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Cleaning Clay Pots – How to Clean Terracotta Pots and Planters

Cleaning clay pots this time of the year keeps my garden still in mind and makes sure that they are ready to use when it comes to for early spring bloomers in a few months.

When the days get cooler and shorter, it is time to put the garden to bed for the winter.  

Taking care of some garden maintenance will make things all the more easy when spring rolls around next year. Keep reading to find out how to clean your terracotta pots.

These tips for cleaning clay pots will get your planters ready for use next spring. #cleaningclaypots

Getting Rid of the Crust! Tips for Cleaning Clay Pots.

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Fall is an odd time in the garden.  The temps are cool, so we want to be out there doing something, but most plants are slowing down, so not much is growing.  I make use of these cool months by tending to some garden chores now. 

Terra cotta clay pots are my choice when it comes to patio decor. They breathe well, help to keep the soil moist but not soggy and prevent overheating here in our NC summers.

Although these pots are breakable, pieces of broken clay pots can also be useful when used as drainage hole covers in other pots to keep soil from washing out.

I also love the natural look of them.  There is nothing quite like a basic clay pot for planting drought resistant succulents and cacti plants. 

I’ve even been known to use clay  pots in craft projects. See my terra cotta pumpkin candy dish for an example.

Herbs in lay pots

 I use clay pots for to hold my herbs and also for succulents. I just love the natural look of them.

But clay pots can look tired and worn by the end of the gardening season and often need a good dose of TLC to get them in good shape for next year.Succulents in clay pots

The reason that this job is so necessary is the clay itself.  Clay pots absorb minerals from the soil itself, and also absorb  chemicals from any fertilizer you might use.

They need to be cleaned and sterilized at the end of each season to keep from spreading these absorbed particles to new plants and to rid the threat of spreading fungus or mold which can infect new plants and damage the pots themselves.

Cleaning clay pots is easier than you might think when you see the messy pots in the fall.  It really doesn’t take much time to give a new lease of life to your crusty old terracotta pots.

Why spend money on new terracotta pots when you can save yourself tons of money with just a little elbow grease?

Dirty terra cotta pots

Image credit: Wikipedia Free Image repository. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Remove the soil

The first step in cleaning clay pots is easy.  Take out the old plant and root ball out of the pot. 

Don’t just start rubbing wet soil, or you will end up with mud!  Allow the remaining soil to dry so that it will be easier to remove.  dirty clay pot

Scrub away the dirt

Then simply remove as much of the remaining soil as you can with a stiff scrubbing brush.  Rinse both the pot and the scrubber with water.  (don’t use soap. They can leave a residue that is hard to remove.)  

Next, use the same scrubbing brush and brush the outside of the pot, removing as much of the crusty gunk as you can.

clean ou the soil from the clay pot

Vinegar helps to disinfect

The next step uses my trusty friend vinegar.  Clay pots are often encrusted with built up mineral salts and vinegar does a great job of dissolving them.  Soak the pots in a water/vinegar solution for 20-30 minutes. 

The solution should be 1 cup of 5% acidic white vinegar to 3-4 cups of water.

5% acidic white vinegar

Baking soda neutralizes stubborn salt marks

Check the pots after about 20 minutes.  If the buildup is gone, the pots are finished. If there is still residue, just leave them a bit longer.  

For particularly stubborn salt marks, use a paste made from baking soda and water. 

Just use enough water so that the mixture resembles the consistency of hand lotion. Spread this paste over the build up, let it sit for a few more minutes, and use the scrubbing brush to gently scrub it away. 

The baking soda neutralizes the salts so that they come off easily. See other uses of baking soda in the garden here.

I also included baking soda in my list of ways for removing cooking oil stains from clothing. Be sure to check it out!

baking soda and water cleans clay pots too.

For an extra cleaning use the dishwasher

Once the pots are cleaned, you can run them through the dishwasher, if you want. This will give the pots an extra dose of disinfecting.

This step is not necessary but helps with bacteria that might remain which could cause diseases in your plants next year.

Store the pots away from the elements

Store the pots away from the elements and next spring you will have clean and lovely clay pots to replant your favorite new friends!  

If you leave the pots out where the rain and snow will get to them, they will just get crusty and dirty again.

Give them some time indoors in a covered shed or lean to where the weather can’t reach them.

Potting shed

Bleach and Water also works

Another way to clean the crusty clay pots is to use a bleach and water solution.  1/4 cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water is the mix. 

Let the pots soak for about 30 minutes.  This video from YouTube shows how to clean the clay pots with this method and also with the baking soda method.

Clean Clay pots

Share these tips for cleaning clay pots on Twitter

If you enjoyed these terracotta pots cleaning tips, be sure to share them with a friend. Here is a tweet to get you started:

Fall is right around the corner and the garden needs to be put to bed. Don't just tend to the garden itself though. Garden tools and pots need some TLC right now too. Get some tips for cleaning clay pots on The Gardening Cook.  Share on X

Uses for Clay Pots

If you have older clay pots that still look pretty nasty when you are done, don’t throw them away.  Clay pots absorb craft paints well and can be used in all sorts of ways.  Put your worn out clay pots to use in craft projects. Here are some ideas:

Tips for cleaning clay pots

Share on Social Media

Bernard Chu

Friday 15th of April 2022

I have a terracotta Bird bath. Over time black specks of mould are growing around the bowl. I tried to scrub them with steel wool but no success.

How to remove black moulds from terracotta bird bath?

Carol Speake

Friday 15th of April 2022

I have not tried cleaning a bird bath made of terracotta, however this post discusses cleaning clay pots, and might have some helpful tips in it.


Thursday 12th of August 2021

When you say, as a final step we can run our clay pots through the dishwasher, I assume we would NOT add detergent?

Carol Speake

Friday 13th of August 2021

yes that is correct


Friday 16th of July 2021

Would it be detrimental to plants if you spray, or coat the inside of new pots with a sealing substance to keep the minerals from absorbing into them? If it is okay could you do the same to old pots you have cleaned? And what would you recommend for the sealing substance?

Carol Speake

Monday 19th of July 2021

Many commercial pots are sealed when they are purchased, so I doubt it would be detrimental to pot to seal them.

Margaret Kalton

Friday 14th of May 2021

Enjoyed your article about cleaning terracotta pots. One problem for large pots is finding a reusable, watertight container to put them in while soaking in bleachy water, for example. Any ideas?

Carol Speake

Friday 14th of May 2021

The big box hardware stores have large plastic tubs that would be good for this.


Wednesday 13th of January 2021

Can you spray the outside of the pot with some type of clear shiny stain to keep it from crumbling?

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