Tea stains are a fact of life when you drink as much as I do. While they aren’t bad for us per se, stains on teaware definitely aren’t attractive to look at. A good old sponge and dish detergent work fine for utilitarian mugs and stainless steel filters but I really don’t like using chemicals at all when it comes to gongfu gear. Over the years I’ve come up with a few tricks to keep my stuff in tip top shape.
The ubiquitous red cloth (though they can be any color) that comes with many tea sets is actually a fantastic tool for keeping your teaware looking its best. The rim of gaiwans can get a bit grimy even after a good rinsing. Just give them a rub with the cloth and some gentle but firm elbow grease. Surface dirt will be easily wiped away. This is also particularly useful for lipstick stains as well. I also recommend giving your yixing teapots an occasional massage with these to bring out the shine and remove debris from the outside.
Set in tea stains that have built up over the course of years are particularly hard to remove. I was on the verge of ordering a new tea tray because mine was looking quite gross after seven years of nearly daily use. As a last ditch effort to save it from the trash I decided to give it a scrub with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (aka melamine sponge). Much to my surprise the practically baked on stains came off fairly easily. As you can see from the bottom picture, my tray looks almost brand new. Magic Erasers are also very good for cleaning up “crackle” glaze teaware like ruyao. They remove surface dirt and make white cups sparkling again while still leaving tea stains in the cracks, where they are meant to be. Despite the internet rumors, there is no formaldehyde in Magic Erasers and they are perfectly safe to use. I do recommend rinsing your teaware well after just to be on the safe side.
It can be really difficult to clean the insides of thermoses, bottles, and tumblers, especially those with narrow necks. If they start getting a bit funky just fill them with hot water and drop in a couple of denture cleaning tablets. It might sound crazy but the fizzy foaming action gets into nooks and crannies that are impossible to reach with a brush or sponge. The inside will be minty fresh to boot! Just make sure to rinse very well afterward to avoid affecting the taste of your tea.
Note: It’s important to keep in mind that some teaware should never come into contact with anything other than water. Do not use any chemicals or soap on yixing, jianshui, or any other non-glazed clay.
Do you have a secret for keeping your teaware clean? Let me know about it in the comments!