How to Clean Terracotta Pots

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Terracotta pots have a timeless beauty and can last for several years if given some TLC once and a while. One of the advantages of using terracotta pots is that they can absorb water, and help prevent over-watering (I use them for all of my succulents and cacti).

But, terracotta pots also absorb fertilizers, salts and other chemicals in the water. Over time, these will build up and create a crusty residue on your beautiful pots.

Crusty residue on a terracotta pot

The good news is, it doesn’t take much time to give new life to your terracotta pots. Don’t buy new pots, you can save yourself tons of money with just a little elbow grease. Check this out, I recently got a bunch of free clay pots from a nice lady on Craigslist. There were about 25 various sized pots in total, awesome score! These are old and looking worse for wear, but I can see the beauty that lies beneath all that grime.

Crusty old terracotta pots

How To Clean Terracotta Pots

Step 1:Remove any loose dirt.  Brush off as much dirt as you can, but you don’t have to get it all off. I got this fancy pot brush for Christmas a few years back, but you don’t need to go out and buy one of these. Before I got this brush, I used a cheap toilet brush that I bought for a few dollars (but please don’t use an old toilet brush – yuck!)

Remove loose dirt from terracotta pot


Step 2: Soak pots in vinegar/water solution.  Ideally, you would use 1 cup of white vinegar (5% acidity) for every 3-4 cups of water. The less vinegar you use, the longer you’ll need to soak the pots. Completely submerge the pots in the solution. You may hear a sizzling sounds or see bubbles. Don’t worry; that’s a combination of the vinegar doing it’s job at dissolving the buildup, and the pot absorbing the water. I start by soaking the pots for 20-30 minutes. If the buildup wipes or scrubs off easily, they’re done. Otherwise, I’ll soak them longer. Keep checking until all the residue is easy to remove. You may need to use your brush to scrub it off.

Soak terracotta pots in vinegar/water solution


For really tough crusty buildup, you can soak the pot in pure vinegar (here I’m just soaking the rim of the pot where the buildup is the worse). If you soak the entire pot in vinegar, you might want to soak it in water afterward to dilute the vinegar that the pot absorbed.

Soak terracotta pot in vinegar to remove tough crusty buildup


Step 3: Run through the dishwasher. As a last step, I run the pots through the quick wash cycle on my dishwasher. This will help to disinfect the pots and clean them. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can scrub the pots in soapy water (will require a little extra elbow grease).

That’s it, I told you it was easy.As for those dirty old pots I got for free. Well, here’s what they look like now…

Clean, shiny and new looking terracotta pots


Can you believe these are the same pots? Seriously, this took about 30 minutes of my time (not counting the time I let the pots soak, and the time it took for the dishwasher to run) and I have what look like brand new terracotta pots. I’m pretty sure it’s been several years since these pots have been cleaned (if ever). It’s good practice to clean terracotta pots every time you use them to keep them looking beautiful, and prevent pests and diseases.

What do you think of my free pots now?



  1. says

    I've used a similar combo of equal parts water, white vinegar + rubbing alcohol) and sometimes a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water, which means I can skip the dishwasher step (which is a good thing because my dishwasher is tiny).

    • says

      Great, thanks for sharing your formulas! It's always good to hear how other people do it. I've used the same bleach solution to sterilize pots that aren't dishwasher safe, and my seedling trays.

  2. says

    Very cool, thanks. I've often seen terra cotta pots for cheap, or free, at garage sales or estate sales, but have always been put off by the icky buildup on them since I didn't know how to clean them correctly. Now I know, bring on the pots!

    • says

      LOL, that's not good! I can't say for sure because I've never tried it… but I would expect the stain would be removed if you cleaned your pots with this method. You could try scrubbing them with a pot brush and soapy water first if your pots contain plants you don't want to remove. Otherwise, I would try soaking them in the vinegar/water solution (remove the plants first). Let

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