DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponics (Photos & Videos)

Can you build a deep water culture (DWC) hydroponic system from household materials? If you are a fan of crafts like me, then I know that you also asked this question at least once. To be honest, I am personally amazed by how simple it is to build this hydroponic system. The materials are accessible and the building process is easy to follow!

Generally, a deep water culture hydroponics system can be built with 5 main materials: 1) bucket with lid, 2) styrofoam cup or plastic cup, 3) growing medium, 4) hydroponic nutrients, and 5) an air pump.

Did you know that you can operate your deep water culture hydroponics in two ways? This is an important concept that can help you further decide what way you would adapt. But, I will not spill the tea just yet. Let us first get to the basics!

9 Materials Needed For DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

To start a DIY deep water culture hydroponic system, one should gather the following materials:

  1. Seed/seedling
  2. Bucket with lid (Pro Tip: Check for food-grade plastic buckets)
  3. Styro cup or plastic cup
  4. Growing medium
  5. Hydroponic nutrients
  6. Air pump
  7. Water
  8. Cutter
  9. Hole driller/soldering iron/electric saw

You probably already have some of this at home, but it’s better to double-check what you are missing before you go running to the store. Doing so will save you time, money, and effort.

Deep Water Culture Hydroponics: How It Works

Deep water culture, commonly known as DWC, is one of the famous types of hydroponic systems. In deep water culture hydroponics, the roots of the plants are contained in a net pot or grow cup and are suspended from a lid with the roots dangling towards a liquid nutrient solution.

Deep water culture hydroponics may be set up as a passive or an active system. These concepts will be introduced as you go through this article.

   Learn more about deep water culture in our article on how DWC works.  

2 Initial Steps Before Building Your DIY Deep Water Culture

Before growing in a deep water culture hydroponic system, one should first grow the seedlings and choose a growing medium compatible with their chosen plant.

1. Grow the Seedlings

The seedlings to be used in deep water culture hydroponics could be obtained at local garden stores or grown from seeds.

Purchasing matured seedlings from garden stores is a popular choice for hydroponic gardening newbies. This lessens the task of maintaining plants from the seed stage up to their mature seedling stage.

However, if you are up for a challenge, starting from seeds is a great choice for the sake of gaining experience.

You can start the seeds on paper towels or growing mediums such as coco coir. When they are mature enough, or about 4 to 6 inches in height, you can already transplant your seedling to a deep water culture system.

Are you curious about how to do that? The steps will be discussed in the next few sections!

2. Choose Your Growing Medium

Choosing a growing medium for hydroponic systems, and gardening in general, must be based on its 1) water-holding capability, 2) porosity, 3) pH, 4) particle size, and 5) plant height.

There are a variety of choices for hydroponic growing mediums. You have coco coir, clay pebbles, gravel, growstones, peat moss, perlite, pumice, rice hull, rockwool, vermiculite, wood chips, and even zeolite.

However, for deep water culture hydroponics, clay pebbles and coco coir are the most commonly used growing mediums.

   Explore more of this in our article on how to choose the best growing medium for you. 

2 Easy-to-Follow Steps in Making DIY Deep Water Culture

The average DIY deep water culture hydroponic system is composed of two main parts—the water reservoir and the net pot. To create these hydroponic parts, you will need tools such as a soldering iron and a cutter.

1. Create a Hole in the Bucket Lid

Create a hole in the bucket lid using either an electric saw, soldering iron, cutter, or a hole driller. The bucket itself will serve as the reservoir for the hydroponics system and the hole on its lid will give a plant’s roots access to the enriched water.

Create a Hole in the Bucket Lid
Create a Hole in the Bucket Lid

For this step, get your bucket cover. If your bucket does not come with a lid, you can use any other cover that can fit your bucket; for example, an old basin.

You can use an electric saw, like the one I used above, to make a hole in your lid. Another available option is a hole driller. Below is an available hole driller on Amazon.

Purchasing a hole driller would be helpful for those who love to DIY and are producing hydroponic veggies and herbs on a large scale. This can also be used for styrofoam boxes or rectangular trays that you want to transform into a hydroponic system!

You can also use a soldering iron to melt the bucket lid. But if your bucket lid is made of a softer type of plastic, then you can use a simple cutter to make a hole. The critical thing to consider here is that your hole must fit your net cup size.

Maybe you are wondering, should I buy a net cup first? Well, you can also do it yourself! The first thing you need to do is to identify which material you are using for the DIY net cup. Then, estimate its size for the bucket lid hole.

2. Prepare the DIY Net Pots

Styrofoam and/or plastic cups can be transformed into cheap net pots. An additional step for this do-it-yourself product is cutting slits or holes below the cups.

Cut Slits Below the Styrofoam or Plastic Cups for the Net Pots

Did you know that instead of purchasing net cups online, you can make your own from your kitchen?

A simple way to do this is through a cutter. But if you have a soldering iron, poking holes using the heat would also be an easy way to do this.

The purpose of these holes is to be an entry point for water and oxygen. The holes at the bottom are where the roots will be suspended from.

