Several weeks ago Brian, Ashley, and I spent an entire weekend collecting pinecones. We call it pineconing. Like hey… should we go pineconing again today? It made for a really fun family day, finding them and collecting them. We had 3 huge boxes by the end of the weekend! Why pay for pinecones when they’re just on the ground somewhere?? I have a ton of craft projects I plan on doing with them, but the first thing I wanted to do is try bleaching them. This is not a new concept, but it’s new for me.
While researching how to bleach pinecones it didn’t take me long to get confused and overwhelmed. Everyone had different bleach ratios, how long they soaked the pinecones, and just all around different methods. So I decided to try all the different bleach ratios and different dry times and just basically experiment with them. So even though there are already instructions on the internet on how to bleach pinecones I’ve decided that this is the ultimate guide to bleaching pinecones because I did it all and I’m here to break it down. Easy peasy.
So if you did a Google search and you’re not sure where to start with bleaching pinecones, I’m here to help. I’ve broken down my method into 6 easy steps. But like me, you probably have a lot of questions, so just hang tight and I’ll get those answered below.
First off, why even bleach pinecones? Bleaching pinecones won’t turn them truly white, but they get a beautiful light, weathered look. They look great grouped together, or create great visual interest mixed in with the darker natural ones. It gives a fresh new look when decorating, and goes perfect with the ever so popular farmhouse decor look. Not only does bleach create a great look, it cleans them and kills mold and bugs lurking in the pinecones.
How much bleach do I need? This was so confusing, I read to use every ratio possible from a 25% bleach with 75% water ratio, a 50/50 blend, to 75% bleach with 25% water, I even saw someone say to use straight 100% bleach! I was so confused. I did not try straight bleach, that sounded crazy but I tried all 3 ratios. So if you’re confused too, I’m here to show you the results of all 3.
How long do they soak? Remember, pinecones close up when they’re wet, so don’t freak out. I read multiple soaking times, ranging from 24-36 hours. A few tutorials said if the pinecones sat longer than that they would fall apart and disintegrate. Hmm… so I tried different soaking times too.
The problems I experienced. The biggest issue I had with my small and big test batches was getting the pinecones fully submerged into the bleach water. Tutorials I looked at online just placed big stones or bricks on top. Ok, that’s a problem… the stones or bricks instantly sink without pushing the pinecones down. Brian laughed it wouldn’t work and I said yes, it should. Haha… he was right. Read on… he found a way to fix this.
Below is a photo of all 3 ratios. It was easier to see the results in person, but in a nutshell all 3 bleach/water ratios worked. But the 25% bleach 75% water, while it definitely worked, it was more uneven and had more of a rustic darker look. The 50/50 looked great and the 75% bleach was definitely the lightest but only slightly more than the 50/50. So for convenience I decided to go with the 50/50 ratio because it had nice results, and it’s a lot easier to measure out a 50/50 blend. Seriously, dump a container of bleach into a bucket and fill the container up with water – bingo!
The first batch I soaked 30-ish hours, then the next batch I forgot about and they soaked a tad over 48 hours. They did not fall apart and the results were awesome! I say go for 48 hours, a few hours past that shouldn’t give you any problems. I can’t vouch for anything longer than that, though. Below are my steps.
6 EASY STEPS TO BLEACHING PINECONES
1. Add the pinecones to a container, a 5-gallon bucket is ideal, but jars will work for smaller batches.
2. Add your bleach and water mixture to the container.
3. Pinecones float so you need to weigh them down. Add a cut or folded up piece of cardboard to the top of the bucket and weigh it down with a few large stones or bricks. It needs to be pretty thick cardboard (or several layers) because the water will weaken it as it soaks. Note for small batches in a jar you can just use stones (like from the dollar tree). A few might sink to the bottom but the others should hold the pinecones down.
4. Let the pinecones sit a minimum of 24 hours, but I found that up to 48 hours is ideal.
5. Drain the bleach in a safe place, I did this outside away from shrubs and trees. Then you need to rinse off your pinecones with a hose sprayer. Be sure to rinse off any cardboard that might be sticking to them.
6. Now dry the pinecones. After rinsing I placed my pinecones on an old drop cloth to dry and air out for a few days. The pinecones will be closed and will slowly open as they dry. The color will fluctuate a lot as they dry. For the pinecones to open again they need to be fully dry, so having them in the warm sun is ideal.
But what if you’re in a hurry to dry your pinecones or it’s cold out? Then you can easily dry them in the oven. I’ve dried countless batches in the oven, but you really do need let them air out a few days to eliminate the bleach smell. Place the pinecones on a cookie sheet, feel free to line with foil if you prefer, and place them in the oven at 200 degrees.
Can I dry them higher or lower than 200? Yes, you can go lower, I did some batches at 170 degrees without a problem. I did see a website that said to dry them at 300 degrees, DO NOT DO THAT! I could smell the pinecones burning at that temperature. I found 200 degrees to be perfect and slightly faster than 170 degrees. All ovens are different though.
Will my kitchen smell like bleach if I put the pinecones straight in the oven? YES, my test batch did. That’s why I recommend rinsing them and airing them out a few days first. Bleach is not flammable but I doubt it’s good for you to have a strong bleach smell coming from your oven. So air them out.
How long do you dry them? This depends on how long they aired outside, the size, and how many you have crammed in the oven. When I had the pinecones spaced farther apart they dried faster. For me this took about 4-6 hours. Some pinecones opened faster, so I would remove them and keep the others in longer. If I was drying pinecones in the evening I would just turn the oven off and resume the drying process in the morning.
Do they still smell like bleach? It’s been almost a week since since my pinecones have been fully dried and when I put them up to my nose I can smell the faintest scent of bleach. I expect this smell to completely go away with time though. No, the pinecones are not making my house smell like bleach.
Wear old clothes when working with bleach, you think you won’t splash but you probably will! Also work in a ventilated area.
Pinecones are known to release sap so I would NOT recommend a sink or bathtub, you could have sticky residue or bleach damage.
While sorting our boxed pinecones days later I found a black widow spider lurking in ours. I have no idea if it crawled in the box from our garage or it was inside a pinecone we picked up. Wear gloves while collecting and sorting pinecones, things live inside them! You can also use metal tongs while sorting.
Any other questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them. Happy crafting!