How To Sterilize Pots Without Bleach

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Is it all right to reuse gardening pots? After all, they’re costly, and tossing them out leads to more and more non-degradable debris in the landfill. 

Luckily, it is perfectly fine to reuse plastic, resin, or terra-cotta plant pots. However, you must sterilize them before reusing them. 

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In this article, we provide tips on sterilizing pots without bleach.

Why Is It Important to Sterilize Garden Pots?

No matter what material your pots are made of, they can carry viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections from diseased plants. 

For this reason, it’s very important to completely remove loose potting soil and thoroughly sterilize used pots before planting new seeds or plants.

Do You Have To Use Bleach to Sterilize Garden Pots?

The most common way of sterilizing gardening pots is to use a mild household bleach solution. However, many people would prefer not to use bleach because it can be a dangerous chemical. 

It can damage your clothing or irritate your skin. Fortunately, there are several safer alternatives you can use.

No matter which method of sterilizing you use, it’s important to understand that none of them are complete in and of themselves. 

You’ll need to start by thoroughly washing to remove any loose dirt. Use a scrub brush or steel wool for a good scrubbing in a mild detergent or soapy water. Sterilizing is the last step.

Sterilize Plastic Container or Clay Pots with Vinegar

Plain white vinegar is a cheap and effective naturally acidic product that you can use to sterilize your plants in an environmentally friendly way.

After giving your pots a good scrub, soak them in a half-and-half hot water solution and 30% white vinegar. Allow them to soak for at least two hours.

Remove them from the solution and rinse them thoroughly with warm water. If there is still some crusty buildup or scale on the pots, now is the time to scrub that off. 

You can scrub very stubborn stains with full strength or three-quarter strength vinegar.

Be sure to rinse the pots thoroughly with clean water after the vinegar soak. This is especially important for terra-cotta pots. 

You may even wish to put clay pots into the dishwasher for final rinse using the gentle cycle.

Allow pots to air dry thoroughly before storing. Trapped dampness can cause fungus to grow, especially in terra-cotta pots. 

Allowing the pots to dry in the hot sunshine adds another layer of disinfection. 

When using the sun’s heat this way, it’s a good idea to leave the pots in full sunshine for about six hours, turning them several times to be sure that all surfaces are exposed to hot sunlight.

Aren’t disinfection and sterilization the same thing?

Disinfection eliminates pathogens, but sterilization kills all microorganisms, both benign and dangerous.

How to Clean TerraCotta Pots With Vinegar

Use Your Oven

With small clay or terra-cotta pots, you may also wish to sterilize them by baking them in the oven. To do this, preheat your oven to 220°F. 

Place your pots upside down directly on the oven racks and allow them to bake for about an hour. Then, turn off the oven and allow it to cool down completely before opening the door and removing the pots.

Use Boiling Water

For a few small terra-cotta or clay pots, you could also use a big pot of boiling water. To do this, wash the garden pots thoroughly and then set them into a large cooking pot on your stovetop. Cover them with cold water and set the heat on high. 

Bring the water to a rolling boil and allow it to boil for at least five minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the water to cool down enough for you to remove the pots safely. Allow them to air or sun dry thoroughly.

Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Sterilize Garden Pots

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) has potent antimicrobial properties and is very effective for disinfecting garden pots. 

To use this common household product, begin by washing your pots thoroughly. Once they are dry, spray them with a full-strength solution of 6% to 9% H2O2. 

After spraying, allow the pots to dry thoroughly. You can store them as-is, but remember to rinse them when you take them out to use them.

Take care when using this full-strength product not to spray it directly on your skin or onto plants.

Spray with Full Strength Vinegar

You can also use the spray method with white vinegar, but you should not allow the pots to air dry with the vinegar on them. 

Instead, allow the vinegar to work for about fifteen minutes and then rinse thoroughly. Follow-up by allowing the pots to air or sun dry thoroughly.

Use Full Strength Rubbing Alcohol

After washing pots, you can wipe them down with a clean cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. Again, be sure to do this outside or in another well-ventilated area. If your skin is sensitive to rubbing alcohol, you may wish to wear protective gloves.

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