Essential Guidelines for a Safe and Healthy Pottery Studio

Learn how to maintain a safe pottery studio!

pottery studio

Most of us ceramic artists know there are some dangers inherent in the art form we have chosen—from inhaling raw materials in the powdered form to injuries resulting from repetitive movements. And there is so much information and misinformation out there about how to keep your studio safe that it is hard to know what to believe. 

Recently, a team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health performed a Health Hazard Evaluation on a pottery shop and came away with a series of recommendations that can (and should) be applied in even the smallest of home studios. Their findings and recommendations for staying safe are included in the May 2011 issue of Ceramics Monthly. In today’s post, I’m sharing the Studio Safety Reference from this guide. So read on and be safe! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

As a ceramic artist, you could face many potential hazards, since your work area (e.g., your home, a small studio) may not have been designed to reduce or eliminate health hazards encountered during the art-making process.

In 2007, the owner of an independently-owned pottery shop was concerned about employees’ long-term exposure to substances used in the shop (although no health symptoms had been reported) and asked our team of investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to perform a health hazard evaluation (HHE). This evaluation made us realize that small studios could benefit from the information we gathered concerning potential hazards that ceramic artists may not be aware of.

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Pottery Studio Safety Reference

To eliminate or minimize identified hazards, we encourage (in order of preference) the use of the traditional hierarchy of controls: (1) substitution or elimination of the hazardous agent, (2) engineering controls (e.g., local exhaust ventilation, process enclosure, dilution ventilation), (3) administrative controls (e.g., limiting time of exposure, employee training, work practice changes, medical surveillance), and (4) personal protective equipment (e.g., respiratory protection, gloves, eye protection).

Even if you work in a small studio or your home, you can consider this hierarchy when looking for ways to minimize or eliminate your exposure to hazardous substances.

• Don’t eat, drink, or store food in work areas, and wash your hands thoroughly before eating to prevent ingestion of metals and other contaminants.

• Wet-wipe surfaces rather than sweeping or vacuuming (and if you must use a vacuum, make sure it has a HEPA filter). Avoid carpet use.

Air Quality in a Pottery Studio

• Install local exhaust ventilation around dust-generating activities (e.g., in mixing/pugging areas), with a hood to capture airborne dust as close as possible to the point of generation.

• Allow adequate intake of outdoor air and an adequate number of air changes per hour for the work area. Since work area characteristics can differ greatly, a ventilation engineer should be consulted to determine the appropriate ventilation parameters on a case-by-case basis.

• Minimize the number of bends in the electric kiln and other exhaust ducts to improve the efficiency of the system.

Respirator Usage in a Pottery Studio

• If you use a respirator or other personal protective equipment, consult the federal standards for proper use, maintenance, and storage. Refer to the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) ( or Appendix D of the standard if your use of a respirator is voluntary.

• Employers, schools, and group studios should consider establishing a written respiratory protection program, medical evaluations, fit testing, and training on proper respirator use and maintenance (such as shaving facial hair before use and proper placement of straps), if necessary depending on the level of exposure.

Ergonomics in a Pottery Studio

• Incorporate a minimum height range of 27.6 inches and a maximum height of 56.2 inches for workstations/worktables, palletized pieces, shelving units, and items on carts to eliminate overhead reaching and bending.

• Store frequently used materials at waist height rather than at floor level. Use extra pallets to raise the height of cart surfaces to the recommended ranges.

• Use scissor lift tables to reduce bending and overhead reaching, and pallet carousels and collapsible carousel stands to allow access to loads from various angles.

• Eliminate lifting and carrying items weighing more than 50 pounds, and always use carts to transport heavy materials long distances.

• Provide a faucet hose extension to eliminate lifting buckets into and out of the sink.

• Provide a range of heights for pottery wheels and stools, and personalize the two heights for each user to eliminate back pain and discomfort. Use stools with lumbar support and tilt adjustment. Provide adjustable leg stools for level or tilted seats.

• Do not perform repetitive activities (wedging, throwing, and trimming) in long sessions.

Requesting an HHE for your Pottery Studio

Employees, employers, or union representatives can ask our comprehensive team of experts to investigate their health and safety concerns by requesting an HHE. Our team contacts the requestor and discusses the problems and how to solve them. This may result in sending the requestor information, referring them to a more appropriate agency, or making a site visit (which may include environmental sampling and medical testing). If we make a site visit, the end result is a report of our investigations that includes recommendations that are specific to the problems found, as well as general guidance for following good occupational health practices. These HHE reports are available online (see below).

