How to keep a water feature clean: easy tips for sparkling results

Learning how to keep a water feature clean will reward you with a soothing garden display that always looks its best

how to keep a water feature clean: Water feature and soft planting in The Wellbeing of Women Garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2015
(Image credit: Miriam Heppell/Alamy Stock Photo)

Need some quick and easy tips on how to keep a water feature clean? Look no further – we've got you covered.

If you've been perusing our water feature ideas, then you may be inspired for one of your own. Or, perhaps you already have one. Either way, it's worth bearing in mind that their soothing effect and stunning appearance will quickly fade without a bit of maintenance here and there. 

Unfortunately, even the most elegant of ornaments with crystal-clear water can, in time, turn into a murky, swamp-like affair. And don't forget about the slightly unsettling smell that starts to linger on the breeze – there's nothing like the stench of stagnant water to spoil a relaxing alfresco meal...

But don't feel disheartened. Learning how to keep a water feature clean is easy-peasy and doesn't take up much time. And, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful backyard display that will always boost the ambience rather than hinder it.

lime lace water feature

(Image credit: Lime Lace)

How to keep a water feature clean: quick and simple ways to keep yours pristine

Although they're a relatively low maintenance garden idea, there are a few jobs to do throughout the seasons for a sparkling clean water feature.

First of all, you'll need to remove any leaves and other fallen debris from the water feature. Do this as often as possible to prevent the water from discoloring and algae from building up. 

You can also add special cleaning additives for water features as part of your maintenance routine. 'We recommend keeping the water clean by using a tablet once a month which is eco friendly and keeps the water nice and fresh,' says Sam Clifford, Director of A Place in The Garden. You can buy similar cleaning solutions in liquid form too, which tend to need diluting with water. Check the packet of your chosen product for instructions on how and how often to apply.

If you want to keep your water feature looking super sparkly, completely drain and refill it around once a month, giving it a quick wipe with a soft cloth in between. In most circumstances, a water feature will benefit from an annual deep clean (see below) – ideally in spring after the temperamental winter weather has passed. In fact, Sam recommends to empty your fountain entirely over the winter. Otherwise, the water can freeze and cause cracks in the design.

Water feature and soft planting in The Wellbeing of Women Garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2015

An elegant water feature and soft planting in 'The Wellbeing of Women Garden', designed by Wendy von Buren, Claire Moreno and Amy Robertson, at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2015

(Image credit: Miriam Heppell/Alamy Stock Photo)

How to deep clean a water feature: a step-by-step guide

A bespoke or shop-bought water feature should always be cleaned according to the manufacturer's instructions to ensure the best results and reduce any risk of damage. However, if you're looking for general guidelines on how to clean a water feature, the following steps will come in handy:

  1. First, it is very important to make sure your water feature is switched off and unplugged from the electricity outlet. Then, if you can easily remove the pump from your water feature design, do so.
  2. It's best to clean your water feature pump according to the manufacturer's instructions, to avoid damaging it. Normally, you will need to carefully open it up, and then use a small brush to clean out any debris.
  3. Next, drain all the water from your water feature.
  4. Grab a dedicated water feature cleaning solution, or a bucket filled with warm water mixed with a small amount of gentle dish detergent. You can also use a mix of white vinegar (one half cup) and warm water (one gallon). Whichever you choose, pop on some rubber gloves and use it to scrub the inside and outside of your water feature with a cloth, or a non-abrasive brush for tougher stains. An old toothbrush is useful for getting into any nooks and crannies.
  5. Rinse the water feature, drain out any excess water, and allow it to dry.
  6. Replace the pump but don't turn it back on until you have refilled the water feature with clean water and it is completely submerged (otherwise you might damage it).

enzo water feature from a place in the garden

(Image credit: A Place In The Garden)

How can you keep algae out of your water feature?

Algae is almost inevitable in water features and fountains. But, there are ways to stay on top of it.

'Prevention is less hard work than the cure!' says Stuart Thomas, gardening expert of Primrose garden centers. 'Put additives in your water feature's water source that can work against the build-up of algae and scale so you don't have to. Use wildlife-friendly additives unless you're absolutely certain no animals will go near the water.'

It's also worth bearing in mind that the position of your water feature will affect how much algae is produced. Sunshine encourages algae growth, so placing it in a shadier spot can help to keep it looking pristine for longer. But remember that positioning it beneath a tree will result in you having to frequently fish out leaves. Luckily there are plenty of alternative shade ideas for gardens that you can try instead.

Lastly, make sure to keep your pump clean – this is crucial in helping the water circulate properly which will reduce algae forming.

stone water feature with fountain

A stone water feature makes a lovely addition to a cottage garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography/Future)

Can you use bleach to clean your water feature?

It's not a good idea to use bleach on a water feature. For starters, any excess bleach left in the water can harm visiting birds, insects, and other small creatures – no good if you're on the lookout for wildlife garden ideas. If your pets go to take a drink, it can harm them too. Plus, water that has bleach in it can't be drained out into your flowerbeds or lawn without damaging them.

What's more, bleach can damage the water feature itself. It will corrode and stain many designs, including those made from stainless steel and stone, and most water feature pumps aren't designed to deal with it either. 

In short, don't reach for the bleach – follow the tips on how to keep a water feature clean above, instead.

Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.