How to Store Potting Soil and Not Make a Mess Filling Trays

Properly storing extra potting soil will significantly decrease the chances of a fungus gnat infestation and mold growth. A suitable storage container will also make it easier to fill microgreen trays and cell trays for garden sets, and re-potting house plants.

The best way to store potting soil is to place it immediately into a sturdy, stackable container with a lid that securely fastens but is not air-tight. By immediately, we mean as soon as you get home and before you fill a container with soil.

In this article and video, we will show you how to store potting soil and explain the following:

  • What makes a suitable storage container?
  • How to store potting soil.
  • Why the lid should not be air-tight.
  • How to fill plant containers without making a mess or cleaning up afterward.
storing potting soil in a contaner

How to Store Potting Soil the Wrong Way

I’m sure many of you are asking why not store it in the original bag.

It is true that storing potting soil in the original bag takes up less room and doesn’t require spending any additional money. However, many things can go wrong, and a storage container has other advantages.

First, what can go wrong?

If you look closely at the bag, you might notice a series of tiny round holes in the bag. This isn’t always the case. As you will see in the video, the bag of soil I used didn’t have holes. But, more often than not, there is a line of holes up either side.

The holes allow the soil to adjust to changing atmospheric conditions. Varying temperature and humidity levels can cause condensation in the bag and wet the soil.

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Wet soil will eventually become moldy. 

Besides allowing the soil to breathe, the holes are there to protect the bag’s integrity. Bags of soil are often displayed in the garden centers in large stacks.

If air doesn’t escape when the soil is compacted, the bags will split at the seams. The holes allow air to escape from the bags on the bottom of the stack.

What is So Bad About Soil Bags

The holes in soil bags let dust and small soil particles escape. You’d be surprised how much soil falls out of these holes, especially when the soil dries out.

The holes can also allow insects, such as fungus gnats, to enter the soil bags and lay eggs. 

Recently, I’ve noticed that many of the 8-quart soil bags now have zip lock closures on the bags. You’d think this is a great idea, and it is if you want to store soil in bags. However, when you go to fill a container from the bag, soil catches on the zip lock and also makes the opening to the bag smaller. 

When you scoop soil out of the bag, the scoop catches on the small opening, and you end up spilling soil. Or, if you pour the soil out of the bag, some soil is trapped outside the zip lock mechanism, and when you close the bag, the trapped soil spills out.

Whether a soil bag has a zip closure or not, soil bags can open when stored in a closet or in the garage and eventually get tipped over, spilling the contents.

Bags can also easily get punctured, or when something heavy is dropped on them, the bag splits open and dumps the soil where you don’t want it.

I’ve spilled soil out of bags in all ways possible. It’s inevitable to happen.

How to Store Potting Soil Without a Mess

Yes, it can be done.

In the video below, I show you how to store potting soil so it doesn’t spill and how to fill containers with soil without making a mess.  

How to Store Potting Soil Video

Step One – Get a Proper Container

The best soil storage containers are made from heavy-duty plastic and have a locking lid that allows air exchange.

Heavy-duty storage containers, sometimes called totes, can be found at hardware stores, often at very low prices.

storing potting soil

Heavy-duty totes are made by companies like Husky, and each home improvement box store has its own brand of totes. We usually get the HDX (Home Depot), Commander (Lowes), or Homz Durabilt (Ace) brands, as all are good.

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If you plan on shopping online, you often have to buy in quantity because of the shipping costs.

Potting Soil Container Sizes

Below are our recommended sizes of totes.

  • 8-quart potting soil bag. Use a 5-gallon tote.
  • 1 cubic-foot potting soil bag or up to three 8-quart bags. Use a 12-gallon tote.
  • 1.5- to 2-cubic-foot potting soil bag or up to six 8-quart bags. Use a 17-gallon tote.

Any tote larger than 17 gallons becomes very heavy to lift. We don’t recommend a larger tote unless the tote is in a permanent location or secured on rolling dollies.

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storing extra potting soil

We Don’t Recommend the Following Storage Containers

Sterilite™ or Rubbermaid™ containers seem a good choice, as they are lighter and less expensive than heavy-duty totes. 

