You don't want a moldy, bug-infested Jack-o'-Lantern to be your scariest Halloween decoration.
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Carved, painted, or left unadorned, simply stacked on your front steps or porch, pumpkins are the quintessential Halloween decoration. But, like all vegetables, gourds eventually decay, and that begs the question: How long do carved pumpkins really last? And is there anything you can do to prolong the life of your creative gourd? If you don't take the right steps in caring for your pumpkin, they can become a haven for mold, bugs, and other frightful pests. Fortunately, our experts share a few tricks for keeping your prized Jack-o'-Lantern looking fresh throughout the spooky season.

How long do carved pumpkins last?

As soon as you carve a pumpkin, Ashley Renne Nsonwu, host of the show Ashley Renne on Smart Healthy Green Living, says the clock starts counting down to its inevitable decline. "You have anywhere from three to five days max before they start to soften and get moldy," she says. That's because once the insides of the pumpkin are exposed to the elements, the rotting process begins. If you want to make sure your pumpkin will last more than five days, Renne Nsonwu says you'll need to make sure you're getting the timing right. "You'll want to get your pumpkin within a week of when you plan to carve it," she says. Additionally, you want to make sure you start with the best-looking pumpkin you can find. "Look for ones with the least amount of bruises and blemishes," she says. "You'll have better luck if you get them locally. Less transport means less bumping and bruising—and as a bonus, it's more eco-friendly because the pumpkin has a lower carbon footprint!"

In addition to picking the right pumpkin, factors like weather and geography will impact how long it lasts, according to Kevin Busch, VP of operations of Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly brand. "The colder the climate, the longer your pumpkin will last," he says. That means those who live in areas that are already experiencing chillier temperatures will see their pumpkins remain in good shape longer than those who live further south.


How do you preserve a carved pumpkin?

To extend the life of your pumpkin just a little bit more, Renne Nsonwu says you should clean it out well and disinfect it. "Some swear by bleach, but I'm not a fan," she says. "Bleaching your pumpkins means you can't compost them later!" Instead, she says you should make a Castile soap spritz. "Combine one tablespoon of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap ($10.79, with six drops of peppermint oil in an eight-ounce spray bottle and fill it with water." Next, she suggests thoroughly spraying your pumpkin, both inside and out.

Another method that Busch swears by includes spraying your carved pumpkin down with a white vinegar solution. After you've sprayed it down, he suggests applying petroleum jelly ($2.59, or vegetable oil to the exposed areas and inside of your pumpkin. "This will create a barrier that won't allow the pumpkin to dry out, and also protects the pumpkin from external humidity, rain, or other elements that can jumpstart the rotting process."

Of course, if you want your pumpkin to last throughout the fall, Busch says the best way is to skip carving it all together. "Consider an alternative way of decorating with pumpkins that [don't] require any cutting," he says. "Keeping your pumpkin intact is the best way to preserve it longer." He suggests painting a face or design—or applying stick-on embellishments.


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