How to Remove Stains from your Antique China, Pottery and Porcelain

Have you ever passed up purchasing a wonderful piece of art pottery, flow blue, transferware or any other collectible ceramic or porcelain because it had horrible crazing or other stains? I know I have. Condition, condition, condition is the mantra that has been drilled into our heads. Only buy the best when purchasing our collectables and antiques.

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However, it is possible to improve the condition of your china, pottery and porcelain finds using a cleaning solution.

Here’s the method I use to make my art pottery, porcelain and china bright and white.

The 40-Percent Peroxide Solution

First, use only 40-percent hydrogen peroxide. This is not the peroxide you buy at the drug store. You need to buy the stronger type that is found at a beauty supply store. Always wear protective gloves to protect your skin from the burning peroxide.

I usually use a good size plastic storage container that can be sealed. I use plastic storage boxes that are large enough to lay a platter flat on the bottom. I will generally purchase 3 to 4 large 32 oz bottles of peroxide and pour into the plastic container. I soak the items sometimes for a month, and up to 6 months. I like my items to be completely covered as they soak.

The peroxide loses strength over time. You will know when to replace the peroxide because it tends to get discolored, and starts to have an odor. The brown crazing is usually old grease that has become trapped in the crazing of the glaze. This old grease darkens with age.

If I have a piece of porcelain that is more delicate, and I don’t want it soaking in peroxide for any length of time, I simply wrap the piece in old white rags soaked in peroxide, only putting the wet rags on the spots that need whitening. I place it in a large trash bag, and seal it. If using trash bag method, the rags will need re-soaking every few days, as they dry out.

Clean Your Pieces Very Carefully

Use great care with any cleaning method. It’s a good idea to try the method on an inexpensive piece before attempting to clean valuable pieces. After you have the piece as clean as you can, wash it with soap and warm water to clean off and residue of the peroxide.

NEVER USE CHORINE BLEACH! This will destroy the pottery, porcelain or ceramic piece. It literally eats it from the inside out. It makes the glaze flake of the piece.

Also, please make sure that you carefully look over any piece that you are going to soak. If restoration or repair has been made on a piece of pottery, porcelain or ceramic, chances are the piece will be ruined in this cleaning process. If in doubt ask a specialist in restorations before you try this.

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Along the way, I try not to over-clean a piece. I don’t want to remove all the age; I just want the piece to display nicely. And if I’m careful, that’s just what happens.

Careful Cleaning Gets Great Results

Bear in mind, though, that I have even used this method on a piece of Limoges that was trimmed in gold, and it did not harm the gilt design, even though it was so badly discolored it had to soak for months.

As you’ll see, with patience, a little work and a lot of time, a bargain-priced and slightly-damaged collectible can be cleaned and its value increased.


Maggie Turnipseed is WorthPoint’s lead Worthologist. She is a Generalist.

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  1. Sheila Snyder says:

    Great post! I wish I had seen this a few weeks ago when I found an entire set of crazed china in boxes that appeared ruined because of dirty crazing. But I wish the article had mentioned whether the porcelain is food safe after this treatment. Obviously, you would hopefully not eat off dishes with dirty crazing, but what if it becomes clean again?

  2. RJ Ruble says:

    I’ve used a polstice of non-chlorine bleach effectively. I also have heard that some people “bake” the piece in the oven after using peroxide. Any thoughts?

  3. Vickie says:

    I have also had success removing stains with the new “Magic” Scrubber pads that remove marks from walls. Try marks on the bottom of the item first and don’t SCRUB hard. Hope this helps someone!

  4. Mari says:

    Important….do not use a gas oven to remove the peroxide from the dish as hydrogen peroxide is volatal. If there is grease residue after soaking the item, put the it into a cold electric oven and raise temp only to 175 degrees for up to 30 min. Use warm water with mild detergent to remove the grease. Can be repeated if necessary.

  5. Catherine says:

    Any recommendations with smoke and soot damage after a fire?

    I have been using good ole Dawn with good success with a lot of pieces — but not all — or in crevasses.