However, we have had Sterilite™ containers shatter. Twice, I dropped one on the bottom corner of the container, and the second broke into large jagged pieces when I set it down, most likely because sunlight broke down the plastic. 

Another reason is the opaqueness.

Rubbermaid™ containers are a bit better. They won’t shatter, but they will bend, and if hit hard enough, the cover will come off. We use Rubbermaid™ containers to mix soil in small batches or add water for soil blocking

The bottom of these containers is smoother, allowing the soil to mix better and easier to clean out if the soil is wet. 

I have also dropped a Rubbermaid™ container, and the lid didn’t stay on. The handles on Heavy-duty totes are more pronounced and harder to slip out of your fingers if you knock the container against something. 

Step 2 – Why Chance It?

Even though it’s possible to dump a bag of soil into a tote and not make a mess, why chance it?

Spread out a towel or newspaper to catch any soil that falls. Or move the operation to the garage or patio and place the soil bag and tote right next to each other. 

dont make a mess with potting soil

Do I do this?

Not! Only for the video.

If you’re careful, no soil will spill.

Step 3 – Cut the Bag Open Past the Gills

The surest way to make a mess with potting soil is to cut off a corner of the bag and try a controlled transfer.

This almost always ends up in a mess.

The soil will get stuck in the bag and spill out when you lift the bag. Or, the soil rushes out, causing a lot of dust. 

The best way is to gently bounce the bag so the soil settles to the bottom of the bag and then use a knife or scissors to cut the whole top (including any zip-lock mechanism) off.

opening a potting soil bag

Don’t leave any corners or folds for soil to get trapped in.  

Step 4 – Carefully Fold the Top of the Bag and Grab It Well

Once the sealed portion of the bag has been removed, carefully fold the top of the bag closed – a half an inch for small bags, an inch or two for larger bags. 

storing potting soil

Next, grab the folded portion of the bag with your hand and hold it together well. If you have a lot of slack in the bag, slowly lower your hand down to the top of the soil to help support the fold. 

Then, put your free hand under the soil bag and prepare to lift it.

Step 5 – Lift and Invert the Bag Into the Tote

I know these steps seem logical, but you’d be surprised. 

Lift the bag from the bottom and keep pressure on the open portion of the bag and the soil. Invert the bag into the tote so that the hand holding the top closed is between the tote bottom and the soil bag.

Support the upside-down bag and then remove the hand holding the bag closed.

how to store potting soil

No soil has come out of the bag yet. The fold is holding it in.

Step 6 – Grab the Folds On the Bottom of the Bag

I usually place my thumbs in the bottom folds and wrap my fingers around the sides of the bag.

Then slowly, lift the bag until the soil falls into the tote.

Slowly and gently lift the bag upwards, allowing the soil to funnel into the bottom of the tote.

storing potting soil

If the soil level gets near the top of the tote, support the bag with one hand and push the soil into the corners of the tote.

Now you have room for the rest of the soil.

Continue to lift until the top of the bag is free – but don’t lift it completely out of the tote. 

Gently tap and wiggle the bag while making sure your hands holding the bag aren’t pinching soil. 

Step 7 – Removing the Bag From the Tote

When you believe all of the soil is out of the bag (it probably isn’t, as dust will be left), lower and, at the same time, fold the top of the bag against the soil. 

Use your fingers to grab the fold, close the top of the bag tightly, and place it in the trash.


Now you can put the lid on the tote. 

Note* We don’t want a lid that seals the tote tightly. Rubbermaid totes will sometimes do this. We need the soil to breathe as the humidity and temperatures change. Otherwise, condensation could accumulate and cause mold to form.

Filling Microgreen Trays & Plant Pots Without a Mess

The second part of the video shows how to fill microgreen trays and other containers from the soil tote without making a mess. 

I fill 20 to 50 trays a week and make no mess when filling trays with potting soil. 

The video discusses the different ways to fill trays and not spill soil. 

Filling Step 1 – Find a Tray or Plastic Box

Using a tray with sides or a plastic box like a kitty litter pan is key to keeping things mess-free.

