How To Maintain A Hydroponic System: Easy Flushing And Cleaning Strategies

Hydroponics or gardening without soil systems is often a little more difficult to maintain than soil-based gardens. The difficulty is increased when you don't know what you're doing, which is why it's important to have some guidance on how to maintain your hydroponic system.

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Here, we provide some helpful tips on how to maintain a hydroponic system and your hydroponic nutrient reservoir, and how to flush and clean hydroponic reservoir properly so that you can have healthy plants!

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Hydroponic Reservoir Maintenance: Step-By-Step Guide

Wondering how to maintain a hydroponic system? Depending on how much time and effort you are willing to spend to maintain a hydroponic system, you can either chose-

  • Easy (set-and-forget) system requiring little effort. For this, hydroponics systems such as Kratky method and Floating raft hydroponics are useful.

  • Moderately easy systems that require some effort such as Nutrient Film Technique and Ebb and Flow hydroponics system.

But remember, there may be a trade-off between your management effort and your yield!

How To Maintain A Hydroponic Nutrient Solution?

For those who chose easy set-and forget system of hydroponics, you can chose easy-systems such as floating raft technique.

  • In this method, you just have to follow the dosage on the fertilizer packet/bottle to build your reservoir. It is better to use clean and deionized water for dissolving your fertilizer.

  • For the best results, adjust the pH if it is far outside of the target range, or if you don't have a pH meter, skip this step.

  • Allow the crop to grow until it is ready to harvest or until the water level is too low for plants to access the nutrient solution.

  • This method works fantastically for leafy greens in floating raft systems, and may work well with other plant types too.

  • You may use this method for fruiting crops with long growth cycles such as tomato, cucumber, pepper, etc as long as they have a large enough reservoir to feed all the growing plants in the system.

  • However, for best results with fruiting crops, you need to put into some time and effort for a better harvest!
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If you have more time and money to invest you can set up a more advanced, moderately difficult hydroponic system, such as Nutrient Film Technique.

You will need a few tools such as EC meter (electrical conductivity meter), a measuring cup, a pH meter along with acid (pH down) and base (pH up) and a pipette, in addition to the hydroponic fertilizer.

  • First, take your reservoir and fill it, wilt some water and measure the starting EC.

  • Then mix your dry fertilizers with clean deionized water in a separate container.

  • Make sure the fertilizer is fully dissolved before adding it to the reservoir.

  • Once you add your fertilizer to the reservoir, stir by hand (or use a pump) and let it settle, and measure the EC again.

  • Start adding fertilizer with small increments at a time so that you don't over fertilizer your plants.

  • Keep adding fertilizer mix till you reach your target EC. Remember that each crop has their own EC requirement, so check the EC- crop chart before setting your EC!

  • Now, measure the pH using pH meter using acid (pH up) and base (pH down). Add a few drops at a time and mix the solution well before measuring each time until you reach the desired pH.

Read more about how to build your own nutrient film technique at home?

How Often To Change Hydroponic Nutrient Solution?

  • Change out your nutrient solution at least once per 2-3 week. This will keep the salt levels in check and prevent algae growths on reservoir or other surfaces of containers that are exposed to sunlight, which will help to maintain a hydroponic system better.

  • The frequency may vary depending upon how much crop density you have or the crop age, but a regular change is the most important step you can take to maintain a hydroponic system.

  • Measure EC and pH before changing out your nutrient solution to determine how much water changes are needed for that week/month of crop production or age of the plant (older crops require more frequent attention).

How To Clean Hydroponic System?

Let's look more at hydroponic reservoir maintenance

  • Your reservoir should be cleaned with a non-toxic cleaner. Cleaning the system with a solution of water and vinegar is often preferred in a simple home hydroponic system. This will prevent the accumulation of algae and bacteria, as well as disinfect the surface.

  • A scrub brush and some liquid dish soap will take care of stubborn buildups. It is the easiest and safest approach to clean your hydroponic garden.

  • Ethanol (70%, household), bleach (0.5-1 ounce per gallon of water), or hydrogen peroxide (3-5%) can also be used for cleaning a hydroponic system.

  • Be sure to rinse your reservoir with fresh water after washing! Make certain that it is completely dry before reusing it.

