How to Maintain a Carved Pumpkin

Two Methods:Pre-ApplicationMethods to Try

Many people hollow out and carve pumpkins (also called jack-o'-lanterns) as part of their seasonal celebrations. Once a pumpkin has been carved, the length of time during which it will remain fresh can vary widely, depending on the environmental conditions and the methods used to preserve it. Dehydration, bacteria and mold are the primary causes of decay in jack-o'-lanterns. Here are some tips for how to maintain a carved pumpkin.

Method 1

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    Choose a fresh pumpkin. Before you begin to carve your pumpkin, make sure the stem is thick and strong and that the skin is not punctured. Broken skin allows bacteria an entry point, which speeds decay.
    • If the pumpkin is already a little soft in the pumpkin patch, even in a tiny area, it's well on its way to rotting. That small soft spot will be a caved in pumpkin in a matter of days. You want a pumpkin with a nice hard body, no give when you press it gently, and even color.[1]
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    Clean your pumpkin thoroughly before carving. This helps prevent bacteria from entering before you've finished carving. Gently wash the outside of the pumpkin with lukewarm soapy water, and ensure that your carving tools are clean.
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    Scrape the inside of your pumpkin thoroughly. This will remove all of the gooey parts that are prone to mold and decay. Using tools sold specifically for pumpkin-carving won't necessarily extend the life of your pumpkin, but tools that are very sharp will create cleaner cuts that will help it last longer. Ragged edges provide more surface area for decay-causing bacteria to settle in, and too much unnecessary sawing will bruise and soften the pumpkin.
    • The thickness of the pumpkin will not greatly alter how quickly it rots. If you scoop away too much by accident, don't fret.

Method 2
Methods to Try

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    Mist diluted bleach onto the entirety of the pumpkin. This kills microorganisms that speed pumpkin decay. You can do this by adding bleach to your cold soak water (if soaking the pumpkin) or by using a plant mister.
    • Use about 1 tbsp. (15 ml) of bleach in 1 qt. (946 ml) of water. Some professional pumpkin carvers use lemon juice instead of diluted bleach; use a 50/50 solution of lemon juice and water.
      • In several tests done by enthusiasts, bleaching was the best (by far) method of pumpkin preservation.[1]
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    Spray the inside, outside and cut surfaces of your pumpkin with a commercial pumpkin preserver. These preservation products, which are an alternative to petroleum jelly, bleach and lemon juice treatments, are usually available where pumpkins are sold. They are specifically designed to help keep a carved jack-o'-lantern fresh.
    • If you opt for the bottle of Pumpkin Fresh, you may want to buy two. You'll go through that baby in no time flat. Commercial sprays, in a few studies, have held up to bleach, or even surpassed it.[2]
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    Place your carved pumpkin in a tub or large bowl filled with cold water, carved side down. Let it absorb the water for at least 1 hour; however, you can leave it in for up to 8 hours.
    • This will create a firmer pumpkin that will resist dehydration for longer than an untreated pumpkin. Dry the pumpkin completely after soaking.
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    Rub the raw edges of your pumpkin with a thin layer of petroleum jelly. This works best when done right after the pumpkin has been soaked, since it helps seal in moisture. If the pumpkin starts to become dehydrated and shriveled-looking, soak it in cold water again and repeat the application of petroleum jelly. Pumpkins can be soaked for up to 8 hours.
    • Vegetable oil can be substituted for petroleum jelly. Either way, know that this is a method that has received mixed reviews.
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    Put your pumpkin in a cold place. The ideal temperature for storing pumpkins is 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 5 degrees Celsius). If you live in a cold climate, keeping your pumpkin outdoors (and out of the sun) might work. In warmer climates, covering it with plastic wrap and storing it in the refrigerator until you wish to display it slows the process of decay. Be sure to prevent your pumpkin from freezing, since a frozen pumpkin will soften considerably within a few hours.
    • Whatever you do, just make sure the temperature is dry and stable -- those two factors are the most important.


  • If you use a candle or light bulb to light your carved pumpkin, make sure there is sufficient ventilation through the top of the pumpkin. Heat buildup inside your pumpkin will bake it, which will make the pumpkin soft and misshapen.
  • In at least one study, the best alternative to bleach and commercial spray was...doing absolutely nothing at all.[2]

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Categories: Halloween Pumpkins