How to Clean Terra Cotta Pots

terracottapots

Question:
How do I clean a terracotta plant pot?

Terra cotta pots offer a beautiful and natural home for all kinds of plants both indoors and out. The porosity of these clay containers offers many advantages for growing strong and healthy plants. However, since terra cotta containers can absorb water, they also absorb minerals from the soil and chemicals in the fertilizers. It is essential that they be cleaned and sterilized at the end of each season to keep from these absorbed particles from being spread to new plants in the spring. It also helps to get rid of any fungus or mold that has developed so that it does not infect the plants or damage your container.

Steps for Basic Cleaning

Cleaning your pots regularly will keep them looking and functioning at their best.

You Will Need:

  • Scrubber (any kind of stiff brush, steel wool or plastic scrubber will work)
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Soft brush

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Remove old plants and as much soil as possible from the terra cotta pot/container.
  2. Allow the remaining soil to dry thoroughly so it will be easier to remove.
  3. Using the scrubber, brush away as much of the build-up from the inside of the pot as possible.
  4. If necessary, carefully wash out the inside with water and the scrubber. Avoid using soaps as this can leave a residue that can be difficult to remove.
  5. Salts that are found in water and fertilizers can leave a white crust on the outside of the pots. To remove this build up, make a paste from baking soda and water. Spread the paste over the build up and use the soft brush to gently scrub it away.
  6. Rinse the pot thoroughly and allow to dry completely.

Sanitizing with Bleach

Sanitizing the pots will help to remove any fungus that may be harmful to your plants.

You Will Need:

  • Water
  • Bleach
  • Bucket, tub or basin (must be larger than the pot your are sanitizing)
  • Sponge or Cloth
  • Scrubber

The Sanitizing Process:

  1. Begin by cleaning your container following the instructions above.
  2. Fill the bucket with 10 parts water and one part bleach. Bleach can cause wear on a pot if too much is used, so use it sparingly. Less is more in this situation.
  3. Place the cleaned pot into the water/bleach mixture. Be careful not to put a cold pot into warm water or vice versa as the change in temperature may crack the clay.
  4. Allow the container to soak for at least 30 minutes. If your pot is especially grimy, you may want to soak it for longer.
  5. Use the scrubber and/or sponge to remove any remaining dirt from the surface of the pot.
  6. After the container has finished soaking, drain it thoroughly and transfer it to a bucket filled with plain water. Allow it to sit for another 30 minutes. Bleach can be harmful to plants, so try to remove as much as possible.
  7. Drain again and allow the pot to dry completely.
  8. Now your pots are cleaned, sanitized and ready for another season of use.

Sanitizing with Heat

If you want to avoid using bleach on your terra cotta, you may want to try using heat to destroy any bacteria and fungi.

You Will Need:

  • Oven
  • Aluminum Foil (optional)
  • Plenty of time
  • The Sanitizing Process:

    • It is best to use this method when the weather is still warm enough that you can keep the windows open. Baking your soiled pots may create an unpleasant odor.
    • Begin by cleaning as much dirt as possible from the pot using the instructions above.
    • When the pot is completely dry, place it inside of the oven.
    • If there is any dirt remaining in the container, you may want to line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil to keep the dirt from baking to the floor of your oven.
    • Turn the heat up to 220º Fahrenheit.
    • Allow the clay to bake for at least an hour to kill any harmful growth.
    • Turn off the oven and allow the clay to cool completely before trying to move it. This may take some time, but moving it while it’s hot may cause the pot to break.

    Additional Tips and Advice

    • If you are hesitant to use bleach, consider trying white vinegar. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly as well.
    • If you are preparing your pots for winter, ensure that they are completely dry. If they still have water in them and it freezes, it could cause them to crack or break.

Comments

  1. Jude says:

    Rather than bleach, heat or vinegar, hydrogen peroxide (3% strength sold in drug stores & even cheaper in dollar stores) is one of the best & safest disinfectants there is. Basically, it oxidizes or breaks down any fungi or bacteria left behind. It’s also great for removing stains from most things (carpets, fabrics, tea or coffee cups), but test on colored fabrics first for color-fastness. The 3% strength isn’t very strong & rarely removes color from rugs or fabrics unless the dyes are cheap. Peroxide is safe too (except to ingest) as it’s simply water (H2O) with an extra oxygen atoms tacked on to become H2O2.

  2. Joan says:

    Several terracotta pieces hanging on our courtyard wall have either faded or look as though they had a light white wash applied. We live in GA, so realize the sun probably permanently bleached a couple of pieces. We thought the white might be lime so I just tried lime-away and nothing changed. Any suggestions? Thanks, Joan

  3. Jude says:

    Why not use a suitable stain for your terra cotta pots? Since clay is very porous, it absorbs colours well. You mention wall art so I assume they’re not meant for plants, although there are safe pigments meant for clay pots that don’t harm plants. If yours are only decorative, choosing a wood stain in the closest colour to match the original colour would work. I can’t guarantee it wouldn’t have to be done every year but still, once yearly isn’t bad to keep it looking the way you’d like. Experiment on the back of the pieces first to see how it dark it gets.

  4. Diana says:

    To get rid of white mineral stains, first scrape away the loose soil and rinse out any remaining dirt. Then fill a bucket with warm water deep enough to immerse the pot and add enough vinegar to make a 4:1 solution (1 cup per quart). Soak the pot in the solution for at least 1/2 hour, longer if a crust has formed. Then wipe or scrub away any remaining crust. If the pot is very crusty, you can repeat the treatment with a fresh solution. Be sure to rinse the pot thoroughly afterward, because some plants don’t tolerate acid. Note: Vinegar cleans but doesn’t sanitize.

  5. Debbie says:

    Hi Margie,

    Have you found a way to remove the paint from your pots? I am trying to work on the same thing. I have a very large terracotta pot that I painted last year. It unfortunately sat at the end of my garage all winter. It would snow and melt and the water would get into the garage and get on the pot. I had sealed the pot with urethane, but it bubbled and started to peel. I’ve removed a lot, but I can’t figure out how to remove the rest.

  6. Patsy says:

    I just received a large terracotta pot and my question is; do I season the pot with oil before I plant it?

  7. Nancy says:

    I just used the peroxide tip from Jude on my large terracotta pot to remove green (moldy-looking) grime. With a little elbow grease (not really much at all) and a scrub brush, my pot is looking pretty good. :) Thanks for the tip!

  8. Marlene says:

    I have a terracotta Picasso tile. It is very valuable and I need to sell it. There are a couple of grease stains on it. Does any one know how I can get rid of them? I’m afraid if I put it in the oven it will break.

  9. Melanie says:

    You could try rubbing the stain with a grease-cutting dish soap or a mixture of vinegar and water.

    Source: HowToCleanStuff.net – How to Remove Grease Stains from Painted Walls and Ceilings

    You could also try using talcum powder to draw the grease out of the tile.

    Source: HowToCleanStuff.net – How to Remove Grease Stains from Leather

  10. Anna says:

    Can you seal terra cotta pots?? Will it affect the plants?? I live in Florida and have a very large terra cotta pot in my back yard, and I hate to clean it every year… What can I use to solve this problem????

    Thank you in advance.

  11. Elena says:

    Someone has thrown something on my potted clay pots and they look bad. How do I clean them? Can anyone help?

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