Enjoy your gorgeous gourds all spooky-season long with a few simple steps.

By Lauren Phillips
August 13, 2020
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Halloween doesn’t technically arrive until October 31, but the lead-up to the big day is the best part of the holiday. That’s when you put your pumpkin carving stencils to work and watch as many Halloween movies on Netflix as you can; it’s when you go pumpkin picking and plan spooky or autumnal decorations for your home. As any holiday planner can attest, though, getting overly excited for Halloween can hurt you by the time October 31 rolls around if your pumpkins—carved jack-o’-lanterns or decorative no-carve pumpkin ideas alike—are moldy and rotten (or worse, covered with bugs, and not the cute decorative kind).

Even knowing how long carved pumpkins last, it’s all too easy to carve too early or fall prey to bugs, poor conditions, or sub-par pumpkins and suffer the consequence: a less-than display-worthy carved pumpkin on Halloween night. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to make your pumpkins last longer this October (or any time of year when you’re decorating with pumpkins).

How to make pumpkins last longer

Whether they’re carved or uncarved, you can help your pumpkins live a little longer off the vine with a little prep work and some bleach, say experts at Clorox. To make your pumpkins last longer, you’ll need:

  • Clorox disinfecting bleach
  • a clean four-gallon bucket
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • a spray bottle

Next, follow these simple steps.

1

Fill the bucket with three gallons of water, then add three teaspoons of bleach.

You can create more or less of the solution, depending on the size of your bucket, the sizes of your pumpkins, and the number of pumpkins you’re hoping to preserve, but stick to a 1:1 ratio: one teaspoon of bleach per one gallon of water. Carefully add some of the solution to the spray bottle, or mix more solution in the bottle, if it’s large enough.

2

Cut open and scoop out the inside of the pumpkin, as you would for carving the pumpkin. (If you’re new to pumpkin carving, here’s how to carve a pumpkin.) Clean the inside and outside of the pumpkin with the bleach solution in the spray bottle. (The spray bottle makes it easier to treat the whole pumpkin.) This sterilizes the pumpkin, killing any existing bacteria to slow the decay of the gourd. Let the pumpkin dry fully before carving.

If you’re not carving the pumpkin, simply clean the exterior with the bleach solution.

3

Once your cleaned pumpkin is dry, proceed as usual with your favorite spooky shapes and stencils.

4

After carving, bring your pumpkin to the bucket and your three-gallon bleach solution. Submerge the pumpkin in the bleach solution. The pumpkin will float, so stir it around a little to make sure all surfaces are submerged in the bleach solution for a full two minutes. (Don’t forget the top!) We recommend soaking the pumpkin upright for two minutes, then turning it over so the top is submerged for another two minutes to ensure it’s fully soaked.

Once the pumpkin has been thoroughly soaked, remove it and let it air dry on paper towels. Pour the soaking solution down the drain, preserving the solution in your spray bottle.

5

Pumpkins shrivel because they run out of moisture, Clorox’s experts say. To prevent this—and to limit the growth of bacteria—spray your pumpkin every day with your spray bottle containing the bleach solution. If you run out, simply make more by mixing a few drops of bleach with water.

As your pumpkin is sitting outside, don’t worry about hurting squirrels or other creatures who may nibble at it with the bleach: During normal household use, bleach breaks down primarily into salt and water. With the dilute solution created to preserve your pumpkins, the bleach will break down to table salt and water when exposed to air and sun, making it harmless to anything that takes a bite.

More tips for making pumpkins last longer

If you carved too early, you can preserve your carved pumpkin by keeping it wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated when not on display.

No bleach? Swipe some petroleum jelly onto the carved parts of the pumpkin. It will serve as a protective layer that keeps moisture in and prevents the pumpkin from drying out and looking shriveled.

If your pumpkin starts to shrivel before the holiday, experts at Maniac Pumpkin Carvers suggest reviving it in an ice bath with a capful of bleach added. (Be sure to remove any lights or electronics before dunking.) This quick dip helps deter mold growth and miraculously brings pumpkins back from the dead. Spooky, right?