How to Clean Terracotta Pots in 6 Incredibly Easy Steps

A collection of cacti, planted in blue ceramic pots and classic terracotta pots

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Terracotta pots are classic items to store your favorite plants in. The only problem? Terracotta pots can get incredibly dirty. Over time, yours may become caked with dirt or lined with white residue. And this dirt can affect more than just the way your pots look—in some cases, it might actually keep your plants from thriving inside them.

That statement may sound dramatic, but it’s the truth: the white residue lining your terracotta pots is probably some kind of mineral deposit. These deposits typically come from tap water (if your water is hard) or fertilizer. And they can seep back into your plants’ soil, making it hard for them to grow.

Even if your terracotta pots aren’t lined with white residue, they may be in need of a clean-up. If your pot has had the time to accumulate a lot of dirt, it might’ve also accumulated bacteria, fungi, and other pests. Since these can be tough to spot, it’s usually a good idea to wash your pots whenever they’re looking dirty.

Thankfully, cleaning your terracotta pots doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, if you follow a few simple steps, it’s typically pretty easy.

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How Often Should You Clean Your Terracotta Pots?

There’s no rule of thumb for how often you should clean your terracotta pots. So instead of relying on a schedule, try to wash them whenever they look dirty. If your terracotta pots have accumulated those pesky white mineral deposits, they’re probably in need of a clean. And even if they’re free of mineral deposits—but caked with dirt—it’s probably a good idea to clean them. 

Keep an eye out for these two visual signals, and wash your terracotta pots whenever they appear.

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Things You’ll Need:

  • Brush
  • Soaking tub
  • White vinegar
  • Dish soap (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Toothbrush (optional)
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How to Clean a Terracotta Pot

Step 1: Empty Your Pots

Good news! Your first step is simple: empty your pots. Remove any plants currently inhabiting the pots, and be sure to store them somewhere safe. Then, make sure you’ve poured out any rocks, dirt, or debris lingering in the pots.

Step 2: Use a Brush to Wipe Away Loose Dirt

Once your pots are empty, take a moment to dust them off. Use a brush to wipe away any dirt or grime you find. And don’t worry about brushing too hard. You’ll just want to remove anything that’s easy to wipe off.

Step 3: Soak Your Pots in Warm Water and White Vinegar

The key part of your terracotta pot cleaning process? Soaking your pots in warm water and vinegar. Fill a soaking tub with 1 part white vinegar and 20 parts warm water. Then, let your pots soak in the mixture for about 30 minutes.

Some experts recommend adding a dash of dish soap to this mixture. But most say you can get the job done with water and vinegar alone.

White vinegar is dishwasher-safe. So you can actually complete this step with your dishwasher if you want to. Just make sure your dishwasher is big enough to hold all your pots. Then, put the vinegar where you’d usually put your detergent. And let your dishwasher handle the rest.

Step 4: Scrub Your Pots While They Soak

After you’ve let your pots soak for a bit, you may want to give them a quick scrub. Use the brush you snagged earlier to gently wipe off any persistent dirt or grime. By the end of the soak—and the quick wipe-down—your pots should be completely clean.

Step 5: Scrub Persistent White Spots With Baking Soda

If your pots are still caked with white spots, take a moment to give them some extra love. Mix a little baking soda with some water to make a paste. (You’ll want your paste to have a lotion-like consistency.) Then, apply this paste to the white spots, and scrub them using an old toothbrush. Keep at this until they go away. Then, let your pots soak a little more.

Step 6: Let Your Pots Air Dry

Once you’re happy with how clean your pots are, remove them from the soaking mixture, and put them outside to air dry. Within no time, they should be dry—and ready to house your plants once again.

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Tips to Keep Your Terracotta Pots Clean Longer

If your pots are prone to white spots—and you think your tap water may be to blame—consider changing the way you irrigate your plants. Could you use rainwater or distilled water instead?

To use rainwater, simply place a bucket outside to catch water when it rains. Then, use that to water your plants. To use distilled water, filter your water the way you would before drinking it. Then, use the filtered water to water your plants.

If you suspect your fertilizer is the culprit, consider switching fertilizers. Favor a gentler fertilizer, or use less of the fertilizer you already have.

If you notice a white crust forming on the top of your soil, your fertilizer probably is the problem. This white crust is a mineral deposit—just like the white residue on the outside of your pots.

Article Sources
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  1. How To Remove White Residue From Terracotta Pots. Mr. Houseplant, 2021.

  2. Rose, Stephanie. How to Clean Garden Pots. Garden Therapy, 2021.

  3. wikiHow Staff. How to Clean Clay Pots. wikiHow, 2021.

  4. Why are My Terracotta Pots Turning White? Bloomsprouts.