Friday, March 1, 2013

Removing Dirt Stains from Pottery

I have a thing for white McCoy pottery--especially planters.  I do.  I love the way the white has aged to a buttery cream color, and I even love it when the surface is covered in crackled crazing.  The thing I don't love about aged white pottery is the dirt stains on the planters.  You may pick up a planter thinking, "Oh, I'll just clean this off.  It is just dirt!  It'll come right out!"  So you drop about twenty bucks on a dirty little planter, all sorts of happy with your vintage score.

That is, until you get home, and after scrubbing for what seems like forever, you're still left with a grimy, dark ring around the inside of your planter or vase.  

Have no fear!  After much scrubbing, soaking, scrubbing, and waiting around, I have figured out an easy method of seriously improving the appearance of stained white pottery.

I picked up this small, McCoy planter on ebay for a steal, since the saucer had been majorly chipped on one side.  I plan on using this in the front porch remodel, and the chipped side won't be seen by anyone.  McCoy planters of this size run about $20, but I snagged this beauty for a mere $8.  

Try to see past the dirt here.

Chips Ahoy!

Even that is dirty!

After washing the planter with a regular kitchen sponge, it still looked very much the same as when it arrived.  I decided to get serious and bust out the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Post kitchen sponging only
This is what it looked like after Mr. Clean had his way with it:

Post Magic Eraser

I use a cup full of hydrogen peroxide in my laundry to whiten my whites, since we don't use chlorine bleach in the house if we can help it.  I decided to give an overnight soak in peroxide a try.  I filled a large soup bowl with peroxide and put the planter in upside down.

Nighty night, Mr. McCoy

In the morning, I woke to this:

As my cousin Nicole would say, "Meh."
Slightly faded, but not much improvement.  I rinsed the planter and put the peroxide in my next load of laundry.  It was time to bring out the big guns.  But, not until I provide a little backstory:  My mother hates the fact that I don't use chlorine bleach in my house.  She hates it.  I explain that vinegar and peroxide work just as well at killing germs, but without fail, whenever she comes to stay, she will pick up a gallon of Clorox and a bottle of Soft Scrub with Bleach.  They sit under my kitchen sink most of the time, unless something of major proportions happens (like the youngest child fills the toilet bowl with toilet paper and floods the bathroom).  

So, I busted out the Soft Scrub.

She even bought the bonus size.  I've had this since last July.
I folded a piece of paper towel and squirted the Soft Scrub directly onto the paper towel.  Then I swiped it over the stain, leaving a thick layer.  I also turned on my kitchen fan, since the smell of this gives me a headache.  

A thick layer is necessary

After a few hours, I checked my progress.  The stain was still there, so I rinsed the planter off and reapplied.  I ended up reapplying three times between noon and 10 p.m.  The last application stayed on overnight.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I woke up this morning, rinsed the planter, and was awarded with this:


There is only one tiny area that still has a very faded stain on it, but it is hardly noticeable in natural light.  

I did a bit of research on using full-strength bleach to lighten stains on pottery, and it isn't recommended, as it can affect the glazing on the item.  If it is a high-value piece, I wouldn't trust anyone except an expert.  I did see a post where several collectors used high-strength peroxide from perm solutions to lighten their pottery, but it requires more stringent safety measures than simple paper towel application (like gloves and maybe safety glasses).  

Here's a before and after:

Overall, I'm really happy with how the planter turned out.  Now, I just need to figure out what to plant in it!
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