Sterilizing Hydroponic Systems With Hydrogen PeroxideFaizan Khan
If you grow your crops using hydroponic systems, you’ve likely already experienced many of its benefits. This includes having witnessed the yield of plants increase rapidly while carrying around an unmistakable halo of freshness. But, are your sterilization techniques up to the mark?
You may be thorough in your gardening and give your area a wipe-down daily, taking pride in the pristine environment. However, what if your version of ‘cleaning’ is not up to the mark in the gardening domain? It may be shocking, but it is quite possibly the truth in your situation.
This is because when you run a hydroponic system, it is not only the environment that needs cleaning; the hydroponic system itself requires a good round of sterilization. If you want your outstanding gardening results to continue to flourish, you will have to learn to care for your hydroponics system.
This guide will help you become the ultimate sterilization expert, with the help of the ultimate cleaning supplies, like hydrogen peroxide.
Why Is It Important To Keep Your Hydroponics System and Surrounding Clean?
The first reason to come bouncing into the minds of gardeners is the health of the plants.
If you allow your hydroponics system and surrounding to grow unclean, there’s a great chance that you’ll be declaring surrender to all to the neighboring lands of organisms. This will mean the soldiers of bacteria, viruses, pathogens, and algae will come running into the free lands of the plants and will waste no time in occupying them.
Let’s just say that friendliness does not run in the systems of these organisms, and they’ll only be interested in wreaking havoc in your garden, causing damage to the plants. There will also be an influx of diseases that will probably cause the death of your plants.
However, if you run a hydroponics system for commercial reasons, you’ll probably sell the crops to other consumers. When others consume sick and weak crops, they’ll likely catch illnesses as well. Hence, your unclean hydroponics system will not only stimulate the deteriorating health of others but will also damage your brand reputation.
Lastly, the cleanliness of your hydroponic system may often not be optional but rather required. This will be the case when you have to abide by certain certifications and standards so that your crops can be organically or otherwise cleared.
It is recommended that you check with your specific licensing board to ensure that you meet all the sterilization and sanitization requirements of the hydroponic system.
Sanitization vs. Sterilization
When you equip yourselves with hydroponic systems, you must also equip yourselves with the necessary terminologies. Believe it or not, these terminologies are going to aid you immensely as you shuffle across the path of cleanliness.
The basic knowledge begins with knowing that cleaning and sanitization are nearly the same. However, let’s give the words a little twist by stating that sanitization refers to the general cleanliness of the growing room.
Sanitization can include- scrubbing your IBC, extracting dead plant material from the hydroponic system, mopping up any spills, sweeping away messes, cleaning out filters, and keeping the harvest room tidy and well-equipped.
Do note that sanitization can be done with the help of cleaning agents. Sanitizing can remove bacteria, algae, and pathogens from an area. However, do note that it only removes these organisms but does not kill them.
You could also use a dirty rag to clean the surfaces, which helps reduce the number of bacteria and algae available there. However, it will mean that you’ve simply pushed the organisms elsewhere.
On the other hand, sterilization refers to the killing of these organisms. This means that it is through sterilization that microbial life which is harmful to plants will be eliminated.
Sterilization is often accomplished with the help of hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial products such as Lysol. These solutions can be added to sprays, soaks, or dunks- whichever is most appropriate for the situation.
Is Microbial Life Good for Plants?
I’m afraid we might have enticed some people into a kill-all microbial life mode. However, others may be confused because we have always learned that microbial life is important for plants.
So, which is it? Kill or protect? A combination of both would be a deadly duo to outsmart the microbial life and use them for the best of the plants.
This is achieved by sterilizing the hydroponic system’s different elements, including the tools, media, and system parts like irrigation lines and tubes.
However, always be careful not to sterilize the plants themselves- because the microbial life at the rhizosphere (root zone) helps keep them protected against diseases and aids them in uptaking nutrients.
How Often Should Hydroponic Systems Be Cleaned With Hydrogen Peroxide?
