How to Clean & Care for Antique Ironstone

Hi there! Are you an antique ironstone lover? I’ve not run into too many people who don’t admire its simple beauty. It looks so lovely displayed all together as a collection and provides the perfect backdrop for colorful antiques or natural elements, like red berries or blue forget-me-nots.

Today I’m going to share some tips on how to clean and care for antique ironstone. Because it’s not uncommon to find pieces that have some crazing (fine crackle lines in the outer surface) and a bit of browning, it’s a good idea to have reliable cleaning methods in your back pocket.

Related posts: Collecting ironstone, ironstone price guide, and stenciling ironstone.

Stained antique ironstone with overlay: how to clean and care for antique ironstone

If you prefer video, watch my tips about how to clean and care for ironstone below; or skip the video and read the tips in their entirety further down.

Can you serve food on antique ironstone?

antique T & R Boote white ironstone tureenIt is generally quite safe to serve food in vintage and antique ironstone. Nothing in the chemical makeup of the pottery or its glaze poses a hazard; it doesn’t contain any lead, for example. [Note: I’m not a chemist, so don’t take my word for it, LOL. Do some research on your brands and come to your own conclusions.]

If a piece contains hairline cracks or extensive crazing (a crackle-effect in the glaze), then you should avoid using it for food. Bacteria may be trapped in the cracks, and furthermore, food juices and fats could leach into the pottery and stain it and/or weaken it. Only consider using ironstone that’s in good condition for serving food.

Can you use antique ironstone to hold flower arrangements?

antique white ironstone pitcher filled with crabapples on white and red striped runnerUse the rule we just established for food when thinking about using ironstone as a vase. If it’s in very good condition with no cracks or crazing, then yes, use it for flower arrangements. However, if it’s cracked or crazed, insert a plastic vase or cup and fill it with water for the flowers. 

Do this for two reasons: (1) You don’t want water to potentially leak out of the ironstone and (2) You don’t want to weaken the pottery any more than it already has. Water might leach into the underlying pottery and affect its composition.

Supplies for Cleaning Antique Ironstone

Various cleaning supplies: baking soda, toothpaste, dish detergent in front of an ironstone plate Supplies for cleaning ironstone:

  • Baking soda
  • Dish detergent
  • Toothpaste
  • Peroxide

peroxide in front of white ironstone dinner plate Ironstone in general is extremely sturdy; however, many pieces on the market contains flaws, including cracks, crazing, and chips, making it subject to easy damage. For the most part, you want to use milder cleansing options like those pictured. Move onto stronger options only when the milder ones fail (though they haven’t for me).

A popular “home remedy” promoted by some for eliminating brown stains on ironstone is liquid bleach. I would not recommend this method. The chlorine in the bleach can leach under the glaze, even through tiny crazing, and create havoc with the pottery, causing it to denigrate. This weakens the clay body and will eventually lead to breakage.

How should you wash antique ironstone?

Red checked towel lining a sink with an antique ironstone plate in itTo wash a piece of ironstone, I recommend lining your sink with hand towels on the bottom and up the sides. Believe me, I say this from experience! I’ve wung it in the past, only to break a treasured piece–not fun. You don’t want to kick yourself for not taking a few extra seconds to line your sink.

While ironstone is pretty tough stuff, the finials and handles on many pieces are easily chipped if knocked on your faucet spout or the side of the sink, especially if made of porcelain or soapstone.

Wash your ironstone as you would any other dishware, with a sponge and dish detergent, then towel dry.

big red "X" through picture of a black dish washerDo not put your ironstone in the dishwasher! Even pieces in perfect condition, with no cracks, crazing, or chips, were not designed to withstand the heat and harsh chemicals of modern dishwashers.

How can you remove gray marks on my antique ironstone? 

antique white ironstone plate with gray metal marks on itSometimes you will find a piece of ironstone with gray marks on it. This occurs when a metal utensil or piece of silverware has rubbed against it.

red "X" through a metal spatula on antique ironstone plate, next to picture of a plastic spatula on antique ironstone plateWhen scraping your ironstone clean, you’ll want to avoid metal and use plastic utensils only.

