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Best Detergent For Removing Clay out of Clothing

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Hi Everyone,

I work in a fairly large pottery studio, we tend to accumulate a significant amount of clay on our rags and aprons. We have a washer and dryer on-site, but I've noticed that clay leaves a residue on the washer and dryer. I'd appreciate any input or recommendations on the best detergents to effectively break down clay and help keep our washers and dryers clean. If you have suggestions beyond just laundry detergent for cleaning the clay off of fabrics, please feel free to share those as well! Thank you!

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Washers and dryers do not take kindly to clay. You have noticed the immediate effect on the machines, but it is also harmful to put clay residue into your water pipes, where it will accumulate and clog.

Washing machines and dryers will wear out your clay rags sooner. Rags that are always used for clay can just be rinsed regularly in a bucket and hung up to dry overnight. If you live in a damp or humid area, extras will be needed. Some of my rags are probably forty years old, bought a box of red shop rags that are very pale pink now. (Red rags don’t get lost in the slop bucket.)

Small clay accumulations on shop coats, aprons and pants should be allowed to dry and then scraped off as much as possible before machine washing. Thick caking on clothes that are regularly used for clay should be rinsed in several waters (in a tub that doesn’t drain into your sewer) after scraping and before washing. Most light colored clays won’t stain, but iron oxide is forever - although there’s a product called SoilLov that does a good job on blood that might work. 


Edited by Rae Reich
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I'd prewash your items by hand before throwing them into the wash or simply hand wash and not use machines at all. 

To remove clay residue from the washer afterwards I'd suggest running empty loads with vinegar added - the same as you would with hard water build up in a dishwasher.   But that won't help if it's in your dryer.  You REALLY do NOT want clay dust in your dryer anyway.  It will throw all that dust up into the air when running a drying cycle and that is a health hazard for everyone involved.

If it's really important to get clay stains out of cloth, use a color safe or regular bleach.  Pretreat the stain as you would blood as mentioned.   But again, that will degrade your cloth items over time with chemical decomposition that will make fibers fade and become brittle.  So probably best to have specific sets of clothes and aprons and rags for working with clay and not worry about stains.

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If you’re getting clay in the dryer, the items aren’t coming clean enough in the wash. I would venture the culprit isn’t so much the soap you’re using as the amount of soap, and possibly the amount of water. 

If you use too much deterg, it can build up in the cloths/towels, especially if you have a high efficiency machine. If you do have an HE, make sure you’re using an HE detergent, and don’t use the provided cap to measure it. The caps are too large, and encourage over-use of product. Get a shot glass or a 1/4 cup measuring scoop. Excess detergent builds up and traps clay dust, as does any use of fabric softeners, dryer sheets or those scent bead things. If you’re using any of those, stop. They’re unnecessary for studio towels. If static is a concern, the wool dryer balls are great!

Especially if you have a more water efficient washer, you may have to pre rinse items in a bucket to get the largest bits off first, and use the heaviest duty cycle available. You may want to try giving it an extra rinse, or even running the cycle twice if you’re still having dusty leftovers.

If you’re using a front loading washer, this may not be the best thing for this job. They’re great for protecting clothes, but they weren’t designed with clay studio level of dirt in mind. 

 If you have been using fabric softener or dryer sheets, you might want to do a laundry strip to remove the buildup. Try not to have to do this often, because it is hard on fabric. Not as hard as bleach, but it’s still not an every week kind of thing, 

Fill a bathtub with the hottest water you can, or use a top loading washer using a hot water cycle. Dissolve in  1/2 cup borax, 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 the usual measure of your existing laundry detergent. Add the cloths and soak for 4-8 hours. Use the longer time if you have hard water, less if you have soft. After this, the water will be shockingly gross! If you’re using a bathtub, drain the water and give everything a passing rinse. Run through your regular washer without adding any additional detergent. If you’re using a top loader, just close the lid and let the heaviest duty cycle run. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

do as suggested above and try this.

i was told by my washing machine mechanic that new washers do not use as much water as my nice, old kenmore.   i have had no problems, mainly because i do not use much water to throw and i am alone (whoever makes the mess has to clean it).

if you are really making a huge mess all over the studio, maybe having a smallish bucket and holey plunger would remove enough mud before the washer gets turned on.   to make the plunger work, use a drill with a 3/4 or 1 inch bit and a piece of 2x4 behind it to control the tendency for the rubber to slide while being drilled.   put about 4 or 5 holes about half way between the handle and rim.

slosh enough water around one or two towels at a time and empty the dirty water where you normally would.  not into a sink!  pour it through a sieve so you save the fines to add to reclaim.

smallish bucket and only one or two at a time reduce the weight and make the job more comfortable to handle so each potter can do it daily.




Edited by oldlady
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I bought a 500$ new washer just for clay stuff and its out next to studio and drains to my timber bamboo patch. I use only cold water and never any soap. You will have to clean out rubber trap under washer every now and then as clat settles there.I would never wash clay stuff into a house drain system especaily ours on a septic septic system

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On 10/12/2023 at 1:57 PM, Vik said:

recommendations on the best detergents to effectively break down clay

My favorite clay detergent - Dihydrogen monoxide, best solvent I know of. Clay dissolves in it readily! Pre- rinse bucket O water, maybe rinse several times with rinse water allowed to settle before disposal. The problem with clay is the particle size are super small and fairly sticky so settling is realistically probably more doable than filtering. Detergents - not so much, water is extremely effective. Settling and proper disposal probably essential though.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've got one of those Magic Chef mini washers.  Its on a wheeled dolly and hooked up to the washer fixtures with quick disconnects.  When I want to wash clay stuff in it, I quick-disconnect it, roll it onto the back porch, hook the garden hose to a Y connector that quick-connects to the water inputs, and drain it into the garden.  And cold dihydrogen monoxide is the cleanser of choice for me as well.

I'm into the whole rinsing stuff in a bucket first thing too.  Actually I have some of these:


I forget if I have the 12 or 16 gallon size.  They're Tuff Stuff tubs, aka "storage tanks".  You can find them at farm supply places.

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