How to Clean Out a Halloween Pumpkin Like a Pro

Gather tools and set up the workspace

After years of frustration, I finally ditched my flimsy knife set and purchased some quality pumpkin carving tools. I’m thankful I did. The blades are sturdier, sharper, and the time it takes to carve is faster. There are also more options for etching and doing fancier designs. Find a sturdy table or counter, then place a cutting board on top. Alternatively, you can cover the surface with paper or plastic trash bags, especially if you are working outdoors.

Inside the Lines


The uneven surface of a pumpkin poses a challenge to any carver trying to follow a stenciled design. Smooth out the process with three simple materials: tape, thumbtacks, and baby powder. Use tape to attach your stencil to the pumpkin, and then poke tiny holes along the outlines with pins or thumbtacks. Remove the stencil and sprinkle baby powder over the pumpkin’s surface. The white powder will fill in the tiny holes, making them easier to see while carving.  Related: 29 Bewitching Ways to Decorate a Pumpkin


Whats the Scoop?


Instead of using a flimsy spoon to gut your pumpkin, opt for a ice cream scoop or other small, durable spoon. The compact kitchen tool fits perfectly inside the pumpkin, and its sturdy handle won’t bend while scraping the sides. With this trick, you’ll be able to thin the walls of your gourd in record time. Related: Your Post-Halloween Cleanup Guide


Step 7. Start by making simple rough cuts

If you get the big pieces of pumpkin out of the way first, you can go back and clean up the edges of your design later.

How to Carve a Pumpkin Step by Step

If you are wondering how to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, here’s what you need to know: Obviously, you need a pumpkin (see above) — plus you’ll need a couple of tools for cutting, scraping and carving. (You probably have some in your kitchen drawers that will work.)

Cutting/carving tools:

A sharp, sturdy, long-bladed knife and a sharp paring knife are serviceable carving tools for making a simple jack-o’-lantern. For fancier designs and easy pumpkin carving, you may want to invest in a few safer and more exact implements, such as tiny saws and an awl (for making holes to start sawing from).

A saw and awl combo also makes for safer fingers and is highly recommended for safe pumpkin carving with small children (saving both fingers and your nerves).

If you have an apple-corer, that works well for making round holes or rounding corners. Any chisels or carving tools you have for working with other materials can also be used (although they are not safe options for children) — just be sure to clean and dry the tools well after use to avoid rusting.

Once you learn the basics of how to carve a pumpkin, you may want to experiment with different tools. Pros even use an electric carving tool, such as a Dremel.

Scooping and scraping tools:

Scooping and scraping tools:

Your hand makes a good scoop for extracting the bulk of the seeds and the stringy fibrous goo, but to get out all the guts, you’ll probably want a scraper other than your fingernails. A tablespoon, soup spoon (the thinner the bowl the better, as the edge will be sharper) or a melon-baller make serviceable scrapers for getting the last of the stringy guts out of a pumpkin.

You can also buy specialized scrapers/scoops that have wide blades and short handles, which are easier to manipulate inside a pumpkin.

Now that you have your tools, here is, step by step, how to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern:

Step 1. Cut into the pumpkin

Place your pumpkin on a solid surface you can wash (or spread newspaper to catch any drips). Draw the proposed cut on the skin with a felt tip marker: You want the hole large enough to get your fist through but no larger, as you want to keep as much of the pumpkin intact as possible so it will keep its shape for as long as possible.

Most pictures you see show a lid cut out from the

Most pictures you see show a lid cut out from the top and centered around the stem, and that’s fine. When you make the cut for a top opening and stemmed lid, angle the knife in toward the center of the opposite side of the pumpkin, rather than straight down, to create a rim for the lid to sit on. (If you cut straight down your lid will fall into the cavity when you put it back on.)

Let me tell you how to carve a pumpkin a better way: Make a straight-sided opening into the center of the bottom of the pumpkin. This has three advantages:

  1. You won’t have a lid to fall in as the pumpkin softens.
  2. Weeping liquids won’t build up in the carved pumpkin to attract insects and encourage spoilage.
  3. It will be much easier to light the jack-o’-lantern with a candle. (You just light the candle and then set the jack-o’-lantern down over the lighted candle, rather than fussing around inside your carved pumpkin with a match or lighter and ending up with singed fingers.)
Use a heavy knife with a sharp point or an awl and

Use a heavy knife with a sharp point or an awl and pumpkin saw to cut through the skin and flesh and into the seed cavity in the center of the pumpkin. Caution: Pumpkin skin is tough, and raw pumpkin flesh is hard!

Be very careful when working with a knife, as you will have to push hard, and it is easy to slip and cut too far (or yourself). Once you finish the cut, lift/pull the cut part out.

You may need to gently pry it out by inserting your sturdy knife (or a sturdy butter knife, if you’ve been cutting with a small saw) under one edge. Cut/scrape the stringy guts off the inside of your lid (no need to do this if you cut a hole in the bottom), and set it aside.

