Jun 7, 2014

How to Clean Vintage Pottery & Dinnerware

By Mary Wald of



Back in Jane Austin's time tea cups were so valuable, that the lady of the house would wash them herself instead of entrusting them to the servants. While we don't have to worry about being that careful nowadays, antique and vintage items sometimes require a little extra care. Today I would like to address pottery and china dinnerware. They are my first loves. Join me for some tips at restoring and maintaining your fabulous vintage finds and treasures.

Some times a great find will entail a great deal of work. Maybe your grandmother was like mine, and fried everything. Not fun things like twinkies, but chicken, and chops, and other meals . She was not so great at the cleaning the film that developed on everything sitting in the kitchen, bless her heart. I learned early on that soaking is wonderful. Soaking china and glassware in a plastic tub of dish detergent and water can do wonders. Leave it for a few hours, or overnight, and the grease will slide away. Add a few cups of vinegar to the bucket, and it will work even better. For extra delicate items it is nice to lay a towel in the bottom of the tub or sink. That way they do not clink against the bottom. Do not soak any painted items, or pieces with wood parts.

The parts of the pottery and china not covered by the glaze may be a little harder to get clean. Scrubbing with some "Barkeepers Friend" works wonders. Barkeepers Friend is fabulous. You can scrub on glaze and glass without hurting the finish. It can even get out the brown baked on stuff from kitchenware, and gray marks from rubbing against metal.

Keep in mind that it will rub off anything that is not under the glaze. This includes gold and platinum trim, actual paint, and the prints fired onto glassware. If you do not know whether a pattern or decoration is safe to use it on leave it alone until you ask someone. Better safe than sorry.

One of the most common things to deal with is lime build up. It occurs in vases, pitchers, and up around the inside edges of planters. There is a magical, mystical, non-toxic substance that will dissolve it, vinegar. Yep, plain old vinegar. I buy it by the two gallon jugs, because it so handy.

If an item has heavy lime, as vases often do, fill it with vinegar, and soak it for awhile. If it has heavy build up you can even leave it for hours. You can fill the bottom of a bucket with vinegar, and place a planter upside down in it in order to get up around the edge where the buildup often is. If you forget it overnight, or even for days that is just fine. Again, do not soak items that have paint, metal, or wood parts.

Those of us who actually drink tea are stuck with the chore of cleaning out our teapots. Tea leaves a residue and stain on the inside of teapots. If you pick up a vintage teapot somewhere, and the insides are brown, you know why.

Here is my handy dandy trick for getting rid of it. Efferdent tablets! Pop a couple in at night after you have filled it full of water, and wash it out in the morning for your morning cuppa. Make sure that the soaking pot is out of reach of pets and children for safety's sake. I am not sure whether Efferdent tablets are safe for items with crazing, so check first before using them on crazed items.

What is crazing you ask? It is the fine web of lines in the glaze that appear in many vintage and antique items. Items with crazing are fine to use for decoration and dry storage. Vases with crazing are fine to use also. Simply be aware that anything you put onto, say a crazed plate, will seep down into those cracks and stain the pottery or porcelain underneath. Crazing is irreversible. There are myths that you can melt it back together. That is not true, and an oven may make it even worse. Putting vintage pottery and dinnerware in the dishwasher can cause crazing, so just don't do it. Your auntie may have gotten away with it, but is it really worth the risk? Another myth is that you can bleach the stains away. While it may lighten some for awhile, the bleach actually starts eating the pottery away right under the glaze. Sounds scary right? Don't bleach crazed items, it is simply crazy.

What if there is a box of the most adorable orphan, shabby chic tea cups and saucers at a flea market, that would look oh so cute at the next party, do you use them? Of course! Unless, there are cracks. Cracks can not be fixed, sorry. Add some steaming hot tea, and they could pop right apart, burning someone in the process.

However, they are absolutely lovely decorations. In fact I have been known to snap apart a cracked tea cup, just so I could glue it back together to put a teeny tiny plant in it to grow.
Glued items can be unsafe for food use, especially if you do not know what kind of glue was used before the item came to you.

There you go. You have washed and polished, and earned yourself a nice cup of tea. Unless of course you simply do not have time for cleaning and that sort of thing. In which case head on over to etsy.com, and search under "etsyvintageteam".  etsy vintage team china There you will find all sorts of quality vintage pottery and dinnerware items, that reputable sellers have already cleaned up for you. No fuss, no muss!


Linda Shore said...

What great info, Mary. Some of the tricks I knew....many of them I didn't. I just added "Barkeepers Friend" to my shopping list. Thank you, thank you!

Glamgurl said...

Happened to peruse your blog. Love the information that you provided. I collect vintage Fine China and Glassware. Thought I knew it all until I saw your blog. Great information that I will use again and again!