A hydroponic greenhouse can afford you so many advantages. You can easily grow certain annual food crops like spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, culinary herbs, and so much more with ease during any season of the year. Still, you’ll see a common theme with plants like these: it’s incredibly important they are grown, irrigated, and harvested in a way that is food safe for consumers, especially where so much water use and quality is involved.
While some may think hydroponics produces “safer” food without all the soil and dirt, this is not automatically the case. Safe hydroponic food requires a clean system devoid of pathogens to be truly safe or better in this way at all— and that doesn’t mean just safety for the consumer, but for the health of the plants themselves, too.
Despite there being plenty expensive branded and marketed products for hydroponic cleaning, the best cleaning products for food sanitation and safety in a hydroponic greenhouse are quite simple and cheap everyday products. Some of them may already be sitting right under your kitchen sink!
You can easily purchase these at just about any grocery store, hardware store, or pharmacy— no need to buy expensive branded products online or make a specialty store trip for anything other than deep cleaning or specific problems.
Here are some of the best simple products for keeping your hydroponic greenhouse setup clean, safe, and sanitized (and sterilized as well). Important note: do not casually mix any of the following chemical products! These can have dangerous interactions that can harm your health, the health of your plants, or even the integrity of your hydroponics setup. Research before you combine any cleaning products.
Of all cleaning products for food sanitation and safety, growers will say hydrogen peroxide is a must-have. Nothing fancy, this product will nevertheless do most of your sanitizing and sterilization work for you.
Just be sure to purchase only a food-grade hydrogen peroxide product (acetanilide free) for the safety of yourself, your consumers, and your plants. You’re most likely to find only full strength (35%) hydrogen peroxide under the food grade category; and if that’s the case, you’ll need to dilute it with water before use.
When used properly (be sure to wear gloves!) hydrogen peroxide can be a surface cleaner, diluted and run through the system itself (yes, even while plants are growing), and used to clean drains, valves, filters, pipes, and lots of other components to keep things sanitized on a regular basis. It can be used when there is a need for deep cleaning and sterilization, too.
Mineral buildup (such as salt) is bound to be an issue in hydroponics. Hard water rich in calcium, such as in rural areas, can become a problem too— it can gum up valves, tubing, nozzles, and all sorts of hydroponic gear (and if you’re not careful, can even break parts of your system, too).
Vinegar is one of the best solutions for this. It’s cheap, accessible, safe, and very good at dissolving minerals and hard water of all kinds. It also has some moderate sanitizing and antimicrobial properties, and it’s all natural (even organic), making a dilute form of it okay for cleaning of surfaces and equipment (though some growers may not like the smell).
A vinegar solution, diluted or undiluted, can be run through a hydroponics system to clean out some of the buildup over time. Just be absolutely sure to do this deep cleaning process while crop production is absent as the vinegar will surely harm your plants.
Second to none save hydrogen peroxide, a lot of your sanitizing and sterilization can be done with the help of bleach. There’s a big difference between bleach and hydrogen peroxide, though: you can place extremely dilute amounts of the latter to help sanitize and maintain a running system with plants, while bleach will harm plants and should only be used to clean the system when no crops are growing. The more in contact the equipment is with your plants, the better it is to use hydrogen peroxide, and not bleach.
That said, bleach will kill some pathogens that hydrogen peroxide will not. Between rounds of crops it’s recommended to switch from hydrogen peroxide to bleach for a clean or even deep clean sterilization to make sure all microbes and pathogens are thoroughly kept at bay. Deep sterilization can be accomplished by soaking equipment and components in a dilute bleach solution, which only need a rinse or two before being safe to use again.
Just like all these simple products, bleach is cheap, affordable, and easy to use. Be sure to purchase only an unscented type— added scents are chemical in nature and are definitely not food safe.
Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol)
This is the go-to surface cleaner of most thrifty growers in the hydroponics and greenhouse spheres. It can be used in dilute or concentrated form not just to clean hydroponic equipment itself, but also other possible contaminant surfaces and equipment that could get into the system: shelving, lighting, glass, walls, tools, etc.
It cannot be used in the system itself, unfortunately. But, if you would like to dodge pricey horticultural, hydroponic, and greenhouse-focused products, rubbing alcohol does the trick and saves you money for both sanitization and sterilization needs.
Glass or Window Cleaners
In a pinch, glass or window cleaner can be an excellent product for a quick clean. It’s better for maintenance and sanitization than for sterilization since glass cleaner’s antimicrobial properties aren’t strong enough for a deep clean. This cleaning product doesn’t remove grease or residue, either.
This is why most growers will prefer isopropyl alcohol for surface and equipment cleaning (especially for light bulbs and other glass equipment)— it leaves behind no residues. While this may seem harmless to overlook, residue removal is imperative to keeping down the reintroduction of disease, pathogens, and even some insect pests into your hydroponic greenhouse. For instances of little residue, however, window cleaner is easy to grab and use for a quick regular wipe down.
Running a highly sophisticated hydroponic system in a greenhouse doesn’t mean you need to break the bank. Some of the best cleaning products for food sanitation and safety in a hydroponic greenhouse are incredibly affordable, simple, and widely used in the industry— and it’s only when growers run into bigger problems with sanitation, sterilization, severe buildup, or related problems that they should turn to more expensive commercial products and bring in the “big guns.”