  • Keep your water reservoir clean and free of debris.

  • Clean your pump as per manufacturer's instructions and change any filters that are worn or dirty at their recommended intervals (usually monthly). For example, if you have a filter with an activated charcoal membrane and it gets clogged up by organic debris from plant material, then replace this type of component regularly.
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Flushing Hydroponic System

Flushing is removing old, used nutrients and water from your hydroponic system and replacing it with fresh water before adding fertilizer.

Flushing helps to remove any old media that may have built upon them from a previous crop or plant (this can harbor bacteria and fungus).

Flushing will also help dislodge salt deposits that accumulate around fittings, valves, etc.

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How Often To Flush Hydroponic System?

The frequency of flushing depends on many factors, including crop, environment, system, fertilizer, and water quality.

  • A system should be flushed with fresh water weekly (or few weeks depending on what you are growing). Most gardeners find success flush their systems out weekly.

  • After the system is flushed, it should be drained and refilled with fresh water.

  • If you want, you can also use your flushed out nutrient solution to water your potted plants, vegetables, and lawn.

Checking For Leaks Or Clogs In The Pipes And Fix Them If Necessary

To maintain a hydroponic system well, it is important to check the leaks or clogs in the pipes regularly.

  • Pipe leaks or clogs can be detected by looking for water dripping from one side of the pipe and not out other end.

  • If there are leaks, replace washers if necessary (usually located at joints).

  • Cleaning of pipes is similar to house plumbing in that it should happen when they're free flowing but not when water is being used.
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Monitoring pH Levels Regularly

Are you wondering what is the best pH for hydroponics?

  • The optimal pH for most hydroponic systems is 6.5 and should be between 5-8 in order to not damage plants' roots.

  • You can adjust pH levels of hydroponic nutrients using pH up and pH down solutions available in the stores. Follow the directions in the label before you use it.
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How Often To Replace Any Lost Water Due To Evaporation in Hydroponics?

  • A 40-gallon reservoir loses about five gallons per day, primarily due to plant transpiration and direct evaporation from the reservoir. The rate of this evapotranspiration depends mainly on how much sun your plants get and how old your crops are.

  • You should constantly check your reservoir to make sure your plants are not drying because of severe water loss!
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How To Get Rid of Algae Growth In Hydroponics?

Algae growth is common in hydroponics systems and can be harmful to your plants. Thus controlling algal growth is important to maintain a hydroponic system.

  • To keep the algae under control, scrub down any areas that are covered by it with a good algaecide or bleach solution every week (or more often if necessary).

  • Also, use transparent reservoir or paint your reservoir with opaque paints to minimize light entering your reservoir, which may help to keep algal growth in your reservoir under control.

  • You may also have success using an air stone which provides good aeration, which also helps to keep algal growth under check.

Read more about how to control pests in hydroponic system?

How to Maintain Hydroponic Lighting Schedule?

  • It is better to use a timer to control when lights turn on and off. This will help make sure your plants are getting the right amount of light, as well provide consistency in their environment, improving your overall plant health!

  • An automatic timer is an easy solution for turning lights on and off in your hydroponic setting

  • You can buy timers from most major hardware stores. On newer systems, timers will often come pre-installed with the system and simply need to be set at your desired time, which makes it easy to maintain a hydroponic system.

Read more about best LED clip on grow lights for plants.

Keeping A Log Of What You Do To Better Maintain A Hydroponic System

The data in the logbook will help ensure that everything is done and allow for an easier time identifying any problems which might arise from not having taken care at the right time! Maintaining a log of what you do is a key to maintain a hydroponic system.

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  • You can use this as your own personal record-keeping, but it's also useful when providing documentation to others if needed!

  • If you have a system that has more than one timer set, keep track of the different settings and make notes about what they are for!

We hope this blog post will help you maintain a hydroponic system at your homes so that your plants grow healthy!

Read more about common problems associated with hydroponics and how to solve them?


How to maintain nutrient reservoir?

The reservoir should be flushed periodically to remove any buildup of unwanted particles which might clog up your system's pump or filtration systems. Hydroponic reservoir maintenance is the key to maintain a hydroponic system and a successful hydroponic gardening!

