How to care for ceramics

A view of ceramics on display

Ceramics are earthenware, stoneware or porcelain objects (also known as pottery and china) formed from clay into diverse shapes. They are ever present in every kind of household, from flower pots and tea services to decorative figurines.

Here's some useful advice from our conservation experts on how to prevent damage, but seek professional advice to identify each type of ceramic and appropriate methods of care: 

  • When possible, dust your larger ceramic items witout handling or moving them. 
  • If it is necessary to move the ceramic object for cleaning, carry it using both hands. Support large plates under the centre, not at the rim. Do not pick up ceramics by their handles, knobs or rims as these may be weak, previously damaged or poorly repaired.
  • For dusting stable, glazed surfaces without enamel, gilding or repairs, use a lint-free cotton duster. For surfaces that are unglazed or too intricate to clean with a cloth, use a dry hogs-hair brush.
  • Wear thin nitrile gloves when handling unglazed wares or if the glaze is flaking.
  • Store ceramics by wrapping in acid-free tissue paper and bubblewrap, and packing into a strong plastic crate.
  • Display ceramics where they will be secure and protected from dust, for example in a glass-fronted case. Plates and tiles in good condition can be wall-mounted, using a plastic-coated hanger of the correct size.
  • Never wash old or gilded ceramics in a dishwasher as the heat and chemicals can bleach some glaze colours, remove gold or damage the glaze surface.
A conservation assistant uses a brush and vacuum to remove dust from a vase at Petworth House, West Sussex
Conservation staff cleaning a vase at Petworth House
A conservation assistant uses a brush and vacuum to remove dust from a vase at Petworth House, West Sussex
For stable, glazed ceramic items use swabs made of cotton wool to gently clean crevices or surfaces caked with dirt
Using a cotton wool to clean a vase at Melford Hall, Suffolk
For stable, glazed ceramic items use swabs made of cotton wool to gently clean crevices or surfaces caked with dirt
A conservator wears nitrile gloves to clean a set of Flight, Barr & Barr porcelain in the conservation studio at Knole, Kent.
Conservator cleaning ceramics
A conservator wears nitrile gloves to clean a set of Flight, Barr & Barr porcelain in the conservation studio at Knole, Kent.