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How to Make Ceramic Mugs
There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee, especially when you’re drinking it out of your own custom ceramic coffee mug. Ceramics classes can teach you how to make creations with a potter’s wheel and kiln, but all you really need is clay, water and a kiln to do it at home.
Work the Clay
Visit a store that sells ceramic and pottery supplies to buy the appropriate clay. You will need at least a pound of clay, and remember that it’s always better to get too much than not enough. Knead the clay to get rid of any air bubbles. This is an important step that leads to a much better final product, so take your time. After kneading, roll the clay into a ball.
Shape the Clay
You can make any kind of ceramic pottery without a potter’s wheel. It takes a little more time, but it’s also more rewarding. Roll out the clay to the desired thickness for your mug. To avoid burning your hands, you want the clay to be fairly thick. Wet your hands and keep a bowl of warm water near you to continually moisten the clay as you work.
Lift the clay and form the outer perimeter of the mug. To seal the edges together, run a butter knife or scoring tool along both edges. Moisten the edges and compress them together. Place one moist hand on the inside of the mug and the other on the outside at the edges and compress.
Next, gently fold in the bottom edges to make the base of the mug. There will be a hole in the middle. Use a small amount of clay to fit inside the hole. You will need to score all the edges just like before. Press the clay together to form the base of your mug.
Make a Handle
Now it’s time to make the mug’s handle. Roll a bit of clay into a worm shape. Attach this piece to the mug where you want the handle to go. Smooth out the joins so it looks even. Use moist hands to smooth and shape the handle.
The first time you fire your ceramic mug it makes it sturdy enough to paint or glaze. Your home oven can’t get hot enough to fire a ceramic mug. If you don’t have a kiln, you can usually pay a small fee at a local pottery shop to have them do this step for you.
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The Best Travel Mug
Hot drinks are a daily staple for many, and just as important as the beverage is the travel mug that keeps it warm while you’re on the go.
After a decade of testing travel mugs, we still recommend the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug for most people. It keeps drinks hot for hours, and its locking lid stays securely closed, even when you toss the mug into a bag. We also have another option, which fits better in most cup holders, for use while you’re driving.
Everything we recommend
Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug
The best travel mug.
This mug offers the best heat retention, plus one-handed usability and a locking, leakproof lid, which makes it especially useful if you carry your mug in a bag or backpack.
Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug (16 ounces)
A wider mug for drivers.
This wider mug fit securely in our testers’ cup holders, and its spill-proof lid design is good for rough roads. It doesn’t retain heat as well as the Zojirushi mug—a fact that some people might actually appreciate.
OXO Good Grips Water Bottle Cleaning Set
For cleaning your mug.
This bottle-cleaning set has a skinny straw brush and a looped detail-cleaning brush, which are all you need to keep your travel mug squeaky clean.
The 16-ounce Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug keeps beverages hot for hours, even in cold environments. It has a well-designed exterior, an easy-to-clean nonstick Teflon interior, and a foolproof lid-locking mechanism that you can operate with one hand.
The mug is lightweight and slim, but it may not fit snugly in some cup holders. However, thanks to its locking lid, we were comfortable carrying it around in a bag, without worrying about leaks.
This Zojirushi model is pricey for a travel mug, but this is the mug we trust most not to spill in a bag, and it’s hard to put a price on that. (Actually, that would be about the price of a new bag, laptop, phone, and whatever else happened to be in there at the time.)
It’s also available in a 20-ounce version .
Like other Zojirushi products, it comes with a five-year warranty.
The 16-ounce Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug is wider and fits better in most car cup holders than the Zojirushi mug. The lid has an auto-sealing button that prevents spills, and when you drink, it won’t block your view of the road ahead.
Although this Stanley model may not keep drinks as hot as the Zojirushi mug, some people might prefer such results—we’ve heard many complaints over the years of the Zojirushi mug keeping drinks too hot.
Both the mug and the lid are dishwasher safe, but the lid has fewer parts than that of our top pick, so it is easier to disassemble and hand-wash if you prefer to clean it that way.
