.14.w1)
    • High viscosity mineral oil; (J29.8.w1)
    • Light mineral oil; (B188, P62.1.w1, P62.14.w1)
    • Methyloleate; (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, P62.14.w1)
    • Vegetable oil; (B188, B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Baby oil. (B188)
  • The oil is warmed to 95-100F then manually worked into the tarry areas and left for about 30 minutes before the bird is washed. (D133.6.w6); left for "a few minutes" (J29.8.w1); left on the plumage for about 30 minutes with the bird wrapped in a towel. (B188) applied at about 35C and left for about five to ten minutes. (B363.10.w10)
  • Note: mayonnaise, which has been suggested as a pretreatment agent for tarry areas on pinnipeds, is not recommended for use on birds. (P14.3.w15)
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Washing Birds

Washing is a stressful procedure. Extra stressors such as noise should be minimised. The bird's health and stress level should be noticed at all times. If any bird becomes excessively stressed at any point during the cleaning process then the process should be stopped, the bird dried, and cleaning restarted the following day. (B188, B363.10.w10, D135.6.w6, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)

Stress reduction:
  • Remember that washing is a stressful procedure for the bird.  (D133.6.w6)
  • In order to minimise the time taken for the cleaning procedure, it is important that all supplies, including tubs of hot water, are prepared before each bird is brought to be washed. (D135.6.w6)
  • Excess noise should be avoided and the wash of each bird completed quickly and efficiently. (J29.8.w1, D133.6.w6, D135.6.w6)
  • Experienced personnel tend to be faster and more effective at washing birds, which reduces the time of the process, and thus the time for which the bird is highly stressed. (D159.III.w3)
  • Use of personnel with appropriate expertise can greatly increase the overall chance of survival of oiled birds. (B363.Intro.w21)
    • Experienced personnel should always be present to train and supervise less experiences personnel. (B363.Intro.w21)
  • Signs of stress include excessive struggling and open-mouth breathing. Birds showing these signs, or lethargy and shivering, should be rinsed quickly and allowed to rest in a warm quiet area. (D135.6.w6, B188)


  • Washing requires a team of two people, one to hold the bird and the other to wash it. (B11.35.w3, B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, D159.III.w3)
    • For large birds such as swans a team of three people is required. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
    • Three people may also be needed for aggressive birds. (J29.8.w1)
  • In addition to the personnel required to hold and wash the bird, another person is needed to provide supplies such as fresh tubs of water, remove contaminated water, rinse tubs before they are refilled, etc. (D135.6.w6)


  • Tubs should be transparent or pale, so it is easier to see when the wash water gets dirty. (B188)
  • Tubs should be of an appropriate size for the bird being washed. (B188, B363.10.w10)
    • Tubs of different sizes should be available. (B363.10.w10)
    • Tubs holding 10-20 gallons of wash water and detergent can be used for birds ranging in size from a small duck to a large goose. (B23.38.w2, D135.6.w6)
  • Several tubs of water and detergent may be required for washing one bird. (D133.6.w6); 
  • At least three tubs of water should be made ready for each bird before washing the bird commences. (B363.10.w10, P24.335.w12)

Wash water:

  • The water needs to be hot enough to clean the bird easily and quickly, but not so hot that the plumage will be damaged or the bird scalded. (B188)
  • Water which is too cold will not lift the oil from the feathers effectively. (D135.6.w6, J313.20.w1, P62.2.w1); the water temperature should not be allowed to fall below 99F. (J29.8.w1)
    • Washing in cold water results in signs of hypothermia (J313.20.w1); water below 102F may lead to hypothermia. (B23.38.w2, D159.III.w3)
  • Water which is too hot (> 105F) may cause overheating, stress and even thermal burns on petroleum-sensitised skin. (B23.38.w2)
  • Water (with added detergent) used for washing is heated to 104F and not allowed to fall below 99F. (D133.6.w6)
    • The exact temperature used in a given circumstance may vary slightly depending on the oil, the bird species involved and its condition. (D160.5.w5, V.w73) The following have been suggested:
      • 42C (range 40-45C). (B11.35.w3); 42C. (P14.5.w8);
      • 103-105F. (B23.38.w2);
      • 104 to 106F. (J29.8.w1);
      • 39 to 40C. (P24.335.w12);
      • 40-41C (104-106F) (B188);
      • 102 to 108F, depending on the species and the bird's condition, and the type of oil. (D160.5.w5)
      • 39-41C and not allowed to fall below 38C. (B363.10.w10)
    • Placing hotter water (106F/41C) in the second and third tubs of water waiting to be used will help ensure that they are at the correct temperature (104F/40C) by the time the bird reaches them. (D135.6.w6)
    • An extra person, not one of those holding and washing the bird, should prepare the tubs of water and check that they are at the correct temperature. (D135.6.w6)
  • As each tub/bath of wash water becomes oily the bird is moved to another tub. (D133.6.w6, B363.10.w10, P24.335.w12)
  • It is important to ensure that the facility used for washing birds is able to supply sufficient hot water for this purpose. (D160.5.w5)
  • Hard water should be softened to 2 - 3 grains of hardness to allow complete oil removal. (J312.16.w1) 30 to 50 mg calcium carbonate per litre. (B363.10.w10)
  • Further information on water requirements are provided in Oiled Wildlife Facility Requirements - Water, Waste & Energy


  • The detergent used must effectively remove oil from feathers, be non-toxic, not irritate skin (of birds or humans), or damage feathers, rinse off easily without leaving a residue, (B23.38.w2, B188, D160.5.w5, J313.20.w1) and be as environmentally friendly as possible. (B188)
  • The detergent which is generally recommended for washing oiled birds is the washing-up liquid produced by Procter & Gamble and called "Fairy Liquid" in Britain and South Africa, "Dawn" in USA, "Joy" in Canada, Central America, South America. This has been shown to be effective at removing oil from feathers without damaging feather structure, irritating skin or mucous membranes, is non-toxic and is itself easily removed from the feathers. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2, B188, B363.10.w10, D135.6.w6, P14.5.w8, P24.335.w12, J29.8.w1)
  • This is used as a 1% to 2% solution; (B188, D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1); 2% solution (B11.35.w3); 1% to 5% solution (B23.38.w2); 2% solution. (P14.5.w8)
    • The exact concentration of detergent required will vary depending on the type of oil degree of weathering, water hardness, and detergent used and the degree to which the individual bird is oiled. (B188, D135.6.w6)
    • For a severely oiled bird a concentration as high as 5% may be used in the first tub of water, reducing to 3% for the second tub and 1% for the third and subsequent tubs. (B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
      • Use of excessive detergent should be avoided since rinsing to remove the detergent from the plumage can be time consuming. (B363.10.w10)
    • Note: Washing a dead bird or some oiled feathers initially may be useful, to indicate the concentration of detergent which should be used and confirm that the detergent and washing method are effective. (B188, D135.6.w6, P24.335.w12, P62.1.w1)
  • Neat detergent is sometimes used on stubborn residues. (B11.35.w3)
  • Use of less efficient detergents can considerably increase the time required for cleaning, as well as not properly restoring the insulative properties of the plumage. (J313.20.w1)
  • Untested cleaning agents should NOT be used/experimented with during an oil spill response. (D32, D135.6.w6)


  • In a team of three people, one person holds the body of the bird, a second person holds the head and may also be responsible for cleaning the head and the upper neck, while the third person washes the remainder of the bird. (D135.6.w6)
  • Safe handling techniques should be practiced at all times; (D133.6.w6) good handling will minimise struggling and stress. (B363.10.w10)
    • The head should be controlled by a gently hold on the bones of the jaw. Holding the bill may be used carefully, for short periods only. (B23.38.w2)
    • The head should be kept pointed slightly downward to prevent water entering the nares (nostrils). (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6)
    • The bill should NOT be taped closed: this may be stressful, prevent breathing in birds with internal nares, nares plugged with oil, or inflammation of respiratory mucosa, does not allow open-mouth breathing in response to stress, and may cause aspiration if a stressed bird regurgitates. (B23.38.w2)
    • The feet should be supported; a weighted log in the bottom of the tub may be used to provide foot support for long-legged birds such as herons. (B23.38.w2)
    • The wings should be held against the body except when extended, one at a time, to be cleaned. (B23.38.w2)
  • The handler should monitor the bird's physiological status constantly and inform the supervisor immediately if the bird appears to be experiencing any problems. (D133.6.w6)

Washing procedure:

  • This takes approximately 10-30 minutes depending on the bird species, the extent of oiling, the type of oil and the proficiency of the personnel (washer and handler) involved. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6) 10-20 minutes (B188)
    • It is important for washing to be thorough, but also as quick as possible to minimise stress. (B23.38.w2)
  • The bird is immersed in a tub of hot water with detergent. (B188)
  • As much of the bird as possible (except the head) is kept in the water and the required area of feathers being washed is presented to the washer. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2, B188)
  • The head should be kept with the bill pointing downwards slightly, to keep water from running into the nares. (J29.8.w1)
  • One person holds the bird, the other person agitates the feathers through the water, squeezing the water out in the same direction as the lie of the feathers. (B188, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Water is ladled over the bird and agitated under the bird. (D135.6.w6)
    • A wash cloth may be used to help force detergent into contact with the feathers, always stroking in the direction of feather growth. (B23.38.w2)
    • Gentle massage of the feathers, in the same direction as the feather shafts, is used to work the oil free of the feathers. (J29.8.w1)
    • In a team of three people the person holding the head may also have responsibility for cleaning the head. (D135.6.w6)
    • Note: Avoid rubbing at the feathers; this may cause more damage to the feather structure. (B188)
  • A standard routine should be followed to ensure that all areas are washed. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2, B363.10.w10)
    • Head; a toothbrush or cotton bud may be used to remove oil in the nostrils and inside the bill. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2); a soft toothbrush, dental swab, cotton bud or rayon/polyester gauze swabs may be used to clean the head. (B23.38.w2, J29.8.w1, J311.9.w1); a periodontal irrigator (dental hygiene instrument which directs a jet of water, e.g. Waterpik; Teledyne, Fort Collins) may be used to clean the head, directing it up under the feathers, on low pressure. (B23.38.w2, B363.10.w10, J29.8.w1, J311.9.w1) Cotton buds or cotton wool balls are suggested for cleaning round the eyes, ears and bill, always working in the direction of the lie of the feathers. (J311.9.w1)
      • Sterile normal (physiological) saline should be used frequently to flush the eyes to remove any detergent and oil. (B23.38.w2)
    • Neck and dorsal body. (B11.35.w3)
    • Rolling the bird to one side and then the other, the wing and flank on each side are cleaned. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2)
    • Holding the bird on its back, the ventral areas from breast to underside of tail feathers are washed. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2)
    • Special attention should be given to the belly, underside of the wings, legs and around the vent. (B23.38.w2, J311.9.w1)
    • Take extra care to wash the areas where the bird is being held. (B188)
  • When the water becomes oily, excess water is gently squeezed out of the feathers, over the rump, before the bird is moved to a new tub of water. (B23.38.w2, B188, B363.10.w10, D135.6.w6, P24.327.w4)
    • For large, heavily oiled birds, as many as eight or ten tubs of water may be required. (B23.38.w2)
  • Once all oil has been removed (the wash water is no longer becoming discoloured, no oily residue is left on the water and the bird appears to be clean) the bird is ready for rinsing. (B23.38.w2, B188, B363.10.w10, J311.9.w1)
    • The feel of the feathers between the fingers as well as visual inspection is used to assess cleaning. (B11.35.w3)
  • Note: If detergent gets into the eyes during cleaning, they should be washed and artificial tears applied. (B188)
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Rinsing Birds