How often should I change my hydroponic reservoir?

If you are wondering how often to change hydroponic nutrient solution, it depends on which hydroponic system you are using and which plant you are growing, plant age etc. Generally speaking, you should change the water every 2-3 weeks. However, if your system has been running for over a month with no issues and there are no signs of algae or bacterial growths, and your plants are not too big, then it's alright to wait longer than two weeks between changes.

How big of a reservoir to use for hydroponics?

A typical hydroponic system reservoir is about 2.5 gallons for large plants, 1.5 gallons for medium plants, and 0.5 gallons for small plants. However, if you grow multiple plants in a large pot with plenty of root space then your needs might be higher and so the size will need to increase as well. The amount of water that should go into the hydroponic nutrient tank depends on what type of plant you are growing.

How do you sterilize a hydroponic system?

You can use regular cleaning agents such as hydrogen peroxide (preferably food grade), bleach, degreaser agent, etc for general sanitization. You can use these to sterilize your nutrient reservoir and then flush it out, wash it and fill with new nutrients. If you do not have too much bacterial/fungal infestation, then vinegar is good as well. It's NOT a good idea to use these when you have plants in your system, as these may kill your plants! For sterilizing scissors, pruners etc 70% ethanol may be used. A good sanitation and sterilization is important to maintain a hydroponic system.

How do you maintain pH balance in hydroponics?

You will need to regularly monitor pH in your system so that it stays in the range (within 5 - 8). You can use pH down and pH up solutions depending on whether your pH is high or low, respectively.

How do you take care of a hydroponic plant?

Check your nutrient levels regularly. You can add nutrients if you spot nutrient deficiency in your plants. You may need to replace old water with fresh water, as the buildup of salts and minerals could kill your plants over time. Regularly clean and flush to better maintain a hydroponic system.

Is tap water OK for hydroponics?

It's desirable to use deionized water, as it does not have any chlorine or salt contaminants. Tap water usually contains chlorine and other salts, not the best idea to maintain a hydroponic system.

Is algae bad for hydroponics?

Yes, algae may use up nutrients in your reservoir, which may cause a nutritional deficiency in your plants. The growth of algae also reduces dissolved nutrients in your system and clogs pipes. Thus getting rid of algae is important to maintain a hydroponic system.

How do you remove algae from a hydroponic system?

Clear the roots out of the system and wash it if it has algae growing on them. If you have little to moderate algae in your nutrient reservoir, then you can use hydrogen peroxide (dilute it to 1:10 in water before using it). Change your nutrient solution and fill it up with new fresh nutrients, if is there is too much algae growing in there. Preventing light from hitting your nutrient reservoir (such as by using an opaque reservoir) will also help reduce algal growth in your nutrient.

What causes pH to rise in hydroponics?

The hydroponic nutrient is acidic (have low pH), so obviously when your plants consume this nutrient, you are likely to see a rise in pH, as the plants are feeding regularly! Mixing hard water with nutrient solution, the temperature of the reservoir, etc may also cause a pH rise in hydroponics.

How long does hydroponic solution last?

It is better to change hydroponic solution once every 2-3 weeks but it depends on the size of your hydroponics, types of plants you have, plant age, etc.

Is there a possibility of cleaning a hydroponic system with vinegar?

Yes, you can clean your hydroponics with vinegar. But it is good to use it when you do not have plants in your system!

Can you use vinegar to lower pH in hydroponics?

Yes, but vinegar is weekly acidic in nature so this does not provide long-term benefit. Using hydroponic grade pH up and pH down is better to maintain a hydroponic system!

How to clean salt build-up in hydroponics?

Clean salt builds up in your hydroponics by maintaining pH regularly so that the plants are feeding well and excess salt is not being built up in your system. Using vinegar, regularly flushing the system, and occasionally scrubbing pots or reservoirs will be useful to maintain a hydroponic system.

Hydroponics 101 For Beginners

The ultimate starter guide to start your own hydroponic garden.
Get My Free Guide!
Written by AgFunnel

AgFunnel is the only hydroponics and home gardening website that helps you become proficient in growing plants in your own space.

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