It's all about clay

How Stoneware, Earthenware and Porcelain get to their final state has to do with the texture of the raw product, temperature, moisture and how it is fired or baked.

What is ceramic clay you ask

Clay is a by-product of nature. It comes from the ground in areas that once had streams or rivers flowing over them. It is composed of minerals from rock, plant life and animals. As the water flows from the plants, trees and wears down the rocks and dirt the water creates very fine particles that mix with syllabicate-bearing remnants. Over many, many, many years’ clay is formed.

Definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary of clay

: a soil that contains a high percentage of fine particles and colloidal substance and becomes sticky when wet: an earthy material that is plastic when moist but hard when fired, that is composed mainly of fine particles of hydrous aluminum silicates and other minerals, and that is used for brick, tile, and pottery.

Most of the clay used in ceramic products range from white, buff, terra cotta reds, browns and even yellow.
The color is determined by the minerals found in the composition of the clay. For example, iron will give a red coloring. Minerals can also determine the best use of the clay, based on the texture when wet and when dried. Some are very fine such as that used for porcelain or very granular as that used in earthenware.

History of Stoneware, Earthenware and Porcelain

stoneware, earthenware, porcelain
clay pots

Ceramics or Pottery has been around for at least 13,000 to 20,000 years BC. Paleolithic pottery has been found in East Asia as well as China and Japan. Containers have been found that are made from coils and made into smooth walls. Variations of how to make these ceramic pots and containers and more elaborate methods progressed over time and regions. Ceramics become not just useful items but wall decorations too. Many figurines, pottery and vases/containers have been found around the world covering the time from Paleolithic times until now. These timelines provide an actual way to see the development of ceramics right up to how it is made in today’s world.

The differences between Stoneware, Earthenware and Porcelain

Each of these types of clay, stoneware, earthenware and porcelain have these three things that make them different. These are 1) the maximum firing temperature 2) the texture of the clay 3) becoming porous after firing. The uniqueness of each type of clay is what makes ceramics so marvellous because one does not need any other type of pots, pans, dishes, jugs, vases and decor except for using one of these three types of clay to create these items. We see that proof back to paleolithic times.

All about Earthenware

Earthenware by   Annie Spratt

Earthenware is the most fragile of the clay types and can be very coarse. It is usually terra cotta reds and yellows in color sometimes white. It is porous and more fragile but offers brighter color ranges in the clay and glaze used on the item due to being fired at lower temperatures than stoneware and porcelain. Earthenware will melt at high temperatures during the firing process. This type of clay also tends to be smooth to rough once fired. Earthenware Is used for terra cotta pots and planters bricks and some dishes. Earthenware is fired in the range of 1700 to2100 F (926 to 1150 C).

All about Stoneware

Stoneware plate
stoneware by wouter-meijering

Stoneware is the strong version of earthenware. It is white or light grey to tan or dark grey and light brown to darker almost chocolate brown color. This type of clay creates a hard durable and if glazed waterproof stoneware item. Stoneware is fired in the range of 2100 to 2300 F (1205 to 1260 C). Due to the high temperature of the firing, the clay and glaze will have a more subtle coloring in the finished product. Stoneware has been and still is the most popular used for crocks, jugs, vases, mugs and dinnerware, bowls and platters.

All about Porcelain

Annie Spratt

Porcelain clay is also known as Kaolin, or china clay. This clay usually comes very near to the main source of the clay deposit. The clay is usually grey to white in color. Porcelain creates a hard thin product. It is fired in the range of 2381 to 2455 F (1305 to 1346 C). You will find dishes, figurines, vases and fine china as well as everyday china made from this type of clay. It is about as close to the actual glass as you can get.

Each ceramic type has its purpose

When you go through your home, apartment, office even, you quickly realize just how prevalent ceramic-type products we use every day. The fascination with ceramic products is widespread. Your bathroom may have a soap dish and toothbrush holder made of ceramic, or the vase at the front door or the light in your bedroom or office and ALL the dishes in the cupboards in the kitchen.

Most stores we shop in or buy from online offer us ceramic products. We use ceramic every day for eating, drinking, cooking, providing light, enjoying our plants in pots on the deck, and entertaining.

Whether it is bathroom items or kitchen or dining room /living room items and whether it is earthenware, stoneware or porcelain, we are consumed by it.

All thanks to mother nature recycling stone, rocks, plants, leaves and trees with water and many other things to give “clay glorious clay” to us to use to make ceramic products.


  1. Wow! this is rather informative to know o. The only composite of clay that i knew of was only the porcelain aloe and nothing else but seeing what you have shared here, I am more than enthusiastic to getting enough information on the other two. i think the reason porcelain is more popular is the fact that it can be used for designs of artefacts and stuff. But I would love to know the uses for the remaining two?

  2. This is fascinating. And I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that after a lifetime of using these things several times a day every day, I hadn’t really stopped to think about how they were made. I didn’t realise that stoneware and earthenware were actually two different things with different properties. Are they not suitable for putting in the microwave? And can any of them, including ceramic, be used directly on the stove top? Really thought-provoking, thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sharing such an informative and enlightening post right here. I must surely say that I have gained  lot of knowledge by just reading this post about ceramic clay. Wow! you have helped to widen my focus on the things I must learn about to know the differences attached to the different ceramic clays and what makes one different from the other. Though I am more acquainted with the porcelain the most and I have a couple of it at home for designs.

  4. Hey Deb, Thanks for giving your light on Stoneware, Earthenware & Porcelain. I enjoy a lot while reading your article and find it very useful for everyone. Now I know that Clay is a by product of nature. It comes from the ground in areas that once had streams or rivers flow over it. 

    Each ceramic type has its purpose. the fascination with ceramic products is widespread. Whether it is bathroom items or kitchen. It is earthenware stoneware or porcelain, we are consumed by it.

  5. Hello Deb, I think it’s safe to say you’re an expert on stoneware.  Thanks for all the great information.  I have a friend who works with all the materials you mentioned but I’ve never really talked with him about it.  I feel more educated now and confident that I can speak intelligently about it.  Who knows, maybe it’s something I’ll try doing myself.  Good job.  Keep up the good work.  Take care.

  6. A very nice review of ceramic clay- I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about this subject before reading your post. It amazes me that I don’t take in consideration the things I use each day are made of clay. 

    When I think of ceramic countertops, it totally clicks now. I don’t have that kind of countertop, but I have relatives who have nice ceramic countertops. I like the overview and historical component of what you discussed about, and then applying it to the products we use each day.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this post. It’s nice to relate to, and now much easier to understand what I use on a regular basis!

    • Well I’m happy to shed some light on the topic for you. I bet you will be asking yourself “is that stoneware or earthenware” next time you are shopping for an item. Luckily for you it is usually stamped on the bottom.

  7. HI! Thank you for explaining the difference between these 3 types of clay. I knew that they were heated at different temperatures, but I didn’t know about the other two differences you mentioned here.

    My wife in particular loves porcelain. If you go through our house you’d be impressed on how much porcelain there is in it.

    I didn’t know porcelain has heated so high, 2381 to 2455 F. Thanks for this informative post!

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