Thorough rinsing is essential in order to remove detergent from the bird. Detergent disrupts feather structure and interferes with waterproofing. (B363.10.w10, D60.7.w7)

  • Failure to rinse thoroughly may be the most common cause of failure to rehabilitate oiled birds. (B23.38.w2)

It is important not to underestimate the amount of hot water needed and the requirement for appropriate high-pressure shower nozzles. (B363.Intro.w21) 

  • Working surfaces and the hands and clothes of the holder and washer must be free of detergent. (B11.35.w3, P14.5.w8)
  • Separate buckets and hoses should be used for providing clean water, which do not come into contact with water contaminated with oil or detergent. (B23.38.w2)
  • Water of 2 grains to 3 grains hardness (30-50 mg/L) is required. (D133.6.w6, B23.38.w2, J29.8.w1, J312.16.w1); water at 2.5 to 3.5 grains is recommended. (B188, D135.6.w6); water of 2-5 grains hardness. (D160.5.w5); 30 to 50 mg calcium carbonate per litre. (B363.10.w10)
    • Water that is too soft is less efficient at removing detergent from the feathers. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
    • If water is too hard then minerals in the water bind with detergent resulting in the formation of microscopic mineral deposits on the feathers, which disrupt feather structure and therefore upset waterproofing. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1, J312.16.w1)
      • Hard water results in deposition of calcium and magnesium salts, saline water in deposition of sodium chloride (salt); a gummy mixture of cations and detergent may also form. (B23.38.w2)
  • Rinsing may be started by placing the bird in a tub of clean water at 39-40C/104F, and ladling clean water over it, moving between tubs until no detergent residue is seen in the water (B188, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12, D135.6.w6) before rinsing with a shower head (39-41C) until the water beads on the feathers. (P24.327.w4) 
    • A WaterPik (dental hygiene device spraying water) may be used for rinsing very small birds (sparrow or finch size). (J311.9.w1)
  • Water should be at 104-106F and delivered with a spray nozzle (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1); 39-41C. (B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12); 42C. (B11.35.w3, P14.5.w8); 103-105F. (B23.38.w2); at about 35-40C/95-104F. (B188)
    • Correct temperature is important. Too cool water will not remove detergent effectively, and can cause hypothermia. (J313.20.w1)
  • The pressure of the shower head should be controllable, providing about 280 to 420 KPa (40 to 60 PSI) (using the lower pressure for rinsing the head, higher pressure for the rest of the bird). (B23.38.w2, B363.10.w10) A Spa 2000 spray nozzle (Energy Technology Laboratories, Modesto, CA) with a water pressure of 40 to 60 psi should be used. (J29.8.w1) Water pressure of 90 psi at the shower head is recommended. (B11.35.w3, P14.5.w8).
  • Rinsing is carried out directing the shower jet against the lie of the feathers (held to spray up under the feathers) to remove all detergent. (B11.35.w3, D214.2.w2, J311.9.w1)
  • As with washing, a standard routine should be followed to ensure that all areas of the bird are rinsed. (B11.35.w3, B363.10.w10)
  • Rinsing should start at the head and work down the neck, back, wings, breast, abdomen and tail to keep pushing detergent off the bird in one direction. (B23.38.w2, B363.10.w10)
  • The holder must ensure that the bird is positioned so that the detergent-contaminated water flows away from areas of the bird that have already been rinsed. (B11.35.w3)
  • Rinsing is continued until water beads up and rolls off the feathers leaving them looking dry. (B188, B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, D135.6.w6, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
    • The down feathers should fluff up and appear dry. (B23.38.w2)
  • If, when the shower head is run over the plumage, water penetration occurs, rinsing should be repeated, covering the whole bird but concentrating on the area where penetration of water was noted. (B11.35.w3)
  • Take particular care to ensure that the tops of the legs, axillae and vent area are thoroughly rinsed. (J311.9.w1)
  • Rinsing may take approximately 15-30 minutes. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6)
  • Rinsing may be completed by placing two birds together into a playpen covered with a wide-mesh screen and spraying the birds thoroughly through the screen. (D135.6.w6)
    • Birds rinsed in this manner will frequently preen and lift their wings. (D135.6.w6)
    • The underside of the wings and tail should be checked careful to ensure that rinsing has been thorough. (D135.6.w6)
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Drying Birds

Following washing and thorough rinsing the bird must be dried. A separate area should be set aside to allow birds to dry with minimum disturbance following the stressful washing and rinsing experience.

Note: plumage does not return to its normal water repellent state after washing and rinsing until it has fully dried. (J313.20.w1)

  • The bird may be patted dry and gently squeezed with clean dry towels before being placed in a drying pen. The feathers should not be rubbed. (B23.38.w2, B363.10.w10, D135.6.w6, J311.9.w1, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • The eyes should be flushed again before the bird is played in in the drying pen. (D135.6.w6)
  • The feet of web-footed birds may be protected by application of water soluble K-Y jelly. (J311.9.w1)

Drying pens:

  • It is important to ensure that birds are well hydrated before they are placed in the drying pen. (B188, P24.327.w4)
  • Fresh drinking water should be provided in the drying pens. (B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Overcrowding should be avoided. (B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4)
    • Overcrowding may lead to contamination of the feathers with droppings, necessitating further washing. (B188)
  • In very still warm weather, birds could be placed outside in the sun to dry (with shade available). (B188, P24.335.w12) [Appropriate external temperatures are unlikely to be available in the UK]
Pen designs
  • Drying pens may be solid-floored or, for loons, grebes, guillemots (murres) etc., net-bottomed. (D133.6.w6)
    • Solid-floored pans should be covered with clean absorbent material. (B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Net-bottomed pens in combination with hot air blowers will provide a better environment for the drying of water birds which tend to be in sternal recumbency when off the water, such as divers (loons), reducing the risk of overheating and increasing warm air circulation to the ventral parts of the bird. (B23.38.w2, D135.6.w6, D160.5.w5)
    • Some species (e.g. eagles, pelicans) require solid-floored pens. (D160.5.w5)
  • Sheets or towels may be used to cover pens and minimise visual disturbance. (B23.38.w2, D135.6.w6)
  • Net-bottom cages heated by a pet dryer to 90 to 95F can be used for birds of 500g bodyweight or larger. (J29.8.w1)
  • For birds of less than 500g bodyweight, well ventilated enclosures with heat lamps may be used. (J29.8.w1)
Heating methods and temperature
  • Drying pens may be heated with a pet dryer (hot air blower) (B11.35.w3, D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, B188) to give an ambient temperature of about 90-95F. (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5); 35-40C (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12); 35-40C/ 95-104F; (B188) 90-100F. (J311.9.w1)
    • The temperature in drying pens should be monitored carefully using thermometers. (B188)
  • Other heat sources such as heat lamps may be used. (D60.7.w7, D214.2.w2, P24.327.w4, B188); heat lamps are preferred by the birds rather than forced air from driers. (D135.6.w6)
    • A disadvantage of overhead heat lamps as the sole heating source is that this minimises drying of the thick feathers over the sternum. (P14.5.w8)
    • If a temperature gradient is provided this will allow birds to find a comfortable temperature. (B23.38.w2, P24.327.w4)
    • A sufficiently large floor area must be provided so that birds can move away from the heat lamp if they get too hot. (D159.III.w3)
    • Pens with overhead heat lamps may be most appropriate for species such as shorebirds. (D160.5.w5)
    • Forced-air dryers may be directed to bounce the air off the walls, reducing the direct force of the moving air. (B363.10.w10)
  • A light-coloured sheet may be placed over the top of the pen to retain heat. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
  • The temperature in the pen may be adjusted by adjusting the heat source or by partially uncovering the pen. (D133.6.w6)
  • N.B. Using a hair dryer, or physically holding a bird near a pet dryer, is not recommended, since this (a) requires that the bird be subjected to the stressful experience of being held for an extended period; and (b) risks skin irritation and even burning the bird if the hair dryer is brought too close to the skin. (B188, B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4)

Monitoring of birds

  • Birds must be checked frequently (e.g. every ten minutes (J311.9.w1)) for signs of overheating such as an increased respiratory rate, open-mouthed breathing/panting, wings held away from the body or the bird splaying out over the floor. (B188, B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6, D185.w5, J311.9.w1, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12, J29.8.w1); and for shivering, indicating that the birds are too cold.  (B188, B363.10.w10, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Birds can be checked for dryness by carefully parting the contour feathers and checking the down feathers are dry over areas such as the breast. (J311.9.w1)
  • Drying may take 30 minutes to three hours or more, depending on the size of the bird. (D133.6.w6); probably one to two hours. (P24.335.w12)
  • Most birds will start to preen once they are placed in the drying pens and will dry quite quickly. (B11.35.w3, B23.38.w2, D135.6.w6)
  • Drying may take only 30 minutes for a small bird but as long as three hours for larger birds. (B363.10.w10, J29.8.w1)
    • Small birds may dry very quickly (e.g. in 15 to 20 minutes). Placing the heat lamp in one corner of the enclosure ensures that the birds can move away from the heat if necessary. (D185.w5)
Post-drying care
  • Once washed birds are dry they should be moved into outdoor pool enclosures as soon as possible. (J29.8.w1)
  • Dry birds should be gavaged with fluids before being moved to a holding pen overnight. (B188)
  • Birds may be tube fed once dry before being moved to post-washing housing. (B363.10.w10, P24.335.w12)
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Assessment of Waterproofing After Washing

Once birds have been dried and are to be moved through to pre-release accommodation it is important that they are assessed for their waterproof status.

To test waterproofing of aquatic birds, birds are placed in a clean swimming pool of water at 2-3 grains of hardness and observed closely for signs that water is reaching the skin. (D133.6.w6)

Birds may not be fully waterproof if they:

  • Sit lower in the water than other individuals of their species;
  • Droop their tail into the water;
  • Show reluctance to remain on the water and repeatedly attempt to leave the water;
  • Appear wet (note: cormorants etc. do not get fully waterproof);
  • Shiver (may be visible as the water around the bird rippling). 
  • Show excessive preening. 

(B188, B363.11.w11, D133.6.w6, D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1, J311.9.w1)

Birds which are waterproof may be moved to outside housing. Birds which are not waterproof need reevaluation or must be housed on warm water pools. (D133.6.w6)

Reasons for failure of waterproofing after washing:

  • Damaged or missing feathers, particularly around the vent. (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, J29.8.w1, D133.6.w6)
  • Wounds or burns producing serous exudate which seeps onto feathers and affects waterproofing. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
  • Incomplete washing and oil removal. (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, J29.8.w1, J313.2.w1)
  • Incomplete rinsing. (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, J29.8.w1, J313.2.w1)
  • Water too soft or too hard. (D133.6.w6, J29.8.w1)
    • Check water hardness. (D133.6.w6)
  • Pool not properly clean: contamination with oils, faecal matter, detergents and surface active agents can all make feathers wettable. (D133.6.w6, D160.5.w5, J29.8.w1, D133.6.w6, J313.2.w1)
    • Check the pool for food oil or debris on the surface which may re-oil birds; check filtration and surface skimming. (D133.6.w6)

Birds which are not improving in waterproof status over 24-28 hours after the washing process, and are physiologically stable, may require a second wash and rinse. (D133.6.w6)

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Suggested Alternative Methods of Cleaning Oiled Birds

Washing Machines

  • Special machines for washing oiled birds also exist and have been used at centres in France and the Netherlands; these may reduce washing times for suitably-sized birds (600-1,000 g bodyweight), and is has been suggested that this may reduce washing-associated stress. (P15.1997.w1, P14.5.w8) However, their usefulness has not yet been fully evaluated and they have not gained wide acceptance to date. (V.w6)
    • There are concerns regarding injuries to birds caused by the restraints. (D159.III.w3)
    • There are concerns that birds cleaned using this machine do not regain waterproof status in a timely manner. (D159.III.w3)

