What items get better with use?
October 28, 2009 1:36 AM   Subscribe

Which products or goods improve with age and use?

Most things degrade with time, and a few are built well enough to not noticeaby decline in functionality when used properly. But how many actually get better after they have been used? I'm mostly thinking of items whose improvement requires use, although age can be a factor too.

For example, Chinese zisha (purple clay) teapots are said to improve over time. As tea is brewed in them, the semi-porous clay absorbs some tea particles, and a patina develops on the walls of the pot. This is supposed to enhance flavor when you brew new tea.
posted by Earl the Polliwog to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Tensioned leather bicycle saddles usually have a lengthy break-in period during which they increasingly conform to the rider's sit-bones.
posted by tigrrrlily at 1:40 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: cast-iron cookware develops a "non-stick" patina after proper seasoning and over time.
posted by heeeraldo at 1:42 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

... I actually came in to say that actual saddles are the same; as are most leather goods, since the leather needs to be worn in to the specific use of the wearer or user.
posted by koeselitz at 1:45 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not only the teapots, but also black chinese tea, the type that comes in the shape of a cake-thing.

Also Icelandic-style pancake pans, and combustion engines - up to a point.
posted by krilli at 1:45 AM on October 28, 2009

I find my bamboo knitting needles have become pleasantly smoother with use, as though my fingers (and maybe the wool) have polished them while I was knitting.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:47 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well made guitars (and other wooden musical instruments) improve tone with age.
Of course the term age is relative.
Perhaps the 'half-life' of a guitar is when it's at its best.
posted by artdrectr at 1:54 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: Stringed instruments.

Meerschaum pipes.

Good leather shoes.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:54 AM on October 28, 2009

Really good boots
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 AM on October 28, 2009

Linen -- it loses its shiny stiffness and becomes soft and drapey with time and abuse.
posted by stuck on an island at 2:12 AM on October 28, 2009

Headphones are said to have a "burn-in" period, after which their sound improves.
posted by smorange at 2:14 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: Levi's and leather jackets take some time to find out your body and fit to it, same with shoes and more especially boots.

Waffle head hammers -- framing hammers, also drywall hatchets and roofing hatchets, the type with the scoring on the face of the hammer, used to grab onto the nail -- when new those grooves are pronounced and really annoying, as it wears in it becomes less grabby when you hit a nail with it but still has plenty enough grab to get hold of that nail and drive it home.

Cheap razors -- that first shave is brutal, those blades are sharp (um, razor sharp?) and they'll slice my face off, second shave dangerous also, from there on it's comfortable, and since I shave in the shower I get lots of comfortable shaves out of them.

Fountain pens -- a brand new fountain pen has a really sharp nib, which I don't much like, got to be worn down some before it writes friendly, comfortably, expressively; they're sortof like leather jackets and levi's, they have to find your writing style and then fit to it.

Palette knives -- when I start using a new one I just can't stand it, they're sharp and edgy and they don't lay paint how I want them to. Sortof like the nib of the fountain pen, need to be broken in to my hand.

Friendship -- sortof off topic maybe but it's true; they get better over time. I'd guess marriages are this way also, if/when they last. Matthew has been my best friend for 25 years now, Tina for about the same, Alison for close to twenty -- these people know me and I know them, we've gone through so many passages together, some times apart but then back together and richer, usually, for the time apart.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:25 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Actually thinking about this, there are a lot of things that are stiff/uncomfortable when new but improve with age because you "break it in". But taking a step back from your question, I don't think this means those items improved in some objective way. Some things are best when they conform to the usage patterns you subject them to. Since this is highly individual, the best way to sell these are in the "not broken in yet" state. So, while they subjectively appear to improve with age, I don't know that another person would see it that way. My jeans are way more comfortable than when I bought them new, for example, but I don't think anyone else would feel that way about them.

But if that doesn't confound you, there's tons of things that get better with breaking them in. Most any clothing item, beds, pillows, comforters, cooking utensils. Pretty much anything you put your ass on: chair, sofas, bicycle seats.

There are some food items that are known to get better with age, such as wine and certain cheeses (although it's debatable whether they are better or just different from their younger versions).
posted by cj_ at 2:29 AM on October 28, 2009

Most firearms have a break-in period. Many don't even function reliably until you've put a few thousand rounds through them.

posted by Netzapper at 3:00 AM on October 28, 2009

Anything well made and high quality.
posted by fire&wings at 3:08 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not only the teapots, but also black chinese tea, the type that comes in the shape of a cake-thing.

