Porcelain isn’t just the ‘good china’ we keep on display or bring out to use on special occasions, but rather a material that infiltrates our everyday lives. It is a very popular choice for use in dinnerware and electronics, as a building material, and in decorative pieces. But is porcelain vegan?
Is Porcelain Vegan?
Whether porcelain can be considered vegan or not depends on the type of porcelain you are referring to. While much traditional porcelain, or bone china, was made with non-vegan ingredients, many modern porcelains do not contain animal products, making them vegan-friendly. Let’s take a look at the different types.
What Types of Porcelain are Non-Vegan?
Bone china is a particular type of porcelain that didn’t, as its name suggests, originates in China. It was invented around 1800 by potter Josiah Spode and is characterized by its strength, transparency, and whiteness.
Bone china is most often found in fine and ornamental ceramic tableware. It’s made by mixing kaolin (or white clay) with feldspar and bone ash. The bone ash is derived from the bones of animals, usually cows.
Traditional bone china contains up to fifty percent bone ash; it can definitely not be considered vegan.
- RELATED: Is Printer Ink Vegan?
What Types of Porcelain are Vegan?
In today’s market, there are many products marketed as bone china but do not contain bone ash. They seek to trade off the appeal of bone china and are chemically whitened to look as close as possible to the real deal. These ‘fake’ bone china products do not contain animal products and can be considered vegan.
Traditional porcelain, which accounts for much of the pottery on today’s market, is also generally vegan. It is typically made from clay, kaolin, feldspar, and quartz. As with bone china, the ingredients are generally shaped, molded, cast, and fired to produce the desired ceramic object.
Other types of tableware and ceramics like stoneware and earthenware are produced similarly to porcelain, also without the addition of bone ash, so they are also to be considered vegan.
What are the Non-Vegan Ingredients in Porcelain?
As discussed above, bone ash is the major non-vegan element to be found in bone china but not in porcelain and other types of ceramics. The bone ash helps give the china its whiteness and is produced through the calcification of the bones of an animal, most usually a cow.
There are also some instances where cremated human remains have been said to be used as bone ash in bone china. Human remains would also classify as non-vegan.
There can also be non-vegan products in the manufacture or creative process of making porcelain. For example, leather, which is a non-vegan material, is sometimes used to polish clay. It can be replaced by using a hand or sponge.
The sponge should not be a sea sponge as this would also be considered a non-vegan product as it is made from marine animals. Cellulose sponges made from wood fibers will work just as well.
Shellac, which is a non-vegan substance made from the secretions of lac insects, can sometimes be used as a waterproof barrier on clays. In general, most mass-produced porcelains will not make use of these non-vegan items in their production.
How Can I Tell the Difference between Bone China and Regular China?
As a vegan, you may wish to be able to differentiate between bone china and regular china so that you can avoid the use of the former. One method of doing this is a torch test. Hold the piece of china against torchlight in a darkened room with your hand placed behind it.
If light passes through the piece and you can see your hand behind it then it is likely to be bone china. This is because bone china is translucent, having a thinner and more delicate appearance than other china.
It is also overall more expensive and whiter than regular china, although the exact shade of white can depend on its age. It is also often marked as bone china on the underside.
What Industries and Products Feature Porcelain?
Perhaps best known for its use in ceramics, porcelain is also widely used in other areas. Both the technology and construction industries use porcelain in their products. In electronics, porcelain is favored as an insulation material for its superior non-conductivity.
It is also used extensively as a building material for tiles, sinks, toilets, and urinals. Porcelain features strongly in traditional stationery items, such as penholders and paperweights, and in dentistry, where it is used in veneers. As the porcelain employed in these industries is generally made without the addition of bone ash, it can be said to be vegan.
This will certainly come as a relief to many ethical vegans, as a life spent avoiding some of these products would be most difficult!
Regarding dentistry, it should be noted that while the porcelain veneers used by dentists may be vegan, the practice of dentistry as a whole is less likely so. Most fields of medicine involve medications and techniques that are likely to have been subjected to animal testing and animal by-product inclusions at some point.
It appears that in most of its applications, porcelain is an acceptable vegan choice as all of its essential ingredients come from non-animal sources.
Whether you are using porcelain in the form of tableware to eat off, pottery for decorative purposes, or tiles to dress your bathroom floor, you are probably adhering to strict vegan principles by doing so.
The one exception is traditional bone china which should contain a large proportion of bone ash and therefore be unsuitable for many vegans. As the use of bone china is not very widespread these days, and as real bone china should be labeled as such, it should be relatively easy to avoid.
There are many areas of life in which choosing to be vegan presents an array of questions, research, and decisions. Thankfully, concerning the use of porcelain, the non-vegan issues are relatively few.