Magnetic cleansing

  • It has been suggested that oil could be removed from birds by application of powdered iron, followed by the use of a magnetic probe to remove the iron powder together with the oil. Tests on experimental oiled patches on the breast or back of mallard and Eudyptula minor - Little penguin carcasses found that 32% to 73% of oil (by weight) was removed after one application and 92% to 98% after nine applications. It was suggested that this treatment could be used for initial removal of most of the oil in field situations, prior to transport to rehabilitation centres. (J313.48.w1)
    • Concerns have been expressed regarding possible inhalation or ingestion of the powder by birds of humans. (D159.III.w3)
    • Previous attempts to use powders for cleaning birds have failed due to difficulties in ensuring that the powder is distributed to all feathers. (D159.III.w3)


  • In the past, solvents have been used for cleaning oiled birds. While effective at removing oil, these are toxic, can cause mortality in the bird, and are no longer used. (D60.7.w7, P14.7.w16)


  • It has been suggested that inducing moulting may be used to remove oil from birds. However, testing of feathers from of a naturally oiled Jackass penguin (Spheniscus demersus - African Penguin) which went into moult found that a substantial amount of the oil was transferred from the premoult feathers to the new feathers. (J313.16.w1)
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Washing, Rinsing and Drying Mammals

Most available information on cleaning oiled mammals is related to the cleaning of oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otter. The same principles are applicable when cleaning other aquatic mammals which rely on their pelage for insulation, such as Lutra lutra - European otter. (B335.6.w6)
  • Sufficient personnel need to be available for cleaning oiled mammals: usually two to three people per animal, but with as many as four or five possibly required for larger animals. (D208.6.w6)

Pre-washing assessment:

  • It should be remembered that the process of being cleaned is stressful to the animal and that giving the oiled individual chance to recover strength after capture before being washed is beneficial. (D208.6.w6)
  • Before an individual is cleaned it must be assessed by a veterinarian to determine whether it is in a sufficiently healthy state to tolerate a cleaning procedure which may last for as long as three to four hours. (B335.6.w6)
    • If anaesthesia will be required for the animal to be washed then it is important that the individual is in a sufficiently good condition to tolerate anaesthesia. (D208.6.w6)
  • It is recommended that oiled marine mammals should be given supportive care, including treatment to restore normal body temperature, to correct dehydration and to provide nutrition, for at least 24 hours before being washed. (D208.6.w6)
  • Species such as Enhydra lutris - Sea otter also need to be able to groom after being cleaned. (D208.6.w6)
  • A veterinary examination should be conducted prior to cleaning, considering the animal's general physical condition and strength, alertness, blood parameters and any abnormalities noticed on general physical examination. Only individuals passing this assessment should be subjected to cleaning. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
  • However, with heavily oiled animals, or those covered with fresh oil, washing as soon as possible is suggested to reduce exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons by absorption or with ingestion associated with grooming. (B335.6.w6, P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
    • For Enhydra lutris - Sea otter, it has been suggested that animals found in the early phase of the spill (first three weeks) should be cleaned immediately to reduce medical problems caused by exposure to fresh oil, while a 24- to 36-hour stabilisation period will probably be beneficial for those taken into care later than this. (B335.4.w4)
    • Cleaning is not required for Enhydra lutris - Sea otter with only light sheening of oil on the coat and no penetration of oil or water into the underfur. (B335.4.w4)

Pretreatment of tar patches and thick oil:

  • While small areas of tar on non-furred mammals may not need to be removed, tar should be removed from furred mammals. On non-furred marine mammals, large areas of tar may need to be removed if they might interfere with thermoregulation or cause toxicity. (D208.6.w6)
  • Warmed (35C/95-98F) canola oil, olive oil or methyloleate is applied to the areas of tar or very firm and thick oil and worked into the area for up to 30 minutes or until the tar loosens and can be wiped off. (D208.6.w6)
  • Monitoring of body temperature is required during such treatment, with appropriate treatment for any hyperthermia or hypothermia. (D208.6.w6)
  • It is not recommended that patches of tarred fur should be clipped off since the bald area will cause reduced heat retention until the fur regrows, which could have serious, even life-threatening, implications for animals which are highly reliant on their fur for insulation and in debilitated individuals or those at less than optimum weight. (D208.6.w6, P14.3.w15)


Otters (including Enhydra lutris - Sea otter and river otters) and fur seals:

Most information on cleaning oiled mammals related to the cleaning of oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otter. The same principles are applicable when cleaning other aquatic mammals which rely on their pelage for insulation, such as Lutra lutra - European otter and other river otters, and fur seals. (B335.6.w6, D208.5.w5)

  • For tarry oil or with other oil which does not come off with detergent, pre-treatment may be required using light mineral oil or light olive oil worked into the affected fur and left for 30 minutes before washing. (D60.7.w7)


  • [For information on handling of fur seals, see the paragraphs immediately below, on handling of pinnipeds]
  • Chemical as well as physical restraint will normally be required for otters. (B335.6.w6)
  • A combination of light sedation and restraint by a trained handler has been recommended for Enhydra lutris - Sea otter. (B335.6.w6)
  • Physical restraint alone may be preferred for individuals which are hypothermic or extremely lethargic. (B335.6.w6)
  • The handler should grasp the skin between the shoulder blades and maintain control of the animal's head movements. (B335.6.w6)
  • North American river otters (Lontra canadensis - Canadian otter) have been washed while anaesthetised with 4 mg/kg tiletamine-zolazepam (Telazol) intramuscularly, with up to two supplemental doses of 5 mg/kg ketamine intramuscularly. (J2.28.w2, P14.5.w14)
  • Anaesthesia of Enhydra lutris - Sea otter for cleaning has been carried out using 0.09-1.12 mg/kg fentanyl, plus 0.55 mg/kg azeperone or 0.09 mg/kg acepromazine, plus 0.1-0.2 mg/pg diazepam. (B22.33.w9)
  • Fentanyl (0.22 mg/kg) plus diazepam (0.07 mg/kg) is recommended for adult Enhydra lutris - Sea otter, with reversal of the fentanyl at the end of the procedure, using naltrexone (0.44 mg/kg recommended but a dose three to four times the dose of fentanyl may be required). (D208.6.w6)
  • Gaseous anaesthesia [with isoflurane] may have increased mortality in oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otter: it is suggested that inhaled oil vapour coated the trachea and bronchi and, on use of the isoflurane, was dissolved by this anaesthetic and moved deeper into the respiratory system with resultant distress, toxicosis, respiratory failure and, the day after anaesthesia, death. (J4.208.w1, B23.59.w8)


