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UV Sterilization: The Lowdown on Getting Clean

By Shannon McKee | Last updated: April 29, 2021
Key Takeaways

Ultraviolet sterilization is a disinfection method that uses ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms. It destroys nucleic acids and disrupts their DNA, leaving them unable to perform cellular functions.

Considering you’re often growing crops for consumption, you want to keep your system sterile. But, keeping your hydroponic setup free and clear of nastiness isn’t always easy. Algae, bacteria, and fungi aren’t easy to control, especially if they’ve gotten a foothold in your system. Also, pretty much every method of keeping your hydroponic system sterile can be somewhat invasive and problematic. Ultraviolet sterilization isn’t a completely perfect solution for your sterilization efforts, but it’s one of the best options available today, especially when compared to bleaching and other methodologies.

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How UV Works

It may seem crazy that a light would be able to kill off bacteria, algae, and fungi, but when you consider people use sunscreen to protect their skin from UV rays, it makes a bit more sense. Using a UV light sterilizer, you’re pitting the power of the sun against your unwanted organisms. Ultraviolet light damages the DNA of the cells it hits, and that’s how it effectively kills pathogens.

UV Sterilizer, Filter, and Pump

There are several different UV sterilizer set-ups that you can choose from for your hydroponic system. One option combines the UV system, filter, and a pump. The water in your system is drawn into the sterilizer, is exposed to the UV light, goes through a filter, and gets pumped back out of it. This type of system is popular in aquaponics and aquariums as it makes installation easy.

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Separate UV Sterilizer

There are also set-ups where the UV sterilizer is separate from the filter and pump. Though the units are separate, they work in conjunction with each other. Like the previous system, the water goes in and out, but it’s just set up a bit differently. This type of sterilizer may not sit inside of your system, but piping will create intake and outlet points for the water to move.

In-line UV Sterilization

Another option is in-line UV sterilization, which allows you to sterilize your lines and the water that flows through them. This means that your water is treated as it flows into the treatment area. This configuration is helpful when using beneficial microbes in your set-up and reducing the problems with nutrient reduction as it may not be as impactful. However, if you already have a problem with algae, bacteria, or fungi in your overall system, this setup does not help eliminate it. Any algae attached to the walls and other surfaces needs to be removed another way.

Biggest Drawback with UV Sterilization

One of the biggest drawbacks in using UV sterilization is that it can deplete some of the things your plants need to grow healthy and strong. Iron, boron, and manganese deficiencies can occur when using UV sterilization. Also, UV sterilization reduces the populations of any beneficial microbes in your hydroponic set-up much in the same way it does the fungal, bacteria, and algae populations. It’s beneficial to test your hydroponic system for these deficiencies to help minimize them.

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Ultraviolet sterilization can be an excellent option for keeping your system free of bacteria, fungi, and algae that can turn your set-up into a nasty problem. While it does have drawbacks, proper management and testing can help to reduce these issues. Once set up and dialed in, UV sterilization can give you clean and clear water that makes you and your plants happy.

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Written by Shannon McKee | Freelance Writer, Gardener

Profile Picture of Shannon McKee

Shannon McKee lives in Ohio and has been a freelance writer for several years now, including on her blog, whyiwah.blogspot.com. Nicknamed by loved ones a garden hoarder over the past few years, she grows a wide variety of plants in her urban garden.

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