It's called Pu-Erh tea, and the raw stuff (as opposed to the 'cooked') damn straight gets better with age (unlike most tea, fyi).

Fish tanks typically get if not better, at least more stable with age as the microbiology steadies itself and grows.
posted by smoke at 3:35 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Along the same line as headphones - speakers have a burn in period too.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:21 AM on October 28, 2009

Most of the plant life in your garden.
posted by i_cola at 4:24 AM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: A sourdough starter.
posted by a non e mouse at 5:05 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is somewhat off-topic, but I work in the nuclear power industry in the United States and I can say that a modern (or as modern as we have) commericial nuclear reactor, even at 30+ years old, runs more safely and efficiently than it did the first day it was in operation. This fact can mainly be attributed to the constant upgrading of component parts that assist in making more efficient eletricity.
posted by tdalton at 5:47 AM on October 28, 2009

Cement tiles. After a while they get smoothed down and with enough walking, buffing and waxing over the years develop a patina.
posted by watercarrier at 6:19 AM on October 28, 2009

Stone bakeware.

Baseball gloves.


A rough wooden handrail. I am thinking specifically about the one which used to be at the Big Surf water park in tempe AZ. Going there as a kid, I was amazed at the beautiful shine that developed over the years after millions of hands passed over it to assist in the climb up the steps to the big water slid.
posted by CathyG at 6:27 AM on October 28, 2009

I should clarify "caves" - they certainly get better with time, but not with use. The oil in people's hands causes the cave to "die" and turn black. Same oil that improved that wooden handrail, but totally different in a cave situation.
posted by CathyG at 6:29 AM on October 28, 2009

Pearls are said to improve with age if well cared for.

Silver develops a lovely patina from years of use.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:50 AM on October 28, 2009

Packs of cards. It's easier to shuffle a worn deck than a new deck, and the cards feel less slippery and more pleasant in the hand. (You can clean dirt from old cards using a piece of bread.)

Ditto on the fountain pens.
posted by Hogshead at 6:54 AM on October 28, 2009

Raw denim jeans are meant to be worn constantly without washing for 3-6 months, during which the tough texture softens and fades gradually, and the fabric conforms to the wearer's body, giving a better fit than off-the-rack pre-washed denim.
posted by chalbe at 6:58 AM on October 28, 2009

Many wines and some cheeses get better with age. Some other foods are better with just slight aging, such as chilis, stews, and soups, which are often better the second day.

Friends and often lovers improve with "use" rather than age -- it's a function of familiarity rather than duration.

Virtually all quality leather goods (from coats and boots to whips and crops) and quality denim improve with use.

Some technological equipment, such as keyboards and mobile phones, need a breaking-in period to lose stiffness.

Anything copper -- domes to fencepost caps to teapots -- improves with age.

Music often improves with age, as well.
posted by notashroom at 7:12 AM on October 28, 2009

Record needles.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:35 AM on October 28, 2009

I have heard that Moka pots get better with age if you don't wash them with soap but have not had mine long enough to judge personally.
posted by ghharr at 7:44 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

stone bakewear works better the older it is, much like cast iron.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2009

Brandy, Whiskey and Wine
posted by watercarrier at 9:10 AM on October 28, 2009

posted by watercarrier at 9:10 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some pianos (because of the sounding boards).
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 9:26 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think there’s a difference between something actually improving with age (like wine) and something that deteriorates with age, but whose deteriorated state is sometimes more pleasing. Broken-in jeans can be more comfortable but I wouldn’t call them “improved with age,” since they’re more likely to rip and fray (although one might prefer that, too).

Pearls allegedly become more beautiful the more one wears them against the skin. I think it has something to do with the warmth and body oils interacting with the nacre.

A lot of dishes get better as they sit in the fridge overnight: lasagna, tomato-based stews, apple pies.
posted by thebazilist at 9:27 AM on October 28, 2009

Spalding handballs. Preferably flesh colored.
posted by watercarrier at 12:17 PM on October 28, 2009

Cookie Dough

(at least, for the first couple of days)
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2009

scrubby sponges. they are too hard at first.
posted by snofoam at 1:32 PM on October 29, 2009

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