Do I really have to clean my used plant pots?

Reusing pots are good for the environment and will save you money in the long run. But is it necessary to clean pots before reusing them in the garden?

Not really. And this is based on years of gardening. Still, I do clean some pots. You guessed it; there are always exceptions to the rule.

Read on to learn my simple-to-follow rules for when and how to clean used pot plants.

Quick facts: 
No, you do not have to, but a quick clean before using your pots again can elimate some potential problems. From my experience, cleaning your dirty pots with a brush, hot water, and organic soap is enough and pretty easy and painless. 
I have never seen the need to introduce hydrogen peroxide, bleach, or other strong disinfectants into my growing environment.
And from my experience, even if you forget, you are most likely going to be just fine.

When to clean pots

I use my hands and a garden spade to remove old dirt and debris from most used pots. Water helps get the job done if the old soil is compact and hard to remove.

But if the plant was home to a diseased plant, I always put it aside for proper cleaning.

I also tend to grow cherry tomatoes, habanero peppers, eggplants, and other vegetables in the same pots and containers every year. I get to know the pots, and this helps me achieve better results.

And to be honest, most times, I grab a pot and, following a quick ocular inspection, I give it a quick clean and use it again.

Most plant pots are actually quick and easy to clean
Most plant pots are easy and quick to clean

And as I garden in zone 7, I have winter on my side. Freezing temperature help kill off unwanted fungi or bacteria.

Make sure pots made from porous materials are dry before placing them outdoors over winter. Freezing temperatures can cause pots to crack and break.

How to clean plant pots (when they do need a cleaning)

I have broken down my pot cleaning process into 6 easy-to-follow steps.

I complete all 6 steps at the end of the growing season to have fresh, clean pots for the next season. But often, especially during the growing season, I stop after step 3.

1. Remove dirt and debris

Start by removing all easy-to-remove leftover soil, debris, and other buildups like spiderwebs.

2. Soak pots in large containers

Next, use a garden hose to fill a large container with water. Place pots inside and make sure each pot is loose or unstacked.

3. Clean the pots with a brush

Use a stiff-bristled brush to remove any unwanted buildups of mold, mildew, or algae.
Steel wool can help get the job done if you face problem areas.

4. Soak in hot water

Move inside and soak your pots in hot water. Add a mild organic soap if you want.

5. Rinse the pots

Use your garden hose to rinse your pots outdoors. If you add soap to your water, be prepared to spend a few extra minutes rinsing to remove all soap residue.

6. Dry and stack pots

Dry your pots before you stack and store them in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Three good reasons to look after and clean plant pots

As a gardener, you should clean and reuse your plant pots for a least one of the following reasons.

  1. The environment:
    Cleaning and reusing pots is a more sustainable form of gardening. Be a part of the solution, resist the urge to buy, and instead take care of and reuse what you already have.
  2. Plant health:
    Many plant diseases, such as root rot and bacterial blight, are caused by fungi or bacteria that can survive in the soil or on the surface of pots. And if the diseases are present in a pot, they can spread to new plants in the garden through water, wind, or physical contact.
  3. Vanity:
    Looking after your pots will make them last longer and look more attractive. Many materials develop a patina that in itself adds character to any garden.

Do I have to use bleach or hydrogen peroxide?

Conventional gardening wisdom often preaches the need to disinfect your pots and containers with diluted water and bleach solutions or hydrogen peroxide.

And yes, I have tried both methods in the past.

But from my experience, it brings no extra measurable benefits and makes the process longer and more time-consuming.

Why do I take a relaxed stance on cleaning plant pots?

Home gardeners come in all shapes and forms.

On the one side, we have gardeners who measure soil pH levels and buy specialty soil mixes for each specific plant. On the other side, we find happy-go-lucky gardeners who plant seeds, add water and wait for nature’s miracle.

I place myself firmly in the middle. I don’t do everything I have learned from my training.


Experience has taught me that some activities are a lot of work with no visible benefit. And how I clean my pots is one of these areas.

My garden is ever-growing, and I use existing and brand-new pots every growing season. And you probably guessed it. My used quickly-cleaned plant pots perform just as well as the new pots.

I guess you could call me a bit lazy. But why create extra work?

Some of the plant pots that I use
These are just some of the plant pots I would have to clean.


Meet the author: Sarah is a freelance copywriter passionate about gardening - particularly creating kitchen gardens with fruits, vegetables, and edible perennials. She has a professional background in the travel industry and now combines her interests with her writing skills to contribute articles on travel and horticultural topics for publication across the internet.