You Gotta Clean Those Gourds – and prep BEFORE PAINTING


For over 15 years now, I have worked with gourds. For the most part, I just paint them. For today, I’d like to address the issues of cleaning and prepping the gourd for painting.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have had frequent questions about cleaning a gourd as well as questions about the moldy appearance a gourd has while drying. Unfortunately, more times than not, people have told me that they threw out the gourd ’cause it was moldy’. That is generally a mistake.

As a gourd dries (the process takes a couple months to as long as a year to dry) it dries from the inside out, mold appears grossly on the outside. That’s ok, it’s drying. IF IT IS NOT SOFT, LEAVE IT ALONE. It’s still drying … mold and all. They seem to like cooler temps while drying, I like to put any gourds that I’m drying on racks during the long drying process.

For an example of gourds I may let dry (I don’t grow them myself, don’t seem to work on my shady land), I usually buy some at Thanksgiving for decorations, the small ones for your dried corn and gourd centerpiece. After the Holiday, I’ll put them on some racks or in a basket and leave them on my front porch to dry. Those that get soft over the months, I toss over the mountain or in a sunny spot that might have a chance for the seeds to grow the next summer. The rest I leave till a day like today or in my case yesterday, hot, sunny, July day when I find the initiative it takes to clean them and I do it en masse.

I found every dried gourd that I had bought, been given or dried myself like the Thanksgiving gourds. Gathered them, a small kiddie pool, bleach, a good scrubbie and set to work. This is not a particularly fun job, more like cleaning silver! Getting all the dirt, mold, old skin off till I find that nice hard shell underneath. You may want to use a mask as recommended. I just throw all in the pool filled with water and a few cups of bleach. Then I get to work scrubbing (use gloves if you must). It takes quite a long time to accomplish this but to date in all the years I have been prepping gourds, this has been the best method I have found for me. I must have cleaned 50 or more gourds yesterday.

After cleaning them I keep them outside to get good and dry. When dry, and I as get ready to “paint” my Santas and other funny things, I prime them with something like Kilz water-based primer.

Why prime? Because of bleed-through. I don’t want some deep stain natural to a gourd bleeding through a beautiful Santa that I have painted with all intentions that it last forever for the people who may acquire it. I don’t want someone to have a ruined piece because I didn’t do the proper prep work. Prepping is everything. Despite what you might see on home improvement shows: Prepping and priming are an insurance policy of durability. Sealing it properly also is a good time investment. I use polyacrylic. While not meant for the outdoors, it is suitable for covered porches. And if you are looking to leave it outside, find a sealer meant for the outdoors. Not one coat, not even two, give it three or four coats of sealer. Again, a little time invested in the finish coat assures you durability and long lasting appeal.

Questions? Ask them. I’ve always been open to giving answers about anything I do with paint!

12 Responses

    1. While I don’t do many gourds these days, I’ll tell you what worked for me.
      I only had to deal with this when I did kettle gourds that I had cut the top off of and wove around the edges.
      First, I scraped the inside with a large spoon such as a table spoon;
      then I filled the inside with water and a little bleach. I let it soak for a while and then dry. I sanded a bit for any areas that needed further work.
      For the most part, I didn’t cut the gourds open, I usually painted Santas or other characters.

      Back to the interior of the gourd: When it was dry and I felt happy with the inside, I primed and painted it. However I believe it can be left as is or stained.

  1. three gourds from a friend..going to clean them, dry them, primer coat them..and paint them to look like Santas..that is THE PLAN!!! Thanks for your “bleach” input..that was a first!

  2. If using for decoration do i need clean out the inside? Or can I just paint the outside? I am afraid if I dont clean the inside it will mold on the outside again. My gourds are dried with cleaned outsides. Thank you.

  3. I have found that if you spray the gourds with oven cleaner and let sit, then spray again and scrub the old suds. Mold slides right off with little scrubbing of the dirty areas. Works great. I have also never seen any dried gourd have any bleeding areas come through my paint? Wondering what is the best selling things to do with gourds. If carving, they tend to crack so am puzzled if this is done before the gourds are completely dry?

    1. I’m a believer in priming because I never wanted to take a chance on bleed through. I’m not sure what’s currently selling in gourds. I haven’t done much with them other than Santa Claus’ or ornaments. I never got into the carving but I imagine there are places you could look for info on carving.

  4. This a project for my brother when he comes from Seattle so I wanted prep work done so we can sit down and have fun. I grew them myself and stored them in the outside garage. All looked moldy but were firm. Now the fun begins. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. I purchased a snake gourd last year for fall decor. It dried and this year I want to paint it. It’s my first one. I do not draw well so I’d like to transfer a pattern to it, perhaps a Santa or Christmas cardinal. What is the best way to transfer my design to the gourd?

  6. Hi,
    After cleaning gourds, I still have light mold that comes back. What is heartbreaking is to prep a gourd& paint it & mold grows on the paint. Any ideas that could help me?
    Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply