How to Clean a Gourd – Inside & Out

Cleaning a dried gourd can be a daunting process.  The gourd may be covered with fuzzy mold or ugly peeling skin that is holding on strong.  With a bit of soaking and a little bit of elbow grease cleaning a gourd is easy.

Anatomy Of A Dried Gourd – Gourd Skin

A dried gourd consists of a hard shell that feels much like wood and a thin skin on the outside.  Until the dried gourd has been soaked you may not be able to distinguish that there is a layer of skin, but after a good soak, it can be scraped off leaving a clean smooth creamy brown gourd.

The qualities of the gourd skin vary quite a bit depending on how the gourd was dried.  Gourds can be dried either indoors or outdoors leaving the gourd with differing qualities.

Moldy gourds dried indoors.
gourds dried inside

Gourds dried indoors end up with elaborate patterns of mold stains on the skin and the skin tends to be stronger and undamaged.  The mold patterns often stain the inside layer of the gourd as well but much less elaborately than the skin.  I often use the patterns left by the mold in my art.  Here is a tutorial on how to clean and finish a gourd preserving the natural patterns.

Gourds dried outside with peeling skin
gourds dried outside

Gourds dried outdoors with exposure to the weather are much cleaner than ones dried indoors.  They do not get much if any molds on them and therefore do not get the patterns left by the mold.  The skin breaks and peels from rain, snow, and freezing-thawing cycles.  If your gourd project requires a completely clean bare gourd, I recommend drying your gourd outdoors if possible.

Making A Sanitizing Solution For Cleaning Gourds

I recommend using a mild bleach solution to clean gourds.  This makes sure there is no live mold on your gourd that could continue to grow or make anybody sick.  Simply add a bit of bleach to your soak water.  You need very little.  You are aiming for about a 1:30 ratio of bleach to water.  This translates to about 1/4 cup for a sinkful of water.  (This is a rough guide for how much bleach to use and don’t worry too much about getting your math just right.  More or less will still do the job.)

Cleaning The Outside Of A Gourd

To clean a gourd you will need:

  • washtub – Anything that is big enough to submerge your gourds and can hold water will work.  I use my laundry sink with a good sink catcher.  A tub of water outside would work just as well and leave less clean up.
  • bleach  or another disinfectant such as hydrogen peroxide.
  • Rags – Both dish towels and dish rags sized clothes are useful.
  • scrapper – My favorite tool is a small plastic putty knife but I have used everything from a plastic spoon to an old credit card with success.  Avoid metal because it can scratch the gourd.
  • rough sponge – Cheap plastic sponges work great.

Step by Step: Cleaning Outside Of Gourd

  1. Fill washtub with water and add a small amount of bleach.
  2. Soak your gourds in the water.  They will float so move them around to get all sides wet then cover the part of the gourds above water with wet rags so that the entire gourd continues to soak.   They need to be left to soak for about 20 min.  Make sure to move them around every once in a while and wet the rags if they are getting dry to make sure all sides are staying wet.
  3. Use your scraper, rough sponge, and rags to get all the skin off.  The skin should come off pretty easily with a bit of elbow grease.  If there are any stubborn areas resoak and try again.  Some gourds end up with some spots that are impossible to get off, this is especially true with large black stains on gourds dried indoors.  My best advice for these circumstances is to incorporate the stains into your artwork.  🙂
  4. Give the gourd a final rinse before it is fully dried.  Any bits left on the outside can stick back on when they dry.

Now you have a beautiful blank canvas to start your gourd art!

Cleaning The Inside Of A Gourd

For many gourd projects, it will be necessary to clean the inside of the gourd as well as the outside.  For some projects, such as birdhouses, it will only be necessary to clear out the seeds and most of the inside stuff, while other projects, such as bowls, will require a complete cleaning down to the bare walls of the gourd.

Step by Step: Cleaning Out A Gourd For A Birdhouse

All you will need is a long-handled spoon (or something like it) that can fit into the entrance hole of the birdhouse.

  1. Drill the entrance hole in your birdhouse.
  2. Empty any of the seeds and stuff that you can.  Shake the gourd to loosen further and use the spoon to scrape any left on the sides.
  3. Soak the gourd in a mild bleach solution so that the inside gets sanitized.  Sometimes there can be mold inside and it helps the gourd last, look it’s best, and be safe for humans to get rid of any mold.

Don’t stress about getting every piece.  Birds don’t mind debris left inside.  Some pieces will probably be stuck to the sides and these in no way reduce the quality of your birdhouse.

Step by Step: Cleaning Inside Of Gourd

If you are making a bowl, gourd jack o’lantern, or any other project where the inside of the gourd is visible, you will probably want it to be cleaned completely.  If you cannot reach your hand inside your gourd you will need some sort of tool that can reach in and scrape the sides.  A long-handled metal spoon works well.

  1. Clear out all the loose debris from inside your gourd.  Scrape as much loose as you can and empty.
  2. Soak your gourd in a mild bleach solution for about 15 minutes.  You want all the stuck on pieces along the walls to be fully saturated.  They should be fluffy and slimy.  If your gourd is not a very strong one you should handle it with care after soaking the inside, it can get flimsy and break.
  3. Drain all the water and let the gourd dry a bit.  You want the stuck on pieces to become a bit more solid but still be wet.  When you pull on them they should peel right off in big pieces.  This could take anywhere from an hour to a day depending on how fast they are drying.  Heat, humidity, sunlight, and airflow will all affect drying rate.  I revisit my drying gourds often and try pulling off a piece to see if it is ready.  Too soon and you will get small soggy chucks, too late and the pieces will be dried back on.  If you can’t reach inside your project, use a metal spoon to help pull off the pieces.
  4. Once the inside is cleaned out, make sure to let your gourd fully dry before you continue working on it.  The inside of the gourd is kind of spongy and will hold on to the water longer than expected.  I like to put my wet gourds in the sunshine or on the vent to make sure they dry as quickly as possible to avoid any new mold growth.
  5.  Once completely dry you can sand the inside of the gourd if needed to make it smooth.

Time To Make Art With Your Gourd

Once you have cleaned and sanitized your gourd it is time to make art.  Your once dirty gourd has been transformed into a blank canvas waiting for your creativity to shine.

I would love to hear your tips and tricks and experiences with cleaning gourds!

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