Most of you out there are probably like us when it comes to clean-up. You love to grow plants, but cleaning up the mess afterward? Ha! Get real. Because clean-up has never been one of our first loves—we're sure it isn’t yours, either—we have outlined several ways to help make the job easier:
- Recruit a couple youngsters in the neighborhood. Throw a handful of change into the dirty reservoir units when they’re filled with soapy water for the first washing, and make it into a competition between the kids to see who can grab the most coins.
- Soak everything with an enzyme cleaner for about 20 minutes. This will enable you to remove the stuck-on grunge in the next step.
- Use power tools to fully remove all crusty grime and save time.
Charlie Watson, founder of The Grow Store in Colorado and one of the old-timers in our industry, introduced us to a great enzyme cleaner he brought into the market a number of years ago. The enzyme cleaner will cut through even the toughest build-up. There are several brand names out on the market now, where the enzyme literally eats through the grime. Charlie passed away unexpectedly in 2010, so this article is a tribute to him for his hard work in developing this kind of product. Charlie’s enzyme cleaner has saved us days and days of clean-up. An effective way to apply an enzyme cleaner is with a power or pump sprayer (not power washer).
One of the things we have learned over the years is how important it is to keep your growroom as clean and orderly as possible to help isolate bug problems early on. Never bring in any plants that have been outside. Never bring in other people’s plants. If you can start plants from seed or clone, you minimize bug problems. Sometimes we buy plants, but just remember that means the possibility of bringing along pesky little travelers who have hitched a ride.
It is a good idea to clean out everything between crop cycles. That includes mopping the floor with a 1:10 bleach/water mix. Using rockwool as your growing medium eliminates the need to clean pots, which is always a plus! Power washers work well for heavy-duty trays and reservoirs, but they do not work at all for standard flats, pots, pumps, Bato buckets and tubing. Power washers are too strong for the lighter plastics and smaller items. We use a hose with different sprayer attachments rather than a power washer, or a hand-held rotary cleaner works well also. If you don’t have a rotary cleaner, you can use scouring pads.
We generally make the reservoir and larger trays into temporary washing and soaking tubs for all the smaller items. We leave standard flats to soak overnight in a stronger bleach solution, and then dump that solution into the reservoirs for the mass clean-up. Never mix together bleach, ammonia or scouring powders because they form mustard gas, which is deadly to breathe.
Our preferred cleaner is tri-sodium phosphate (TSP), which can be found at any hardware store and many hydroponic stores. TSP is a non-toxic, biodegradable, general purpose cleaner, whereas the purpose of bleach is to sterilize everything.
So, there’s a handy outline for the part we hydroponic gardeners like least—cleaning up. You can incorporate all or some of the options above, depending on the scope of your grime. The key to choosing cleaners and cleaning tools is, of course, choosing the ones that best fit your needs.