Those plastic plant containers typically discarded after planting are great for reusing for seedlings or new plant starts. And ceramic or terra cotta containers are often reused season to season. Your old plant pots and containers are perfect for using time and time again. But did you know that you’re supposed to wash and disinfect the containers before reusing or replanting? Leftover soil and debris can harbor harmful bacteria that can infect otherwise healthy plant. So follow these steps to ensure your next plants stay healthy.

Why you need to wash plant containers

No matter what type of pot or container you have, when you remove a plant the leftover soil, debris or bits of plant material can actually harbor bacteria. Additionally, soil and organic material contain salts, which can build up on your pots and cause discoloration (that whitish cast on your terra cotta pots are actually from salt). Giving your pots and containers a good cleaning at the end of the season, and storing them properly over the winter, will make your spring planting that much easier.

Materials needed

  • pots and containers
  • scrub brush
  • large plastic container or washtub
  • bleach
  • water
  • plastic gloves
  • goggles for eye protection
  • newspaper

Step 1: Empty the pots

If your plants have come to the end of their season, go ahead and empty the container into your compost bin. Instead of composting in a bin, some gardeners reserve a section of their yard for dead or decomposing plants. As long as the plants were healthy, there’s no reason you can’t simply let nature take its course and decompose the organic material. If there is a good amount of healthy potting soil, go ahead and save this in a lidded container for reuse later.

Step 2: Scrub off the dirt

With your dry scrub brush, remove any additional dirt from the containers. You can do this over some newspaper and then transfer it to your compost bin or do this directly over your yard.  Some gardeners actually use an old toothbrush to reach small corners. Removing as much dirt as possible will make the next step easier.

Step 3: Wash and sanitize

Once the pots and containers are empty of soil, you’re ready to disinfect them. If you plan on storing your pots outside for the winter, skip this step until the spring, right before replanting. But if you plan on storing your containers inside, then you can sanitize now. Fill your wash bin with 10 parts water and 1 part chlorinated bleach. Wear protective gloves and goggles in case of splashing. Use your scrub brush and thoroughly wash the inside and out of your containers and pots. Feel free to change the water if it becomes really dirty. Let the pots sit for 10 minutes in the bleach water. If you are disinfecting terra cotta pots, let them sit in clean water (with no bleach) for an additional 10 minutes (terra cotta is porous so you’ll want to rinse out this type of material). Let the containers air dry outside.

How to store your containers

Once dry, plastic containers can be stacked and stored indoors for the winter. They are perfect for starting seedlings in the spring. Ceramic and terra cotta pots can crack easily so try to not stack them if you can. If you need to save room, pad your containers with newspaper so they don’t bump and chip.

Need more weekend project ideas? Look through our monthly maintenance guides for ideas, tips and projects.