And let’s not forget that these things need cleaning regularly. That’s why we also have a bottle-brush recommendation for when you need to clean out the gunk .
Why you should trust us, who this is for, how we picked, how we tested, our pick: zojirushi sm-sf stainless steel mug (16 ounces), also great: stanley classic trigger-action travel mug (16 ounces), also great: oxo good grips water bottle cleaning set, other good travel mugs, the competition.
We’ve been testing travel mugs since 2013. Previous versions of this guide were written and researched by Séamus Bellamy and Anna Perling. In 2023, staff writer Trey French wrote the latest update to this guide. He gained an appreciation of high-performing insulated drinkware while spring camping in Colorado when the temperatures dropped below freezing.
In addition to conducting our own tests, we spoke to engineers and industry professionals about mug design, ideal coffee and tea drinking temperatures, and the best way to find out how long coffee will really stay good in a travel mug.
Travel mugs, as their name implies, are for people who want to take beverages on the go. Compared with paper or Styrofoam cups, a good travel mug offers better insulation and safeguards against leaks or spills. In addition, you can save money in the long run and reduce your environmental impact by using a travel mug.
Tumblers, thermoses, and insulated water bottles are all close cousins to the travel mug but have some important differences:
- Tumblers have sipping ports that don’t seal as tightly or securely as on travel mugs and have wider mouths for you to add ice cubes. Many also have straws for you to sip cold beverages.
- Thermoses usually lack the slim size and lid-design features that make travel mugs portable and convenient. With a thermos, instead of popping open a lid to take a sip, you need to unscrew the cap and pour liquid into an open cup to drink.
- Insulated water bottles are geared toward keeping drinks cold and don’t have sipping ports like travel mugs do. Instead, they often have screw-top lids that require two hands to open and close, or they have sport caps, which aren’t great for hot drinks.
To determine which travel mugs to test, we look for mugs that advertise the following qualities:
Vacuum-insulated: All of the mugs we consider are double-walled and vacuum-insulated .
Capable of retaining heat all day: We look for mugs that claim to keep hot beverages drinkably warm for at least eight hours.
Made of stainless steel: Stainless steel is more durable than glass or ceramic and retains heat better than plastic. It’s also the best material for vacuum insulation and therefore heat retention.
Leakproof and spill-proof: A leakproof seal keeps a closed lid from leaking if the mug jostles. A spill-proof seal guards against spills should you drop the mug or knock it over; such seals typically incorporate a push button, like the one found on the Stanley Classic Trigger-Action.
Easy to use: A good mug should be easy to both open and close, as well as to lock and unlock, with one hand. It should also be easy to disassemble for cleaning. We look for mugs that advertise these features or have reviews indicating that they are easy to use.
Between 12 and 20 ounces in capacity: We’ve concluded that 16 ounces is the optimal capacity for a travel mug, as it delays the need for a refill while remaining portable and easy to hold. Some people prefer wider mugs that don’t rattle in cup holders, while others like slimmer mugs that take up less space in backpacks or bags. We test both styles.
After considering the everyday wear and tear that a travel mug might go through in real-world scenarios, we devised tests to mimic those scenarios. During our tests, we use the mugs daily, evaluating them for simple enjoyability.
- Leak and spill tests: We test mugs for leaky seals by shaking them upside down, dropping them, and carrying them in bags.
- Drop test: We drop each mug three times from a height of 4 feet onto asphalt.
- Insulation test: We fill each mug with boiling water and then measure how quickly the water cools over eight hours, checking every hour.
- Ease of cleaning: We wash each mug, following instructions; we also take apart their lids and wash those. We check for lingering smells and to see if the finish on the mug is harmed.
- Cup holder compatibility: We test the mugs in cup holders of varying sizes (2.75, 3.5, and 3.75 inches in diameter).