    Thanks

  6. janny says:

    I’ve been using your method for a long time and whole heartedly support it. However, what to do when one has old (c.1840s) gilded china? I’m not brave enough to submit them to the peroxide. I think it will just irreparably tarnish the metallic color.
    tried soaking same in strong solution of boraxo in water (c0vered). this did work but, only up to a point.

    • Maggie Turnipseed says:

      I have used hydrogen peroxide on pieces that had gold trim .
      I had success and it soaked for a couple of months because the stains were so bad. Believe it or not there was no change to the color of the gold trim. It is always a risk to use chemicals on antiques.
      Why don’t you try soaking some paper towels in the Peroxide and lay them on the areas that are still stained. Put the plate in a sealed plastic bag and make sure they remain moist. It may take a long time to work. With patience hopefully this will work for you.
      Good luck!
      Maggie

      • julie says:

        Hi Maggie, I am trying to get stains out of an old shelley dinner set. Do I use the peroxide alone or do I dilute with water. Will it remove stains from hairline cracks. The peroxide I have brought says 40 vol 12% is that ok. thanks so much julie

  7. Maggie Turnipseed says:

    Julie,

    Use it straight out of the bottle. Do not dilute.
    It should work on all the stains. Sometimes it does take a bit of time , so be patient.
    Maggie

    • Michelle Olson says:

      I stored two beautiful old china serving pieces for several years wrapped in bubble wrap. They had crazing when I packed them. When I unwrapped them they were so gross. The crazing is very dark now and there are dsrk random stains. Could the plastic bubble wrap have caused the discoloration? I will get 40% peroxide and try it. Sure hope it works, I love these dishes!.

  8. maggie turnipseed says:

    Michelle,

    I have not seen that happen before with bubble wrap. I suspect that the serving pieces were freshly washed and still were not completely dry when the bubble wrap was placed on them. There must have been moisture that had seeped into the crazed areas. I believe this is what caused the discoloration along with old grease. Follow the steps and they should be back to normal and ready for your Thanksgiving table before you know it!

    Thank you for using WorthPoint.
    Maggie

    • Michelle says:

      My two beautiful china serving pieces were spot free and prettier than ever today for Thanksgiving dinner. The peroxide works like magic and leaves the finish cleaner and clearer than before. Very nice! Thank-you for the great tip. Happy Thanksgiving 2011 and God Bless America!

      • Jean B Owens says:

        I have two plates one is 100 yrs and the other maybe 125 yrs old. They are stained or have darken w/age. They are porcelain with portraits.What can be done with them.?

        • maggie turnipseed says:

          When unsure about the process to use ,it is best just to leave the piece alone. When items have survived 100 to 125 years, there is nothing wrong with allowing items to age gracefully

  9. Jean B Owens says:

    Sorry, they are packed and have been sent to Philadelphia.

  10. I have used peroxide several times to clean crazed pottery with good results. It doesn’t work quite as well on porcelain in my experience.
    My technique is slightly different and quicker but still using 40 vol hydrogen peroxide obtained from hairdressers or their wholesalers.
    I soak cotton-wool in peroxide and apply it to the stained areas. I then apply clingfilm over it to keep it in place and prevent evaporation. Then I put the item in my kitchen oven at around 50 to 80 degrees centigrade for a few hours, maybe even overnight. The higher the temperature the less time is needed. Let the item cool slightly before removing the film and cotton and wash thoroughly with warm water and detergent to remove any fatty deposits on the item. The cotton wool will be yellow or brown with fat and grime.
    One disadvantage is that it removes the paint from some restoration so I wouldn’t recommend it if you think your item might have been restored

    • maggie turnipseed says:

      My thoughts are just to make sure you very gradually heat and cool the piece, as the heat process could create more crazing to the glaze. It is the crazing that has allowed the oil and grease to penetrate the glaze and discolor in the first place.

  11. Teresa says:

    Hello Maggie,
    I received a beautiful lidded 18thc sugar bowl for Christmas. But it has large darkened areas of brown both inside and out. I plunged it into bleach and then decided to do a google search on cleaning antique porcelain :( I have since plucked the sugar bowl from the bleach! And I am wondering if I can still use the peroxide now. Help!

  12. Eddie says:

    Hello,

    I have recently acquired an old celery set and some other various china that is hand painted, is the peroxide treament safe to use on hand painted pieces I feel they could be some real show pieces even more than they are but I don’t want to risk removing the decoration.