  • It has been recommended that at least two people are used for applying detergent and washing the fur. (B335.6.w6)
  • A team of four to six people per washing table is recommended, with one person, equipped with heavy gloves, just to hold the head and forearms. (D208.6.w6)
  • An ophthalmic ointment should be applied to the eyes prior to starting washing to give the eyes protection from both oil and detergent. (B335.6.w6)
  • Detergent should be kept out of the animal's eyes, nose, mouth and ears during washing. (B335.6.w6)
  • As with oiled birds, Fairy Liquid/Dawn (Procter & Gamble) is the recommended detergent and a dilution of 1:16 with water is recommended. (B22.33.w9, B335.6.w6, J30.66.w2); 5% Dawn/Fairy Liquid is recommended. (D208.6.w6)
  • Constant monitoring of body temperature using a flexible rectal probe is recommended during the whole washing procedure. (B335.6.w6)
  • Water used for washing should be at or near normal core body temperature (38.4C). (P14.5.w14) 
    • For Enhydra lutris - Sea otter, water controlled to a temperature of 28 to 32C (80-89F) is recommended, allowing alteration in reaction to rises or falls in the individual's body temperature. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
    • For river otters, water at or near normal body temperature may be preferred to reduce cooling of the otter. Washing North American river otters (Lontra canadensis - Canadian otter) in 24C water was shown to reduce core body temperature at a rate of about 0.1C per minute, while this did not occur in otters washed in water of 39C (near normal core body temperature, 38.4C). (J2.28.w2, P14.5.w14)
      • Water should be adjustable, allowing use of cooler water if otters become too hot (e.g. reduce water temperature from 39C to 34C for river otters reaching a core temperature of 41C. (J2.28.w2)
    • For fur seals (Otariidae - Sea lions (Family)), thermoneutral (98F/37C) water  and 5% Dawn detergent is recommended. (D208.5.w5)
      • Cooler or cold water is required if the animal becomes hyperthermic during washing. (D208.5.w5)
    • Experiments with fresh pelts showed that exposure to fresh water increased the thermal conductance of river otter (Lontra canadensis - Canadian otter) fur to about 2.4 times that seen in air (8.76 +/- 0.68 W/m C, compared to 3.49 +/- 0.16 W/m C in air) and in salt water thermal conductance was increased further. Similarly for mink (Mustela vison - American mink) thermal conductance was 7.83 +/- 0.62 W/m C in fresh water compared to 3.23 +/- 0/08 W/m C in air and there was also a further increase in thermal conductance in salt rather than fresh water. In comparison, an Enhydra lutris - Sea otter pelt showed only a 0.2% increase in thermal conductance when immersed in water (4.47 +/- 0.61 W/m C conductance in fresh water, compared with 4.25 +/- 0.66 W/m C in air) and no significant further increase in conductance for sea water (p <0.001). (P60.1.w39)
  • Detergent should be gently massaged into the oiled area of pelage then rinsed out with fresh water. (D60.7.w7, D208.6.w6, B335.6.w6)
    • Cycles of washing and rising are suggested, until there is no longer any oil visible in the rinse water and no odour of petroleum. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
    • For an Enhydra lutris - Sea otter it has been suggested that at least 40 minutes of washing and four to eight litres of 1:16 detergent solution 
    • would be required for oil removal; a longer time may be required if there is heavy oiling, weathered oil, or tar balls. (B335.6.w6); washing may take 40 to 60 minutes. (D208.6.w6)


  • After application of detergent the pelage must be rinsed using fresh water at moderate pressure (30-40 psi suggested, using spray nozzles) and 28-32C (82-90F). (B335.6.w6)
    • This temperature may be raised or lowered depending on the individual's body temperature. (B335.6.w6)
      • Water used for washing should be at or near normal core body temperature (38.4C). (P14.5.w14)
    • Hard water (high calcium concentration) will require softening using a commercial water softener. (B335.6.w6)
    • For fur seals, rinsing with soft (3 - 5 grains) water at 30-40 psi using a shower spray is recommended. (D208.5.w5_
    • Rinsing for about 40 to 60 minutes may be required to ensure the detergent has been removed and assist in restoring the fur's natural water repellency. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
    • Normal fur, or fur which has been adequately washed and rinsed, will develop a striated appearance, visibly different from the matted appearance of oiled fur. (B335.6.w6)