The sanitization and sterilization of hydroponic systems go hand in hand; one cannot be fulfilled without the other in tow. But the question that arises is- how often should the two be united?
If gardening is simply a hobby for you and you can manage to keep it out of the spotlight- you may also manage to keep your cleaning out of the spotlight. This means you may be able to get away with cleaning only when the growing room is visibly dirty. Of course, there may be spills that would require daily wipe-ups.
However, if you are bound to a certification or license, you will have to check the certification or licensing boards for updates on the standards required. To make things easier for you, they may also provide a schedule that must be followed.
However, if they do not provide one, it would be best to construct your schedule according to the standards. Moreover, even if you are not licensed or certified, we recommend following a schedule- cleaning and sanitizing at least once a week is essential to avoid clogs or prevent pathogens from overrunning the system.
Most importantly, once you have been blessed with a successful harvest of crops, it is not ideal to begin another round of harvest immediately- unless you also want to raise algae and other diseases along with your crops. After every harvest, a thorough sanitization and sterilization of the entire system would be crucial.
Tools Required for the Sterilization of Hydroponic Systems With Hydrogen Peroxide
If you want to sanitize and sterilize your grow room thoroughly, you must equip yourself with the necessary tools. Going to a hardware store and guessing at the tools will be a chaotic approach and will probably end up with you spending way too many unnecessary dollars.
This is why we have created the ultimate checklist of tools that you can go through and check off in an organized yet fun manner!
- Rubber gloves and goggles- safety first!
- Wet or dry vacuum (optional)
- Clean rags
- Spare buckets
- Green scrub pads and sponges
- Stiff scrubbing brushes
- Bottle brushes
- Long-handled brush
- Mop and bucket
- Compressed air cans- these will aid in the cleaning of the ventilation grills on ballasts and control units.
- Garden hose- preferably with a female hose adapter
Cleaning Agents Required for Sterilization of Hydroponic Systems
The tools mentioned above are bound to be of little use without the help of our cleaning agents.
Let me introduce you to all the sidekicks that will be accompanying you in the cleaning process-
- Food-grade hydrogen peroxide
- Isopropyl Alcohol
- Alcohol or vinegar- glass cleaners are not preferred but can be used as an alternative.
Which Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide Is Required for Cleaning a Hydroponics System?
Hydrogen peroxide is a solution available in many strengths- the most common being used at home is a 3% hydrogen peroxide disinfectant.
This concentration is considered the safest because it is diluted and contains additives like phenol and acetanilide to prevent it from breaking down. This is a red flag for gardeners because it indicates that the solution is not pure.
When running a hydroponics system, you will have to make sure you are using an additive-free solution.
We recommend getting a 35% hydrogen peroxide solution from Bulk Peroxide’s shop for the best results. Many gardeners have gotten accustomed to buying 35% hydrogen peroxide in bulk because it proves to be cheaper in the long run.
Note that 35% hydrogen peroxide is an extremely unstable and unsafe compound and must be treated as an acid. This means equipping yourself with protective gear- gloves and precautionary eyewear. The lesser the skin is exposed to the solution, the safer you will be.
Now, it’s time to put on your scientific goggles and dilute the solution to a safer mixture. Take one part of 35% hydrogen peroxide and mix it with eleven parts of clean distilled water. The result will be a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution that stabilizers have not tampered with.
It will be safe for the environment and your plants and will enhance oxidizing reactions with water.
The Do’s and Dont’s of Cleaning a Hydroponic System
Since you will be dealing with chemicals and compounds and the hydroponic system itself- you must walk down the path of enlightenment to avoid making any mistakes.
To err is human, but it is also, in this case, endangering the hydroponic system, plants, as well as oneself.
Therefore, we recommend getting acquainted with all the Dos and Dont’s of cleaning a hydroponic system!
Reading the Labels — a Must-Do!
You would think reading the labels of cleaning would be a common etiquette. Surprisingly, this two-minute task is often overlooked and results in unnecessary accidents and poisoning of plants.
Reading through the health and safety outlines of a cleaning agent is essential- it will help you understand all the risks involved and give you a chance to determine if it is appropriate for your situation and problem.
