How to Clean your Seed Starting Equipment

How to Clean your Seed Starting Equipment

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Re-using seed starting equipment is a must if you are a frugal homesteader.  But have you ever wondered if it is necessary to clean the pots and trays that you plan to use again?

Let’s answer that question with another question: Have you ever experienced “damping off?”  This is when your seedlings start to grow, looking all pretty and strong, and then suddenly die.  Do you want to avoid damping off?

Turns out, damping off is often caused by debris or soil that was left in pots from last year and served as a nice little home for harmful pathogens (read more about damping off in this article by University of Minnesota Extension).

I’m here to admit that we are not always good about cleaning our seed starting equipment.  Last year we paid the price with a bunch of lost seedlings.  We learned that lesson the hard way!

Cleaning your seed trays and pots is not too difficult, and is a great project for the last few weeks of warm summer weather.  If you get to it before it gets cold you can do this project outside without splashing water all over your basement or garage.  You can also use the late summer sun to help with the process.


Step One ~ Empty your pots and trays

remove soil from pots and trays before reusing
Remove soil from pots and trays before reusing

Your first line of defense is getting rid of any old soil or debris that is left in your pots.  Shake it all out into a wheelbarrow or bucket and put it in your compost or in a far corner of the garden where it will get a lot of sun.  This soil shouldn’t be used again for your seedlings, but heating it up in your compost or in the sunlight should remove the pathogens, so it doesn’t have to go in the trash.

Step Two ~ Rinse out remaining soil and debris

Cleaning pots in a baby pool
A baby pool is a great place to do another rinse of your equipment before washing.

Use a powerful hose setting to remove as much of the remaining soil and debris as you can, then fill up a baby pool or large container and toss the pots in there to give them a good rinse.

Step Three ~ Wash your pots and seed trays

cleaning pots in soap and water
Regular soap and water will clean most of the harmful pathogens on your equipment.

Next, fill a large bucket or container with warm soapy water.  One-by-one, dip your pots and trays into the water and shake them vigorously.  Use your hands or a sponge to remove any stubborn debris.  Then, plunge them into another bucket of plain water to wash off the soap suds.

Step Four ~ Disinfect your pots and trays

Sunlight helps to kill pathogens on seed starting equipment
We leave our equipment out in the bright summer sun for 4-8 hours to kill the rest of the pathogens.

You should disinfect all of your pots and trays to fully ensure that the pathogens that cause damping out are gone, .  Many people recommend using a bleach solution, but I do not love using bleach on my homestead.

On alternative is to spray hydrogen peroxide on the pots and trays, let them dry, and then give them a wipe to remove any remaining layer.  A Prairie Homestead uses this method.

Vinegar is another non-toxic option for killing the mold and fungus.  Again, you’ll want to give your pots a wipe after letting the vinegar sit on there for about 20 minutes.

However, if you are cleaning your trays and seeds outside when the summer sun is still strong, you can also kill most of the harmful pathogens by letting your trays dry out on a warm sunny day.  The UV Rays from a strong few hours of sunlight are one of the most natural ways to kill of mold and mildew.  Even if you use one of the methods above, adding exposure to sunlight to dry them out after the process can be a great final step.

How you disinfect is really up to you, and it might come down to how certain you want to be that all of the pathogens have been banished from your equipment.

Step Five ~ Dry and store in a dry location

Lastly, ensure that you don’t foster more mold growth while you are waiting to plant your seeds in the spring.  Fully dry all of your equipment in the sun or in a dry location inside before you stack them up.  Then, store them in a dry location where air can easily circulate.


~Check out The Happy Hive’s article on building an Upcycled Seed Starting Station for more ideas~


How to Clean Seedstarting Equipment
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Carrie Williams Howe
Blogger & Homesteader at The Happy Hive
Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She is a Founder and Editor of Homestead How-To and also blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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