Should I wash eggs before incubating?

If you have some backyard chickens and are looking to expand your feathered flock then you are probably investigating how to use an incubator to hatch new eggs. This is not always as straightforward a process as you might believe as you are basically replacing the natural incubating process with an artificial one.

One question that may come up is whether or not to wash and sterilize your eggs before incubating them. Here are a few things to consider on this topic.

Should I wash eggs before incubating?

Generally, you should avoid washing eggs before incubating unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it does become necessary then you’ll need to be very careful in how you wash the egg.

The eggshell is a porous membrane that performs many tasks. It is designed to allow air and moisture through for respiration and heat regulation. It also acts as a barrier against diseases. Washing it can wear away the outer layer of the shell, known as the cuticle, which is the main defence against bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections.

In some cases, you may want to dispose of eggs that are filthy enough that you suspect there may be some kind of contamination or disease issue. This is particularly true if there are any cracks or scrapes in the eggshell that may provide an entry point for bacteria and other threats. It may be better to lose an egg than spend the required resources hatching it and raising a chicken that dies or turns out to be diseased.

Can you put dirty eggs in the incubator?

That depends on how dirty they are and what sort of contaminant they are covered in. If they are covered in mucky organic material that you suspect harbours germs and parasites then you’ll want to carefully clean this material off while being cautious about not damaging the shell in the process. If the dirt on the eggs is dried and relatively innocuous-looking then you probably don’t need to worry. Eggs with a bit of harmless grime on them hatch naturally in the wild all the time.

Something to bear in mind is that while many professional hatcheries routinely clean and sterilize their eggs before incubating them they have the equipment and expertise to do this safely. For the average backyard chicken farmer, the decision to clean eggs before incubating them may be more problematic and may lead to diseases and other issues. So make sure that you know what you are doing before you start washing and sterilizing your chicken eggs.

What happens if I don’t wash eggs before incubating?

If the eggs are not particularly dirty and your incubator is sterile then your eggs should be fine. Eggs have been hatching in the wild with few problems for millennia and longer.

If the eggs are covered in potentially contaminating material such as barnyard dirt and an excess of chicken feces then you should try to dislodge most of this material before putting the eggs into the incubator. Do this carefully so that you don’t damage the eggshell and provide a vector for disease as a result.

Can you hatch washed eggs?

If you have taken proper care in washing the eggs and sterilizing the incubator you should be able to hatch the eggs just fine. Just make sure that you avoid damaging the cuticle surrounding the egg. Also, ensure that you sterilize all your equipment.

If you have washed the eggs without taking proper care and have removed too much of the cuticle in the process then you may need to be on the lookout for disease in your hatched chicks. If you notice any signs that the chicks are unhealthy then try separating the unhealthy chicks from the healthy ones until you are sure there is no problem.

How do you clean eggs before incubating?

You should start by scraping off any crusty material that can be easily dislodged. Try using a razor or scalpel to cut or scrape this material off without touching or damaging the shell in the process. You can also use a dishwashing scouring pad to erode the crusty material, but don’t scrub against the shell itself. Loose material can be dislodged by using a soft-bristled brush.

Once you have the bulk of the material off you can wash most of the rest off by dipping the egg into sterile or distilled warm water. The water should be warmer than the egg to avoid having bacteria from the now dirty water absorbed through the egg cuticle. To sterilize the egg you can buy and use an incubation disinfectant that is specially formulated to sterilize eggs for incubation. Follow the directions on the container for the disinfectant to ensure correct use.

Also remember that putting cleaned and sterilized eggs into an incubator that hasn’t also been cleaned and sterilized is fairly pointless. The normal incubation temperature provides the perfect amount of heat for bacteria to thrive and grow, so your incubator will likely infect your sterilized eggs if it is not sterilized regularly itself.

Washed and sterilized eggs may be more susceptible to contamination due to the protective layer on the egg being damaged during the cleaning process. This means that putting them into a non-sterile environment may be more harmful than leaving them unwashed.

You should also make sure that your hands are clean of contaminants, as well as anything else that will come into contact with the sterilized eggs. The fewer vectors for contamination you have the better chance the eggs will stay devoid of disease. So wash your hands with an antibacterial hand wash before touching the eggs, and sterilize trays and other items that the eggs will come into contact with.

So in answer to the question “Should I wash eggs before incubating?” you should carefully clean off any excess material that may harbour diseases, but washing, in general, is not required. And if you do wash and sterilize your eggs before putting them into the incubator then you need to be careful to preserve the outer cuticle of the egg in the process.

You should also clean and sterilize the incubator, your equipment, and your hands before touching any of them the eggs. Apply care and caution and your eggs should hatch happy and healthy baby chicks.