Cleaning Clay Pots – How to Clean Terracotta Pots and Planters

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.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. 

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. 

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.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.

Once you have finished your cleaning clay pots, they will be refreshed and ready for use when spring comes. I can’t wait for that to happen!!  Are you ready for spring yet?

Clean Clay pots

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

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  14 comments for “Cleaning Clay Pots – How to Clean Terracotta Pots and Planters

  1. 11/25/2014 at 1:52 pm

    This is great info. Thanks for sharing.

    • admin
      11/25/2014 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Vanessa Glad you found it interesting. Carol

  2. Gale
    01/11/2015 at 11:51 am

    love the idea. Thanks for sharing. I have lots of old clay pots in my yard.

    • admin
      01/11/2015 at 12:21 pm

      My pleasure Gale. Glad you enjoyed the article. Carol

    • Carol
      10/10/2017 at 2:43 pm

      I am a gardner and want to learn more about gardening. I just discovered your web site and signed up for your informational newsletter. I learn from you. So a big thank you!

      Carol D.

      • Carol
        10/10/2017 at 5:54 pm

        Hi Carol. Welcome! Hope you enjoy my site! Carol

  3. Charlene Rico
    12/28/2017 at 1:24 pm

    I loved the info..I pick up a lot of clay pots at yard sales and re-use for crafts..good to know for the future..thank you

    • Carol
      12/28/2017 at 2:26 pm

      Glad you found the article useful Charlene.

  4. Sharon
    04/25/2020 at 3:00 pm

    How do your clean really large clay pots which r to large to soak?

    • Carol Speake
      04/25/2020 at 9:19 pm

      Just use the same water and vinegar solution, but use a scrubbing brush instead of soaking them.

  5. Shelby
    05/04/2020 at 6:52 pm

    Do you put dish soap in when washing in the dishwasher?

    • Carol Speake
      05/05/2020 at 12:53 pm

      Yes. I recommend cleaning them first outside the dishwasher and then using a quick cycle. It’s really more for extra disinfecting because of the hot water than cleaning.

      • Shelby
        05/05/2020 at 12:58 pm

        I see. I was worried the harsh dishwashing detergent would soak into the terra cotta. Thank you!

        • Carol Speake
          05/05/2020 at 1:12 pm

          There is some sub par terra cotta out there for sure. I have had some pots disintegrate in just a year when used normally outdoor. To be safe, you could just use the hot water to give it the extra cleaning and not use the dish washing product. Generally, I find that washing pots outside of the dishwasher cleans them just fine.

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