How To Make Your Dirty Old Terra Cotta Pots Look Brand Spankin' New

Are your clay planters looking worse for wear? We'll help you restore them to their original glory.

October 23, 2017
clay pots
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS BY PATRICK MONTERO

Clay pots help keep soil moist but not soggy, they insulate plant roots against overheating in the summer, and their warm reddish color combines attractively with many flower and foliage hues. Their porous nature lets them hold air and water to the benefit of the plants growing in them, but it also provides spaces where deposits of calcium, minerals, and salts from fertilizers can become trapped. As moisture in the terra-cotta evaporates, these residues are wicked to the surface of the pot, where they accumulate in whitish streaks and bands. Some gardeners appreciate—and even encourage—the resulting aged look this gives their pots, but it’s not for everyone or for every garden’s decor.

To rid pots of crusty residues and clean them up for future occupants, Minnesota gardener Amy Andrychowicz, author of the Get Busy Gardening blog, recommends a combination of scrubbing and soaking, followed by a disinfecting trip through the dishwasher. Here's her step-by-step process.

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(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

scrub pot

Step 1: Brush

First, use a brush to remove as much loose dirt as possible from the pot’s surface. No fancy equipment is necessary, says Andrychowicz—an inexpensive (albeit unused) toilet brush or other household scrub brush will do the job.

Related: How To Keep Your Terra Cotta Pots From Cracking During Winter

 

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Step 2: Soak

Once the superficial soil is brushed away, submerge the pot in a 20 to 25 percent vinegar solution (1 cup 5 percent acidity white vinegar in 3 or 4 cups water) for 20 to 30 minutes. “The less vinegar you use, the longer you’ll need to soak the pot,” Andrychowicz says. “You may hear sizzling sounds or see bubbles rising,” she adds. “Don’t worry, that’s the vinegar doing its job of dissolving the buildup.”

Related: 20 Genius Ways To Use Vinegar That You Never Thought Of

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Step 3: Scrub

If the buildup wipes or scrubs off easily after the soak, the pot is done. Otherwise, soak a while longer, checking occasionally until all of the residue is easily removed. “You may need to use your brush to scrub it off,” Andrychowicz says. For really tough residues, such as around the rim of a pot, she uses undiluted vinegar to loosen them up. She recommends following a soak in pure vinegar with a soak in clear water to dilute the vinegar the pot absorbed.

 

Related: The Only 10 Things You Need To Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies

This simple DIY raised garden bed can be made in under an hour. 

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Step 4: Dishwash

Finally, Andrychowicz runs her pots through the quick-wash cycle of her dishwasher to disinfect and clean them before she fills them with fresh potting mix and new plants. “Or you can simply scrub them in soapy water,” she adds.