Regardless of whether you keep cups on a shelf and rarely take them down, or use them on a regular basis, antique tea sets need to be looked after. Cups and teapots can become stained through use. Even tea sets used only infrequently may discolour from exposure to air pollution, dust and grease. Cleaning methods depend on the porosity of the ceramic body, the decoration and type of stain.


On bone china sets, most surface stains that haven’t permeated the glaze will be easily removed with warm soapy water, although gilding should be treated with extreme caution.

Old glazes and less robust bodies may become fractured by sudden temperature changes, causing breakage or cracking. Chips, breakages and cracks should be dealt with by a professional restorer, as should discolouration of rare, early or particularly valuable tea sets. But, in most cases, accumulated grime and staining can be removed relatively easily at home.

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You will need:

  • A washing up bowl
  • Warm (not hot) water
  • Mild detergent
  • Gloves
  • Soft tea towels
  • Salt and white vinegar mixed to a paste or baking soda mixed to a paste with water, or lemon juice

How to get stains out of an antique tea set

  1. Put a rubber mat or towel inside a washing up bowl to cushion delicate pieces and protect them from chipping. Fill the bowl with warm soapy water using a mild detergent.
  2. Using rubber gloves, wash each piece of your tea set gently, one by one, and dry carefully with a soft tea towel.
  3. For stubborn tea stains, apply a paste of vinegar and salt, but avoid applying to gilding and don’t scrub as this can damage the glaze and decoration. Test a small area first to make sure the decoration won’t be damaged.
  4. Leave the paste for 20 minutes then wash again in soapy water. Repeat if necessary. Very stubborn stains may be soaked in a bleach solution. If this is the case ask a professional for advice before proceeding.