How To Preserve Reindeer Moss
It's easy to preserve reindeer moss. There are basically two ways to do it, and all my research says the outcomes are the same. One uses cold water, and is slightly faster, though more expensive. The other uses hot water, is slightly slower, and costs less.
First, let's briefly look at why you would want to preserve reindeer moss yourself. You can buy it preserved, right? And what does “preserve” actually mean?
Why Preserve Reindeer Moss?
Preserved Reindeer Moss is dead. It takes no maintenance other than a quick (and gentle) dusting should the need arrive. Live Reindeer Moss requires some maintenance. It needs to be misted daily, and will be affected by direct sunlight. Bugs like it, so it may need to be cleaned now and then. Depending on how you use it, the maintenance needs change. We'll just assume you are using it inside the house, in a fairy garden or as something ornamental. Preserved moss is usually more expensive. It does take some extra labor as you will see.
Reindeer Moss is usually light-grey/green to a dark green color. When you preserve reindeer moss, you can add fabric dye to change the color to just about anything you want. This works equally well with either way of preserving your moss. You can also use floral sprays to paint your moss in many colors.
Reindeer Moss is hollow, and those little tubes fill with water. When they dry out, they shrink dramatically and become brittle. When you preserve reindeer moss (or other mosses), you are essentially removing the water, and replacing it with glycerin. Glycerin keeps it spongy and fresh.
After you preserve reindeer moss, it will stay springy and it seems fresh. Unless you need it to be live for some reason, preserving is really the way to go. It will never have problems with mold, will not become brittle (how many years they last I can't really say, but it seems like a very long time), and doesn't need to be watered, sprayed or misted. It also doesn't encourage bugs to move in and play house.
For use in potted plants (to hide the soil), in a live arrangement, or a living terrarium that stays damp, use live reindeer moss. You do not want to get preserved moss wet. Don't mix live mosses with preserved mosses for that very reason.
NEW! Cold Reindeer Moss Preservation Technique. Fast and Cheap!
I like to tinker and test new methods. As you will see in the original cold method below, I didn't even try that, because it was too hard to find Methyl Hydrate (methanol) where I live.
I did some research and found a source of methanol that is clear (no dyes), easy to obtain (it's everywhere), it's 100% methanol and not some odd mixture, and it's cheap. Did I mention it was cheap?
Here's the secret. You know those little yellow bottles of fuel additive that claims to remove water from your fuel lines? It's called “HEET®”, and is available at just about every gas station, grocery store and Walmart in the USA. Not to mention parts stores and online sources like Amazon.
HEET®, the yellow bottles, is about 99.999 percent methanol. Here is a link to a PDF file of the Safety Data Sheet for Yellow HEET® (SKU 28201): HEET® Safety Data Sheet
Note: Don't use the red bottles of HEET®. It's not the same thing.
I picked up a couple bottles at Walmart just to try it out.
I mixed it 2 parts glycerin to one part HEET®. The HEET® bottles hold 12 ounces (1.5 cups), so I mixed one bottle of HEET® with 3 cups of glycerin. It's very “gloopy” at first. Just stir it slowly and it will mix up fully, kind of all at once. In two days it hasn't separated at all. That makes a pretty big bowl of moss preservation mix, so cut it in half or however much you need. You can reuse this stuff over and over. I just strain it when it starts getting dirty.
I cleaned some fresh reindeer moss and put it in the big bowl of preservation mix. I left it for 30 minutes, then squeezed out the excess and set it on old newspaper pages to dry.
It worked flawlessly, and the HEET® doesn't stink up the house like I thought it might. The glycerin has more smell than the HEET®.
I wanted to dye some moss, so I used a small cup to put some of the mix in another stainless steel bowl. I added about 6 drops of green food coloring (McKormick brand), and mixed it up well. I cleaned another good piece of moss and dropped it in. It only covered about two thirds of the moss clump, so after the 10 minutes I turned it over for another 5 minutes.
My new plan is pretty simple. I'm going to mix it like before, and put it in cheap, tall plastic pitchers that you can buy at Walmart or wherever. One will be clear, one will be light green, and one will be dark green. If I need the occasional red, blue, fuchsia or other colored piece of moss, I'll just use the clear and do it in a small bowl with a little food coloring of the appropriate color.
I like the idea of storing the solution in the pitchers, because the HEET® will evaporate if left uncovered for long.
HEET® is a registered trademark of Golden Eagle Brands.
Warning: HEET® is flammable.
