Cleaning vintage pottery

Chinoiserie bowl
Chinoiserie Bowl Asian Home Decor, Frederick Cooper

We’ve all been there. You find the perfect vase, but realize it has a few flaws, crazing, water rings inside, or just loads of dirt, paint or debris that won’t come off.  You can get that vintage pottery clean. It takes some patience and a bit of work, but the end result will be fabulous.  Before you start though, be sure your piece is not broken, cracked, crazed or repaired as soaking may cause more damage to broken pottery or compromised glaze. Also note that some pottery has crazing created as part of the design. This should not be viewed as a flaw, but it has to be cleaned gently.

Start by giving yours a gentle scrub with a mild dish soap. If the inside is a bit crusty from use, fill it up with vinegar and let it soak for a while. Use a toothbrush to loosen any remaining grit once a day.  You may need to let it soak for several days, even up to a month. Change the vinegar every few days as it will lose potency over time. For really tough hard water or calcified stains try using Lime-A-Way, CLR or a similar product. Again, let it soak for several days. I have also heard denture cleaner may be used to remove calcified water stains. Never use chlorine bleach on old pottery. It will destroy it from the inside out. 

Atomic Bud Vase

If your pottery has silver marks or similar stains, first try a pencil eraser. If that doesn’t work, try a soft cleanser such as Bar Keepers Friend or a Magic Eraser. To remove glue or sticky residue try using acetone. Rub with a soft cloth or let soak until loosened.

To remove dark heavy crazing lines, use beauty supply strength 40% hydrogen peroxide and let soak for a week or more. Be sure to use gloves and take safety precautions with this, as it is a very strong solution and can cause damage to exposed skin.

One more method to remove stains in old pottery is to put it in the oven on low (about 200 degrees) for about an hour.  Put your item in the oven while wet from soaking, and the oven still cold. Turn the oven off after about an hour. Let it cool down before opening the door or removing the item, as a quick change in temperature may cause it to crack.  Then clean with a mild soap solution.

Our cleaning instructions are for pottery with decorative value, not antique or heirloom value. Those are best left to an expert to clean so you can be sure it’s done properly without compromising the piece.


The best is yet to come! Pam, Vintage Renude

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