If you’re a plant lover like myself, you may have found yourself wondering when or how to go about cleaning terracotta pots. Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of a well aged patina on my terracotta, but there is a time and place for it. The patina coveted by so many will eventually build up over time. Because terracotta is composed of clay and is porous in nature, there’s plenty of room for algae and salts to build up in it’s many microscopic crevices.
The fact that clay is so porous also allows for growth of bacteria and fungus. When potting up a new plant, I always start with a clean pot. In starting your plant in a cleaned pot, you eliminate the chance of that pot transferring pests and diseases on to the pot’s new plant tenant. Your pot will eventually age over time, and I want to keep plant health as my top priority.
There are several methods that are utilized by gardeners to clean their terracotta pots. There are pros and cons to each method. Finding the one that best suits you will make you more likely to give your new plants a good start in a healthy, clean pot.
Methods For Cleaning Terracotta Pots
This can be done by soaking your pots in a solution of either a 1:10 solution of bleach to water or a 1:3 solution of white vinegar to water. Obviously you will want to have scrubbed any loose debris off of the pot prior to soaking it. I like to soak them for about 30 minutes before removing them and thoroughly rinsing off as much chemical residue as possible. You will want to set them on a towel to dry for about 2 days in order for any remaining chemical residues to fully dissipate before planting in. Obviously this method can be used on virtually all sizes of terracotta pots, so it is more likely utilized for especially large pots. The con to this method is that the chemicals, especially bleach can breakdown the pot over time, so excessive bleaching and prolonged soaking should be avoided.
Baking In Oven
Baking In Oven. As with the previous method, you should make sure to scrub and remove debris off before starting. Once that has been done, place your pots on a cookie sheet and into a preheated oven at 220° F. Let bake for an hour. After an hour turn off oven and allow the pots to fully cool before removing. Removing your pots from the oven too soon puts them at a higher risk of cracking. Another con to this method is that large pots will not obviously fit into a standard oven, so this option will not work for those.
Dishwasher. Not all dishwashers will get hot enough to fully kill harmful pathogens on your terracotta pots, so check your owners manual for running temperatures. If your machine runs at a temp above 145° F then you should be good. Some machines have a specialized sanitize cycle that utilizes especially high temps. As with previous methods, you want to remove any dirt or debris prior to running in the sanitize cycle. Let your pots fully cool before removing from the dishwasher, as with the oven method, temperature extremes can hasten cracking. Some people like to add white vinegar to the dishwasher as well. The other con to this method is that only smaller sized pots will fit in a dishwasher, so you will still have to soak your larger pots with the chemical method.
Like previously stated, there are pros and cons to every method. You may find that you prefer one method over the others and that works well for you. It can seem high maintenance, but well cared for terracotta can help maintain plant health by decreasing the chance of root rot and increasing root breathability. Let me know what method you prefer.
Happy gardening y’all!