How Do I Remove Old Paint From Terra Cotta Pots & Plaques?

I Want To Repaint Some Of My Terra Cotta Pots,
But Need To Remove The Old Paint First.

I received an email from Sheila asking:

Hello from England, I have some terracotta plaques and pots that have already been painted. I wish to repaint them, but need to remove the old paint first. Can you suggest what I can use to remove the old paints from the pots and plaques. Look forward to hearing from you.

My reply:

Hi Sheila from England 🙂

Thank you for contacting me and I hope I can be of some help.

To remove the old paint, I would try any or all of the following. But first I will say, if the old paint is adhering really well to the terra cotta (no peeling or bubbling, as examples), I personally would paint right over the existing paint. Why? Because obviously the old paint is “sticking” extremely well and then serves as a great base coat!

Since I have no idea of the old colors or the new colors you wish to use … if the old paint is sticking well, but maybe too dark for your new colors, then just paint on a neutral color coat first.

However, if your terra cotta pot has peeling paint and such, then I would try the following: first I’d try using a coarse sand paper to gently sand off all the paint that was possible. (This may be a slow process.) Whatever paint just doesn’t seem to want to come off … I’d leave well enough alone. If it’s stuck that good, well let it stay and paint over it!

Try using a putty knife with a 1-inch wide (give or take–just not so wide as to be hard to use) blade to try and scrap off the paint.

The other thing you can try is to soak your tera cotta pots and plaques in water for at least 24 hours. Then see if you are able to peel away, or gently scrap off the paint. I don’t know how well the pots were primed, etc. in the first place, so possibly they will start to peel after being soaked for a good amount of time.

I would NOT use any liquid or gel paint remover. I am sure you’ve already figured this one out, but I’ll mention it just in case you might be thinking of doing this. The terra cotta is porous and will end up absorbing whatever chemical you would apply to it. Bad idea.

Does this help?? I hope so and please do not hesitate to contact me again with any other concerns. And if you come up with a marvelous method to remove paint from terra cotta pots… would you please let me know?? Thanks! 🙂


  1. Hi,
    Just woundering whether you can further advise on removing old paint from a couple of terricaotta urns that we have just bought at auction. The paint has peeled off on much of the surface but due to the pattern on the urns it would be difficult to rub off the paint with sandpaper.Would soaking the urns for 24 hrs + help to make the paint soft enabling it to be peeled off? The paint is quite thick and has been on the urn for what looks a considerable time.

    Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards,


  2. Hi Will:
    I did a little searching on Google for you (and to educate myself, too) and found this website Looks like MAYBE their paint strippers can also be used safely on terra cotta. I also like the fact they claim the stuff is 100% environmentally friendly and is a water based formula. 🙂

    I suggest you read the sales information and then definitely call their #800 number to check on using their paint remover for your situation, and which one would be best – the “Peel Away” or the “Smart Strip”.

    Other than trying that stuff, or something else similar you might find, yes … perhaps soaking in very hot water for as long as is necessary to get the paint soft; or soaking 24 hrs or more might help. I can’t tell you for sure, as I’ve never needed to do what you are asking about.

    I guess my only hesitation about soaking for a long time would be the chance it might soften up the terra cotta urns, too. The surface condition of the terra cotta might be flaky or crumbly – maybe the paint is serving a “good” purpose, but then maybe your urns are really OK and have very hard surfaces. Can you tell the actual condition of the terra cotta – is there anywhere on the outside where there’s no paint?

    Since I’m not there to have a hands-on look at them, just keep in mind terra cotta has different levels of hardness, depending upon the quality. And lesser-quality garden pots, as example, are thinner walled and more porous and thus are prone to “falling apart” faster over time. Long term soaking MIGHT be a concern for your terra cotta urns, and then again might NOT.

    Hope this helps you. Holler if you have more questions. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  3. I have inherited 4 very heavy, old terracotta urns that I wish to repaint. My only concern with doing a paint over is that although the current brown paint is not high gloss finish, there is a (flat) sheen to the it. I want to use a deep blue gray colour. Should I use a semi gloss or flat paint?

  4. Claudia Brownlie says:

    Hi Dove:

    The best answer to your question is to buy small trial sizes of a latex (aka acrylic) semi-gloss and flat (matte) paint; paint small test areas side-by-side on a piece of cardboard or other surface; let dry and apply a 2nd coat; then compare the sheen of each and see which one you prefer. This should give you a good idea of the sheen and how the dried color looks (in case you realize you aren’t thrilled with your color choice). I am encouraging you to use latex paint as it is easy to work with, and only requires soap and water clean up for brushes, etc. I have always used latex paints for pots and planters I use outside without problems. My painted pots have lasted for many years without issue, but over time expect some flaking and/or chipping of the paint.

    However, no matter what sheen of paint you end up using, you really should apply a minimum of two, or three, coats of a clear acrylic sealer. This will protect the paint and help it last longer, especially if you plan to leave your urns outside throughout the year, and also if you live in an area that experiences frigid winter conditions. Also, the UV rays from the sun can slowly degrade your painted finish.

    A tip: You can counter-act a too glossy paint surface by using a matte finish acrylic clear sealer. I’ve done this myself with great results.

    Final tip: Make sure you wire-brush or scrape off all loose paint, dirt, etc. that may be on the urns before you apply new paint.

    I suggest you experiment first before diving in and painting your urns … just to be on the safe side. Good luck! 🙂

  5. I had brought a terracotta scluptuee with carved designs four yeras back. Each year I repaint the sculpture with Acrylic paints. I alwayd paint over the previous layer of paint. This year I noticed that the carved designs have become almost invisible due to several layers of paint. I need to remove the previous paint before repainting it again . The previous layer sticks very well and there’s no sign of peeling or damage on the paint. It still is in good condition.
    Pls suggest me how to remove the paint

  6. Claudia Brownlie says:

    Varna: You have now learned why continually adding more and more layers of paint over details in a sculpture that have been carved in will ultimately produce the type of problems as you’ve described. Terracotta can be a rather “hard” composition (such as some very expensive Italian terracotta objects) or very soft, depending on the inherent strength of the terracotta mixture that was used. So, I’m sorry but I am not able to offer a “fool proof” method for you. Sandblasting might be your only recourse in order to remove all layers of paint, but again as I’ve stated, if the terracotta used for your object has more of a “softness” factor to the mixture, then sandblasting might destroy it.

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