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Terracotta vs Clay Pots (Differences Fully Explained)

Terracotta vs Clay PotsDifferentiating between terracotta and clay for some people might seem like comparing apples to apples. However, there are key differences between these two types of materials, especially when it comes to flower pots.

In this article, we’ll establish the main differences between terracotta and clay pots. Examples of applications will help you to know which one to choose the next time you’re potting a plant. After all, choosing the right pot is just as important as picking out the best plant.

Are you ready to understand the differences between clay and terracotta? Let’s get started.

What is Terracotta?

You’ve probably seen quite a few terracotta pots at your local plant nursery. These pots are red-brown in color, which can be traced back to the high iron oxide content within the terracotta. However, terracotta can also be browner or even a bit more orange in color as well.

Terracotta is technically a type of earthenware that, as we mentioned, has a high iron oxide component to it. Most terracotta is harvested from river beds and then either formed by a potter or a machine. Then, the terracotta is fired at a low temperature after it’s dried out for a period of a few days.

What is Clay?

As a type of raw material, clay can be broken down into different categories. For instance, the most common types of clay include earthenware (e.g. terracotta), stoneware, and kaolin/porcelain. Each of these has its own specific properties, one of which is color.

Clay is porous and permeable. It can be categorized by composition but also firing temperature as well. Most clays fire above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, all the way up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Glaze is applied to most fired clay to seal it, especially if it’s being used in the kitchen.

children playing clay

Natural clays are those that we mentioned above (earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain), but there are polymer clays as well. These clays are synthetic in nature and are best used with younger children to teach them how clay works.

Main Differences Between Clay and Terracotta Pots

Clay and terracotta are not so far apart as you might imagine, but there are some key differences you should pay attention to. Here’s a shortlist for reference.

Porosity

Terracotta pots are known for their porosity, which is also a characteristic of clay. However, clay pores typically shrink when they’re fired. Terracotta pores, however, continue to allow moisture and air to flow through them.

pots with cacti

When it comes to planting, terracotta pots can be great for certain types of plants. Cacti tend to do well in terracotta pots since the pot itself will soak up the excess moisture to keep the roots from decay.

Plants that require higher water content surrounding their roots will find a better home in a clay pot. This type of pot will not soak up as much water as terracotta pots. Many clay pots include drainage holes at the bottom in order to allow the water contained within the pot to flow out after it’s reached the plant roots.

Clay Makeup

Raw clay is a material all its own. While it’s the main component in terracotta, both types are vastly different when it comes to the other main ingredients that round out the clay makeup.

For example, terracotta is a type of clay that, as you now know, contains large amounts of iron that create a reddish look. Base clay, however, has more of an earthy look. Some even consider base clay to be purer since it doesn’t have as many components as other types of clay do.

Exterior Look

You might immediately think of the red color terracotta is known for. While this is a huge way that clay and terracotta differ, it’s much more than that when it comes to the exterior of both clay and terracotta pots.

For instance, terracotta pots, because of their large pores, tend to soak up moisture. This moisture can cause bacteria to grow on the pot itself. While the bacteria is not harmful, you should (and can) clean it off with a scrub brush, soap, and some hot water.

colored and designed pots

Clay pots, on the other hand, can be glazed in whatever pattern, design, or color scheme you choose. This glaze is what gives the clay a hard exterior, which can repel water but also keep it within the pot as well.

Plasticity

Clay itself has high plasticity to it. This is true for terracotta as well, though the plasticity level in this particular clay is not as high as in polymer clay, for example.

wedging clay

Plasticity is a desirable trait in clay because it allows you to work with it without having to tire out your hands after wedging. It’s this very plasticity that gives the clay the ability to be thrown on the wheel since it has to move and bend in order to respond to the pressure of your hands.

While terracotta certainly has some plasticity to it, it’s not as high as other types of clay.

Main Similarities Between Terracotta and Clay Pots

We mentioned clay and terracotta weren’t too far apart. Here are some of the ways they share characteristics.

Kitchen Application

Both clay and terracotta pots are used in many kitchens around the world. In fact, there are many names for cookware made from clay and terracotta. Here are just a few:

  • Shakla dist
  • Tagine
  • Bean pot
  • Cassole
  • Donabe
  • Sha guo
  • Ttukbaegi
  • Handi
  • Palayok
  • Cazuela

cooked food in claypotClay that’s rated for cooking is referred to as flameware. This means it can survive the stovetop as well as the oven. Terracotta contains similar properties, in that you don’t have to preheat your oven in order to use it. The terracotta heats up with the oven, using the large pores to absorb the thermal energy.

Insulation

Both clay and terracotta pots are insulative and therefore respond well to colder temperatures. Terracotta pots are a bit more forgiving when it comes to fluctuating temperatures. This is due to the high porosity, which allows the water to more easily move throughout the pot.

The glaze applied to clay pots is what really improves the insulative nature of the material. This is especially true for clay pots that are glazed inside and out.

Fragility

broken clay pot

Knock a clay pot over once and you’ll experience first-hand how fragile clay and terracotta pots can be. Both of these materials are extremely fragile after they’re fired. While glaze might help the base clay by adding a bit more strength, it’s still not enough to prevent breakage from happening if the conditions are just right.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Terracotta Pots Better for Plants Than Clay?

Both clay and terracotta pots are good for plants. It really just depends on the plant you’re working with, especially when it comes to watering.

Terracotta pots will soak up more moisture, so they’re best for plants that are not super thirsty. Clay pots, on the other hand, do not have as large pores as terracotta pots do, so they typically have drainage holes drilled into the bottom to remove moisture at a slow rate.

Are Terracotta Pots Made of Clay?

Yes, terracotta is a type of clay. However, compared to base clay, terracotta pots have a different composition, which gives them slightly different characteristics. Not all clay pots are terracotta, but terracotta pots are all clay-based.

Are Clay Pots Better Than Terracotta for Cooking?

This really depends on what you’re cooking and how you like to cook. For instance, clay pots are less porous than terracotta, so they tend to keep moisture inside the meal, rather than drying it out.

That being said, both clay and terracotta pots are useful in cooking and baking. The insulative nature of the clay allows the vessel to hold heat for quite a while, and clay pots in particular can provide a number of health benefits when it comes to preparing meals.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Cooking with Clay Pots?

Metal pots are a more common cooking method, but that’s not to say clay doesn’t have a unique set of benefits. For instance, using a clay pot can retain the nutritional value of your food, since you won’t have to worry about adding extra liquid such as oil. Clay pots will instead preserve the natural moisture.

Clay pots can also regulate the pH levels of your food as well. This helps to cut down on the spiciness so that you can enjoy the flavors of your meal more than the burning of your tongue. Clay pots also retain the natural minerals in the food as well. Plus, they’re just environmentally friendly, since they don’t require a lot of processing to manufacture.

Wrap Up

We hope you’ve found this article on the differences between terracotta and clay useful. Knowing what you know now, you should be able to pick out the best type of pot for your plant so that it has the best living conditions possible to grow and bloom. Happy planting!