Moreover, it also raises awareness of the dangers of consumption or mishandling and informs you about storage requirements.
Put On Your Protective Gear — the Fashion for Hydroponic Systems!
Pick out your favorite pair of goggles and rubber gloves and put them on. These are a staple for when you are cleaning your hydroponic system.
When dealing with chemicals, it takes a mere wrong move to end up with the solution splashing everywhere and painting burns onto your body as well as your plants. Moreover, often the fumes are also toxic, and hence the eyewear is crucial.
Yes, they tend to get itchy and sticky, but it does not make them any less fashionable in the world of hydroponics.
Get To Know Your Solutions
Familiarity can be deceptive, especially in the case of hydrogen peroxide.
Most people use 3% hydrogen peroxide, which only has minor side effects when mishandled. In contrast, the 35% hydrogen peroxide required for hydroponic systems is caustic until diluted.
Therefore, you must always consider the concentration of the solutions when handling them.
The Chemicals Should Not Befriend One Another
You should get to know your chemicals, but they should never get to know one another. This is because when chemicals are intermixed, they can cause explosions or even release poisonous fumes.
When cleaning products are merged, they release chlorine gas which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can cause difficulty in breathing, nausea, burning pain, and chest tightness.
In 2019, a manager was killed, and 13 people were hospitalized after suffering side effects from the release of fumes from mixed cleaners.
According to the Washington State Department of Health– bleach, in particular, is a very caustic chemical that must be handled with caution at all times and must never come in contact with other cleaners, including hydrogen peroxide.
This is why we recommend avoiding using bleach when cleaning your hydroponic system and instead simply sticking to the food-grade hydrogen peroxide.
Do Not Use Concentrated Solutions
This rule stands if your hydroponic system is carrying plants. Plants are sensitive beings and cannot tolerate concentrated solutions engulfing them.
Therefore, you must never add concentrated solutions into your tank or running system while harvesting plants in the hydroponic system. Vinegar might seem like a harmless component and has a vote of popularity in the garden- however, when dealing with hydroponic systems, vinegar must be used carefully since it can cause damage.
Although hydrogen peroxide is well-liked in hydroponic systems, it must not be used in higher concentrations in a running hydroponic system.
And while hydrogen peroxide and vinegar are both accepted, bleach is forbidden and may never trespass into a running system.
Areas That Need Cleaning in Hydroponic Systems
When you look over your hydroponic system- the thought of cleaning it may seem like a daunting challenge. After all, you built a successful running system after careful scrutinization, observation, and intense supervision. Any mistakes during cleaning may hinder the smooth running of the hydroponic system.
Another great confusion that many gardeners convey is not knowing which parts of the system must be cleaned. This is why we will run you through each component of the hydroponic system that will require maintenance and cleaning.
The amount of cleaning that will go into this process will depend on the type of hydroponic system you are running and the size of your growing room. Worry not, whichever system you use- the cleaning methods will remain the same.
Let’s start with a cleaning trick — Always start cleaning the top of the system before working your way down. This is because you do not want dust and other debris falling onto your pristine surfaces after you have cleaned them.
Out the Plants Go!
When the cleaning takes place, only the adults with their protective gear are allowed in the room. All those growing and not fully immune to the fumes should be banished from the cleaning zone. This, of course, includes all plants.
Ideally speaking, it is recommended that you begin the cleaning season once the harvesting season has been completed. This will naturally keep all plants away from the vicinity of the system.
However, some cases may leave the system carrying some plants even once the harvest has been concluded. This may be the case if your hydroponic system hosts several different plant types that grow at different rates.
In such situations, it is advised that you relocate the plants elsewhere. If you choose to do this, it is important to remember that the plants must be relocated using the same growing medium, consistent nutrient levels and that the solution has its normal pH level.
Address the Walls and Work Surfaces
Let the scrubbing begin!
The first time you wipe down your walls and work surfaces, dirt and grime will be removed.