Dabbing a white cloth into baking soda to clean an ironstone plateOne simple solution takes care of almost any of these gray marks: baking soda. It contains just enough grit to easily remove the marks, and does not cause any damage to the glaze or the pottery beneath it.

Dip a damp cloth into the baking soda and scrub. Once the marks are gone, rinse and dry your piece.

In lieu of baking soda, you can also use toothpaste, which has safe levels of grit that can help remove these sorts of marks.

after shot of clean ironstone dinner plate It’s looking pretty good, right?

How can I remove stains from my antique ironstone?

Stained antique white ironstone dinner plate by J. Wedgwood Quite often I come across beautiful pieces of ironstone that have ugly brown stains on them. Some stains don’t detract from the beauty of the piece, but in the case of the pictured plate, it looks like it has the blight(!).

hand holding peroxide and spraying it on stained antique ironstone dinner plate The magic potion for removing (or at least lightening) those stains is peroxide + sunlight + patience. I generously sprayed this Wedgwood dinner plate four times with peroxide and let it sit in the sun for four days. 

I’ve heard others recommend soaking ironstone in peroxide and then placing it in a warm oven until the stains disappear, but I’ve also read that heating peroxide can be dangerous. Frankly, the method I just described has always worked for me, so I’ve never had to take that risk. I suggest you don’t either.

before and after shots of stained antique white ironstone plate--stained & cleanThe results were pretty spectacular, wouldn’t you say?

antique wedgwood white ironstone dinner plate after cleaningWhile the browning did not completely disappeared, it no longer detracts from the overall appearance of the plate as it once did.

Collection of antique white ironstone on a shelf with pink backgroundIt can join its brothers and sisters in the china cupboard now.

I hope I’ve given you some useful tips for helping you to clean and care for your antique ironstone. It’s a unique material requiring some special handling depending upon the situation you want to address.

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Pinterest photo of stained ironstone with overlay: learn tricks for cleaning stained antique ironstone

ironstone pitcher with crab apples and text: Learn how to clean & care for antique ironstone

You may also be interested in:
The Collector’s Guide to Antique Ironstone

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  1. I definitely pinned this, Diana! I am still a newb at collecting ironstone… so hard to find here in So Cal for a decent price! But, I do love it, and will use this for pieces that I think may be to far gone to help! This may open up a whole new buying tier for me! 😉 Thanks for sharing at Tuesday Turn About!

  2. Really great info for us ironstone lovers/collectors. I didn’t know you could remove stains. Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm. xo Kathleen

  3. Hi Diana!
    I am a collector of ironstone and this will be so helpful to know as I find pieces that may need this application. You are one of my features this week at Homestyle Gathering. Thank you so much for sharing! I hope to see you at the party this week.
    >>> Kim

    1. Hi Kim! I’m so glad you found the post helpful, and thanks for the feature–you put a smile on my face 🙂 Love your party–

  4. Thanks for the advice about not placing the pots in the washer machine and to use a damp cloth to clean marks on the dishes. My mom wants to buy some antique stoneware and she wants to wash them before placing them on her cabinets. I will be sure to help her wash them by hand and not pace them on the washer that ways the dishes will not break.

  5. Hi Diana, I have had some luck wetting the stain , then making a paste of Comet (which has some bleaching component to it!), letting it sit, then scrubbing gently as it is abrasive. I really like the baking soda and toothpaste tips!

  6. I have an antique Barrington ironstone pitcher that has ugly brown stains. I put some water and Dawn in it for days changing it every day. I put paper towels under it and it leached out into them each day. It looked great until it dried and now they are back. I’ll try the peroxide and sun now. Thanks for the info.

  7. Hi Diana. Thanks for such helpful info. I have always loved and used antique ironstone. I was curious to learn if you can actually bake in an ironstone pudding mold. Theyre so beautiful but I have not been able to find any helpful info regarding using them for baking. Appreciate your professional input. Grace

    1. You’re welcome Grace–I’m glad the info was useful 🙂 The only way to know for sure would be to have the piece tested. I believe hardware stores have tests for things like lead. Good luck!

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