Resources and Links

• NIOSH HHE reports:

• Read the complete HHE for the case study mentioned in this article (PDF format):

• NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. Includes recommended exposure limits (RELs), permissible exposure limits (PELs) and other information on chemical effects:

• American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) 2009 threshold limit values (TLVs®) and biological exposure index (BEIs®) for chemical substances and physical agents:

• OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs):

• OSHA Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard [OSHA 1998]:

• (Mandatory) Information for Employees Using Respirators when not Required Under Standard- 1910.134 Appendix D:

• Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety [1998]. Materials flow. In manual materials handling.

**First published in 2011.
  • Kathleen B.

    Hi All – I thought this might be a new article, but see it’s from 2011. As a recently-retired Certified Industrial Hygienist (no, I don’t clean teeth at worksites – I’m an occupational safety and health professional), I started obsessively researching pottery safety and health hazards – specifically wood firing – when I began pottery in 2012 after watching an inadequate face shield melt on someone’s face. Not on my watch!

    Kudos that article talks about the hierarchy of controls, which ranks protective measures by effectiveness. Although PPE is dead last in the hierarchy, there are times when it may be the only effective way to protect against a hazard. Simon Levin kindly post info on his website about personal protective equipment (PPE) I put together if anyone is interested. (See:; I hope Simon doesn’t mind me mentioning it) . I also spent a lot of the year working on COVID prevention strategies. Contact me at if I can help anyone with general pottery safety and health guidance or specific COVID prevention strategies for specific applications.
    Wishing everyone a safe, sane, and more serene 2021. Cheers, Kate Bradford

  • Richard M.

    At the end of sculpture class all students were required to clean the classroom or lose a letter grade. The air was full of clay dust from brushing and sweeping. No masks were provided. In ceramics at FCC its common for students to be glazing while others are mixing glazes in the same room and as far as I know the practice continues. Unfortunately I did it myself often times with no mask. Now days, in my studio I use a shopvac with a hepa filter AND a hepa filter bag together. I used to also sweep, but not after reading this.

  • Mary G.

    Using a vacuum cleaner in the studio is very bad because it spews out the clay dust; even a hepa filter is unsafe. I use a vac but I keep the unit outside and have a 25ft hose that reaches inside my studio. Sometimes I wet the broom and sweep before moping.

  • Emilie P.

    Margrit asked about the “safe handling and disposal of glazes — washing tools in the sink.” We had a glazemaking workshop for members recently by Mark Rossier at our studio and he suggested wearing long gloves during glazemaking, glazeing, and cleanup because he says all glaze materials are somewhat hazardous to skin and or lungs. This makes sense to me since after glazing I sometimes get a stingy rash on my arms. I really need to start doing that. We rinse glazing tools such as cups and sponges etc. under the running water in the sink that has a clay trap. We also wear an N-95 mask when making glazes. The following are some of the more hazardous glaze ingredients: barium carbonate, cadmium, lead, manganese (in large amounts), chrome, strontium, vanadium. The only one we use on that list is a tiny bit of manganese in one of our glazes.

  • Emilie P.

    Thank you so much for all the great suggestions about how to safely clean the floors. My favorite is Barbara’s to wet the broom, sweep with it and then mop. I also like the method several people use of spraying the floor with the spray bottle before sweeping and mopping.

  • Janine W.

    How do you all feel about keeping copies of MSDS sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets) somewhere in a school or public studio? Does anyone know a good source for them?

  • Tricia I.

    I sprinkle handfuls of a sweeping compound material (like the one used by janitors in schools..bought inexpensively at any hardware store), which knocks down the dust and allows me to collect it easily with a dustpan. I can then wet mop any remaining…whatever.

  • Brenda W.

    I shudder to think of the report the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health would issue, after visiting a farm!

  • Zola D.

    Always have used wet-vac, where appropriate (concrete floors, etc.) Like to keep a handsprayer handy when doing clean up. I too use hardibacker tile board on tables: if painted w/ exterior grade paint, there seems no fiber or anything else is released through ware. ( After the asbestos in older kinds of boards, I am careful!)

    Having 2 wells on our land and no sink in studio makes me incredibly conscious about where my glaze goes, minimizing that environmental impact. Spray the buckets to rinse down glaze before pouring into main 5 gallon bucket: When glazing, spray and a large fan brush makes excess liquid production minimal. I use triple rinsing bucket system to control and concentrate glaze waste.

