Ceramics is a general term that can cover different types of objects made
from heated clay. The two main categories are pottery and porcelain.
Whatever type you have, it will need the same care and attention.
There is a great deal of misleading information about repairing ceramics
at home, and the following should be avoided.
Repairs to Avoid:
If you discover damage on a piece that is special to you (for whatever
reason), contact a qualified ceramics conservator to discuss treatment. A
bad home repair will cost more to rectify than getting professional advice
from the start.
- Don't heat up cracked plates in the oven. This can extend the crack,
split the object altogether or open up old repairs.
- There are many kinds of adhesives and their use in repair of valued
ceramics requires training and an understanding of chemistry. Hydrogen
peroxide and sterilising preparations are sometimes recommended for
cleaning ceramics - don't use them! Their ingredients can react
causing damage, including staining. If you do use adhesive at home to
repair a ceramic you'll probably find it seeps out. Commercial glues
can easily yellow and can be difficult to remove. Sandpaper and
scalpels should not be used.
- Painting in a damaged area should also be avoided. There are over
100 colours of white! Colour matching takes great skill and training.
- Soaking old ceramics can have hidden dangers. Old repairs could
become loose and porous pieces will absorb water that could cause
- If a ceramic has been repaired (even by a conservator), don't use it
for food. It could be a health hazard.
Who hasn't dropped and maybe broken a piece of ceramic? It may not
be possible to completely stop breakages but here are some tips to
reduce the danger:
- Avoid handling cups, pots and vases by the handles or other
vulnerable areas. Age and hidden repairs may have weakened
them. Hairline cracks worsen with rough handling.
- When carrying ceramics be aware of loose pieces like lids
that could come off. Remove them first and carry pieces with
- If you have heavy items, make sure they are well supported
and get help with doors. It is often safer to move items (even
within your home) in a box or basket padded with tissue or
- Don't rush when moving objects and make sure you set them
Part of the joy of collecting ceramics is being able to appreciate
them in your home environment and putting them on display. make
sure that by doing this however you're not exposing them to any
risk of damage. Are they somewhere that people (or animals) could
knock them off? Is your home prone to vibrations from
trains/traffic or planes? Will pieces suffer from nicotine stains
(from heavy smoking) or coal dust? Display cabinets are often the
best place for ceramics. Make sure objects can be set back from
the edge and that there is enough space between each item. Plate
stands are also decorative ways to display your plates. But make
sure they are stable and won't topple over easily.
If you want to display a plate on the wall, make sure the wire
rack is covered with plastic. If not, it could scratch away the
edge of the plate. It should also be a good fit. If it's difficult
to get it around the edge, it may be too small and place
unnecessary stress on the plate. Never glue display units to your
Cleaning your ceramics is a good way to inspect your pieces for
any signs of new damage or deterioration of old repairs.
Forget exotic solutions and immersing items in water or other
liquids! Cleaning should be done by firmly cradling a piece and
brushing with a very soft brush.
In extreme cases, dirt might be cleaned with a very dilute
solution of water and washing up liquid. Don't immerse in water.
If the water in your region is hard, use distilled water from your
chemist. Apply it with a slightly dampened cotton bud or piece of
cotton wool. Don't scrub! Do a small area at a time and dry
Never put special ceramics in a dishwasher.
Packing ceramics can often cause the most damage, so here's some
advice on packing ceramics safely.
- Use a cardboard box that is sturdy (ideally made of
acid-free material) and a few centimetres higher than the edge
of the ceramic. Start by crumpling up tissue (acid-free
is best) into balls and pad the bottom. Don't use
newspaper. It is very acidic and if it becomes wet, the print
could transfer onto the object.
- Don't wrap each piece as this is the easiest way to lose or
break pieces. Instead, shape balls of tissue and build up
'nests' in which the ceramic can rest. Make sure the tissue
isn't forced into the box.
- If you have to put more than one piece in a box, make sure
they don't touch.
- A tip for finding things - label the outside of the box (add
enough information that you know what is in the box but not
specific enough to help thieves select what to steal) and put
a sheet of white paper with the contents written in pencil
(ink can run and stain) just inside the lid to help know where
things are located in the box.