When gardening, you always want to ensure that the products you’re using will yield you the best possible results.

Choosing between perlite and vermiculite may seem confusing, and it may be tough to come to a decision. If you’re looking to know the difference between perlite and vermiculite, then you need to read this simple guide.

Important: Whether you choose to use vermiculite vs perlite in your plant soil or potting mix is a significant decision. Selecting the wrong one can impact your garden either for the best or the worst. 

You don’t want to watch your beautiful garden die on your hands. You want to choose a soil mix that will help them grow, nourish them, and create plump, attractive plants. Below is our opinion on the best choice for your plants and help all of your gardening goals come true.

Which is Better? Vermiculite vs Perlite

Better gardening begins with learning the difference between these two potting mixes.

What is Perlite?

Perlite is something you can use in your potting mixes that resembles small white pellets. What is it is? Heat-puffed volcanic glass. It is heated to make expanded perlite. Perlite comes in multiple different sizes, including coarse perlite, fine perlite, and a few different grades in between.

What is Vermiculite?

Vermiculite, another garden soil additive, is derived from ore, a substance obtained by mining. It is an absorbent material. After mining vermiculite, it is heated, which causes it to expand.

Common Traits of Perlite and Vermiculite 

Perlite and vermiculite are useful in potting mixes. While perlite tends to be white and appears to have a styrofoam-like appearance. Vermiculite resembles small rocks and tends to be grey or gold-colored. 

Each of these two substances is a lightweight material that you can use in gardening and can aid in soil aeration.

They each have different purposes, so it’s important to know the differences to ensure you pick the right one to use with your plants. Each of these materials are obtained by mining and is then heated, expanding the particles within them.

Main Differences Between Perlite and Vermiculite

Main Differences Between Perlite and Vermiculite

Vermiculite is a clay substance that has the purpose of helping to attract plant nutrients. It is a sterile material. It also can soak up a substantial amount of water.

Vermiculite may not always be the best choice for clay soil, as it can cause it to have too much water. For sandy soil, vermiculite will help with water retention. However, it will not aid in plant nutrients. 

Perlite is a volcanic rock. Rather than moisture retention, perlite will help with water drainage in gardens. 

Which One Should You Use in Your Garden? 

While both substances are soil additives, their functions are different. If you are growing multiple types of plants in your garden, it can be tough to decide what to use. The main thing to think about is the amount of water your plant needs and what additive will help supply it. 

Quick Pro Tip: The added nutrients attracted by vermiculite may sound enticing, but some plants cannot survive with all the water retention.

Perlite is the Right Choice if… 

Horticultural perlite is best for plants that need help getting rid of excess water. This means that perlite works well for plants that do not need to maintain a constantly moist soil environment or plants that cannot handle a constantly moist environment. Perlite is also better for soil aeration.

Vermiculite is the Right Choice if… 

If your plant thrives in a moist environment, vermiculite will benefit your plant’s growth and overall health. Vermiculite also comes with the benefits of all of the nutrients it brings to your plant.

It can help your plant get more magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. However, vermiculite is not as good with soil aeration as perlite. 

Did You Know? The EPA has conducted research and has concluded that in general, with normal use it does not pose a significant threat to people. 

How To Make Homemade Perlite Quickly

You can make homemade perlite soil by using other soil additives, like peat moss and compost.

Here is a perlite mix you can make at home.

  • Two out of four parts compost
  • One out of four parts peat moss 
  • One out of four-part perlite 

You can also buy already mixed perlite soil. Most Miracle-Gro mixes contain perlite.

Frequently Asked Questions

Besides their makeup and purposes, let’s dive a little deeper into what these substances are all about. Here are some frequently asked questions that can help you make better decisions for your garden.

Does Vermiculite Contain Asbestos?

The short answer is sometimes, yes, vermiculite contains asbestos. When it does, the amount is small. Asbestos becomes dangerous for humans when people ingest it by air.

Can You Use Perlite or Vermiculite in Organic Gardening?

Yes, you can use perlite or vermiculite when doing organic gardening. Both of these soil additives are considered appropriate to use for organic gardening. When selecting a soil mix, potting soil, or soilless mix, you should always pay attention to the labels and make sure that you check what additives are in the mix.

Can You Grow Plants in Just Vermiculite?

You can start seed germination with only vermiculite. Vermiculite is an exceptional soil additive for plants that require a substantial amount of water or that need a constantly moist environment to thrive. Vermiculite is commonly found as a soil additive, but you can grow plants using just vermiculite.

Can You Grow Plants in Just Perlite?

Yes. The same information from above about vermiculite is applicable to perlite. It depends on the plant and what kind of environment it thrives in best. You can use perlite as a sole ingredient with your seedlings, and you can also mix it with other potting soil and additives. No matter what you will still need to water your plant and use fertilizer if you want them to grow.

Can You Use Perlite or Vermiculite in a Raised Bed?

Yes, you can use both separately with another soil mixture, or you can combine the two in your soil mixture. You can buy soil designed specifically for raised bed planting, and many of these mixtures contain one or both of these additives.