The second time around, you can hire water and hydrogen peroxide or vinegar as your sidekicks. This strong partnership is bound to earn you some disinfected walls and work surfaces.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Zoom in on the lights, for they’re about to receive some action!
As you glare up onto the highest points of your hydroponic system with the lights and bulbs dangling, you are probably going to assume it is too far up to cause any harm to the plants.
You may be disappointed to find out that your lack of scrutinization on the lights makes it one of the best breeding grounds for bacteria. But that is not all! They make sure to invite all the dust as well.
The most intricate hydroponic systems will be equipped with bulbs, reflectors, reflector glass, and ballast. All of these components will be awaiting a swift wipe down with a damp cloth.
Now that you’ve gotten rid of all the accumulated dust, it’s time to sterilize this part of the system.
So which of the cleaners must join you in this camaraderie? We vote for Isopropyl alcohol. This is because glass cleaners tend to leave residue on the glass. And although vinegar can be used as well, it tends to evaporate slower than Isopropyl alcohol giving rise to the possibility of residue clinging to the components.
Use isopropyl alcohol to help you wipe down all the lighting components for effective sterilization.
Beware-Electrical Areas Ahead!
It’s important to stay away from the jungle of wiring and keep to the sidewalks. From this safe distance, you must use an air compressor or cans of compressed air to give a good air blow to the electrical units’ areas.
I’m sure other components have felt the heat and would like a good blowout with the compressor. These components include fans, lighting timers, air conditioning units, heaters, dehumidifiers, and lighting ballast.
On a more serious note, these types of equipment must be met with an air storm because they consist of areas that cannot be reached with a damp cloth. And this air wash will more than just clean the equipment- it will prolong their lifespan and aid them to work more efficiently.
Descend Upon the Air Intake Fillers
Hydroponic air intake filters bring in not only fresh air to the premises of the growing room, but they also make sure to invite in their fellow dust and bug friends.
To extract the dust and bugs, it is important to clean and wash the filters at least once a month. Doing this will also improve the efficiency of the hydroponic system.
Moreover, it is recommended that you change out the filters once a week. You can use nylon stocking to work like easy and cheap intake filters by stretching them over the opening. They will grab the dust and bugs in an embrace every time they try to trespass.
The nylon stocking filters must be disposed of and changed every week.
Sterilization of the Complete Hydroponic System
Now that you’ve completed the basic cleaning and sanitization of the hydroponic system, you now have a relatively more tidy and clean growing room and working environment- bare of any dust or bugs.
Now you must divert your attention to the system itself because it is in daily contact with the plants- and therefore, it is essential to give it a good sterile scrub.
Before you begin the step-by-step sterilization process, it is advised that you shift all your pots and growing mediums out and away from the hydroponic system- these will demand attention later on. If you use Hydroton pebbles, make sure they are wet and stubborn enough to defy drying.
The Three Approaches to Draining Your System
Before you can commence with the sterilization of the system, it is necessary to drain out the old solution from the tanks. If your tank comes equipped with a pump, you can use the first approach to drain the solution.
However, both approaches can be used if your system does not come equipped with a pump but has a drain valve.
Note: It is important to remember that the first two methods are only appropriate for re-circulating systems with a drainage point lower than the tank.
Method 1: Return Pump Method
We are not here for the electrical shocks- therefore, disconnect all the electrical connections to the tank.
Now get ahold of the pump that will be located in the tank. Detach the outlet pipe from your pump and fasten the female connector to the pump. Follow up by connecting the hose to the drain point of your choice.
You can turn on the pump, and the solution will be drawn out of the tank. You must ensure that the tank does not run completely dry since it can cause wear and tear. For this reason, it is essential to turn off the pump once the water reaches the level of the pump- which will be about an inch of water.
This inch of water will have to be discarded using a sponge to soak up the water and squeeze it into a bucket. This laborious task can be avoided if you own a wet and dry vacuum.
Method 2: Drain Valve Method
We must abide by the preventive measures and hence remove all electrical connections from the tank. Proceed by connecting the hose to a drain point that is lower than your tank.
