Why Does My Clay Stink?




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Do you ever able to forget the earthy smell of clay? When you inhale, you can sense the aroma of summer rain every time. They are found to be one of the great natural scents of the earth. Similar to the grass, the clay smell is lush and fresh. It’s kind of a relief as you start using them regularly. So, whenever you are back from a long day or after your exercises, drinking water from these clay vessels, can give you contentment: a greater satisfaction or a sign of flourishing life.


But there can be a time when you are unable to tolerate the smell of clay vessels. It is not so familiar, but there is a possibility of an odd smell in the clay vessels. Most people are taken back by the smell, and hence they do not want to use it ever again. Mainly, many people choose to buy the clay for the scent that has been attracted or expected the smell to give you a distinctive aroma. However, it is disappointing when they don’t smell the usual.


Clay might smell and stink for a handful of possible explanations. In this article, we will be talking in detail about the stinky smell of clay and how one can get rid of it.


How does clay smell?

The paper on the Nature of Argillaceous Odor is an investigation of the various natural scents available on earth, like moistened clay, sediments, rocks, and so on. There was a popular theory that the only source of these natural elements is from rainwater. Hence, they coined the term ‘Petrichor,’ which means the scent of rain. But later, the study proved that the rain does not seem to have any odor, which eventually proves that every natural element has its smell.



With the mineralogists on boards, the investigation proved that the smell of clay or any other natural substance of the matter does smell because of the different organic compounds present.  These compounds are accumulated in the atmosphere and on the surfaces.  When mixed using water, they offer an aromatic smell. The compounds also include bacteria called Geosmin. It is responsible for the earthy flavor of the clay. It gives the most pleasant and soothing aroma all the time.


Facts about clay smell

The smell of the clay release aerosol, which is a result of clay material, coming in contact with the water. Since clay is a porous material when the water is filled or as and when introduced, it traps the air bubbles in the pores. Thus, a caked clay will bubble and shoot the water particles upward, which is known as aerosol fizz. To put it only, this is the same principle as champagne. During the process of pushing the water particles upward, we get the smell.



Also, on the surface of the clay, there will be bacteria accumulated. These bacteria keep on growing and accumulating as long as you keep the clay in contact with the moisture. The extent of the clay smell depends on how effectively the bacteria accumulation takes place in your vessel. These are good bacterium that does affect humans by any chance. Hence as long as you keep the water in contact with your clay materials, the smell will remain.


The following table will help you understand the different types of smells in the different kinds of clay.

Types of Clay

Type of Smell

Aged Clay
Smells earthy only when they are wet
It is more plastic-smelly when it is dry and not used for a longer time.
Freshly made clay
An earthy smell can be sensed only on exterior surfaces
The interior surface almost does not have a smell until they are wet
Plastic Clay
No earthy smell found
When wet more or smell like freshly made clay



When does the clay stink?

Before we even try to find out why the clay stinks, you should know that sometimes these smells occur naturally. Here are some of the critical reasons why the clay has an odd scent.



Contamination of Clay

It may seem very shocking. Many of you would probably think that the clay can become contaminated. But the truth is, depending upon the surroundings and the places, they do have the capacity to be contaminated.


Because of the unsuitable intended purposes, the clays go bad and starts stinking. For example, if there are any substances or by chance, if they have to be in contact with the hydrocarbon materials, then slowly, they start to stink. It is a proven fact that clay contamination is only a consequence of non-organic substances. Hence you must check the placement of your clay vessel in a place there is no chance for them to be exposed to chemical compounds.


Stinks on Seasons

Not only the individuals but also the stoneware owners have to experience the lousy odor of clay. Even the studios have found that there is a difference in the smell of clay pots and vessels. Even though they are tested with no contamination, they still change the smell and start cracking after a point of time. Many pottery specialists and enthusiasts conducted various studies to describe the variation of pots.


The typical pattern was noted that during the spring season, there is a frequency of the pop-outs. Also, the smell does not contain a particular clay piece, but also it spreads. Especially from the interior part of these clay materials that smell so bad. If you leave them uncared, they even cause structural problems like scarred surfaces on the exteriors. Their texture is slowly fading, and probably they would require a surface glaze firing to put them back in the right shape and texture.


You will be surprised to know that only unused clayware is usually smelled during this season. The clays that are in regular use do not produce this type of smell ever.


EM Ceramics

It is one of the important things that you might have forgotten to notice. You need to know whether you have purchased EM ceramics. They are made of fermented clay with Effective Microorganisms. The montmorillonite clay is chosen for treatment with the EM bacteria and then baked several times which gives the best results. The actual smell of the ceramics is stinky, but they are highly efficient and usable materials. There are two types of EM ceramics. When these special clays are fermented with the EM and then baked, they produce a different smell. Here is a table to understand the different smells you could experience in firing the different types of EM ceramics.


Types of EM Ceramics

Temperature for Baking


Grey pipes
A mixture of pungent smell with the earthy substance
Rose pipes
The burnt or smoky smell



The EM organisms are usually photosynthetic bacteria that can work on the optimal level in the rose pipes, especially. Hence the odor is maximum in the rose pipes. Even at the highest temperature, the smell is never faded, and it is always retained. It is only because the bacteria in them are so healthy, and they multiply in numbers as you start using them. It is similar to standard clay. The stinky smell is retained as long as one uses it frequently.


Usually, EM ceramics have more applications, although. They are used to improve water quality. Effective microorganisms also contribute to human health. They are natural and, importantly, cost-effective revitalization for the water. There is numerous optimum effect that is combined with this type of ceramics. Hence people prefer to use them.


How to get rid of the clay’s stinky smell?

Well! Based on the above study and research, you might have understood that the reason for the stinky smell in clay is either natural or sometimes it’s an odor implied by humans. However, it is not very easy to remove this odor if it’s part of the process. For example, we cannot get rid of the smell caused by the organisms in EM ceramics. But usually, these ceramics do always come with a cleaner or stench removed, which can do a sufficient job. Similarly, if you can keep using the earthenware completely, the stench smell may be gone away.


The complaint is high, especially for the cookware materials made of clay. They want to remove the odor, so the food does not smell bad. Honestly, the natural smell of clay does not bother the smell of your food. You can check that there are even clay cookwares that are adaptable for modern usage that might not have the odors. But if you have not maintained them properly or using the clay vessels without proper cleaning, then there are chances that these are turning into a nightmare.



Our recommendation for the earthen cookware is to season them. Especially when you have not used the clay pots for a while, then you may season them before you use them. The method is simple. Soak the clay pot in a sink filled with water for more than 20 minutes. You can also leave it up to 2 hours for effective results. It will eventually bring moisture, especially to the inner surface of the vessels. The porous gets filled with water particles allowing improvising the original smell. After this, you need to enable them to dry for some time. Later fill the vessel 3/4 with water and heat them under low temperature in a stove pot for two hours.


You can follow this method every time before you want to cook or serve with the clay vessels. You can sense the best and original odor of the clay materials only.



Everyone loves earthenware. They are unique & every potter has a story to tell. The clay materials have been an essential earthenware source for years together now. Hence the smell that you get is not something new. Even when used in history, they all have been experiencing the stench of the clay. Avoiding the clay entirely for the blame of the smell or odor is inappropriate. Instead, you can take some preventive measures that can help you store them properly.


Never allow your clay materials to become entirely dry. Give them exposure to moisture. It will help them not only to remove the bad smell but also to become rigid and more durable. Preferably once in a while rinse thoroughly and preferably dry them in bright sunlight.

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