Today, it’s wet and mucky from recent rains. I gathered eggs from our chickens. Two eggs looked good (like the one above) – just a few tiny splotches of mud or manure that needed to be cleaned. Then I noticed seven more eggs deeply nestled into mud, in the corner of our chicken tractor. Apparently we had had missed these the last few times we gathered eggs.
I worked them loose. They were caked with wet, thick, clayey mud. Once free, more mud than egg shell was showing on each one. I brought them all into the house to wash them.
There are several ways to get clean eggs. The best is to never let them get dirty. That’s not always possible, especially this time of year, but it’s worth trying.
Use fresh straw or wood shavings in the nest box. Put plenty of fresh bedding in the floor of the coop. Encourage the hens to lay in the nest boxes, not on the floor of the coop or run. You’ll never be able to restore the eggs to as good a condition by washing as you can by keeping them from getting excessively dirty.
Bloom Protects the Egg
Part of the reason for that is the bloom, or cuticle. It’s a waxy substance on the egg shell that’s practically unnoticeable. It covers, seals and protects the egg, keeping contaminants out. The egg shell is porous, with tiny holes in it to let it “breathe.” (Since a fertile egg turns into a baby chick, there’s got to be a way for it to breathe while it’s incubating.) The bloom seals up these pores to keep dirt, waste and bacteria out.
Once you start washing the egg, you’re going to wash away at least some of the bloom, maybe all of it. Then the egg’s not going to be as well-sealed, and it won’t stay fresh as long.
“Dry Clean” with Sandpaper
For lightly soiled eggs, that’s why it’s better to use sandpaper than water. Just knock off the dirt with sandpaper. Only sand the spots that are soiled, and you won’t damage the bloom much.
I borrowed a few strips of sandpaper from my 9 year old son who was watching me wash eggs. He had several different grits. I experimented with them to see which would work best. The spots came off easily with 240 grit, but it was a little too aggressive and scratched the shells more than I would have liked. I tried 400 grit. It worked somewhat but was a little too fine. 320 grit would’ve been just about perfect.
Within a minute or two, I had the two relatively clean eggs even cleaner.
Discard Cracked Eggs
I looked over the remaining eggs and didn’t find any that were cracked. Sometimes you will. If you do, don’t bother cleaning them for yourself to eat. Discard them, compost them or cook and use them for pet food. Once the egg is broken, there’s more of a chance for bacteria to get in, and it’s not worth the risk. If you’re getting a lot of broken or cracked eggs, figure out why and fix that problem, but don’t eat them unless you have to.
Wash the Dirtiest Eggs in Very Warm Water
I started washing the dirtiest eggs. As I mentioned before, they were caked with thick, clay mud. For the most part the mud had not yet dried. If it had, it would have taken more effort to clean them.
I ran warm (nearly hot) water from the kitchen faucet over them, while using my fingers to loosen and scrape away the mud. This worked – but slowly. My wife handed me a luffa that she usually uses when cleaning eggs. It worked a lot better, and the mud came off with some amount of scrubbing.
When I was done, I put each egg onto a drying rack so it could quickly drip dry. Even once cleaned, some of the eggs were still visibly stained from the mud in brownish splotches. We’ll discard those.
While washing an egg, I put the remaining muddy eggs in the bottom of the sink, so water would run over them and begin softening and loosening the mud.
As I mentioned before, it’s best not to have to wash eggs. If they’re dirty but not too dirty, “dry clean” with sandpaper as mentioned above. Only wash them with water if you have to.
Use Water That’s Hotter than the Egg
If you have to wash them in water, be sure to use water that’s hotter than the egg. You want to be able to feel the difference in heat between the water and the egg – 10 to 20 degrees (F).
Why? Because the egg shell is porous, and heat causes air to expand. Inside the egg is a small air sack. Heating the eggs by washing in warm-to-hot water will cause that air to expand and put a little pressure from within. This’ll help keep contaminants out. Avoid cool or cold water because it creates a slight vacuum that can soak impurities into the egg through its pores.
Use a clean sponge, a luffa or your fingers to gently loosen and wash away dirt and manure from the egg shell. Dry off the egg quickly or let it drip dry on a rack. Examine it. Does it still look dirty and discolored? If so, discard it as mentioned above.
Don’t soak your eggs when you wash them. Soaking can cause some contaminants to seep into the egg. Avoid scented cleaners that might “flavor” the eggs. Some people use a little bleach in the rinse water or the wash water or a little unscented detergent. You can if you want, and it may be necessary if you are planning to sell the eggs.
How to Keep Eggs from Getting Dirty
As mentioned earlier, it’s best if you can keep the eggs from getting dirty in the first place. In wet, mucky weather, that’s hard to do, but the following pointers will help:
- Gather them daily – all of them – or twice a day if you can.
- Keep plenty of straw or other clean bedding material in the nestboxes.
- Keep plenty of fresh bedding on the floor of the coop. Dirty chicken feet lead to dirty eggs.
- Provide plenty of nest box space – one nest box to 4-5 hens. Overcrowding can lead to dirty and broken eggs.
- Encourage your hens to lay in the nest boxes. Train them with fake eggs. Place the nest boxes away from direct sunlight and out of the main paths of activity. Hens are more likely to lay in a dark, private area.
- Make sure your hens don’t spend the night in the nest boxes. If they do, they’ll soil them heavily. Chickens will usually roost in the highest spots they can get to, so position your roosts higher than the nest boxes.
These tips will hopefully help you get clean eggs even in muddy winter weather.