Beginners Guide for How to Clean LECA Balls for First Use
Have you ever wanted to try using those reddish-brown balls you see in glass containers for houseplants? They are called LECA balls, and we’ll show you how to clean them so you can utilize them in your next gardening project.
Gardening is one of those hobbies where there is always something new to learn.
Once you have mastered one growing technique (like growing plants and vegetables in soil), you soon discover new growing techniques and methods.
LECA balls are a soilless technique for cultivating indoor plants and seedlings.
You often see these clay balls used in glass vases because they have properties that can sustain plant roots; LECA balls have plenty of air pockets and can retain moisture.
We came across LECA balls because we needed a soilless method for growing seedlings for our Aeroponic system (also a soilless growing system). And LECA presented us with the perfect solution.
But when we received our LECA clay balls, they were covered in dust particles and clearly needed to be washed. So we had a bit of work to do before we could use them for our aeroponic system.
Here are the steps we took on How to Clean LECA Balls for their first use.
How to Clean LECA Balls Fresh Out of the Package
As we discovered, freshly made LECA balls (that have not been used previously) will have plenty of clay dust particles that can leave you an unwanted residue if not removed.
The clay particles and dust are created as the balls knock into each other during transportation. Since clay is a porous material that easily crumbles, it isn’t hard to understand why you end up with a sizeable amount of particles distributed throughout your newly acquired LECA balls.
1. Gently place LECA balls into Heatproof Container
We think it is important to note that there is an emphasis on the word ‘gently.’
We already explained that the dust particles are created by the balls bumping into each other. So we need to do everything that we can to minimize this from happening.
Place your LECA balls into a heatproof container. The reason why we are using a heatproof container is that in the following steps, we are going to be using boiling water.
2. Submerse Your LECA in Boiling Water
Boil some water (we used a kettle) and cover the LECA balls with hot water.
The idea behind boiling water is to sterilize the balls from unwanted bacteria, fungi, or pests.
The chances of any hitchhikers are slim. Since, in theory, the balls should be coming directly from the kiln. However, since we are already washing and soaking the balls, utilizing boiling water as part of the process will reassure us that we are killing off anything coming along for the ride.
Leave the balls to soak for 60 minutes.
3. Rinse and Repeat
After your LECA balls have been allowed to soak, you will notice your water become a murky color with a layer of sediment settled on the bottom of the container.
Dispose of the water and sediment, and rinse your LECA balls to dislodge any remaining dust.
Submerse your LECA balls in water once again, only this time you can use cold water directly from the tap and leave it to soak for a further 30 minutes.
Repeat this step until you are confident the LECA balls are clean and the water remains clear after the soak.
4 Dry Your LECA Balls
After you have soaked your LECA, rinse the balls under tap water and allow them to dry in the sun.
We skipped the drying step because we used the LECA in our aeroponics system, which means they are suspended in air (not water). And we wanted them fully saturated to keep our seedlings moist and happy.
What are LECA Balls?
Now that you know how to clean LECA, let’s learn what makes them special.
LECA stands for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate.
Because that is a mouthful, it also goes by other names, such as:
- hydroton balls,
- clay pebbles, or simply
- LECA (pronounced ‘leh-cuh’) for short.
Many folks in the gardening world love LECA because it possesses two main properties which make it ideal for sustaining and cultivating plants; aeration and water retention.
Since clay is an organic material, it is perfectly suitable for gardening and eco-friendly.
Plus, as the clay is baked in a kiln at extremely high temperatures, it retains enough structure to support the root system.
One drawback of using LECA is that it has no natural minerals or nutrients. Which means it requires additional fertilizer to support plant life.
How does LECA work?
While the clay is baked in a rotary kiln, it breaks down into small clay balls that expand and harden. Tiny air pockets are distributed throughout the balls as the clay expands during the firing process.
These air pockets provide the perfect aeration and deliver oxygen to a plant’s roots.
Clay is naturally a porous material. This enables water to pass through the material (unlike other synthetic materials such as plastic). As the water passes through, it retains moisture and can feed nourishment for a plant to absorb while it grows.
Do I have to Boil LECA each time?
If you have been doing the rounds online, you may have seen resources suggesting boiling the hydroton balls to clean them.
We chose NOT to boil our clay pebbles because they were fresh out of the package and previously had not been used with plants. Using boiling water to soak the LECA balls was sufficient to kill any unwanted pests.
However, we recommend you boil your LECA if you want to reuse them after utilizing them for a previous gardening project. Boiling your hydroton will eliminate any fungi, mold, or bacteria that may have grown while sustaining your previous plants.
Always boil your LECA if you are reusing it for another garden project.
You can use the steps described above in the How to Clean LECA process. However, each time you soak your LECA, make sure you boil them, so the water has a rolling boil. Then allow them to cool.
How to Clean Clay Pebbles – Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have to soak LECA balls?
Soaking the clay pebbles helps to saturate the LECA and expand them, ready to be used for your plants. It is also helpful to help flush out dust or small particles hiding in the balls’ air pockets.
Do you need to boil LECA before use?
If you are using LECA fresh from the manufacturer, we don’t believe it is necessary to boil it before use. However, if you are reusing your clay pebbles from a previous garden project, please boil your LECA to sterilize them from any bacteria or mold, seeking refuge within the clay pebbles.
Do you fill LECA with water?
LECA has excellent water-retaining properties. However, whether you fill it with water will depend on the purpose for which you intend to use it. We like to saturate our LECA before we use it with our seedlings for our aeroponic gardening system.
However, if you use LECA in combination with soil, you may choose not to fill it with water because it may release too much water and create soggy soil.
How do you sterilize LECA balls?
Boiling your LECA balls BEFORE using them will sterilize and eliminate any pests and diseases attached to your clay pebbles.
Can I reuse LECA balls?
Absolutely, YES. That is a big part of the appeal of LECA balls. They are organic material that is sustainable and eco-friendly. Make sure you boil your hydroton balls BEFORE reusing them with your future garden projects.