How to Clean Terracotta Pots - Backyard Boss
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How to Clean Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots are a timeless, classic pot that add to the aesthetic of any room they are in. Part of their appeal is the “used” look they develop after years of use. The pots are commonly used since they have wonderful drainage.

However, before reusing a terracotta pot for a new plant it is important to clean and sanitize it first.

Pros and Cons of Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots lined up to be spray painted in different colours
Image credits: Ryan McFarland via Flickr

Terracotta pots are relatively inexpensive and good for the environment as they cut down on the use of plastics. If left in their original form, terracotta pots have a minimalistic appearance. However, there is also the option to purchase them with painted designs. Painting your terracotta pots could also be fun for the whole family!

On top of that, terracotta pots have tremendous benefits; they are frost resistant, often have drainage holes, and most come with a base. Another considerable benefit is their porous surface allowing water and air to flow between a plant’s root system. This aids in preventing root rot and other issues. 

However, terracotta pots are not always the best option. One down side to terracotta pots is that they are delicate, and break often. As mentioned they have a porous surface and although that allows for good air and water flow it also means that terracotta sucks water from the soil into the walls of the pot. This means the plants might require more frequent watering.

Why it’s Important to Clean Terracotta Pots

terracotta pots
Image credits: sanddebeautheil via Canva

Suppose a plant does get sick and can’t be saved. In that case, it’s crucial to properly clean a terracotta pot before planting something else in it again. Due to the porous nature of terracotta, it can also hold diseases in the walls of the pot and give them to the new plant if not thoroughly cleaned. An unclean pot will get you stuck in a cycle of dying plants. Even if you suspect death of a plant is due to a reason other than disease, it is still best practice to clean your terracotta pots before using them again. 

Materials Needed

Many dirty terracotta pots lined up inside each other sideways
Image credits: Claudio Fonte via Unsplash

In order to get started on cleaning, sanitizing, and prepping your terracotta pots for new plants you’ll need:

  • Used terracotta pots
  • Water
  • Brush, tooth brush, or fine steel wool
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Knife
  • White vinegar
  • Bleach
  • Tub or bucket big enough to fit dirty terracotta pots

Step One: Cleaning the Pot

Group of terracotta pots stacked upside down
Image credits: Bek Greenwood via Pixabay

To start, clean the pot with a brush, toothbrush, or fine steel wool with water and liquid dish soap. The first step is removing old dirt and debris that might have been collected when the last plant lived in the terracotta pot. If there are old mineral deposits on the pot, use a knife to scrape them off.

Once you’ve removed all the dirt and debris, there might still be stains. If this is the case, soak the pot in a 50:50 ratio solution of water and white vinegar. Leave it to soak in this solution for at least 30 minutes; the longer, the better.

Step Two: First Soak

Dirty terracotta pots upside down in a tray
Image credits: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

The next step involves soaking the pot again, but this time in a 1:10 ratio solution of bleach to water. This step is the one that truly sanitizes the pot, killing any bacteria that could still be present on its walls. Leave the pot to soak for at least a few hours, but leaving it to soak overnight is ideal.

Step Three: Second Soak

group of terracotta pots soaking
Image credits: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

The final step is to remove the pots from the bleach solution. After that, they need a good rinse, then leave them to soak in clean water. Again, the pots should sit for a few hours, but overnight is best. Leave the terracotta pots in the solution till you are ready to use them.

Step Four: Replanting New Plants

single green plant growing in clean terracotta pot
Image credits: Ylanite Koppens via Pexels

When planting new plants in the clean terracotta pots, do so while they are still wet. Doing so prevents the pot’s porous walls from sucking all the moisture from the fresh soil.

Remember to pay attention to your plant’s moisture levels; as terracotta pots dry, they will continue to pull water from the soil into their walls.

So Fresh and So Clean

It’s safe to say that terracotta pots are timeless, inexpensive, and beautiful. And when terracotta is correctly taken care of, it is a fantastic option for housing plants.

While some plants thrive in terracotta pots, some do better in different potting options! Succulents and cacti are two types of plants that do well in terracotta pots as they tend to prefer soil on the dryer side. Plants such as ferns or peace lilies prefer moist soil, so they do best when not kept in terracotta pots.

Do you have terracotta pots at home? If so, what do you grow in them? Post about it in the comments below!