Gardening

How to Clean Your Gardening Pots

how to clean garden containers

January is usually about the time of year when I started to get…twitchy.

The holidays have passed so I’m done with the flurry of baking, shopping, card-sending, and general joviality. 

But it’s not quite gardening time yet, which is another major time I look forward to each year. 

While it’s still too soon to start seeds, it’s not too soon to start thinking about other things I need to get done for the planting season this spring. It’s also not too late to take care of tasks I neglected last year. 

One task that I’m absolutely terrible about remembering to do is cleaning my gardening pots. I know how to clean gardening pots – and it’s not that challenging. It’s just that it’s one of those things that, in the midst of canning and making other preparations for winter, I always push aside. This year was even worse, since my son was born in late September and I really had to rethink some of my priorities, as you might expect!

Fortunately, we’ve now settled into a nice groove and I can tackle some of the things that I’ve put off from the autumn months. It’s time to start scrubbing at my gardening containers so I can get them ready for the season ahead.

If you’re looking for information on how to clean gardening pots, here’s a quick guide that I hope you will find helpful. 

how to clean gardening pots

**J&R Pierce Family Farm is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to allow sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products on Amazon. I often link to Amazon when recommending certain products, and if you choose to purchase, I may earn a small percentage of the sale. It costs you nothing extra, and all recommended products are ones that I personally vouch for. **

Why Do I Need to Clean My Gardening Pots?

tips for cleaning gardening pots
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Regardless of the material out of which your gardening pots are made, it’s really important that you take the time to clean them. 

Why?

For several reasons.

Gardening pots that aren’t cleaned not only look grimy, but they can harbor diseases and even pests that can be transmitted to our new plants. You need to clean and disinfect your pots every time you use them. Not only that, but mineral salts from fertilizers (or even if your water, if you have any minerals in your water) can be damaging to plants (and unpleasant to look at, too). 

I don’t usually have an issue with fertilizer salts, since I use more natural methods of fertilizing my plants.

That said, there are some easy ways to get the debris off your plants.

Begin by scrubbing off any loose dirt with a brush. You can use the dirt in your compost.

The easiest way to clean your gardening pots is to soak them in a solution that contains one part bleach to nine parts water. Soak for at least ten minutes – but more is better. Then, you can put pots in a solution made out of dish soap and water. 

Be sure to give your containers time to dry. The exception to this is if you are preparing clay pots for planting. A super dry clay container will actually wick moisture from the potting soil, making it more difficult for your freshly planted plants to get the water they need. 

Now, some gardeners will tell you that they never clean their pots before using them, and that’s cool. I get that. It’s a lot of work! And after all, the chances of fungal diseases or other pathogens being transmitted to your plants are ultimately pretty low.

But the chance is still there, and when it comes to things like damping off disease, it’s something I’d rather avoid.

How Can I Clean My Garden Pots Without Bleach? 

how to clean gardening pots
Photo: Unsplash

If you don’t want to use bleach to clean your garden pots, don’t worry. Vinegar will also suffice.

Start by scraping all the dirt off your containers as you did above, in the bleach method. Then, soak them in three parts water and one part vinegar. Do this for around five to ten minutes, then use a rag to scrub the pots. 

Rinse under cold water, then allow the pots to dry. 

What is the White Build-up On My Clay or Terracotta Pots?

cleaning gardening pots
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If you notice any kind of white build-up on your terracotta or clay pots, chances are, it’s the result of accumulated salts and minerals, typically those leftover from fertilizers or hard water. If it’s on the outside of your pots, of course, it’s probably not going to harm your plants. You can get rid of it with a quick scrub with a nylon brush

However, if it’s on the inside of your containers, you’ll want to take steps as described below to  get rid of them and prevent them from affecting your plants. 

How to Remove Mineral Deposits from Flower Pots 

The technique described above is highly effective when it comes to cleaning most kinds of pots – and most kinds of stains from pots. However, you might find that some mineral deposits hang on stubbornly to your containers. This is especially true if you’re using clay pots.

To get rid of these mineral deposits, use a bit of steel wool or a wire-bristle brush to loosen the accumulated salts and debris. You can also use a knife. 

Then, rinse your pots thoroughly and soak them in a bucket of clean water until you’re ready to use them (as per the clay pot tip I mentioned above!). If you’re cleaning plastic containers, you do not need to use much to get the mineral deposits off besides a scouring pad. Just loosen the debris and dry the containers before use. 

How to Remove Algae from Flower Pots

how to clean gardening pots
Photo: Unsplash

If it’s algae that’s leaving your plant containers looking a bit under the weather, don’t worry. Algae frequently appears in containers when you’ve overwatered them (or if you’ve left them outside during wet, inclement weather).

All you need to do to remove the algae is to soak the containers in warm, soapy water. It’s as good as gone!

Cleaning Plant Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide 

tips for cleaning gardening pots
Photo: Unsplash

Don’t have bleach or vinegar lying around? Don’t worry. Hydrogen peroxide will ork, too.

All you need to do is spritz your containers with 3% hydrogen peroxide. You can dab some on with a cloth or put it in a spray bottle, like this. Either way, let the solution remain on your pots for at least ten minutes to remove the stuck-on grime. 

Wipe down your pots, rinse, and allow them to dry. 

Storing Your Clean Gardening Containers

how to clean gardening pots
Photo: Unsplash

Once you clean and sterilize your pots, it’s time to pop them into storage (unless you’re like me and wait until the last minute to do this). 

Keep your clean pots away from dirty ones, as this will help prevent diseases from being deposited on the surface of the new, clean pots. 

PS – you can also clean seedling trays or seed starting trays in this exact same way as you did the containers. 

Buying New Gardening Pots

gardening pots clean
Photo: Unsplash

In some cases, you might just not be able to get those gardening pots 100% clean. And that’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up if there’s still some grime behind after the most diligent scrubbing (or if you’re like me and sometimes break the pots by mistake when you’re cleaning them).

The good news is that you can score pretty decent deals on brand new gardening pots by shopping around online. Here are a couple styles I like:

You also can check the following places to get new or gently used pots completely free too:

  • Craigslist
  • Freecycle
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Your local cooperative extension
  • Restaurants and bakeries (and…ahem…sometimes even by dumpster diving!)

…and don’t be afraid of a little upcycling, either! I’ve used all sorts of things to grow plants in, including old whiskey barrels, yogurt containers, five-gallon buckets, straw bales, egg cartons, and more. Get creative and you’ll find that there are solutions waiting right around the corner for you.

Otherwise, make a habit of cleaning your gardening pots. It’s a good routine to get into, no matter what time of year you’re able to find the time to do so.

How do you clean your gardening pots? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to learn more about farming and gardening? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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