Terracotta vs Clay : What Is The Difference

Last Updated on March 29, 2023

Terracotta and clay are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Clay is a versatile, natural raw material composed of fine-grained minerals, while terracotta refers specifically to a type of fired clay. Terracotta is known for its distinctive brownish-orange hue and is created by molding and firing earthenware clay at a lower temperature. Although terracotta can be made from various clay types, it is the unique combination of iron-rich earthenware clay and firing process that imparts its signature color and texture. In essence, all terracotta is clay, but not all clay becomes terracotta.

So, what’s the difference between terracotta and clay? These materials vary in composition, texture, and firing temperature, to name a few. Terracotta, for instance, is a type of clay that’s characterized by its rich, reddish-brown hue, while traditional clay is a more versatile material that comes in a variety of colors and textures.

terracotta pots in pile

What Is The Difference Between Clay and Terracotta?

Clay is a natural occurring material that is used in a number of products. Terracotta is one of the finished products that can be produced by using clay.

Terra-cotta is known for it’s brown orange color and this popular form is produced by using earthenware clay. But terracotta does not only refer to this orange brown type of pottery, terracotta can be made from all types of organic clay. And it is not always the traditional color.

Terracotta is also spelled a number of different ways in different cultures including terra cotta, terra-cotta, and terra cocta. No matter what you call it they are referring to a ceramic derived from an organic clay that is either glazed or unglazed.

terracotta decorative pieces

What Type Of Clay Is Used For Terracotta

Because terracotta can be produced using any all organic clay, it is produced from earthenware. Earthenware is porous clay that is ideal for forming into vessels and other shapes. Once fired it produces a very durable material.

Is Earthenware and Terra-Cotta The Same Thing?

Similar to the difference between clay and terracotta, earthenware is a specific type of clay while terracotta is a finished product created by using earthenware. Earthenware is used the world over for producing ceramic products including terracotta objects.

terracotta bowl

Where Does The Clay For Terracotta Come From?

Terracotta’s first appearance in the archaeological record is from the pre Columbian and western cultures with the earliest example located in Eastern Europe. That find is estimated to be at least twenty-six thousand years old. These pieces were produced from earthenware. Examples of terracotta from ancient cultures is extensive pointing to the cultural importance of terracotta to human evolution.

Is Terra Cotta Dinnerware Healthy To Use?

Properly fired terracotta is perfectly safe to be used with food. It is safe to be heated in the oven and even in the microwave. They are able to withstand the heat of an open flame and even baking. Terracotta (Cazuelas in South America) are very commonly used in the home for cooking and roasting. Terra cotta is particularly good at retaining heat making them excellent cookware for keeping food warm.

What Does Terracotta Look Like?

The most common form of terra cotta is a brow orange color. Most ancient examples found have been this color and it is still the most popular color today. But color can vary depending on the source of organic clay that is used.

ceramic bowl with soup in it

How Durable Is Terracotta?

Once fired properly, terra-cotta is extremely strong and durable. Terracotta can last for hundreds of years, and longer. They have naturally occurring bacteria and mold resistance. Modern terracotta is often sealed to increase its durability.

What Is Terracotta Used For?

Like many other ceramic pottery, terracotta is used to make everything from dinnerware and cooking vessels to sculptures and flower pots. Terracotta is also used to produce bricks, roofs, and pipes due to their durability and natural mold resistance.

Is Clay Earthenware?

Earthenware is a type of clay. It is used to create ceramic pottery items. Earthenware is usually formed on a pottery wheel and fired in a kiln to harden and set it. Earthenware requires a second firing where it has been glazed between the two firings. The glaze makes the finished project able to hold fluids.

Will Terracotta Dissolve In Water?

Terracotta is waterproof and will not dissolve in water or other fluids. The firing and glazing process makes the porous earthenware water proof. That means terracotta roofs are waterproof as well as all other earthenware products produced through this process.

How Is Terracotta Produced?

Soft porous organic clay is used to produce terracotta. First a potter forms the clay into the desired shape and then it is fired at very hot temperatures. Once the first firing is done and the piece cools it is glazed and fired a second time.

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