How to handle potting mix safely to minimise health risks

Author: Aaron Chen  Date Posted:30 November 2020 

Potting mix is known to be a combination of organic and inorganic material. It is often kept at a higher temperature comparing with plain soil. It also retains heat for a longer period. With that, harmful bacteria and fungi thrive and grow better in this environment especially when the potting mixes are moist and warm.

To minimise health risks, it is crucial to handle potting mix safely. This blog post is created to educate you about the potential risks of potting mix exposure. On top of that, this guide will also give you valuable information on how to handle it safely. Read on to learn more.

Illnesses that can be contracted from potting mixes

Before discussing proper handling of potting mixes, it is important to learn the possible diseases that can be contracted from potting mix exposure. Here are some of them:

Legionnaire’s disease

This illness is caused by gram-negative bacilli from Legionella species. These species are acquired through inhalation of contaminated aerosols of water or dust. Legionella longbeachae is one of the main causes of Legionnaires’ disease. It is found in the general environment including soil. The ingredients and dampness of potting mix can also be an ideal breeding ground for this bacteria. This causes lung infection or pneumonia.

People who are exposed to this bacteria can develop flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, tiredness, chills, dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and sudden fever.

Pontiac fever

Pontiac fever is an acute and nonfatal respiratory infection that is caused by the exposure to Legionella bacteria. This is known to be a milder version of the Legionnaire’s disease. A person can be infected when they inhaled a mist or vapour that contains the bacteria.

Its symptoms include fever, headaches, chills, muscle pain and restlessness. These symptoms can be noticed around a few hours to 3 days after a person is being exposed to the bacteria. In addition, this infection can last for less than a week.


Tetanus is an illness caused by a toxin of the bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This disease mainly affects the nervous system. It often enters the body through a small wound.

Among the symptoms of tetanus are muscle pain, muscle spasms, swallowing difficulty, convulsions and breathing difficulties. When left unattended, further complications may develop which include cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.

Generally, this type of bacteria can be found in soil, dust and manure. That is why it is important to always wear gloves, sturdy shoes and long clothes when gardening, especially when exposed to potting mix and soil. After handling gardening mixes and tools, hand washing is also essential.

Who are at risk?

People who are at high risk of infection include gardeners, horticulturalists and nursery workers. Moreover, staff who are working with green waste and those who manufacture potting mix and compost should maintain safety measures in their workplaces. This is to reduce the chances of getting the disease. It is also crucial to inform their physician about the nature of work especially when they become sick with a respiratory illness.

How can you be infected?

The possibility of becoming infected with these diseases is very low. It can only pose a higher risk when the micro-organisms that are present in the potting mix are very high in numbers.

To be infected, the bacteria or fungi should be introduced into the body. This happens through various ways. One of the most common means of transmission is through inhalation. This is when someone breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria. Aside from that, transmission can also occur through the skin.

There are many methods where you can protect yourself from these illnesses. One of the most effective ways is basic hygiene. Here is an illustration to understand it better. If someone eats, drinks or smokes immediately after handling potting mix without washing their hands first, then they are at an increased risk of getting the infection.

This means that apart from the direct inhalation, oral intake of micro-organisms through contaminated hands can also be a potential way for the bacteria to enter the body. Thus, before working with potting mixes, it is crucial to know and understand how it should be handled safely.

Safety practices in handling potting mixes

The most effective way to protect workers is to eliminate their exposure to this type of materials. However, this may not always be possible. That is why instead of eliminating the risks, minimising the risk would be the alternative solution.

  • Before working, always check the warning label on potting mixes and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Potting mix is considerably stable when it is stored under conditions recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Open potting mix bag carefully. Always make sure that the opening is not directed towards your face.
  • Keep the potting mix and compost moist when working. This is to minimise exposure to its dust or mists.
  • Always open a bag of potting mix and compost in a well-ventilated space.
  • Use low-pressure hose when watering your garden.
  • Always wear a properly fitted particulate respirator especially in high-risk conditions. Also, avoid shaking the bag when emptying a bag of potting mix and compost.
  • Another protective measure is to wear standard duty gloves when handling potting mixes and compost.
  • Avoid touching your face when working with potting mix. Moreover, don’t eat, drink or smoke while working.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling potting mix and compost, before eating or drinking and after removing your gloves.
  • Make sure to store potting mix in a dry place. It should also be away from direct heat.
  • If you have cuts and abrasions, clean and cover it immediately with a dry dressing.


Gardening should be a healthy and enjoyable activity for both garden hobbyists and nursery workers. But unfortunately, health hazards are inevitable. To minimise these risks, learning how to safely handle potting mix is vital. If you happen to have exposure to potting mix, this guide can help you.

For those who need gardening and nursery equipment for assisting handling potting mix, do not hesitate to approach a reputable nursery equipment manufacturer in your local area.

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