Caring for Handmade Ceramics
It’s important to take care of your handmade ceramics in the best way that you possibly can, in order to prolong their life and protect them from chipping, cracking or smashing.
When it comes to caring for vintage or antique ceramics, you would, of course, treat them differently to a recently made piece. But in this blog, I’m going to go through step by step how you can care for and clean your new handmade pottery – and yes, that may sometimes mean avoiding the dishwasher or microwave!
Types of Clay
There are three main types of clay, and to know exactly how to treat your ceramics, you should know what type of clay your ceramic items are made from.
A lot of studio ceramicists use stoneware to form their works. Stoneware is a hardy clay body. It is fired at high temperatures (my ceramics are fired at 1260 degrees – cone 6), and is cooled down slowly, often over a few days. After firing, stoneware is non-porous – any unglazed (parts where you can see the clay) bits of your pots will not take on water.
There are many different types of stoneware and it can come in many colours. You may see red stoneware, white stoneware, black stoneware or buff stoneware. Usually, I use buff or white stoneware in my work.
Earthenware clay is known for having good plasticity, so is a great clay body to use when starting out in pottery. I happily used earthenware for the first 4 years of my pottery journey, and I think because of that I’ll always have a soft spot for its deep terracotta colour. Earthenware ceramics are fired at a lower temperature, usually around 1000 degrees.
However, earthenware is a lot more absorbent than stoneware, meaning that if the surface is not fully glazed, it could absorb water. Earthenware can also come in various colours, usually red, orange and grey. In my earlier pieces of work, I used red earthenware.
Porcelain is probably the most famous of clays, and is usually white or light in colour. Porcelain and other kaolin clays require a lot of skill to work with as they lack plasticity – meaning that they are delicate when being worked with, but will be strong after firing. If handled correctly, porcelain will be lightweight in the finished product, making it ideal for items like teacups, small vases and decorative plates.
Porcelain is typically fired at temperatures up to 1350 degrees – making it a much higher, and therefore longer, firing than either stoneware or earthenware.
Are handmade ceramics dishwasher safe?
Whilst glazed stoneware items are dishwasher safe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be put in the dishwasher all the time. Whilst it’s a convenient solution, it’s important to remember that ceramics are delicate items.
Handmade ceramic items made of any type of clay are likely to get tousled about in the dishwasher. The water pressure inside the dishwasher could mean that items move around inside if they become dislodged. This could result in chipping, cracking or even a break.
When loading the dishwasher, weigh it up: are there other items inside the dishwasher that could potentially damage the handmade pottery inside it? If so, it is a better option to simply use dish soap and a sponge to clean the ceramic item.
As a general rule, if you love something, and would be disappointed if it became broken in the dishwasher, don’t put it in the dishwasher.
Are handmade ceramics microwave safe?
The answer is no. Some glazes have a high metal content that could cause a fire. There is no way for you as a customer to know what glazes have been used in handmade ceramics, so the safest thing to do is to not microwave your ceramics at all.
How to store handmade ceramics
Handmade ceramics should be stored carefully to prevent chips, cracks or breakages. Keep precious items out of reach of children.
Handmade mugs should never be stacked on top of each other, as this risks damaging the rim – thereby risking a good drinking experience. Handmade plates would ideally be stored on a plate rack that prevents weight build up and uneven weight distribution, which could also lead to cracks or chips on the plate’s rim.
If you are packing handmade ceramics away for storage or to move house, be sure to use plenty of paper or wrap. I firstly wrap the ceramic in newspaper, then place it in a strong double walled box. Be sure to add screwed up newspaper as a layer to fill any gaps before moving onto the next lot of ceramic items.