  • Complete drying of the fur after washing is important. In North American river otters (Lontra canadensis - Canadian otter) it was shown that failure to completely dry the fur can contribute to a fall in core body temperature even after washing in water of the correct temperature. (J2.28.w2, P14.5.w14)
  • Absorbent paper towels or clean cotton towels are most effective for removal of the bulk of the water, replacing towels as they become moist. (D60.7.w7, D208.6.w6, B335.6.w6)
  • Once the bulk of the water has been removed the fur may be dried using commercial, temperature-controlled pet blow driers. (B22.33.w9, B335.6.w6, D60.7.w7, D208.6.w6)
    • For Enhydra lutris - Sea otter and fur seals drying in a pen using industrial pet driers set at a temperature of 20C (68F) (room temperature) are recommended. (B335.6.w6, D208.5.w5)
    • Cooler air may be required as drying progresses, to avoid hyperthermia developing. (D208.6.w6)
    • For river otters: hand-held human hair driers have been used to dry North American river otters (Lontra canadensis - Canadian otter), with four hair driers used simultaneously on one animal. (J2.28.w2)
  • After drying the otter should be left in a cage in a critical care room until it has recovered from sedation. (D208.6.w6)
    • The animal should be kept in a dry pen such as a kennel with a slatted floor until fully recovered and any urine or faeces immediately washed away. (D208.6.w6)
    • Close monitoring for signs of hypothermia or hyperthermia as well as dehydration and degree of alertness is recommended during this time. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
  • After recovery from sedation/anaesthesia, small blocks of ice to eat can be offered (to relieve stress as well as dehydration), then food. (B335.6.w6, D208.6.w6)
  • Once dry, animals can be placed in an outdoor pen. (D208.6.w6)
    • Once the animal has a stable core body temperature, is eating, and is showing normal grooming behaviour, it can be transferred to a pen with an appropriate pool (seawater for Enhydra lutris - Sea otter). (B335.6.w6)

Note: Cleaning of oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otter pelts has been shown to reduce the lipid content of the pelage (from 7.4 mg lipid per gram of fur down to just 2.0 mg/g), although proper cleaning and rinsing did restore water repellency. Thermal conductance of pelt samples was returned to normal by cleaning but conductance in live otters is increased. (J30.60.w1, J30.66.w1, J30.66.w2)

At least eight days were required following oiling and cleaning before average oxygen consumption returned to normal, indicating a return of the normal insulative quality of the fur. (J30.60.w1)


  • Cleaning should be carried out immediately for individuals covered with fresh oil, in order to reduce exposure to inhaled vapours. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • In other circumstances, maintenance for 24 hours, allowing evaluation of the animal's overall condition, is recommended prior to cleaning. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • A general physical examination should be carried out prior to cleaning, including assessment of the overall condition, heart rate, lung auscultation, checking the colour of the mucous membranes, checking the eyes and, if required for research, taking a sample of oiled fur for analysis. (P14.2.w5)
  • Fur seals have only a thin layer of blubber and rely on their pelage for insulation; cleaning of these species is more like cleaning otters. (D208.5.w5) See above for information on cleaning fur seals (together with information on cleaning otters).


  • Physical restraint may be sufficient for cleaning of neonatal phocid seals such as harbour seals (Phoca vitulina - Common seal).  (B377.13.w13, P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • For medium-sized phocids, diazepam (0.2 mg/kg) may be used to provide sedation allowing safe handling. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • For larger pinnipeds, full anaesthesia may be required for safe handling during the cleaning process. Injectable anaesthetics may be used and, if required, inhalation anaesthesia may be used to prolong the anaesthetic. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • Note: Use of inhalant anaesthetics is not recommended in mammals covered with fresh oil, due to the risk of recently sequestered toxic hydrocarbons becoming remobilised. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • Additional doses of injectable anaesthetic agents to prolong anaesthesia are not recommended. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
  • Twelve hours of fasting prior to anaesthesia will reduce the risk of vomiting and aspiration. (P14.3.w15)
  • Preanaesthetic treatment with atropine (0.02-0.04 mg/kg atropine sulphate) is recommended to prevent pulmonary oedema and bradycardia). (P14.3.w15)
  • Heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature should be monitored during the wash, particularly in anaesthetised animals. (P14.2.w5)


  • For large areas of tar, pretreatment with mayonnaise, worked into the pelage and left for 30 minutes has been recommended. (P14.3.w15)
    • See also general recommendations for mammals given above.
  • Small areas of tar do not need to be removed. (P14.3.w15)


  • Thermoneutral water (about 98F/37C) should be used. (D208.5.w5)
    • If the animal becomes hyperthermic during washing, cold water should be used. (D208.5.w5)
  • Detergent is applied undiluted, or mixed 50:50 with water so that it is easier to work into the hair/oil, and rubbed in until the oil is seen to be removed. (D208.5.w5)
    • Washing may take 10-30 minutes depending on the type and extent of oil, the efficiency of personnel and the species and health of the individual animal. (D208.5.w5)
    • Galapagos sea lions Zalophus wollebaeki (Otariidae - Sea lions (Family)) oiled during the Jessica oil spill in 2001, were cleaned using liquid detergent and water; mucous membranes were cleaned using milk. (J313.47.w1)
    • For harbour seal (Phoca vitulina - Common seal) pups oiled during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, dilute detergent (Dawn) was ineffective, but lathering with full-strength detergent, followed by rinsing with fresh water, repeated until no more oil was visible on the seal or in the rinse water, was effective. (B377.13.w13)
    • Dawn detergent (Proctor and Gamble) at a 1:16 dilution with water has been recommended. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)


  • Rinsing can be started under restraint with the animal at the wash station, but finished with the animal unrestrained in a pen, using a pressure nozzle. (D208.5.w5)
    • This reduces the time of restraint. (D208.5.w5)
    • Rinsing should continue until no oil or detergent is visible in the rinse water coming off the animal. (D208.5.w5)
    • Water may be thermoneutral or, if there are signs of hyperthermia, cold water may be used. (D208.5.w5)
  • Cold tap water may be used for most pinnipeds to reduce the possibility of hyperthermia due to restraint. (P14.2.w5)
  • Warm water should be used for neonates and debilitated animals to avoid hypothermia. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)


  • Drying may not be required for healthy adults. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)
    • Healthy adults can be placed directly into outdoor pens and allowed to dry naturally. (D208.5.w5)
  • Drying using cool air blowers is recommended for neonates and for debilitated individuals. (P14.2.w5, P14.3.w15)

Insectivorous Bats (Microchiroptera) Chiroptera - Bats (Order):

