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How to Clean Antique Pottery

My Experience and Experiments


If you're a pottery collector like me, you often come upon antique pottery pieces that really need a good cleaning.  Back when I first started collecting, I would sometimes pass on buying pieces due to the outside appearances being to scratched, stained or too dirty.  Today, as long as the pottery pieces aren't physically damaged, (chips, scratches into the glaze, cracks, etc.)  I will usually pick them up and give them a good cleaning.  Most of the time I'm able to get a piece very clean, and sometimes to the point of pristine.  Below are pictures of a white Haeger pottery urn / planter that I recently purchased at a junk shop, for a dollar, that needed a serious cleaning.  This planter had many problems beyond the layers of dust and grime that had accumulated over the years.  There were several rust stains, black & silver surface "scratch" marks, pencil writing on the bottom and green sticky putty on the inside.  I decided that this inexpensive piece was perfect for an experimental clean job.  First, I squirted in some Dawn dish soap and added hot water.  Then I scrubbed it with a cloth wash rag & dried it with a towel.  That's when I realized that the piece was actually white rather than dirt brown! ;)  Next I wanted to get the putty off.  I've found that WD40 works great at getting sticky things off pottery like sticker glue, putty and various spilt sticky concoctions.  I squirted it directly on the putty and used the edge of my fingernail and thumb to work it around over & under the substance.  It took about a minute of rubbing before I was ready to wash & dry it again.  (Note: I have used WD40 on all types of ceramics in the past without any further damage to a piece.  However, I have NEVER left it on something more than a minute or two while working it in.  I don't know how this stuff would effect something for a longer period than that.)   Next I needed to get the numerous rust stains off.  For this I used a cleaning product called CLR.  Rather than soak the piece, I decide to use an electric toothbrush to apply the cleaner.  I did this partly because the areas would have been difficult to soak, but mostly because I am very impatient!  The toothbrush I use is an angled AA battery jobby, that rotates in circles, with soft bristles, that I wore out on my greens (slang for teeth).  I poured the CLR directly on stains and brush, placed it on the stains &  hit the "get'er clean button" button.  I had to pour little amounts of the cleaner on there again about 5 times before the rust was gone.  I then washed it off with warm water & dried it again.  Next, I wanted to get the many, many silver and black marks off.  Instead of using a pencil eraser, which is very effective, I tried a product I had in my cabinet called "Cerama Bryte".  I poured it on the brush and marks and let the toothbrush do the work.  I was very, very pleased with how well this stuff worked!  Within seconds the marks disappeared and no discoloration.  (Next time I'm going to try this cleaner on some different and colored glazed.)  I washed it again with soap and water, then snapped another couple pictures.  Although the piece is now clean it still has 3 small chips.  Since I don't really display or sell imperfect pieces I'll probably place this planter on the porch or patio with a nice grouping of mums in it.        

Dirty Pottery in Need of Cleaning



(The top two pictures are after I had already washed with soap & water.  You can clearly see the rust stains in the first, and both show the black & silver "scratch" marks.  The bottom 2 are both sides after cleaning)

gold bar graphics

Websites with Pottery Cleaning Information

You may want to bookmark this site, as the links below will take you elsewhere...

E-How Clean Pottery

Care and Cleaning Art Pottery

Old Pottery

Conservation Research Laboratory

If you have a site that you think belongs here, fill out the contact form.  Thanks!



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