HOT Moss Preservation, Cheaper, Takes More Time
- Glycerin. Food grade is good. I buy by the gallon (Amazon or Walmart) to save on money. You can pick up glycerin in most food stores in smaller amounts.
- Fabric Dye as desired. You can use store brands, brand names like RIT, or more expensive dyes made for floral coloring. It's up to you. RIT seems to work just fine, it's available in many colors, and you can pick it up just about anywhere.
- I've read that others have used food coloring successfully. I've never tried it. If you have, or do try using food coloring, please come back and comment here and let us know how it worked out!
- A large pan or pot that will fit your moss.
- A hot plate or stove.
- Water. I use distilled water, as I've read that the salts in some tap water can cause issues with the moss.
- Rubber Gloves if you are using dye. Bright purple hands look funny.
- Clothes that you don't mind turning into a multi-hued splatter of color.
The process to preserve reindeer moss is really quite easy. Start by cleaning your moss as normal. Get rid of the sticks and twigs and little bugs and pieces of dirt. Trim them if you want special shapes or different sizes. Rinse them well.
Put your moss in the pot or pan. Mix distilled or purified water and glycerin in a 2 to 1 ratio. Just to be clear, 2 parts water to 1 part glycerin. Pour the water/glycerin mixture into the bucket or bowl with the moss. If you aren't sure how much water/glycerin it will take, just use small cup measures and keep adding until you have enough.
Add your dye coloring. How much you use depends on how much moss you are preserving (how much water), what kind of dye, and how deep you want the color to be. I kind of eyeball it. I add a teaspoon or so and gently mix it. If it looks right, I stop adding. You'll figure it out. It's hard to use too much, but there's no need to waste it.
Warning here: Hot water is hot. People have skin. Hot water can burn skin.
Heat the water until it's just before boiling. When you start getting some air bubbles forming, but not a full boil, that's enough.
Turn off the heat source, and set the pot aside to cool.
When it's nice and cool, using your gloves, lift each piece of moss and gently squeeze the water mixture back into the pot. I just place it between my palms and gently press them together. It compresses well. Just go easy. You'll see right away how much you can squeeze it.
Set the moss on racks or newspaper to dry up. It may seem a little stiff when you first touch it after it dries. If so, just squeeze it a little and it will get springy very quickly.
Now, you can reheat the water/glycerin/dye mixture and do your next batch. If it gets low, just add a little more water/glycerin and keep going.
COLD Moss Preservation, More Expensive, Slightly Faster
Cold preservation adds an ingredient. Get all the stuff listed above, except forget about the heat source and the distilled water. Since we aren't using heat, you can use an old plastic bucket if you like.
You need to make a different mixture. For this method, you will mix glycerin with methyl hydrate, or methanol (same thing). People also use denatured alcohol. I haven't tried it. There are so many kinds that aren't really denatured alcohol and are some off mix of things, or have specific uses, that I don't want to mess with trying to figure it all out. Also, some denatured alcohol has nasty foul smelling stuff added to it to (seriously) keep people from drinking it. It can also be colored which will affect your moss.
Warning Here: Methanol (Methyl Hydrate) and Denatured Alcohol are highly flammable. Be careful.
Assuming you can find real methanol, which I can't, here is the recipe:
You will mix it 1 to 1. Equal parts. No water. Just glycerin and methanol. See? Expensive!
Ok – if you are doing small batches it won't break the bank. I'm frugal.
Now, after mixing, add your dye.
Either fill it to cover the moss, or put something on the moss and add a little weight to hold it down. You don't want to crush the heck out of it, but it is surprisingly tough. You can put another pan on top of the moss, and put stuff in it to hold the moss under the water mixture. If you do use something to weigh it down, lift it once in a while to ensure the mixture can get to all parts of the moss.
You can also let the moss sit in the mixture halfway, then flip it over after 30 minutes. However, you might get differences in the color where it overlaps.
Leave it in the mixture for at least 30 minutes. If you want more color, leave it longer.
Take it out, squeeze out the excess mixture, and let it dry. You can reuse this mixture as long as it lasts.
I don't know why people use this method. It's more expensive. The only benefit I can see is you aren't working with hot water, and so it's a little bit faster.
My Moss Is Preserved! Now What?
There! That wasn't hard, was it?
Now, you can either use your preserved, well-dyed moss in your crafts, or pop it into a zipper-lock storage bag and save it for later. DO make sure it's completely dry before storing.