Instead of using a pump, you will let the water drain naturally from the drain valve. Again, make sure to leave an inch of water in the tank to avoid wear and tear.
As mentioned in the previous method, the remaining solution will be extracted using a sponge to squeeze the water into a bucket. Alternatively, you can use a wet and dry vacuum.
Method 3: Bucket Haul
This method of solution draining is suited for systems that are non-circulatory and have a drainage point that is higher than the tank. Hydroponic gardeners also find it to be the most dreadful and laborious.
Grab a bucket, and be ready for a good arm workout. Haul out the solution using empty buckets, and dispose of the solution in an appropriate drainage point.
The Hydrogen Peroxide System Sterilization
The hydroponic system will finally be getting its well-deserved refresh and restart. To get this reward, it is essential to terminate the thriving pathogens, bacteria, and algae- using the outlined hydrogen peroxide method.
The Ratio of Hydrogen Peroxide Required
- Food-grade hydrogen peroxide: Dilute 3 milliliters of 35% hydrogen peroxide with a gallon of water.
The System Sterilization Takes Place
- Remove any air stones present in the system. It is advised to replace the air stones after every harvest. However, this may not be possible for small-scale hydroponic gardeners.
- Give the entire system a good look over to identify and remove all the signs of alae growth, broken-off roots, and debris.
- Use the hydrogen peroxide sterilization solution to give the tank lids, air hoses, and other neighboring areas a good disinfecting wipe down. You can do this by pouring the hydrogen peroxide solution onto the green scrub pads or a clean cloth and then scrubbing away.
- We recommend replacing the ¾ inch water hose. These water hoses are short and hence will not have a great cost contribution.
- Fill up the system with water and hydrogen peroxide solution. While doing so, ensure that the water level exceeds the normal water level because it will help keep algae growth restricted.
- The system can run again! Allow it to circulate for 4-6 hours.
- Once again, grab your green scrub pads and scrub as many system components that you can reach. Make sure to disinfect and clean the flood trays, buckets, and PVC pipes.
- A bottlebrush will come in handy to wipe hard-to-reach areas or components that are adjoined to one another. It is advised that you dismantle components to be able to reach areas that are not normally visible. These areas are key breeding grounds for bacteria.
- Tie a small length of stiff wire or clothing hanger to the bottlebrush, and then pull the bottlebrush around the tubing. You must rinse the tubing with the hydrogen peroxide solution after every pull. It is recommended that you repeat this process until the tubing is pristine.
Wash Away All the Chemical Residue!
- You must rinse out the system with fresh water. You will note build-up residue being washed around. All of this will end up back in your tank once you are done scrubbing away at the hidden areas.
- Now drain out all of the water from your system to prevent the debris from re-circulating.
- Once the system is water-free, use a dry clean cloth to wipe it all down.
- The system calls for a dry age. You can achieve this with the help of fans, and you can even switch on your HID lights if you have them installed. This drying process is essential to stop bacteria from hanging around the system by clinging to water droplets.
Sterilization of Smaller System Components
Dilute the 35% hydrogen peroxide using 3 milliliters of hydrogen peroxide for every gallon of water. Once you have filled out a bucket or container with this solution, you may dunk in your Hydroton pebbles, pumps, and net pots.
Remember to rinse these components with fresh water and drying them before reuniting them with the system.
Removal of Excessive Salt From Hydroponic Systems
Plants are fussy eaters and often refuse to take up certain nutrients. These nutrients then turn into mineral salt build-up in areas where the water level has evaporated. This is a common issue with flood and drain systems.
Moreover, the growing medium and pots you singled out and banished from the system earlier demand your attention, for they too suffer from excessive salt build-ups.
The Issue With Excessive Salt Buildups
Salt build-ups are not only unappealing to the eye but can also cause serious issues for plants.
When you top off your tank with the nutrient solution, it will merge with the salts already present in the tank. You will find your plant suffering from ‘Nutrient burn’; however, most inexperienced growers will be unable to identify the illness due to its misleading symptoms. This poses a serious threat to plants as they will not be getting the right treatment.
