How to Clean Terracotta Pots in 4 Easy Steps

Three stacks of used terracotta pots in a garden with rock wall

Dima Berlin/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 30 - 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 10

Terracotta or clay pots are classic garden containers that work exceptionally well with plants that appreciate drier root systems. The pots' porous material allows air and water to move through the walls preventing root rot and soil disease. The pots are durable and can be used for many years if cared for properly.

Because they are porous, minerals and salts from the potting soil and water can leave stains and deposits on the terracotta surface. The pots can also harbor harmful bacteria, if not cleaned properly, that can be passed to the next newly-potted plant.

So, for plant health and if you don't like an aged look, it's time to clean your terracotta pots.

How Often to Clean Your Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots—and all garden containers and tools—should be thoroughly cleaned after handling a diseased or pest-infected plant. They should also be cleaned at the end of the growing season, when a plant is removed, or if they were purchased used and contained a plant at another growing location.

Before You Begin

While this article focuses on cleaning terracotta pots to reuse in the garden, the same techniques can be used to clean terracotta or clay pots for use in crafts like painted pots, candle holders, or garden art. Before you begin, be sure the pot is emptied out outdoors as not to make a mess inside.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 large sink or bucket
  • nylon-bristled scrub brush
  • 1 stiff wire brush
  • 1 pair protective eyewear
  • 1 pair protective rubber gloves
  • 1 garden cart or wheelbarrow
  • 1 plastic tarp or plastic sheeting

Materials

  • 1 bottle dishwashing liquid or all-purpose cleaner
  • 1 box baking soda
  • 1 bottle chlorine bleach
  • 1 bottle phenolic disinfectant (Lysol)
  • 1 bottle isopropyl alcohol 70% concentration
  • 1 trash bag

Instructions

How to Clean Clay or Terracotta Pots

  1. Empty the Terracotta Pot

    • Remove the plant from the terracotta pot. Specimens can be repotted into a larger container or added to the compost pile. Diseased or insect-infested plants should not be composted but discarded in a sealed plastic bag in the trash.
    • Empty the soil from the pot into a garden cart or wheelbarrow. If the plant was healthy, the soil can be composted. If the soil contains pests or bacterial diseases, it should be placed in the trash in a plastic trash bag.
  2. Remove Loose Soil

    • Use a stiff wire brush to remove the loose soil from the inside and outside of the clay pot.
    • Use the brush to scrub any crusty build-up of minerals and salts along the rim of the pot.
    • If you have spots that aren't coming off easily, sprinkle some baking soda on your scrub brush to act as a gentle abrasive.

    Tip

    If you have heavy, large pots, a pressurized spray of water or a hard stream hose nozzle can help remove caked-on soil more easily before scrubbing with the wire brush.

  3. Wash the Pots

    • Create a mixture of warm water and dishwashing liquid or all-purpose cleaner in a large sink or plastic bucket.
    • Submerge the terracotta pot and use a scrubbing brush to scrub the interior and exterior surfaces.
    • Rinse away excess suds with clean water.
  4. Disinfect the Pots

    Disinfecting terracotta pots is essential for the healthy future of the next plants placed in the pot. There are three recommended methods (chlorine bleach, isopropyl alcohol, or phenolic disinfectant) for disinfecting terracotta pots properly. Each method will kill fungi, bacteria, and plant viruses within seconds.

    Choose one method, but do not mix the disinfectants. Wear protective eyewear and gloves to prevent accidental harm.

  5. Disinfect Terracotta Pots With Chlorine Bleach

    • Create a solution of one part chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) to nine parts of water in a container large enough to submerge the pot.
    • If the pot cannot be submerged completely, turn it several times to be sure that every surface is submerged at some point in the bleach solution.
    • Remove the pot and place it right side up on a plastic tarp to air-dry.
    • Dispose of the bleach solution by pouring it down a sink.

    Warning

    Chlorine bleach can damage fabrics, plants, and grass. Do not pour the bleach solution out in the garden.

  6. Disinfect Terracotta Pots With Isopropyl Alcohol

    • Select a 70% concentration or above of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.
    • After the terracotta pots are washed, dip the pots in undiluted alcohol or place the alcohol in a spray bottle and coat the interior and exterior of the pot.
    • Allow the pots to air-dry.
  7. Disinfect Terracotta Pots With a Phenolic Disinfectant

    • Check the label and select a disinfectant that contains at least .1% of the active ingredient alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium saccharinate. Lysol Disinfectant is one brand name that works well.
    • Do not dilute the disinfectant. Dip or spray all surfaces of the pot with the disinfectant.
    • Allow the pot to air-dry.

Tips to Keep Your Terracotta Pots Clean Longer

  • Clean the pots each time a plant is removed and before storing.
  • Use rainwater or distilled water to water plants to reduce the build-up of minerals and salts.
  • Water container plants deeply following the watering guidelines for the plant specimen so that salts and minerals are flushed from the soil.
Article Sources
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  1. Clean and Disinfect Gardening Tools and Containers. University of Minnesota Extension

  2. Clean and Disinfect Gardening Tools and Containers. University of Minnesota Extension