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How To Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

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Ever wonder how you can take those pretty pine cones you find in your yard, park, or on walks, and turn them into something you can use in your decor? I’ll show you how you can collect, clean and preserve pine cones so you can use them for years to come.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

When I lived in Tennessee I used to love to collect things in nature to use in my seasonal decorations–things like fall leaves, acorns and pine cones. When we moved to Texas, it was hard to find those types of things to collect, especially pine cones.

We did have the occasional changing tree and acorns, but pine cones were nowhere to be found. With moving to Missouri, I was thrilled to discover a HUGE pine tree in my backyard that dropped massive pine cones just waiting for me to collect.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

But, one of the downfalls to collecting pine cones from nature is that they are sticky, dirty and filled with bugs. Yuck. Who wants that in their house? Not me… So that’s why I have the perfect method to clean and preserve your pine cones.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

What you’ll need

First, collect your pine cones. The best ones to collect are ones that still have a partial stem, no broken wings, and are open. You can collect closed cones, but the open ones are easier to clean (and I think look prettier)

Once you have collected all of your pine cones, you will want to spot clean them. Remove any remaining needles, leaves, etc from the cones. Using rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip, you can clean any really dirty or gross spots on the cones.

Fill up your 5 gal bucket with HOT water about 1/2 way full. Then add 2 cups of vinegar making a 1 cup to 1 gal solution. Vinegar will kill any bugs that are living inside the cones, and will get rid of the sap residue.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

Soak the cones in the bucket for 30-45 minutes, moving them around or stirring the bucket every 15 minutes. You will notice that the cones will start to close up as they soak up the water. This is normal.

After soaking, remove the pine cones from the water and let them air dry on a large towel. Air drying can take 2-3 days for the pine cones to fully dry and open back up.

If you don’t have that kind of time, you can put them on a cookie sheet and in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. Please watch them closely while you dry them though! I prefer the air-dry method personally, plus the pine cones tend to keep their pine scent this way.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

Once the pine cones have dried completely, you will want to spray them with some sort of clear acrylic spray. I like using Mod Podge brand, but you can use whatever you have on hand.

This keeps the pine cones from becoming brittle quickly. They will eventually, but spraying them with a clear coat keeps them for at least a few seasons. To store the pine cones after the holidays, keep them in a clear plastic freezer bag with as much air removed as you can.

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones

Now that you have clean and preserved pine cones, you can decorate to your heart’s content. I like to decorate with them as is, but you can also make them into pretty ornaments. Check out this great list of 35 DIY Pine Cone Crafts.

More holiday decor ideas:

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones


Tuesday 12th of October 2021

If I want to use these as fire starters (without the sealer), will they have a vinegar smell?


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

I have never used acrylic sealer. How do you spray the pinecones and then leave them to dry? What do your place the pinecones on? Does it stick to whatever you placed them on as the acrylic dries? How do you not get the acrylic all over your hands? Thanks!


Sunday 28th of November 2021


Bake the pinecones in the oven 250-300 F. It takes about an hour depending on how wet your pine cones are. Put them on a cookie sheet lined with non-stick foil. The sap will melt and all of those whiteish marks will miraculously disappear! And the cones will open up. Your house will smell like a country store as a bonus!


Wednesday 6th of October 2021

@Amanda, The vinegar and hot water method has failed to remove the stickiness from our pine cones. We've run the pine cones through this mixture twice without success. Now what?


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

The sealer goes on like spray paint, but it dries very quickly. Hold the pine cone by the stem while spraying, or you can gently string up the pine cones on some twine or fishing line and spray them that way. Then they can just hang until dry. Hope that helps.


Thursday 11th of March 2021

Do you rinse after you soak?


Tuesday 23rd of March 2021

I did not but it wouldn't hurt!

Vicki Fonger

Sunday 8th of November 2020

One of my daughters lives in South Georgia...has huge pine cones. Shbring me bags of them every year. Looking forward to using this method to be able to store them. Thank You. North Georgia our pine cones are smaller.

Katherine Vidovic

Thursday 29th of October 2020

I just collectrd a bunch of pine cones today. They are pretty dry on their own. If I don't spray with an acrylic spray will they last thru December?


Thursday 29th of October 2020

Hard to say. They may become brittle and break easily. I would still recommend cleaning them like the tutorial because even if they look clean, you'd be surprised at how much dirt and bugs can hide in those nooks and crannies.