De-Grime Your Terra Cotta Flower Pots With An Easy Cleaning Hack

For those channeling those romantic, heady Mediterranean vibes in their terrace, patio, or balcony gardening efforts, terra cotta pots of all sizes are likely a go-to planting option. They look great, and the porosity of the clay prevents overwatering, a condition houseplants and container plants commonly suffer. The downside to these planters is the porous surface quickly gets grimy with dust, dirt, minerals, and even organic hangers-on like moss. You've probably Googled "how to get salt stains off your clay pots" more than a few times. You could block out a morning or afternoon in your week to get out a hard-bristled brush and some warm soapy water and scrub the pots clean. Or, you could save yourself some of that precious time and pop your empty terra cotta planters in your dishwasher — the small to medium-sized pots, at least.

The question is, should you be cleaning your flower pots at all? The answer to that is a resounding yes. Cleaning and disinfecting pots between plantings reduces the risk of disease and insect infestations spreading to any plant you plop into an unclean pot or even escaping the clay confines and infiltrating your entire container garden. Mineral salts also tend to collect on clay planters, and these can dehydrate the soil. The water you provide from a hose or watering can, intended for the growing plant, is instead captured by the salts. What's more, soiled terra cotta planters look unsightly, and aesthetics really matter in small spaces like container gardens.

Clean or disinfect your terra cotta planters? You choose

Some experts suggest using the dishwasher to clean used terra cotta pots. First, check the planters for damage — cracks or chips may get worse in the machine. Load the pots into the dishwasher, fill the detergent dispenser with a light detergent, a teaspoon or two of trisodium phosphate (TSP), or a 1:20 ratio of vinegar to water (adding vinegar helps restore your decorative pots to their former glory), and press start on the heaviest wash setting. Other gardening gurus suggest first washing the majority of the dirt and mineral stains off your terra cotta planters, and then popping them in the dishwasher. The high heat inside the dishwasher disinfects them and draws out those plant-harming salts. Run a quick-wash cycle to save water.

Stop the wash before the dishwasher gets to the drying portion of the cycle. Rinse all the terra cotta planters in fresh water to remove any trace of whatever cleaning solution you used. Use a strong-bristled brush to remove any remaining patches of encrustation or staining. Place them back on the racks to dry naturally, leaving the dishwasher door open, or place them outside in the sun. You can also further sterilize them in the oven — 400 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours. The few precautions to mind during this process is never washing your terra cotta planters with tableware or cookware, and always stacking the biggest pots in the middle of the racks.