The 16-ounce Zojirushi SM-SF Stainless Steel Mug is the best travel mug for keeping drinks hot for long periods of time. This mug also comes in a 20-ounce size. (The SM-SF is the current model; these model designations often change from year to year, but the mugs themselves stay the same.)
It kept our drinks the hottest. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the best temperature range for coffee is 145 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. After sitting for eight hours in the Zojirushi mug in a 72-degree room, our water measured 158 degrees—hotter than in any other mug we tested. That translates to hot coffee over a full workday. (If you’re opening the mug more frequently than once an hour, however, it might cool a bit faster.)
It won’t leak. It has sturdy, leakproof seals and a simple locking mechanism. Just close the lid, switch the lock into position, and you’re guaranteed that the top won’t pop open when you don’t want it to—when you’re carrying the mug in a bag, for instance.
It’s easy enough to keep clean. The nonstick interior helps to prevent odors and stains, though the mug’s instructions do warn against storing milk or fruit juices in the mug. (If you prefer drinking from a vessel that doesn’t have a nonstick coating, you might consider the Zojirushi SM-KHE , which has an electro-polished stainless steel interior.) The narrow girth makes it hard to get a sponge inside, but using a bottle brush circumvents that problem. You can disassemble the plastic lid to clean out any gunk that might be lodged in hard-to-reach places, although the small plastic and silicone parts can be difficult to get on and off the lid.
It’s durable. Though this mug developed a few scuffs in our drop tests, it acquired no more than the other mugs we tried, some of which fared far worse. Zojirushi backs the vacuum insulation of its stainless steel mugs with a five-year limited warranty, and the company sells individual replacement parts online .
It’s simple. The Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug has an attractive design that’s minimalist yet eye-catching in its simplicity. The 20-ounce version comes in only one color (navy), but our pick, the 16-ounce version, comes in three (navy, pale pink, mint blue).
How the Zojirushi mug has held up
The Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug might be the single most commonly owned and used product among Wirecutter staffers; it has traveled in many crowded bags, backpacks, and purses without any problems. One staff member did report that after eight years of use, hers finally developed a leak. Another colleague says that their mug has survived drops onto cement (once from a third-floor balcony) without suffering more than a dent.
Zojirushi specifies hand-washing only, but we know of several mugs that have survived accidental trips through the dishwasher without any noticeable decrease in performance, though the external paint has flaked as a result.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
- The Zojirushi mug is sometimes too good at insulating. We’ve found that if we pour fresh coffee directly into the mug, the liquid can stay scalding hot for hours. To prevent burning your mouth, let your beverage cool a little before closing the lid.
- It’s not cup holder friendly. This model, which is more narrow than a typical travel mug, did not fit snugly in our testers’ car cup holders. If you prefer a travel mug with a larger circumference, check out our also-great pick.
- It isn’t spill-proof. Though the SM-SF is leakproof, it isn’t spill-proof like our also-great pick; the design lacks an automatic seal to prevent liquid from spilling if you drop the mug while you’re drinking.
The 16-ounce Stanley Classic Trigger-Action Travel Mug is our recommendation for use in a car, as it’s a great spill-proof mug that keeps drinks hot and fits in a cup holder.
It’s designed for drivers. Wider than the Zojirushi mug, this Stanley model fit more securely in our testers’ car cup holders. The top of the mug is narrower than the base, though, to help reduce heat loss through the lid. (Experts told us that the lid is where a double-walled mug loses the most heat.) And the design has no pop-up lid to bump your nose or block your eyes while you’re drinking.
It’s spill-proof, unlike the Zojirushi mug. You do need to hold down a button to keep the sipping port open to drink from the mug, which may be frustrating to some people. However, this design prevents spills—whether from rough roads, say, or if you accidentally knock the mug over while reaching for it—since the mug closes automatically. Other mugs we tested, such as the Contigo Autoseal Transit and West Loop (both former runners-up), had similar buttons, but the button on the Classic Trigger-Action was easier to press and hold. Unlike the Zojirushi model, this mug has no lock to secure its lid, but it never leaked in our tests.
It keeps drinks hot long enough. The Classic Trigger-Action can’t keep your beverages quite as hot for quite as long as our top pick can, but that might be a plus for those who complain that the Zojirushi mug keeps drinks too hot. When we boiled water and let it sit in this Stanley mug, the water took only three hours to cool to 158 degrees (whereas water in the Zojirushi mug took eight hours to reach that temperature). After eight hours, the water in the Classic Trigger-Action measured 132 degrees—26 degrees cooler than the water in the Zojirushi mug. If you drink your beverages quickly or don’t want to wait for them to cool down before sealing your mug, the Classic Trigger-Action may be a better option for you.
It’s tough. This mug endured our drop tests, sporting only light scuffing on the plastic lid and minor dents at the side of the base of its body. Like Zojirushi’s five-year warranty, Stanley’s lifetime warranty covers only manufacturer defects, not damage to mug components due to accidents or wear. Should you damage the lid or simply lose it, you can buy a replacement lid .
It’s dishwasher safe. Both the mug body and the lid can go in the dishwasher. The lid has some hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, so be sure to disassemble it for the best cleaning results. Stanley’s lid has fewer pieces than Zojirushi’s lid and is easier to take apart.
You have more color choices. If you care about colors, the Classic Trigger-Action comes in many—about a dozen at last count. This mug also comes in a 20-ounce size .
The OXO Good Grips Water Bottle Cleaning Set is the best bottle-cleaning set. It comes with a large bottle brush, a skinny straw brush, and a looped detail-cleaning brush, all kept together on a handy ring so you won’t lose any of the parts. The set is dishwasher safe, and we found that it works well for anyone looking to remove gunk from travel mugs and other hard-to-clean items.
If you want a mug with a locking lid for about half the price of our top pick: Consider the GSI Microlite 500 Flip , which keeps liquids almost as hot as the Zojirushi mug and has a similar one-handed flip top with a lock.
However, when we dropped this GSI mug to the ground when the lid was unlocked, the lid popped open and spilled coffee everywhere—and the exact same thing happened when we dropped it a second time. Eventually, we dropped the mug enough, accidentally, to break the lid; GSI does sell replacement lids.
This mug, which has a large sipping port, also has a higher flow rate than our picks, and may require more careful sipping when the beverage is really hot.
If the Zojirushi mug is out of stock: You might look into the MiiR 360 Traveler , which in our tests kept drinks almost as hot and resisted denting just as well as our top pick. When it’s unlocked, its sipping port allows you to drink from anywhere on the lid’s circumference. We decided not to make it a pick because we struggled to decipher whether the sipping port was open or closed—which in turn led to spills. Unlike some twist-to-open 360-degree ports, the MiiR 360 Traveler’s lid has a push button for operation that forms the center of the lid, and at a glance, it looks nearly the same whether closed or open.
The mug is also available in a flip-top version called the Flip Traveler , but we’ve found flip-top lids prone to breaking during our drop tests. The mug bodies for the 360 Traveler and the Flip Traveler are the same, and the lids are interchangeable, in case you buy one and then decide that you’d like to try the other.
We’ve considered and evaluated several other Zojirushi travel mugs throughout our testing. Here’s a breakdown:
- Zojirushi SM-WR : Almost identical to the SM-SF series, this version has an integrated gasket, which reduces the total pieces to clean. We like it almost as much as our top pick. However, it dispenses a little faster than the SM-SF, which is good for cold drinks but can be too much for really hot drinks.
- Zojirushi SM-YAE : This 16-ounce mug costs a little more than our main pick. It comes with an electro-polished interior, like the Zojirushi SM-KHE, but has a shape that’s stouter than other Zojirushi mugs and short enough to fit under the spout of a single-cup brewing machine. In our tests, however, it fell short of our picks in insulating performance: After eight hours, the water temperature had dropped to 100 degrees, 58 degrees cooler than the water in our top pick.
- Zojirushi SM-SHE : We were reluctant to test this mug due to persistent stock issues. Zojirushi sent us one to try out anyway, but it broke during our drop test.