You can find trays like these at dollar stores, Amazon, restaurants, or farmer’s markets.

The white tray in the video held fresh fish from the market. A restaurant gave it to me for free. 

It doesn’t matter where it’s from; the important point is that the microgreen trays you want to fill will fit inside.

tray to fill microgreen trays

Also, a smooth bottom helps as the extra soil will be dumped back into the soil tote. 

Plastic trays work best. Don’t use a cardboard box as they absorb moisture; the flaps on the bottom will hold on to the soil and make a mess when you dump it back into the storage tote.

My favorite tray is a pizza dough tray. These work great as secondary containment trays. I also use them when I plant garden sets in solo cups. They are a great investment. You can see them here on Amazon.

Filling Step 2 – Same Setup

If you are worried about spilling soil, place a towel or newspaper down to catch any dust that may drift.

Filling Step 3 – Pull Containers Tight

Pull or push the soil tote and soil tray tight. Ideally, the soil tote will overhang the soil tray. That way, if any soil spills over the top, it will fall into the bottom of the soil tray. 

Filling Step 4 – Don’t Heap the Soil

When you scoop soil out of the soil tote, don’t heap the soil in the scoop or your hands if you are using them.

Heaped soil is unstable and will spill. The more control you have over the soil, the less chance you have of spilling it.

Filling Step 5 – Level and Tamp the Soil in the Tray

When the microgreen tray is full, level the soil off with your hand, and tamp the soil into the tray. 

microgreen soil

Use your fingers to rub extra soil off the top of the microgreen tray.

Place the microgreen tray in the watering tray so the soil doesn’t fall out of the holes in the planting tray, and remove it from the soil tray.

Filling Step 6 – Dump Soil from the Tray to the Soil Tote

Carefully dump any soil that spilled into the tray back into the soil tote and close the top. Tilting the tray at a 45-degree angle and tapping the top will cause the soil to fall to the lower end, which can more easily be dumped into the soil tote.

Not Spilling Soil After Microgreen Tray is Filled

The next opportunity to spill soil comes when you first mist the microgreen tray of soil.

Mist slowly, and don’t spray water hard at first. Once the soil is wet, it can take more water and shouldn’t blow out of the tray.

Don’t Worry About Harvesting

Once the microgreens are growing, the surface of the microgreen tray will be covered with roots, and plants and otherwise be so firm that it won’t spill even when the tray is tipped on its side.

If soil is spilling as you harvest,  then you have other troubles. Take some pictures and email me, and we will take a look.

Where to Store Your Potting Soil

When the potting soil is in a heavy-duty tote, you don’t have to worry too much about spilling it or damaging the tote. So even high traffic areas will be ok.

You want to store the tote where it can’t absorb gasoline fumes, such as in the garage near gasoline cans. The fumes can enter the tote and soil.

Ideally, a warm location is best. Somewhere that isn’t affected by quick temperature swings. 

You don’t have to worry about cold locations if you use the soil quickly and put the tote back in the cold before condensation builds up on the sides of the tote.

If condensation does form, leave the top off and let the extra moisture escape before closing the lid.

Closing Notes About Storing Potting Soil & Not Making a Mess

I realize that the steps outlined above may seem elementary. But I find it amazing how many people think using soil is messy. 

It’s not.

I have nothing against using grow mats for microgreens. But as I said, I make more of a mess with the hemp fiber than with soil as they fly around and cling to my clothes.

I’m hoping the bamboo mats are better (upcoming article).

But more to the point, microgreens grown in fertile potting soil have to be more nutritious than those grown on hemp, bamboo, or any other grow mat media.

I can’t see how it can be otherwise. 

Anyway, I wanted to show you my method of storing potting soil, filling microgreen trays, and not making a mess.


  • Todd

    Todd is the founder of Home Microgreens & the Home Microgreens store. He also writes for several other websites, including MyViewFromTheWoods.com. Todd worked at a large farm market, garden & nursery center for 20 years. Somehow he snuck off to become a geologist and professor before coming back to his senses to write & lecture about microgreens and gardening. When not at the computer, he can be found in the garden, trout stream, or mountain trail with his new Springer Spaniel Caden.

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