    Thanks
    Eddie

    • maggie turnipseed says:

      While I cannot guarentee the process will not damage a hand painted dish. I have never had any issues with it damaging any pieces. I suggest keeping an eye on it and checking it every day. Another idea would be to only clean areas where there is no design. You can do this using paper towels soaked in the peroxide. Good Luck Eddie, and let me know what progress you make!

      • Thanks Maggie,
        I will keep you posted, I have many hand painted dishes so I will try it on piece not so dear to my heart and see how it goes, I am a hair dresser myself so I have peroxide and can’t wait to try this, so my displays will shine more than they already do! :)
        Eddie

  13. Derek says:

    Maggie, thank you for your comments on cleaning antique pottery and porcelain but I have the same question that reply number 1 had. Is the china food safe after treating with hydrogen peroxide?

  14. Jan says:

    This method is miraculous! I have just brought a piece of Booths Real Old Willow pottery back to its former glory after soaking for about 10 days in 35% hydrogen peroxide (I don’t think 40% is available in the UK). The white glaze is gleaming and as promised the gilding hasn’t been affected. Thanks Maggie!

  15. Frances says:

    In answer to those asking about the safety of items treated with hydrogen peroxide, I am a paper conservator and this bleach is sometimes used (by trained professionals only!!) to remove stains in paper. Hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2, oxidizes, in the presence of air, to become H2O + O, in other words, water and oxygen. So, in my opinion, I would think that dishes would be safe to use after bleaching, although I would definitely wash them first!

  16. Derek says:

    Just to follow up on food safety: Make sure that you buy “food grade” hydrogen peroxide. The 3% stuff available at a drug store contains “stabilizers” to help prevent breakdown of the hydrogen peroxide. I’ve also seen 35% H2O2, used for industrial applications, that also has stabilizers added. These stabilizers are not “good eats”. If you use food grade H2O2 it does breakdown as Frances says so we should be all set.

  17. Barbara says:

    Hi, I have a clay hand painted wall plate that has some stains on, probably from the newspaper I once wrapped it with. How can I remove the stains? I prefer not to dip it in peroxide because I don’t want to risk it and I don’t want to have to wait for so long. I have regular Hydrogen Peroxide and 30% peroxide from a beauty store. Can I try what I have at home to see if it works?

  18. Ron says:

    The hydrogen peroxide approach didn’t work very well for me. On my blog, I’ve documented two very easy and effective ways of removing stains from fine china. See here: How to Remove Stains from Fine China.

  19. marilyn says:

    I have used the 40 vol peroxided with additional ammonia added. Soak in covered plastic container…rinse well and bake at low heat in oven. Works like a charm but you need to be really careful and wear rubber gloves at all times! Has anyone else tried this?

  20. Gary says:

    Crazing sounds like a name for a “Shining” sequil lol.

  21. Judie Chapman says:

    Tried all the solutions on all the websites, and found one that’s terrific. STAIN AWAY denture cleaner. Comes in granulated form at any drugstore. About $6.00. Take a piece of toilet tissue the size of the stain, apply and dampen so it sticks in place. Sprinkle with a little Stain Away and re-wet with tiny droplets so it doesn’t run off. It will foam. Let sit for several hours, wet and wipe away. Even works on crazing stains.

  22. Mary says:

    Please do not confuse 40 VOLUME hydrogen peroxide as 40 PERCENT HP. 40 vol like you buy at the beauty supply is about 12% HP. You can buy 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide at some health stores, but be warned it can cause burns (and some say bad ones) if used undiluted.

    I would hate to see someone misreading this buying 35% (since that’s as close to 40% they could find), when in reality they are looking for 12% hp.

  23. B Christopher says:

    I own a full compliment of Wedgewood China,some pieces have discoloration..most have this crazing and some w/stains. I understand crazing comes with age(lol). My question is does this diminish the value of the settings?

    • Michael J says:

      Love these ideas, but what can you do for an antique porcelain clock? The crazing isn’t too bad, but I would like to clean it. Any ideas?