After both the steps above, your DIY deep water culture hydroponic system must look like this.

DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System

4 Steps on How to Use Your DIY Deep Water Culture

To use the DIY deep water culture hydroponic system, one must 1) fill the bucket with water, 2) mix in hydroponic nutrients, 3) position the seedling with the growing medium on the lid, and 4) cover the bucket with the lid.

1. Fill the Bucket With Water

Fill the bucket (reservoir) with water up to the level where the lower portion of roots would be suspended in the solution.

Fill the Bucket With Water

If you are not yet sure about the distance of the roots to the water, do not worry! You can easily adjust that later.

2. Mix the Hydroponic Nutrients

Dry or liquid hydroponic nutrients should subsequently be mixed into the water within the hydroponic reservoir. Remember to only add the appropriate amount of nutrients into the water for your chosen plant.

Mix the Hydroponic Nutrients Into the Water

For this step, you can use measuring cups or syringes to know the specific amount of nutrients that you need to mix into the water.

Always remember that the best mix is what is indicated in your nutrient’s packaging. There is no general formula for all nutrients.

   Explore more about how to use liquid and dry nutrients in our article on hydroponic nutrients.  

3. Position the Seedling in the Net Cup

Place the seedling inside the net cup and add enough growing medium to fix its position. The roots must be located at the bottom to gain access to the nutrient water of the DIY deep water culture hydroponic system.

Fix the Seedling’s Position Using the Growing Medium

At this point, you can now get your seedling. Remember to carefully treat them during this step because any wound in its body or roots can lead to its death.

A critical factor to note for this step is to arrange the plant roots in a position where they can get sufficient access to the water.

For plants with long roots, like lettuce, the roots could be inserted into the slits in such a way that the roots will be hanging.

But for plants with short roots, like the cauliflower above, you can position it closer to the water.

Another option for plants like this is using a growing medium with high water-holding capacity like coconut coir. By doing this, you can make sure that water is absorbed by the growing medium below, and it will then go up to your plant’s root system.

4. Cover the Bucket With the Lid

Assemble the DIY deep water culture hydroponic system by placing the lid and seedling into the drilled hole.

Assembling Your DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System

After doing this, you have two choices on how to operate your deep water culture hydroponics. We will get into those in the next section.

2 Options to Operate the DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

Deep water culture hydroponics can be operated as a passive, like the Kratky system, or an active system with the aid of an air pump.

Hydroponic Peppers Race - Kratky vs DWC

1. Passive Deep Water Culture

A passive deep water culture system, like the Kratky system, functions as an automatic watering system. In this system, the growing medium serves as the channel for the plants’ nutrient and water requirements.

If you are going to use this system, you need to allot sufficient space between the plant roots and the water. This means that the roots must not be completely submerged in the water.

This is necessary to provide enough room for the roots to acquire oxygen, which enables them to breathe. Because just like us, plant roots can also be suffocated.

Passive Deep Water Culture Hydroponics
Passive Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

2. Active Deep Water Culture

Active deep water culture system involves growing plants wherein the nutrient solution is delivered to the roots with the help of an air pump. Generally, active systems have a higher growth rate compared to passive hydroponic systems.

Active Deep Water Culture Hydroponics
Active Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

Wondering about the big difference between a passive and an active deep water culture hydroponic system? It is the air pump!

Air pumps provide oxygen to the roots by producing bubbles that can act as spaces for gas exchange. This way, the plant roots have a consistent source of oxygen that is necessary for their biological functions.

   Explore more about this concept in our article on air pumps.  


Should I always replace my hydroponic water in deep water culture?

Yes, hydroponic water should be replaced every 1-2 weeks. Over time, the nutrient solution will be lessened as the plant absorbs them, and some are lost due to evaporation. Thus, you may need to refill your reservoir with water so that the nutrients do not evaporate. When you do this, it must be followed by pH and electric conductivity checks.

How deep should a deep water culture hydroponics system be?

A deep water culture hydroponic bucket must be at least 10 inches deep. This dimension is a healthy space for a plant’s roots to grow. Learn more about deep water culture in our article on how to achieve massive harvest in deep water culture.

Do hydroponic roots need darkness?

It is important to keep your hydroponic roots away from light. This is because light is a necessary factor for algae reproduction. When light enters your nutrient water, the probability of facing an algae bloom heightens.

Summary of DIY Deep Water Culture Hydroponics

The materials needed to build a DIY deep water culture hydroponic system include the seedling, a bucket with a lid, a styrofoam or plastic cup, some growing medium, sufficient hydroponic nutrients, an air pump, enough water, a cutter, and/or a hole driller.

To create the deep water culture bucket, drill a hole into the bucket’s lid where the net pot can fit. Styro or plastic cups can be transformed into net pots. However, slits must be sliced at the bottom of the cup to facilitate water access.

In using the DIY deep water culture hydroponics system, one should fill the bucket with water, mix the hydroponic nutrients, position the seedlings, and assemble the setup by placing the lid with the net pot. This can be operated in a passive system, without an air pump, or in an active system with the help of an air pump.


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