The Trick to Making Carved Pumpkins Last Longer

Expert tips on how to keep your jack-o’-lantern shining bright until Halloween night

Holiday seasons seem to kick off earlier and earlier each year, and Halloween is no different. We’ve been seeing pumpkins for sale at farmers markets and grocery stores since around Labor Day, well in advance of Oct. 31. But how long do pumpkins last? Will the one I buy today make it all the way to Halloween?

How long do uncarved pumpkins last?

Before carving, a pumpkin can last about a month at room temperature. But don’t go picking one at your local pumpkin patch too early. “If you want your pumpkin to be in pristine condition for the big day, we’d recommend purchasing a locally sourced pumpkin around 14 days before Halloween,” says Leslie Vincent, a gardening expert and horticulturalist with Atkins Farm Machinery & Garden Care in County Cork, Ireland. If you’re displaying a pumpkin outside, keep it protected from direct sunlight (which will make it mushy) and rain (which creates mold).

While there are plenty of great no-carve pumpkin ideas, many of us still love to grab a knife and carve up a pumpkin pattern to take our jack-o’-lantern to the next level, following some creative pumpkin carving tips. The trick is to make your creation last through the holiday.

How long does a cut pumpkin last?

Once you carve a pumpkin, you’ve got around three to seven days before it rots. “Once you cut into a pumpkin, the lifespan of the fruit significantly decreases,” says Vincent. (Yes! If you didn’t realize it, a pumpkin is actually a fruit!)

When you carve, you’re turbocharging the oxidation process, which leads to rotting. Pumpkins generally tend to rot so quickly after carving because they lose nearly 90% of their moisture content. You can extend a pumpkin’s life by keeping it as moist as possible, though not soaked, says Vincent. Gently misting it on a regular basis after you carve will help a lot.

How to keep a pumpkin from rotting

Here are even more tricks to prolong the life of your carved pumpkin.

Try bleach and vinegar

A little-known way to use bleach it to help extend the life of your pumpkin by up to a week. “When you dip the pumpkin in bleach you’re effectively killing off any bacteria and organisms that exist on the skin of the fruit,” says Vincent. “Without these present, the rotting process is staved off for a little while longer.”

  1. Once you’ve carved your pumpkin, it’s time to give it a good rinse. Fill a tub or large bucket with water and add about three teaspoons of bleach.
  2. Next, fully submerge the pumpkin into the bleach water for two to three minutes.
  3. Let it fully dry, and you’re go to go.

Vinegar works just as well. Follow the same method as with the bleach, but soak the pumpkin longer, for around 30 minutes, before drying. Vinegar is a better option for those who display their jack-o’-lanterns outside. “It is safer for the surrounding wildlife if they decide to have a quick nibble,” says Vincent.

WD-40 can save your pumpkin, but be careful

Spraying WD-40 to coat the outside of your carved pumpkin will keep things fresh for longer than bleach or vinegar. The reason is that the mineral oil protects and retains the moisture. “This one always raises a few eyebrows, but it really works—we’ve been using this method for a number of years without fail,” Vincent says. However, WD-40 is flammable, so you must not light your jack-o’-lantern with a real candle once you’ve sprayed it down; use an LED light instead. In fact, Vincent recommends not using actual candles in any scenario, since a flame will only dry out the pumpkin further.


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Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson is a Senior Writer at Reader’s Digest. He has covered travel, culture, food, and drinks for more than two decades, and is the author of three books on wine and spirits, including Godforsaken Grapes and Boozehound. He’s written for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, and many other publications. He’s had a pizza, a breakfast sandwich, and a dessert named after him in three different countries.