  24. Gee says:

    My Wedgewood platter is stained and crazed ,and as mentioned before, it is probably from meat fat. It was fine when put away but haven’t used for long while. How about trying Efferdent or another denture cleaner instead of the “Stain Away” Judy mentioned. Anybody tried it???

  25. pam says:

    Has anyone tried opalescence, or another bleaching agent for teeth? I think they are a strong hydrogen peroxide product and already in a paste type form. They also come in tubes that keep it fresh and easy to apply to small spots of discoloration. I haven’t tried it, but wonder if anyone else has.

  26. Hi I am so lucky to have found this post … I found a wonderful 18th century canister piece that is un-chipped or cracked. I wish I could post a picture for you to see although it is highly stained with dark brown spots. I bought the piece in Mississippi while on vacation for 6 bucks. I was considering restoration but now I think I think I can restore it myself ! Thanks for the post !

  27. I had no idea you could use peroxide for this! I’m so excited to learn this because there are so many ways I can use it now. Thanks for sharing.

  28. linda dawson says:

    Just purchased a Wedgwood grape embossed cream pitcher. Soaked the inside with clear clean water and to my dismay, I now have a brownish discoloration on the exterior,,,right at the watermark where the water was filled to. What can I do??? Help.

  29. Maggie Turnipseed says:

    It may still be wet, and return to normal color as it drys. If that is not the case, try the the suggestions above. Hope you get the stain out!
    Maggie

  30. I work in the shipping dept for a tableware company in St Charles IL. We clean our tableware with a product called Wenol Metal Polish, in the red tube! It safely cleans just about any utensil marks on chinaware, stoneware, and flatware too! So if you have stains, utensil marks, silverware marks, rust, spoon marks, some of the darkening on the surface of your pottery or Fiestaware, (vintage OR contemporary) this usually will remove the majority of them. Wenol combined with that good, old-fashioned elbow grease….work great! It performs well for us for removing silverware stains and some use marks from dishes of all types, be it. fine china, Fiestaware, Stangl, most pottery, Corelle. For more info http://www.totallytableware.com

    • Maggie Turnipseed says:

      I use Wenol frequently , but never tried it on marks or stains on dishes, I will give it a try . Thank you for sharing your method!

  31. Chris Bahn says:

    Hi. Based on your great suggestions, I’m in the process of cleaning grease from a 150 year old stoneware, salt glaze crock, which has quite a bit of grease absorbed into the glaze. I just purchased the 40-volume hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and have now surrounded the crock with the H202 in a large bucket (which I’ve then sealed with Saran Wrap and an outer trash bag). The only problem is, it turns out I bought the H2O2 in a ‘cream’ form (thus it’s a thick liquid) instead of liquid form. Based on that, here’s my questions:

    1.) Has anyone tried the cream form, and should it work just as well as liquid? Or will the cream not absorb into the grease fissures well enough to extract the grease?

    2.) Since I’ve got the bucket well-sealed, I hate to undo it any sooner than need be. So, I’m wondering how long you suggest me soaking the crock before I first check to see how the grease-removal is doing.

    3.) Once I do check the concoction, should I simply check to see if the H2O2 has turned dark from the extracting of grease, or do you suggest that I pull the crock out and visually inspect it?

    4.) Once I feel the process is complete, I’ve seen various responses on your blog about how to do the final cleaning. Do you suggest simply hosing it off, or actually washing it with hot soapy water, or doing what some have suggested and putting it in the oven? If the latter, can I assume I first wash the H2O2 off with red-hot soapy water, then heat it to a certain temperature (what temperature?), and then remove and again rinse with hot soapy water?

    5.) Any other guidance?? Thanks much

    • Philip Lang says:

      Chris,
      Because the cream H2O2 is thick and does not have the fluidity like water I find that it does not work like the liquid hydrogen peroxide. The high viscosity of the cream does not allow it to flow under hydrostatic pressure into the tiny crevices. There are other good application for the cream – to clean different types of products but for porcelain you’ll want to use the liquid. For dark hairlines I will sometimes soak for 12 – 24 hours, put in the over at 200 deg F for 2 hours and repeat this cycle several times. So as not to shock delicate porcelain I let it air cool for a little while but it can still be very warm – just not hot – before I put int back into the room temperature H2Os..