Terracotta plant pots are notorious for getting a crusty white residue on them over time. It looks bad but don’t worry, cleaning clay pots is quick and easy. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to clean terracotta pots in 3 simple steps!
Check this out, I recently got a bunch of free clay pots from a nice lady on Craigslist. There were about 25 various sized terracotta plant pots in total – awesome score, right?!
The clay pots are very old, and they looked nasty, but I could see the beauty that lies beneath all that crusted on grime.
What Is The White Residue On Terracotta Pots Anyway?
One of the advantages of using terracotta pots is that they absorb water from the soil, and help prevent over-watering your plants (I use them to grow all of my succulents and cactus plants).
But, terracotta pots also absorb fertilizers, as well as salts and other chemicals that are commonly found in tap water.
Over time, these salts and chemicals will build up and create a crusty or chalky white residue on your beautiful clay pots.
To help prevent this, I recommend using rainwater to water your plants rather than tap water. Also, skip the chemical fertilizers and use an organic fertilizer instead, or try an organic compost solution.
Using rainwater and organic fertilizers is much healthier for your plants anyway (and better for the environment too. Win, win!), and will help to keep your beautiful terracotta pots clean much longer!
Why Should You Clean Terracotta Pots?
Some people really like the look of crusty old terracotta pots, and don’t want to clean them. Unfortunately, using dirty pots over and over again can be very unhealthy for your plants.
Dirty pots can harbor pests and diseases, which is definitely not something you want. Cleaning and disinfecting plant pots is a habit you should get into no matter what type they are.
If you’re wondering how to clean clay pots with plants in them, well… if a plant has been growing in the same terracotta pot for so long that the pot has buildup on it, then it’s time to repot that plant and give it some fresh soil anyway.
So take this opportunity to repot your neglected plants, and clean their pots too.
Oh, and if you like the look of crusty terracotta plant pots, then you can paint them to look that way, and still have clean pots. Learn all about painting terracotta pots here.
Alright, off my soapbox. Let’s get busy cleaning some terracotta pots!
How To Clean Terracotta Pots
- Pot brush
- White vinegar
- Utility tub (for large terracotta planters) or a bucket or sink (for smaller pots)
- Dishwasher (optional)
Step 1: Remove any loose dirt from the pot. Use your pot brush to clean as much dirt as you can off of the clay pot. In my case, I also needed to brush cobwebs and other debris off my pots (yuck!).
You don’t need to be super fussy here, cause you don’t need to get all the dirt off. Just brush off the loose dirt, and any large chunks of soil that might be stuck to the pot. The rest will come off in the next steps.
Step 2: Soak clay 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 in the water, the longer you’ll need to soak the pots.
Completely submerge the clay 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 crusty buildup, and the clay pot absorbing the water.
I start by soaking crusty clay pots for 20-30 minutes. If the buildup wipes or scrubs off easily, they’re done.
Otherwise, I’ll soak the pots longer. Keep checking until all the residue is easy to remove. You may need to use your pot brush to scrub some of the residue off.
For really tough crusty buildup, you can soak the pot in pure vinegar (in the photo below, I’m just soaking the rim of the pot where the crusty buildup is the worst).
If you soak the entire clay pot in vinegar, you should soak it in water afterward to dilute the vinegar the pot absorbed.
Step 3: Run pots through the dishwasher. As a last step, I run the terracotta 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 use a little extra elbow grease and scrub the pots in soapy water.
That’s it, you’re done! See, I told you it was easy.
As for those dirty, crusty old clay pots I got for free. Well, here’s what they look like after I finished cleaning them…
WOW! Can you believe these are the same terracotta pots?
Seriously, it 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) to clean these pots.
I’m pretty sure it’s been several years since these pots have been cleaned (if ever). And now I have what look like brand new terracotta pots (for free!).
Totally worth it!
How To Clean Large Terracotta Pots
If you have large terracotta garden pots that are too big to submerge in a utility tub, bucket or sink, don’t worry! You can still use this method. Simply soak 1/2 of the planter at a time.
Once you’ve cleaned off all the crusty residue (steps 1-2) on the first half, then flip it over and do the same thing to the other half.
Obviously you won’t be able to run large clay pots through the dishwasher, but that’s ok. You can just wash them with soapy water instead.
Terracotta pots have a timeless beauty, and can last for many years if given some TLC once and a while. The good news is, it doesn’t take much time to give new life to your crusty old clay pots.
Now you can shop yard sales and thrift shops to find cheap terracotta flower pots (or maybe you’ll find a bunch for free like I did!), and then clean them up like new!
Why buy terracotta pots brand new when you can save yourself tons of money with just a little time and elbow grease by cleaning old ones!
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Share your tips for cleaning terracotta pots in the comments section below!