Reusing hydroton is a wise thing to do as a hydroponic gardener. It will help you save money that you can spend on other garden expenses. I have reused my hydrotons in numerous growing cycles and experimented multiple times. Here are the top four ways to clean hydroton based on my experience.
In general, hydroton is cleaned for reuse by soaking or rinsing them with disinfectants namely hydrogen peroxide, rinsing solutions, distilled white vinegar, and bleach. Benefits and drawbacks can be weighed according to disinfecting strength, the time needed for cleaning, availability, price, environmental impact, and hazards.
Deciding which method leaves us with a deeper question: “What are the benefits and drawbacks of each treatment?” Allow me to demonstrate how to decide which approach is suitable for you!
Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent disinfectant to use when reusing hydroton. This is because it is also a strong disinfectant that can prevent the infestation of pathogens and the formation of white spots—both are common problems in hydroponics.
Dilution is an important step when cleaning hydroton with 3% hydrogen peroxide for reuse. To do this, combine 2 to 3 teaspoons hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water to clean a few hydrotons. When cleaning big batches, 2 cups of hydrogen peroxide must be used for a 30-gallon container.
Here are the steps to clean your hydroton for reuse:
- Get two containers. One of them must have holes at the bottom for draining.
- Put the hydrotons into the container without holes.
- Pour water until it fills the container halfway.
- Dilute your 3% hydrogen peroxide. Note: Use the dilution I suggested above.
- Stir the mixture with the hydroton moderately.
- Soak it overnight.
- Drain it using the container with holes.
- Rinse your hydroton with a handheld shower or a garden hose.
- Drain and dry.
- Disinfection Strength: High disinfecting capacity. It can kill fungi, molds, bacteria, and viruses.
- Availability: Accessible through pharmacies and some groceries.
- Acceptability: Most acceptable disinfectant for several gardeners.
- Safety: Food-grade hydrogen peroxides are available and are safe to use in food production.
- Price: Hydrogen peroxide is more expensive than the other alternatives such as white distilled vinegar.
- Time Needed to Clean: It needs to be soaked for a full 24 hours.
- Hazard: This can cause eye irritation when exposed.
Special rinsing solutions available on the market will work more efficiently than other alternatives to remove the white salt deposits off the surface of hydrotons. This is because they are specifically made to dissolve salts.
If you observe white spots in your hydroton after a growing cycle, that might be caused by accumulation of salts from your hydroponic nutrient water.
These salts can further cause nutrient toxicity, which can harm your hydroponic plants in the long run. So washing them off is the best thing to do!
The product below is an example of a rinsing solution—you can check it out on Amazon. Clearex is a rinsing solution that some food growers suggest to properly break down aggregated salts on the surface of their hydrotons.
Curious about other causes of white spotting on hydrotons? Check out our article on hydroton turning white.
To properly use this rinsing solution for reusing hydroton, do the following:
- In a container, mix 2 teaspoons of the rinsing solution for every gallon of water.
- Pour your hydroton into the container.
- Strain them using a strainer.
- Let the mixture flow through the hydroton as you strain them.
- Repeat steps number 1 to 4 for 4-5 cycles.
- Drain rinsing mix from the container with hydrotons.
- Rinse them with distilled water.
- Time Needed to Clean: Quicker to use, there is no need to soak it for 24 hours
- Specificity of Action: Formulated specifically to target salt deposits
- Price: Most rinsing solutions are more expensive and it will be an added cost.
- Safety: Protective equipment such as gloves are required because it can cause eye and skin irritation of the eyes and skin when exposed to such solutions in high concentrations.
For organic hydroponic farms, using distilled white vinegar when cleaning and disinfecting hydroton for reuse is an accessible and cheap choice. It contains 5% acetic acid so it can not only remove dirt particles and debris but also can eliminate Escherichia coli, which is a harmful pathogen for food such as leafy vegetables.
To effectively disinfect hydroton with vinegar, follow the instructions described below.
- Mix 1-part distilled white vinegar for every 2-parts of hot water (for instance, 1 liter of vinegar for 2 liters of water).
- In the same container you used in step 1, pour in your hydrotons.
- Swirl around hydroton for 5-10 minutes.
- Rinse with lukewarm water after draining.
- Environment Friendliness: It’s completely organic and safe.
- Price: A very cheap cleaning method.
- Available: Needed materials are readily-available in your kitchen.
