How to Clean Gourds

Ok, you have purchased some gourds. So many ideas are swirling through your head, you can hardly wait to sit down and create. Hold your horses. You still have another step before you can start playing! As gourds dry on the vine and even after they detach from the  vine, the moisture that is inside must come out. So out through the skin it comes. And forms mold in the process. This completely normal.

Cleaning gourds is definitely messy, but fortunately it is also fairly easy. There are many techniques commonly used to clean the mold and outer layer of skin. All will involve a bit of elbow grease. The various techniques used are all basically different ways to help loosen the mold and grunge. Most involve soaking the gourd in water. I have tried a few different ways but always come back my favorite which I will focus on here after mentioning a few other techniques. Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you. Here are some different techniques I have heard about:

  • Put your gourd into a black plastic bag with a couple cups of water. Seal the bag and put it in the sun for a couple hours.
  • Immerse your gourd in a tub or bucket of water with a wet towel on top to weigh it down and keep it wet.
  • Put your gourd in the rain for a couple hours.
  • Bury your gourd in potting soil for several days.

If you use a tub or bucket, you’ll want to add something to the water to help speed up the process. This can be bleach, TSP, shower cleaner, dish soap or dishwasher detergent.

Your gourd cleaning will require the gourd to be wet. First because you don’t want to be scraping away any dry dusty mold that you may inhale if you aren’t wearing a mask. Second, the water will loosen the mold and make your job so much easier. Just like washing dishes, you need the soap and water used together.

Sounds simple so far, doesn’t it? Wait until you try to put the gourd in water to soak it. Hah! Gourds float. You will either need to weigh it down with something or lay a wet towel over the top or keep rotating the gourd in the water.

What do you use to scrub the gourd with? Pretty much everyone uses scrubbies – stainless steel, copper, scouring pad, or wire brush. Personally, I get a 3-pack of stainless steel scrubbies from the dollar store. One pack will last a very long time. Just make sure they are dedicated to cleaning gourds. Don’t go cleaning your own dishes or your chicken’s water dishes with the same scrubbies.

Now get some disposable dish washing gloves if you are worried about your hands. Once your gourd is thoroughly wet, start scrubbing. It should be pretty easy. Scrub until you have a smooth surface and then set it aside to dry.

how to clean gourds
moldy gourds about to be buried in the soil to help clean them

One technique intrigued me so much, I had to try it even though I had my doubts. I buried my gourds in potting soil. Something about the enzymes in the soil help break down the mold. I had new raised planters with new, unplanted soil, so I gave it a whirl. I simply dug a shallow hole, covered the gourds and left them there for about 2 weeks. Surprisingly, it did help loosen the mold and grunge, but I still had to soak and scrub.

I have tried various cleaning products. I have tried several types of sponges and scrubbers. Here is what I always come back to – my tried and true gourd cleaning technique:

I get a 5-gallon bucket and fill it about half way with water from the hose. I usually set up the bucket on the lawn or driveway or on the back deck. While I am filling the bucket, I pour in about 1/8 cup of powdered dishwasher detergent. I use Cascade only because that is what we buy for our dishes. I think generic detergent works fine also. I mix it up a bit with my hand. I don’t bother to wear gloves. Nothing bad or weird has happened to my hands. I grab my stainless steel dollar store scrubbie and an armful of gourds. I like to be efficient with my time so I always clean at least 6 gourds at the same time.

how to clean gourds
moldy gourds about to be cleaned using bucket, water, scrubbie and detergent

One at a time, I dunk each gourd into the water in the bucket maybe for about 30 seconds. Then I put the first gourd back in again. After a minute or two, I take it out and put the next gourd in. While gourd #2 is floating around in the water, I start scrubbing gourd #1. I quickly scrub the easy stuff off, dunk it again and set it aside. I pull out gourd #2 and scrub while gourd #3 sits in the water bucket. Continue this until you finish the last gourd.

Then I start all over again scrubbing gourd #1 while gourd #2 sits in the water. But now when I scrub, I am focusing on any stubborn areas and around the stem and the gourd bottom where the blossom was. If you think you may keep the stem on the gourd, scrub that too. By the end of this second round of scrubbing, most of your gourds will be clean. Occasionally, a gourd will have a whitish filmy layer that is difficult to remove. Just let the gourd soak a bit more, and it will then come off.

how to clean gourds
stubborn white film on gourds needs extra soaking and scrubbing

With this technique, I probably spend a total of 5 minutes scrubbing each gourd. The entire process of setting up, cleaning 6 gourds and clean up afterwards is about 45 minutes. When I’m finished scrubbing, I hose out the bucket, hose off my gourds and hose off myself. All that scrubbing and splashing around in the bucket will get your arms pretty messy. I leave the gourds outside in a safe place so they can dry for a few days. Then I move them into my craft barn where they can be kept away from any critters that might want to chew on them.

I generally try to clean my gourds in the summer when I can comfortably do so outside and submerge my hands in the water without freezing. One time I needed to clean gourds in the winter so I filled the bathtub and scrubbed in the bathroom. Otherwise I would have ended up with frostbite.

how to clean gourds
the same six gourds, all clean and ready to use

So now the hard part is over and you can finally see the natural colors of the gourd and the natural variations of light and dark. Many people incorporate the gourd’s natural color patterns into their designs.

Finally, it’s time to play…….

2 thoughts on “How to Clean Gourds”

    • The mold comes from the naturally occurring moisture inside the gourd when it is growing. Once the gourd is separated from it’s vine and begins to dry, the moisture is drawn out naturally (thank Mother Nature for that!). Once the gourd is dry, it’s dry. There isn’t any more moisture inside trying to get out that would cause mold. Just like lumber in that when the tree is growing it has moisture in it. Then it is cut and set aside to dry for a period of time. The moisture evaporates out. When you go to the store to buy lumber, you tell which pieces are completely dry because they are light weight. The ones with a bit of moisture still inside are heavier. Best to choose the dry ones. Just as dry lumber will last centuries in the walls of your house, gourds will last many years once the moisture is all removed.

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