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How to Clean and Reuse Your Garden Planters and Pots

Dirty terracotta plant pots.
Fabrizio Guarisco/Shutterstock.com

Reusing plant pots is an easy way to keep your gardening costs down. For the best results, though, you’ll want to make sure they’re sterilized and squeaky-clean before you put the new plants in there. Luckily, you can clean those pots right up with a few common household products.

The idea of cleaning planters you’re just going to refill with dirt might sound a bit . . . silly. After all, they’re literally made to hold dirt! However, to ensure your new plants survive and thrive, it’s important to remove any microorganisms, mold, or other tiny pests that might harm them. Here’s how to clean the most common types of planters and pots.

How to Clean Clay Pots

Terracotta pots with succulents in them
Yishang

Clay (or terracotta) pots are a popular choice for planting a variety of herbs, flowers, and other plants. Breathable, sturdy pots, like these by Yishang, are distinctive and versatile—you can use them for any number of plants.

There are two primary cleaning agents you can use on clay pots: vinegar or bleach. Either will work, just don’t use them together—vinegar combined with bleach produces a toxic chlorine gas.

Plain white vinegar is especially helpful on pots that have a large amount of staining from things like salt or algae. Just follow these steps:

  1. Shake any remaining soil or other debris out of the pot.
  2. Rinse it thoroughly with clear water.
  3. Prepare a solution of 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts room-temperature water.
  4. Fully submerge the pots and let them soak for 30 minutes, or longer if they’re especially dirty or have a lot of buildup.
  5. Gently scrub away any remaining dirt and grime.
  6. Rinse with warm, soapy water.
  7. Allow them to air-dry completely.

Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar

Will loosen any buildup and remove grime from clay pots.

Bleach is the best option if your main concern is sanitizing your pots, rather than just cleaning them. You can use the same kind of bleach you use for your laundry. Follow these easy steps:

  1. Shake any remaining soil and other debris out of your pots.
  2. Rinse them thoroughly with clear water.
  3. Prepare a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts room-temperature water.
  4. Fully submerge the pots and let them soak for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Wash them with warm, soapy water, and then rinse again with clear water.
  6. Let the pots completely air-dry.

Clorox HE Performance Bleach, 121 Oz.

Dilute with some water, and you'll have a solution to fully sanitize your planters.

How to Clean Ceramic Pots

Plants in white ceramic plants in a room; plants in glossy blue planter with a white sofa behind them
FOPAMTRI/Le Tauci

Ceramic pots are popular due to their often vivid hues and/or glossy, glazed look. Because most of them do have some kind of matte or glossy glaze, they can be cleaned pretty easily. The vinegar solution we suggested for clay pots works just fine on ceramic, as well.

FOPAMTRI Plant Pot Set, Matte White

A matte-finish ceramic pot can be cleaned using household ingredients.

LE TAUCI Ceramic Plant Pots

Glossy, colorful ceramic pots can be cleaned with ease.

You can also whip up a simple paste to remove any stubborn stains or dirt with just two ingredients: baking soda and tap water.

You can use just the baking soda paste or do a vinegar wash first. It’s a super easy process—just follow these steps:

  1. Rinse your pot thoroughly, either with clear water or a vinegar solution.
  2. Make a paste of 3 parts baking soda and 1 part water.
  3. Rub the paste on any stains or dirty spots.
  4. Scrub away with a damp sponge, and then rinse again.
  5. Let pots air-dry completely.

How to Clean Plastic Pots

A set of colorful pots with plants in them; a small pink pot on a table with a leafy plant
The HC Companies/TSRKA

If you have plastic pots for your plants, you’ll want to clean and disinfect them just as you would clay planters. Plastic tends to have some of the same problems as clay pots. Everything from insect eggs, mold spores, and salt can build up on plastic pots, and impede the growth of anything new you plant in them.

Whether your plastic pots are on the small side, or not, the same general process will work for both.

Follow these steps to clean your plastic pots:

  1. Shake any remaining soil or other debris out of your pots.
  2. Rinse them thoroughly with clear water.
  3. Prepare a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts room-temperature water.
  4. Fully submerge pots and let them soak for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Wash with warm, soapy water, and then rinse again with clear water.
  6. Let pots air-dry completely.

There’s no need to spend the extra cash on brand-new garden pots and planters every year. With these easy tips and a few products you probably already have in your pantry, you can clean and reuse your favorite pots, year after year.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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