- Time Needed to Clean: Quicker to use, there is no need for a 24-hour soaking
- Disinfecting Strength: Proven to eliminate bacteria such as E. coli, but not as strong as hydrogen peroxide.
- Aroma: Strong sour smell.
Washing hydroton in bleach for reusing typically requires two rounds of soaking. For the first 12 hours, only use bleach, then water alone in the next 24 hours. It needs another round with water because of its strong disinfecting power.
Gentle Reminder: I placed bleach at the very end because it should only be used as a last choice. I highly suggest you try out all the aforementioned materials rather than bleach if you do have them. This is because bleach is a much stronger cleaning product.
Here is a step-by-step guide in using bleach in cleaning hydrotons.
- Dilute bleach in a 1:3 ratio of bleach to water in a container.
- Immerse the hydroton in your bleach solution for 12 hours.
- Rinse them using water.
- Prepare another container with water.
- Soak your hydroton another 24 hours in the container with water only.
- Drain water from the hydroton.
- Rinse them well using water.
- Let them dry.
- Availability: Bleach is typically available in homes
- Price: It’s a very cheap choice
- Disinfecting Strength: Strong disinfectant, that is why it is used if pathogens like molds are in the surface of hydroton
- Hazard: Since it is a strong disinfectant, it needs dilution. It can be irritating for some who have sensitive noses and skin.
- Time Need to Clean: More tedious disinfection process, since soaking needs to be done twice
Contrast hydrogen peroxide & bleach in our article on hydrogen peroxide vs bleach.
In cleaning hydroton for reusing, watch out for dust particles, plant debris, salts (manifested as white spots), and white molds.
1. Dust Particles
Along your growing cycle, it is still possible that dust can still accumulate. This can be observed more if your hydroponic system is located outside your house.
Dust particles can build up and contaminate your nutrient water. When they clump together, they can clog your air and/or water pumps—causing your hydroponic system to malfunction.
2. Plant Debris
Caution: These leaves may harbor pathogens which can negatively affect the following growing cycle. As a result, cleaning the hydroton with diluted hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or bleach is recommended.
3. Salts (Seen as White Irregular Spots)
Salt buildup, which looks like white spots, is frequent and normal in hydroponics. The evaporation of the nutrient solution deposits salt on the hydroton’s surface.
How can this affect your hydroponic system?
Excessive amounts of this white powder on the hydroton’s surface can move the pH of the nutrient solution if not removed. Again, this can be eliminated using specialized rinsing solutions.
4. Molds (Seen as White Powder or Strands)
When microbial spores, such as molds or mildew, are detected in hydroton, it is strongly advised that a rigorous disinfection using hydrogen peroxide or bleach be conducted. These are visible as white powder or white fibers growing on the surface of hydroton.
Pro Tip: Perform disinfection immediately after seeing white strands and powders on hydrotons . Otherwise, pathogens can be transferred to plants that will be grown in the next growing season.
How many times can you reuse hydroton?
Since hydroton are made of inorganic materials, they can be reused repeatedly. It is only necessary to wash and disinfect them before reusing them.
What will happen if hydrotons are not cleaned before reusing them?
If hydrotons are not cleaned prior to reuse, disease infestation is highly probable. Commonly this is caused by bacteria and mold that accumulate over the surface of hydrotons. The pH will also change due to the buildup of salt which can be harmful to plants.
Do you need to soak your hydroton before using them?
Before using hydroton, rinse it to remove the excess dust from the growing medium. Gardeners can also soak hydroton in hot water for 24 hours and then rinse it.
Can you use hot water in cleaning hydroton for reuse?
Hot water is not advised when cleaning hydroton for reuse since it has weaker disinfecting capabilities. The goal when cleaning for reuse is to remove any microorganism that could infect the next plants that will be grown with the hydroton. Thus, it is better to use solutions with high disinfecting properties such as hydrogen peroxide and bleach.
When reusing hydrotons, one can clean them using hydrogen peroxide, specialized rinsing solutions, white distilled vinegar, or bleach. Contaminants such as dust particles, plant debris, salts, and molds must be removed before using the hydroton in another growing cycle.
To determine which disinfectant to use, consider the disinfecting strength, cleaning time, availability, price, environmental impact, and hazards. For pathogen-infested hydroton, hydrogen peroxide and bleach are best. White vinegar is an excellent organic choice. Lastly, specialized rinsing solutions are better suited for hydroton with salt deposits.