One of the most often talked about subjects on the Pottery Facebook groups I am part of is pottery studio safety.

As someone who is very protective of her lungs (my mom died of lung cancer) I would read through these posts, and do my best to understand the hazard and adopt safety procedures in my studio.

Was I the perfect “clean potter”, no, but I was very aware of the areas that would create hazards and did what I could to avoid them.

Well, life, accidents and shit happens and the very thing I was protecting myself from became a reality.

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An accident happened when picking up some glaze material. I was picking it up from a potter who closed shop. I did not bring my respirator because I knew everything would be well closed up but…. …the bag broke and I got a few lungfuls of it. Several days later I felt like there was a gas bubble in my side. The next day my chest hurt and it hurt to breathe.

It takes a lot for me to agree that I need medical attention but I woke up Monday Morning knowing something was really wrong and i needed to see a health care professional.

The Chest x-ray revealed that I had a partially collapsed lung. She asked “were you exposed to any toxins lately” and I knew right then and there what happened. I had just gotten over a holiday cold and still had mucus in my lungs. When that cloud of glaze material hit my lungs, it most likely settled into that mucus.

She (the NP I was seeing) managed to keep me out of the hospital. She said “stay out of the studio and rest”. While I rested I had lots of time to think how important (and vulnerable) my lungs were. I “thought” I was doing a decent job keeping the studio clean and I did but there was so much more I could do.

So for other potters as well as other artists and crafters, I made a list of things we can do to maintain a safer Pottery Studio environement

There are many many things you can do for Pottery Studio Safety but today I am going to focus on a few key things I have found to be benefital in my studio.

  • Respirator

    GVS- SPR457 Elipse Respirator – Medium This is the One I use

    On the top of the potters safety list is a quality, well fitting P100 respirator. Not only would potters benefit from this but any art or craft that makes dust would. P100 protects you from debris that is .3 microns or larger and filter 99.7 % of airborne particulents. This is the one I use. Its not bulky and fits well. The filters are easily replaced. I wear glasses and they do not fog up. This respirator is so comfortable I sometimes forget I have it on (not really but close!). The dust masks you buy at the hardware
    store do not protect you from fine particulates so get yourself a good respirator.

  • Mop Daily mopping is one of the best ways to keep the clay dust under control. I know its easy to grab a broom, which I am guilty of, but sweeping just stirs up the clay dust and sends it into the air where you breathe it.  NOT GOOD. Water adds weight to the clay particles and keeps the floor clean. I now keep a bucket of water and a self-wringing mop handy and mop up my work area just before I leave for the day.
  • Kiln Vent Venting your kiln not only helps direct the toxic fumes outside but also circulates the air inside the kiln which can help considerable when firing. There is a great article on Kiln Venting on Ceramic Arts Daily . My L&L KIln has an Envirovent Exhaust System which has really helped vent away all those toxic fumes. You can get a Vent System from just about all of the Ceramic Suppliers
  • Hepa Vacuum 
    Vacmaster 8 Gallon Hepa Vacuum

    Vacmaster 8 Gallon Hepa Vacuum

    My studio has lots of corners and shelves where dust can build up. Since I have Studio Cats I wanted to make sure I maintained a clean and safe enviroment for them. Regular shop vacuums seem to blow just as much dust out as they take in so I wanted something a bit better. Hepa Vacuums are pretty expensive but I found this one which was fairly affordable and works quite well. It has great suction and it has 4 levels of Hepa Filtration.  I use it to vacuum the rest of the studio, with my respirator on and then leave right afterwards, just to be on the safe side!
  • Zip Door My Glaze/Kiln Room is separate from my main studio but there was an open door way between the two. My situation is most likely quite different from yours but I felt I needed to block off an open passage way into my glaze room as an extra layer of protection for me and the cats.  I found a perfect solution with a Zip Wall Zip Door. THis allowed me to block off an unneeded doorway without spending a fortune walling it up. It was easy to install too and is very heavy duty!

On a final note, there were a few things I did not really think about but I do now!!  I am a morning shower person.  I never thought about the clay and chemical dust that may have accumulated in my hair during the day that I am sleeping with.  Also, even though I wear an apron when working, dust settles on my clothing so now I change immediately when I get home.

It was quite frightening to have this medical mishap occur but it reminded me just how precious our lungs are, and with just a few changes and just a bit more diligence, we can be safer and breathe deeper!!

I am sure there are other things out there that I have missed and I would love for you to comment below with a safety precaution you use so that we all can benefit from our shared experience and knowledge.

6 Comments

  1. Dana

    Thanks for the tips! Especially the vacuum recommendation. I’m asthmatic so I am constantly trying to find better ways to keep my studio clean. I also started showering after every time I am in the studio. Glad you feel better!

    Reply
    • Dani Montoya

      I was thrilled to find it myself. My hubby was jealous when I got it. He said that I had a better vacuum then he did!! Glad I shared it for you!

      Reply
  2. Connie Malone

    Dani my Hubble is finishing a pottery corner for me in his shop(20x40x20) I will be using a small electric kiln. Will it need to be vented outside the shop area? I’m used to Peter firing all our things in the gas kiln so have no idea.

    Reply
    • Dani Montoya

      Hi Connie. Thats a great question and I am thrilled you are continuing on after Peter closed his studio. I only ran a kiln for a small amount of time without a vent. The toxic gas that is off put should be avoided so if you choose not to vent make sure you are not in the building when its firing. The envirovent I use is vented outside and I still smell the glaze firing a bit, but not as much as when I did not vent. I am not an expert but from what I read, the venting system also helps with air flow so you get a better firing. Read the article that I have linked.

      Reply
  3. Beth

    I read that vacuuming is not a good think to do to get up Clay particles. Instead wet them and mop. Why do you recommend vacuuming? Won’t that aerate the particles?

    Reply
    • Dani Montoya

      Hi Beth.

      Vaccuming the floors in a pottery studio is not recommended and I agree with you that floors should be damp mopped.

      I was looking for a solution to get into corners, window sills, shelves etc where dust may settle that damp mopping doesn’t reach. I found standard shop vacs to be inadequate and have blow back which would aerate the dust particles. Thats why I chose to use the Hepa Vacuum. The stats on the Hepa Vac I use is the same as my respirator!

      I do not vacuum everyday but I do mop everyday. As I mention in the post, when I do vacuum up the outer layers of my studio I have my respirator on And I leave right away.

      Reply

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