This is why we recommend working to eliminate the salt build-up and the best time to address the problem is when you will be sterilizing your system with hydrogen peroxide. By the time the next harvest season comes around, there will be no salty scenarios in view.
In contrast, if you are an experienced gardener, we recommend flushing out the systems once a month so that the excessive salts do not mislead your pH levels or nutrient solution calculations. Moreover, regular removal of salts will lead to flourishing plant growth.
Check the TDS Levels of Your System
You already know the drill- hydroponic systems are high maintenance, and all changes in their conditions must be checked and controlled.
This is why you must have a ‘water quality tester’ handy. However, before you purchase your water quality tester, ensure that it is equipped with an EC/ ppm meter. This is short for electric conductivity/ parts per million meters.
It may seem technical, but we promise it is not. This water quality tester will be used to measure the TDS (Total dissolved solids) levels of your water. Therefore, this tester will help you measure the number of inorganic salts and organic matter present in your system.
Before you flush out or rinse your system use the tester to check the TDS levels of your system. Then after you are done with flushing and rinsing your system, it is advised that you recheck the TDS levels of your system. The ppm of the TDS levels must have risen to indicate that the salts have dissolved into the water.
Removing the Salt-Build Up From the Hydroponic System
Flush out the salt, and if it remains to be stubborn, leach it out. Flushing out the system will help dissolve the salts while pulling them out of their camping sites.
However, first things first. Examine the flood trays, sides of pots, and the waterline where the water tends to evaporate. You will notice the salts have painted white residue over them. These will have to be cleaned so that the salts can be diffused into the water.
Now begin with the flushing process by allowing an abundance of water to flow through the system in the shortest time possible. The amount of water that must be used will vary according to the different hydroponic systems.
For example, Hydroton pebbles and perlite preserves less water than Rockwool or coco air. Hence, the Hydroton pebbles and perlite will require a smaller amount of water to flush out the salt build-up.
During a growing season, we recommend flushing out the salt from your system once a month. This is particularly important for the heavy feeding plants, which seem to take up an ample amount of nutrient solution regularly, causing salt to build near their rooting systems.
However, flushing once a month may leave inexperienced gardeners unable to keep the nutrient levels consistent. Therefore, for the gardeners who are just starting, it is advised to initially stick to flushing out the system during the system sterilization season.
Salt Extraction From the Pots and Growing Medium
Once again, we call hydrogen peroxide to the rescue!
The extraction of excessive salts from pots and growing mediums can be carried out during the sanitization and sterilization phase. After working hard during the harvesting season, the pots and growing mediums long for a relaxing hydrogen peroxide bath.
But first, you need to make sure the pots and growing mediums are free from the burden of any roots. If you spot a root, just pull it out because it can cultivate bacteria.
Therefore, grab the solution and dilute it in a container or bucket by adding 3 milliliters of hydrogen peroxide to every gallon of water. Gently drop in the pots and growing mediums and allow them to have their moment of glory for a few hours.
Afterward, to ensure that the salt build-up is indeed gone- flush out the pots and growing mediums using freshwater. You may repeat this process of flushing and rinse twice or thrice for the best results.
A Healthy Hydroponic System Means Healthy Plants
Carrying out regular effective sanitization and sterilization of your growing room and the hydroponic system can ensure that your plants remain in top-notch health and away from the evil eye of pathogens, algae, and bacteria.
The main solution used in the sterilization process, i.e., hydrogen peroxide can be bought for affordable rates from Bulk Peroxide’s shop and, in exchange, will give an overpowering boost to the yields of the harvest.
You will notice that the returns will be much higher than the investment of sterilization. Moreover, this is a form of maintenance for all the components of the hydroponic system. The better you care for them, the more effectively you will keep them away from the dust hold. Additionally, you will notice efficiency in their performance and longevity in their lifetime.
Therefore, cleaning and sterilizing hydroponic systems is an all-time solution to the problems gnawing at your hydroponic system.