Step 2. Pull out the guts and seeds

Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds with your han

Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds with your hands or a long-handled spoon, placing the seeds in one bowl (for roasting later; see below) and the pulp in another one for the chickens or the compost pile. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin to get out every scrap of the stringy, soft pulp (any remaining pulp will speed the spoiling process), leaving only firm, hard flesh. Wipe the inside dry.

Step 3. Draw your design

Once you’ve made a cut you can’t erase it, so it’s a good idea to sketch your design onto the surface of the pumpkin before picking up a cutting tool. A felt tip marker works well for sketching and drawing.

Once you have the general sketching done, you can use an awl and poke small holes where you plan to cut (but you can’t erase these either, so you want to be sure before you do this).

As you’re learning how to carve a pumpkin, i

As you’re learning how to carve a pumpkin, it may be easier to draw simple shapes with straight sides, such as triangles, especially if you will be cutting them out with a knife. You may want to use a pre-made pattern.

You can be more creative if you will be cutting with a saw, but remember to leave enough undisturbed flesh between the individual shapes to support the pumpkin after it’s cut and starts to soften or dry out.

Step 4. Cut out your design

Use a small, sharp knife or an awl and saw (this s

Use a small, sharp knife or an awl and saw (this second option is much safer and easier) to cut along the edges of your marked design. Then gently press the loose bits into or out of the pumpkin with your finger.

For large or complicated openings, such as toothy grins, it works best to cut out small sections of the shape at a time. These bits of flesh can be cooked and eaten or tossed to the chickens or into the compost.

Step 5: Condition your jack-o’-lantern

Once you have finished carving your pumpkin, spray

Once you have finished carving your pumpkin, spray or wipe the inside of the cavity and all the cut surfaces with an essential oil-based cleaning spray, such as our melaleuca oil household cleaner or with a solution of 1 teaspoon borax dissolved in a quart of warm water. Even better: Soak the carved pumpkin overnight in a tub of borax water (1 tablespoon per gallon).

Step 6: Illuminate your jack-o’-lantern

Once you’ve carved a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, you’ll want to show it off by putting a light inside to shine through the design. Tea light candles are a good size and easy to keep upright.

If you keep them inside a glass holder, they are less likely to blow out on a windy evening.

Use long fireplace matches or a lighter with a lon

Use long fireplace matches or a lighter with a long neck to help protect your fingers and hands while lighting a candle inside a jack-o’-lantern. If you cut your initial opening in the bottom, this isn’t an issue as you just light the candle out in the open and then lower the jack-o’-lantern over it.

Be sure to treat all lighted candles with respect, keeping them away from anything that could catch fire, and extinguish them when you can’t keep an eye on them.

You can also use a battery-operated tea light or wrap a short string of outdoor-rated Christmas lights around a glass jar and put that inside instead of a candle. (Blinking ones make for an extra-spooky effect.)

Step two: Scoop out the seeds and flesh carefully

Scoop out the pulp and seeds and set aside. Now, begin scooping out an even layer of the flesh with a spoon. Leave a little bit of the flesh on the inside, though: if the walls of your pumpkin get too thin, you may find that the carved-out design snaps in places. 

Collins says ‘Remove the seeds and threads from the pumpkin’s inside. Use a big spoon, ice cream scoop, or a plastic scraping scoop developed specifically for this task.’

‘Scrape the interior pulp away from the carving region of the pumpkin until the pumpkin wall is about an inch thick.’


Generally, a large spoon, a selection of sharp k

Generally, a large spoon, a selection of sharp knives, and a sharp utility knife are sufficient for pumpkin carving.

Pumpkin Carving Kits: The kit includes a scraper

Pumpkin Carving Kits: The kit includes a scraper and sawing tools. Although the demonstration below is shown using kitchen utensils, the pumpkin carving kits make the job easier, safer, and faster.

A Light Source: There are many different varieties A Light Source: There are many different varieties of candles on the market today. For the demonstration below, we used the above twist holder and candle. The wire holder is twisted into the bottom of the carved pumpkin and the candle is placed into the holder. A tea light or a small flashlight will serve the same purpose.

Step 2. Start cutting from the bottom, not the top

Michael Natiello, pumpkin carving pro and creative director for The Great Jack-o’-Lantern Blaze, says cutting your “lid” from the bottom of the pumpkin helps prevent the sides from caving in later.

Step four: Neaten up your design with rubbing alcohol

Now, go over the edges of your cut-outs with a sharp kitchen knife, smoothing over any uneven cutting. This will help achieve a neater finish.

Clean up any messy work, Ritterman says to ‘Use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover to take away any left over markings from the marker. I also like to use a ruler or tape measure to make sure the eyes line up and the mouth is not too far to one side.’

Preserving a Jack-o-lantern

Depending on weather conditions, a carved pumpkin typically last from 1 – 7 days. Some options for extending the life of your carved pumpkin are listed below.

  • There are products available on the market that can be sprayed onto your pumpkin, or that you can dip your pumpkin into.
  • An “at home” option is to rub petroleum jelly onto all cut surfaces.
  • The carved pumpkin can also be sprayed with a mild mixture of household bleach and water. The bleach will kill organisms that cause rotting.