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.

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Dried and open pine cones on a white background with text overlay

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.

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, disinfect and preserve pinecones to use in crafts.

Dried and open pine cones on a white background

How to Clean Pine Cones for Crafts

Supplies Needed:

How to Collect Pine Cones for Crafts

The best pine cones to collect are ones that still have a partial stem, no broken wings, and are open. I recommend picking pine cones from the tree so they will be cleaner than those lying on the ground, however, do what is easiest. I still collect pine cones from the ground.

How to Remove Sap from Pine Cones

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

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

close up of pine cones soaking in a bucket

Soak the pinecones for 30-45 minutes, moving them around or stirring the bucket every 10-15 minutes. The pine 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.

How to Oven Dry Pine Cones

If you don’t have time to wait for the cleaned pinecones to air dry, you can dry them in the oven. Place the pine cones on a cookie sheet and in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. Don’t pre-heat the oven before placing the pinecones inside. Let the oven and pinecones heat at the same time.

Please watch closely while you dry using the oven method! I prefer the air-dry method personally because I’m afraid of setting our house on fire 😉

Closed pine cones drying on a towel

How to Preserve Pine Cones for Crafts and Decor

Once the pine cones have dried completely, you will want to spray them with some sort of clear acrylic spray to preserve them for crafts and decorating. My personal favorite spray is Mod Podge brand, but you can use whatever you have on hand.

The sealer 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.

How to Store Pine Cones Between Seasons

To store the pine cones after the holidays or between decorating, I keep them in a clear plastic freezer bag with as much air removed as I can. I then sandwich the bags in between a few layers of foam and make sure not to stack anything heavy on top of them to prevent crushing.

Dried and open pine cones on a white background

Now that you have clean and preserved pine cones, you can craft with them! I like to decorate with them as is, but you can also make them into pretty ornaments for the Christmas tree. Make sure you also check out this list of Pine Cone Crafts.

More holiday decor ideas

How to Clean and Preserve Pine Cones


  1. I didn’t know about the vinegar mixture to clean my pine cones, I just use a mild dish washing detergent to wash them . And, then baked on low heat for about 30 minutes or longer depending on the size of the cones. They’ll open up in 4-5 days afterwards. Because I don’t over bake, afraid of burning them. But, I’ve had many pine cones left over and always stored them in sealed bags hoping to use them later only to find out they’re very brittle and had to throw them out after all that hard work. So, now thanks to you I know to spray them with clear acrylic spray paint!!!! So, happy to find this out before preparing next batch of pine cones. I was wondering about how to do the bleaching method, if it’s a waste of time and money or if it really does work??? Maybe you can help me out with this question. Again, Thank you for the great advice!!!

  2. When I was a teenager and made my first pine cone wreath, there was no internet, no google. So my pine cones got washed & that was it!

  3. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. @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?

    3. @Bill,

      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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

  6. I actually used old cookie sheet so the sap doesnt fal into ove & when im drying them after i dip them in paint i put them on waxpaper right onto oven rack. I found they will cose up right after putting them into oven after dipping but then they dry out and open but i put the oven on like 350 to hurry the drying time. It may get a little smoky cause of the paint drying so use your oven fan vent amd have house ventilated and surely do not get sidetracked. But they open beautifully.
    Wished i could share pic of the blue ones i dipped and not having cleaned sap off the tips turned green and shiny guven them a beautiful sheen.

  7. Thank you for posting this information. I recently moved to the south and pine cones abound! I would love to try and make luminary jars this year using the pine cones but wasn’t sure how to clean them. So glad I found your page.

  8. If you bake them, they open up nicely and the white spots melt and become a gorgeous sheen so you don’t need to spray them with anything!

      1. If you bake the pine cones is there anything particular that I need to do? Just, do not want to ruin my oven with sap or pine smell
        Thank you,

        1. You would be baking the pine cones only to dry them after washing so you shouldn’t have to worry about any sap. I’m not sure about smell though because I chose to let them air dry.

  9. I have been collecting pine cones for about all maybe 8 years now I grease that I used to do is bring them home and bake them and never solve them before I’ll try that method so come then let them air-dry I thought I was proud of my home and just bake them I love the set in my house of the woodsies smell after baking the pine cones I have had some pine cones for 8 years I had likely have not dried out yet but I will try this method thank you so much 26777brushgo to the park and I collect pine cones just about once a week if I can I use it for mulch in my flower beds and garden they’re prettier it’s cheaper plus I have made Christmas trees have pine cones

  10. This is gonna sound silly but, I always wondered if I could use pine cones as is. I figured no but, I never looked it up, so I’ve never tried 🙁 I love knowing how easy it is to prep them for use! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Not silly at all! Before I did this I had wondered the same thing. But they have to get those pine cones in the stores from somewhere!! Now I have a free way to hoard as many as I want lol.

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