When the days get cooler and shorter, it is time to put the garden to bed for the winter. 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.
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.
Taking care of some garden maintenance will make things all the more easy when spring rolls around next year.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
- Clay pot pumpkin
- Clay pot candy corn holder
- Giant Terracotta jingle bell
- Clay pot Snowman
- Clay pot leprechaun centerpiece