- Zojirushi SM-JHE : We opted not to test this mug because it has a wide-mouth, screw-off lid.
- Zojirushi SM-JTE : We also elected not to test this model, which has a tea-leaf filter, due to its screw-off lid.
The JoeVeo Temperfect Javabliss 16 Travel Mug brings a scalding drink down to a drinkable temperature and holds it there by using a third layer in its wall to capture excess heat and then release it over time. It isn’t leakproof or spill-proof, though.
The 17-ounce Kinto Travel Tumbler insulates well—so well that it was the third-best contender at insulating in our tests behind the Zojirushi SM-SF and GSI Microlite 500 Flip. Drinking from it requires fully removing the lid, though, as well as finding a place to put the lid.
After dismissing previous iterations of the Hydro Flask travel mug, we tested the 20-ounce Hydro Flask Coffee Cup with Flex Sip Lid , and it was a clear improvement over older models. It kept drinks hot for about a half day, and it resisted denting better than about half of the other tested mugs. The lid requires two hands to open and close, however, so it can be tough to open while you’re distracted, and it has a tendency to “burp” a small amount of liquid when you rotate the lid from closed to open.
The 16-ounce OXO Good Grips Thermal Mug with SimplyClean Lid resembles—and insulates about as well as—the Hydro Flask mug we tested, keeping drinks hot for a half day. It also shares that model’s flaws, requiring two hands to open and close, and burping some liquid.
The Klean Kanteen Insulated Wide Mouth Water Bottle was a previous runner-up in this guide, as well as a former insulated water bottle pick, but we found that the lid occasionally leaked when we left the bottle on its side overnight.
The 18-ounce Purist Mover with Scope Lid insulates nearly as well as our picks and has a 360-degree sip lid, which lets you drink from any side of the mug. It requires two hands to open and close, though.
We broke the flip-top lid of the 20-ounce Welly Traveler , as well as the glued-on product-label plate on the bottom of the mug, the first time we dropped it.
The 12-ounce Ketiee Travel Mug is cheaper than most mugs we looked at, and we wondered what we’d get for the price. It kept drinks hot for about two hours during our tests, scoring near the bottom. Our main complaint is that the molding process left a pointy knob on our test unit, right above the drinking port, that pressed into our testers’ noses. Also, the product page states that it’s spill-proof—and we found that it wasn’t, whether the flip-top lid was open or closed.
The promise of the battery-powered Ember Travel Mug 2 is that it allows you to keep your beverage at a specific temperature (up to 145 degrees) for three hours—if you remember to charge it. Without the battery, it scored at the bottom on our insulation test; we also managed to break its inner seal during our drop test. Although we like the standard Ember Mug 2 (read more in our mug warmers guide ), we can’t recommend this even more expensive sibling.
The Contigo Autoseal West Loop Travel Mug was one of our previous runners-up, and like the Stanley Classic Trigger-Action , it has a button that you need to push before you can drink. The West Loop didn’t hold up as well in our drop tests as the Stanley model did, and we found its vertical push button harder to use than the one on our current also-great pick.
This article was edited by Ria Misra and Christine Ryan.
Hongbin Bill Ma, director, Center of Thermal Management at the University of Missouri , phone interview , September 22, 2017
Michael Dickey, professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University , phone interview , September 26, 2017
Meet your guides
Trey French is a staff writer at Wirecutter covering outdoors gear. A trail runner, backcountry skier, and long-distance backpacker, he has reviewed gear for Treeline Review and advised wilderness travelers on lightweight backcountry equipment at Katabatic Gear. He resides in California’s Eastern Sierra, where scenic desktop backgrounds are born.
Anna Perling is a former staff writer covering kitchen gear at Wirecutter. During her time at Wirecutter, she reported on various topics including sports bras, board games, and light bulbs. Previously she wrote food and lifestyle pieces for Saveur and Kinfolk magazines. Anna is a mentor at Girls Write Now and a member of the Online News Association.
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