Earthenware vs. Stoneware

By John Peterson
Stoneware, a distinctive type, pottery
Image by, courtesy of lost in translation) (Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic

Earthenware and stoneware are both types of ceramics, but each is different enough to be be readily separated from the other. Primary differences are type of clay, firing temperature, glaze and, often, types of vessels made.


Earthenware is a porous ceramic fired at relatively low temperatures. Typically, it needs glazing to hold liquids.


Stoneware is fired at much higher temperatures, which allows the clay to become vitrified (glass-like), or nonporous. Stoneware is still usually glazed or slipped to increase its impermeability and for decoration.

Firing Temperature

Earthenware is kiln-fired twice, an initial "biscuit" firing at around 1,000 degrees Celsius and a second, glaze firing at around 1,100 degrees Celsius. Although the clay is less refined, stoneware is kiln-fired at 1,200 to 1,300 degrees Celsius to vitrify the clay.


Refined earthenware is usually glazed bright white with hand-painted, transfer-printed, or decaled decoration. Stoneware has a variety of glazes (and clay slips) such as salt-glaze, alkali, lead, Bristol and Albany, but stoneware decoration is more limited to painting or stenciling.

Vessel Type

Refined earthenware is usually reserved for light-duty domestic objects such as serving dishes (plates, cups, saucers, etc.). Stoneware, with greater durability and impermeability, often is used for heavy-duty objects such as crocks, jugs and jars.

About the Author

John Peterson published his first article in 1992. Having written extensively on North American archaeology and material culture, he has contributed to various archaeological journals and publications. Peterson has a Bachelor of Arts from Eastern New Mexico University and a Master of Arts from the University of Nebraska, both in anthropology, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in history from Columbia College.