    Clay dust can be kept down by moistening an edge of piece before fettling, handprayers, and sponging frequently, etc.

    Please DO post about handling glaze waste, liquids, etc. I’d love a good reference about which are soluble minerals, for example.


  • Nikki J.

    The floor of our ceramics area is wet mopped at the end of every day of use. Brooms and vacuums are banned, and I explain why to every new member of our janatorial staff. All other cleaning is done by the students.

    If there’s a routine of frequent, thorough mopping with enough changes of water, the task stays simple, quick, and ordinary. Like cleaning your teeth.

    All work surfaces are scrubbed and squeegeed clean with a sponge at the end of every class. Clean-up is a team work, communal task with students assigned a specific task on a rotating basis. No one gets to leave until the whole studio is clean and ready for the next class to walk in and begin work. All students know that this is the way things are, not because I care about their lungs, but because I care about mine. Clean-up happens quickly and efficiently under this regime, and I can trust the kids to do it whether I am there or not because they understand its importance. It takes 15 mins. out of the first class to explain and demonstrate each step, and then it runs pretty much runs itself.

  • Sandra N.

    I never sweep or wet vacuum without wetting down the concrete floor first. I mop, rinse, mop, rinse until it’s “clean.” While I’m working, I throw scraps into a bucket of water and try to keep everything wet. I also make sure there is a cross breeze when possible keeping outside air flowing through.

  • Meghan M.

    When I sweep and mop the floor, I try to do so at a time when I know I will be the only one around (if someone comes in I tell them to come back in about 15 min!!!). I turn on the overhead fans and wear my respirator. I sweep and then hose the floor down. I then use a squeegee.

  • Rietje V.

    a vacuumcleaner helps, no sweeping, just suck all the dirt up. After that use a mop!
    Works like a charm..

  • Subscriber T.

    I have the best floor possible – its in my basement and the flooring is ordinary paving laid down on top of beach sand – then I painted the pavers with white road paint. So when the floor needs cleaning all i do is get the hose in and mop. The larger pieces of clay / dirt get swished to the door and picked up and the smaller pieces just fall through the cracks – not sure how environmentally safe this practice is!! But as far as health safety it works for me.

  • Katie D.

    I have never used a mop… have always washed the floor on my hands and knees. Change the water alot.
    At the school I go to now, we have house keeping that really cleans once a week Was in there last week when they were doing it they kick up a lost of clay dust, and don’t use any protection. Tried explaining to they boss what they were breathing in and how bad it was. They didn’t care.

  • I was doing work study at ENMU in ceramics art room in 1990. We would wet the floor with water and use a wet vacuum we only used for this purpose and after vacuuming the floor there were only one or two areas that may need additional mop or another vacuum.

  • using plenty of water and a squeegee to scrape it all to – ideally- a floor drain or to one corner where it can be sopped up with a sponge or wet vac is way easier than trying to rinse out a mop well enough to avoid just spreading clay around. I lightly spray the floor with a garden hose.

  • Claire K.

    As a prep to mopping, we’ve tried pouring clear water across the floor, then wet-dry vacuuming. Makes mopping much easier.


  • Jean C.

    I use a vacuum with a HEPA filter before I mop. Also, using a tile backerboard on my tables has helped to keep the dust down since they can easily be cleaned with a sponge.


  • Bonnie B.

    I find that using a spray bottle of water to mist the area before sweeping keeps most clay and glaze dust from being airborn. It makes the sweeping and mopping jobs easier and safer.

  • Barbara Z.

    I use a wet push broom first, then mop. and like the other suggestion, just mop rinse, etc. Also, worked in a studio that uses “sweeping compound” an oily sawdust that we sprinkle on the floor, that absorbs dust prior to sweeping.

  • Anne M.

    You simply need to mop, rinse the mop, mop, rinse the mop and mop, until the residual smear is gone. This is the only safe way!

  • Emilie P.

    The article says: “• Wet-wipe surfaces rather than sweeping”
    This has always been a problem in every studio I’ve worked in. We currently sweep then mop — even though we know this is not the safest. There is a lot of dry dust and dirt on the floor every day and using a big mop without sweeping first just moves it and smears it all around. Does anyone have experience in actually wet-wiping the floor without sweeping first? Any tips for how to do it without making a bigger mess?

  • Margrit S.

    Could you also do an article on the safe handling and disposal (i.e washing tools in the sink)of glazes. Thanks

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