  • Oil contamination of the fur of bats is not infrequent in insectivorous bats presented for rehabilitation in the UK. (B284.9.w9)
  • Oil may be removed by washing with a dilute solution of dish-washing detergent (washing up liquid). (B284.9.w9)
  • An alternative method avoiding washing involves working a quantity of sunflower-based margarine (vegetable spread) into the affected area of fur, then cleaning the mixture off using cotton buds. The bat may be left to groom the remaining margarine off the fur. (B284.9.w9, V.w47)
  • Kaolin and pectin gel may be given orally to minimise toxic effects from oil ingested prior to cleaning. (B284.9.w9)

Hedgehogs (Erinaceidae - Hedgehogs, moonrats (Family)):

  • Oil may be removed by washing the hedgehog in warm water with detergent, as for birds. (V.w47)


  • Beavers (Castor - (Genus)) were stabilised for about 12-24 hours before washing. (P14.4.w4)
  • Animals were anaesthetised for restraint during washing. (P14.4.w4)
  • Beavers were initially bathed in 3 to 5% detergent solution at 90-95F to remove gross oil. (P14.4.w4)
  • Animals were restrained, still sedated, on a rubber-coated steel mesh rack over a sink and cleaned by working detergent solution into the fur by hand, rinsing with warm water at 95F using a high-pressure nozzle, and repeating until all oil was removed. (P14.4.w4)
  • Following washing the beavers were rinsed thoroughly until water started to "bead" of the underfur. (P14.4.w4)
  • The beavers were briefly dried with towels, then given subcutaneous fluids and left in a padded cage under an infra red lamp to dry and recover from anaesthetic. (P14.4.w4)
  • 24-48 hours after cleaning, they were moved to outdoor pens with pools for swimming and, if necessary, encouraged to swim several times daily to regain full waterproofing. (P14.4.w4)

Other mammals:

General information on common problems

  • If oil does not come off when the coat is washed with appropriate detergent then pretreatment should be given using canola oil, olive oil or methyloleate. (D208.6.w6)
  • If, following washing and rinsing, the coat is found on subsequent examination not to be clean then:
    • Rewashing or re-rinsing may be required if these have not been carried out adequately;
    • The fur should be checked for mineral deposits indicating water that is too hard. 
    • The holding pool should be checked for fish oil or debris which may be dirtying the animal's coat. 


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Washing and Rinsing Reptiles

It is important to remember that both oil and detergent are skin irritants, therefore thorough cleaning and rinsing are essential to avoid the development of skin lesions. (P14.4.w4)

Cleaning of reptiles can be carried out using warm water (85-90F suggested), Dawn (Procter & Gamble) detergent, cotton swabs and, if required, a soft toothbrush. (D185.w5)


  • Mineral oil may be used as a pre-cleaning agent if required. (P14.4.w4)
  • The snake is wiped down using a 1-2% detergent (Dawn, Procter & Gamble) solution at 75-85F.
    • Water temperature is a compromise between the increased efficacy of detergent at higher temperatures and the risk of serious harm to the reptile if submerged in water which is too hot. (P14.4.w4)
  • Rinsing is carried out with water at 75-85F, either by dipping the snake into a bath of clean water, using a rinse nozzle, or pouring water over the animal. (P14.4.w4)


  • The skin may be cleaned by dipping into 1% detergent solution then using a soft-bristled tooth brush, or a cotton bud, as appropriate, to work a 3-5% solution into the crevices of the skin where oil is mast likely to be stuck. (P14.4.w4)
  • The lizard may be rinsed by dipping into clean water at 75-85F or with a waterpik set to the lowest possible pressure. (P14.4.w4)

Chelonia (turtles, tortoises, terrapins)

  • Diesel oil has been reported to cause severe irritation and cutaneous lesions, including of the shell; immediate washing in dilute detergent followed by rinsing in clean water may be part of initial treatment, with further more thorough cleaning to follow. (P14.4.w3)
  • Olive oil or mineral oil may be used if required as a pre-treatment to soften tarry oil. (P14.4.w4)
    • Vegetable oil can be used to remove external oil. (B413.6.w1, D228.5.w5)
    • Methyl oleate and D-limonene have been used as pre-treatments, however these chemicals are hazardous substances and their use presents significant safety risks. (P14.4.w4)
  • The shell may be cleaned using a 1-2% detergent solution wiped over the shell with a clean cloth or sponge, repeating until the oil is removed. (P14.4.w4)
    • Use of dishwashing detergent such as Dawn, plus copious amounts of warm water has been recommended. (D228.5.w5)
    • Cleaning of the skin and inside the shell may be carried out by bathing in 1-2% detergent solution then scrubbing using a sponge of appropriate size on a stick, pushed into the spaces between the shell and the head, legs and tail, and twisted and moved around as required, followed by irrigation with detergent solution using a waterpick. Scrubbing with the sponge and irrigation with solution are repeated as necessary. (P14.4.w4)
    • Once the oil is removed the spaces between the shell and the head, legs and tail are irrigated with clean water using a waterpick, before the animal is rinsed in a clean water bath. (P14.4.w4)
  • Following cleaning and rinsing, the turtle may be dried. (D228.5.w5)
  • For oil residues in the mouth, cloths dampened in food oils (organic fats), such as mayonnaise, have been recommended for breaking down the oil. (B413.6.w1)
  • If not all oil has been removed at the first cleaning, the process may be repeated at intervals of 24 to 48 hours. (D228.5.w5)
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Washing and Rinsing Amphibians

Amphibians have very sensitive skin and oil should be removed as soon as possible. (D185.w5)
  • Frogs and toads have been washed by immersion in a 1% solution of detergent (Dawn) at 75F and gentle massage of the oiled skin with finger tips. (P14.4.w4)
    • Rinsing was carried out by immersing the washed frog or toad in clean water. (P14.4.w4)
    • Washing and rinsing was repeated until the individual was assessed as clean. (P14.4.w4)
  • Alternatively, oil may be removed by soaking the amphibian in cool fresh water. (D185.w5)
    • Note: detergent may be absorbed through the skin and may be detrimental to the animal's health. (D185.w5)
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Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Dr Virginia Pierce ( V.w73)

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