Care and maintenance: Flower vases

Add water and put flowers in the vase? Yes—most of the time, that’s all there is to it.

Some vases are not designed for fresh flowers. If a vase is made of say, woven fibers or wood, that’s pretty obvious. But many ceramic vases, especially beautiful handmade ones, have unglazed interiors that water will permeate. This can be very bad news for both the vase and the surface beneath it. When you purchase or receive a vase, make sure to find out if it’s intended to hold water. If not, use it with dried flowers only, or as a decorative object rather than a functional one.

Many ceramic and almost all glass vases are designed to display fresh flowers. When you put water inside them, nothing will happen to the vase. However—please note—if you have a really nice table, put something under the vase to protect the table surface. Vases intended to hold water rarely leak, but it’s not unusual for moisture to condense on the outer surface. And once it does you may be unhappy to discover a ring on your table. (Coasters exist to prevent just this kind of damage from being caused by beverage glasses.)

The after party

Okay! The flowers looked great but now they are dead, and the inside of the vase is coated with a gunky combination of mineral deposits from the water plus former plant material turning to mold. Even if you can reach inside the vase to clean it, you may not especially want to.

Try the following:

Vinegar and rice treatment: The pros recommend white distilled vinegar for vase cleaning. Fill the vase with a mixture of warm water and vinegar. If the vase is really dirty, use hotter water and more vinegar. Let everything soak. Try swishing the mixture around after a few hours and see how things are coming along.

For a heightened scrubbing effect that does not require you to do actual scrubbing: add a few spoonfuls of plain uncooked rice, find something you can use to cover the top, and periodically shake or swirl the contents.

When you’re satisfied with the results, empty the vase, wash thoroughly with soap and water, and dry.

Drugstore tablet treatment: Alka Seltzer and denture tablets (such as Polident) also do a fine job on glass vases, where any dirt and film on interior surfaces are all too easy to see. Fill the vase with hot water, drop in one tablet for a small vase or two tablets for a larger one, and check back the next morning. Alka Seltzer tablets may cause the water to come bubbling out of the top of the vase, so you might want to leave it in the sink for this treatment.

Again, when the vase meets your standards for cleanliness, wash it out with soap and water, then dry.