Are Vermiculite and Perlite the Same Thing?

No. Vermiculite and perlite are not the same things. They are both soil additives with a ph-neutral balance you can use together. However, their primary purposes and functions are different, and their structures are different. Vermiculite is clay, while perlite is a volcanic rock glass.

Vermiculite retains water and is for plants that require a lot of moisture and water. Perlite is better to help with excess water and draining and for plants like cactus and succulents.

Can I Mix Perlite and Vermiculite?

Yes, you can mix these two plant-soil additives. Usually, you would choose one based on what type of plant you are growing. Vermiculite and perlite both so different things. It would depend on the needs of your plant. Vermiculite is more suited for seedlings and plants that require more moisture, while perlite is better to help already developed plants with soil drainage.

Can Perlite Be Reused?

You can reuse perlite for other plants. The reason you can do that is because perlite is not a decomposing substance. It also does not carry nutrients. It’s simple to prepare your perlite for reuse. All you should need to do is rinse it with water after making sure you have removed any leftover plant root.

Can You Mix Perlite With Soil?

Yes, you can mix perlite with soil. This is actually how perlite is most frequently used. The mixture you make depends on what kind of planting you intend to do. For example, garden beds and potted plants would have different amounts of perlite used.

You may have also heard of hydroponic horticulture, which is gardening that incorporates soilless planting. Hydroponic gardening uses organic matter as a substitute for soil. Perlite can mix very well with soilless potting mixes and other soilless plant mixes.

Does Perlite Decompose?

The makeup of perlite does not allow it to decompose. Perlite is a volcanic rock and does not decompose.

Does Vermiculite Decompose?

No. Vermiculite does not decompose.

Does Vermiculite Help Drainage?

No. Vermiculite is a better choice for plants that need to retain moisture and for seedlings. Vermiculite retains moisture and helps plants that need more water. Perlite granules are the soil additive typically used to help with soil drainage for plants that require a less wet environment.

Is Vermiculite Safe For Gardening?

Yes. There were concerns that vermiculite contained trace amounts of asbestos. After investigation, the EDA has let consumers know that regular use vermiculite is safe for consumer use. There should not be a concern of vermiculite having asbestos in it.

What is Perlite Good For?

Perlite is a soil additive for helping with drainage. An example of a plant that could benefit from using perlite in the soil mixture is a cactus plant or succulents. Perlite is also great for soil aeration.

Can You Substitute Vermiculite For Perlite?

The short answer is no. Vermiculite and perlite are used for two different things. Vermiculite retains moisture and perlite helps with drainage. While each substance helps with soil aeration, perlite tends to work better for soil aeration. They cannot be easily swapped and expected to yield the same results.

Should I Add Vermiculite to My Soil?

You should add vermiculite to your soil if your plants could benefit from the additional moisture. Vermiculite helps retain moisture and also attracts several beneficial plant nutrients. It can be used on its own or added with soil.

What Are the Disadvantages of Perlite?

The disadvantages of perlite are dependent on the plant. Perlite can be an excellent option to help with drainage, but the downside is water drainage can happen fast, and perlite doesn’t hold onto plant nutrients or moisture. So it’s great for helping with drainage, but it may not be all you need to help your plant grow successfully, depending on the plant.

Is Vermiculite in Potting Soil Dangerous?

No. Horticultural vermiculite can safely be used in potting soil. It can help the plants with water retention and moisture.

Can I Use Sand Instead of Perlite?

You can use sand instead of perlite and vise-versa. Both can help with drainage and prevent soil compaction.

What is a Good Substitute For Perlite?

Sand is an appropriate substitute for perlite because it does not retain water and aids in soil drainage.

Can You Use Too Much Perlite?

Yes. You don’t want to completely dry out your plant. Too much perlite can cause excess water drainage and can cause your plant to start to die.

Can I Put Perlite on Top of Soil?

Perlite is better mixed in with soil because it is so lightweight that it can easily be taken away by the wind. You can mix perlite with the plant soil. You can use it with other substances, like sphagnum peat moss (a soil amendment) or compost. When you mix perlite with soil it is less likely to be blown away, and your plant is more likely going to reap the benefits.

Can I Use Styrofoam Instead of Perlite?

No, Styrofoam is not recommended to use as a substitute for perlite. Unlike perlite, Styrofoam can break down.

Is Perlite Toxic to Humans?

Perlite particle inhalation can be toxic to humans. Ingesting large amounts of perlite can cause significant harm to humans.

Quick Pro Tip: Coconut coir is also a good substitute for perlite. You can also try adding pumice as a substitute for perlite. 

Final Verdict 

On the question of which is better, vermiculite or perlite, the answer is that it depends on the situation. Perlite works best for helping with excess water and soil drainage.

Vermiculite works best for water retention and helping to attract nutrients beneficial to the plant. Each of these substances has their benefits, but the decision of which to use is dependent on the kind of plants you’re trying to grow.