The key to cleaning your pottery studio in a safe way centers around one big, important concept: dust. Clay dust is so fine that it easily floats through the air, and can be blown around by small currents. But worst of all, it can get trapped permanently in the lungs of your studio members. Long term exposure can lead to a lung disease known as Silicosis. To keep your studio safe, you have to do everything you can to prevent the dust in the clay from getting into the air.
Here are some of the guidelines that my studio has adopted to help keep the air safe.
Never use a broom in your studio. Sweeping puts tremendous amounts of dust into the air. Its not something that you need to worry about with the sand and grit that gets into your home, but the clay dust will float in the air for a long time if you give it the chance. If your studio has a cement floor, it makes cleaning a lot easier. You can use a mop to dissolve puddles of dried mud and glaze without stirring up dust. But wetting down the floor is often not good enough. Using a shopvac, a vacuum that sucks muddy water off of the floor, will help you get more dust than mopping alone. Use the shopvac only on a wet floor, and after mopping.
In my studio we have a rule: everything is mobile. The members’ shelves are on wheels, the tools are mounted on slat-board, even the sink can be rolled around the room (don’t believe me? check it out). We have restaurant style carts for kiln furniture and class tools. Buckets of dipping glazes roll on platforms from underneath tables. You may ask, What’s the point of all of that? Not only is it easy to reorganize our studio to accommodate large classes, but we can clean virtually every angle of everything in the building. This way, over a long period of time, we prevent dust build up in hard-to-reach areas. There are no hard-to-reach areas.
Washing rags and aprons on a regular basis, regardless of how often they appear to be used, can make a huge difference. Dust can make its home in any kind of fabric. When that fabric is shaken, slapped, or disturbed, dust particles get into the air. Make sure you don’t have a lot of extra rags lying around. Fewer rags and aprons combined with regular washing cycles will help keep your studio a lot cleaner. If your studio is used frequently, you may want to consider mopping your floors twice a week. Its a workout, but it’s worth it.
Make sure your potters are aware of activities that put dust into the air. Sanding and trimming bone-dry green-ware should be strongly prohibited. If potters have unwanted clay scraps or pots, they should be disposed of in a bucket of water, not a dry trash can. If potters absolutely need to sand green-ware, suggest that they do so outside and that they wear a safety mask. Making these changes in an already established studio can be confusing for members at first, but they will ultimately understand that you are working to protect their long term health.