Divide & Conquer: The Art and Science of Indoor Grow Sanitation

The Art and Science of Indoor Grow Sanitation

By Derek Scott

     In Dr. Seuss’s children’s book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” a capricious king, bored with the same old rain and snow, orders his magicians to invent something new. They cook up “Oobleck,” a sticky green goo that falls from the sky and contaminates everything it touches.
     Perhaps he got the idea after visiting an indoor cannabis grow.

     While the 700 plants in our grow operation scent the air with their tasty terpenes, they also add sticky resins to airborne dust particles. The air is heated by the lamps and circulated by fans, the resulting resinous Oobleckian sludge descends upon on all exposed surfaces.
In the story, the king only had to utter the words, “I’m sorry,” to make the Oobleck magically disappear. For those of us responsible for keeping a grow hygienic and pest-free, it’s not that easy. We supply The Kind Room, a med/rec dispensary in Denver. One of our jobs is to come up with ways to keep it clean.
     So, it’s time to get all mad scientist-y and brew up some anti-Oobleck potions of our own, using our three favorite cleaning solutions: Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and last but not least, dish detergent.
Some substances in life work the way you expect them to, every time. Isopropyl alcohol (aka iso) is one of those old standbys. It’s cheap, relatively non-toxic, and one of the few things in the world that reliably dissolves cannabis resin. Whether it’s a pair of sticky trim scissors, a skanky old bong or a dusty HPS lamp reflector, iso can help. Using the highest percentage available yields the best results. We buy it by the case; ah, if only it came in a keg with a tap.
Next on the list is hydrogen peroxide. Yup, the same stuff that fizzes as it cleans a wound. Most of the peroxide on the shelf at the drugstore is 3-5%, but for cleaning in the grow, we use the industrial strength, 30-35%. At this concentration it burns like battery acid, which is great for disinfecting surfaces. Also, it degrades into water and oxygen, so it’s safer to use around live plants than, say, bleach. Employees working with peroxide at such a high concentration are advised to take appropriate safety precautions. Care must also be taken with fumes and disposal of the container.
     Sometimes adding suds to the mix can be beneficial. Certain dish detergents can be helpful when cleaning the grow. Blue
     Dawn is said to kill mold better than bleach, which is a good little factoid to know. Palmolive is so-named because it used to contain palm oil and olive oil. It’s a great detergent, if you don’t mind the warehouse smelling like your Grandma’s kitchen.
     Mixing and matching these three humble cleaning solutions for various applications can be fun. I’m sure you’ll come up with your own favorite mad scientist formulas.
     Okay, you’re armed with a bucket full of your “special sauce” and a roll of paper towels or rags. What now? It’s time to unleash your inner OCD. Airborne crud infiltrates virtually everything in the grow, so many items must be disassembled. Fans, lamps, scissors: take ‘em apart. Go at it like a nine-year-old with a power screwdriver in a room full of alarm clocks. Once a piece is deconstructed as much as possible, lather, rinse, repeat, then re-assemble. Rarely is there a problem with being too thorough.
     Of course, some things can’t be opened to be cleaned. For example, the little electric motors that run CD players and cassette players have a lifespan of about one week in our Oobleck-rich environment. At the grow we have a whole closet full of dead boomboxes, useless except for radio function.
     It’s easy to become blind to dirt that accumulates slowly on non-moving surfaces. That drinking water dispenser with the push button controls, for instance; without regular de-gunking, stops working completely. To quote Led Zeppelin, “It’s time to look and look again at what you see. Is that the way it ought to stay?” If the answer is no, don’t continue to ignore it; take appropriate steps.
     The warm temperatures and high humidity of an indoor grow, combined with the constant presence of water and soil, make for a challenging environment. Keeping mold, mildew, pathogens (and more) at bay is an endless process. There are no magic words to rid the grow of pesky Oobleckian grime; only elbow grease and attention to detail will do.
     We’re marketing a product that people (many of whom have health issues) take internally. We have a responsibility to grow the highest quality cannabis under the most aseptic conditions possible. Paying attention to sanitation is worth the effort; the proof will be in the final product, and in repeat business from satisfied customers.

     So, it’s time to get all mad scientist-y and brew up some anti-Oobleck potions of our own, using our three favorite cleaning solutions: Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and last but not least, dish detergent.

     Dawn is said to kill mold better than bleach, which is a good little factoid to know. Palmolive is so-named because it used to contain palm oil and olive oil. It’s a great detergent, if you don’t mind the warehouse smelling like your Grandma’s kitchen.
     Mixing and matching these three humble cleaning solutions for various applications can be fun. I’m sure you’ll come up with your own favorite mad scientist formulas.
     Okay, you’re armed with a bucket full of your “special sauce” and a roll of paper towels or rags. What now? It’s time to unleash your inner OCD. Airborne crud infiltrates virtually everything in the grow, so many items must be disassembled. Fans, lamps, scissors: take ‘em apart. Go at it like a nine-year-old with a power screwdriver in a room full of alarm clocks. Once a piece is deconstructed as much as possible, lather, rinse, repeat, then re-assemble. Rarely is there a problem with being too thorough.
     Of course, some things can’t be opened to be cleaned. For example, the little electric motors that run CD players and cassette players have a lifespan of about one week in our Oobleck-rich environment. At the grow we have a whole closet full of dead boomboxes, useless except for radio function.
     It’s easy to become blind to dirt that accumulates slowly on non-moving surfaces. That drinking water dispenser with the push button controls, for instance; without regular de-gunking, stops working completely. To quote Led Zeppelin, “It’s time to look and look again at what you see. Is that the way it ought to stay?” If the answer is no, don’t continue to ignore it; take appropriate steps.
     The warm temperatures and high humidity of an indoor grow, combined with the constant presence of water and soil, make for a challenging environment. Keeping mold, mildew, pathogens (and more) at bay is an endless process. There are no magic words to rid the grow of pesky Oobleckian grime; only elbow grease and attention to detail will do.
     We’re marketing a product that people (many of whom have health issues) take internally. We have a responsibility to grow the highest quality cannabis under the most aseptic conditions possible. Paying attention to sanitation is worth the effort; the proof will be in the final product, and in repeat business from satisfied customers.

“It’s time to look and look again at what you see. Is that they way it ought to stay?”
~Led Zeppelin