How to Preserve Moss for Decoration & Wall Art [Easy Guide]

Everyone knows that live moss is the most trusty visual tool in the terrarium builder’s toolkit.

But unlike a good piece of equipment, it isn’t particularly hardy. Many moss art projects struggle to provide the conditions needed to keep the moss alive.

Enter preserved moss: the hero of the hour.

There’s no denying that preserved moss is a versatile material.

It’s the lush injection of green in an open terrarium, the un-fadable protagonist in a bright moss display.

Sure, you can buy it, but here at Terrarium Tribe, we like to take the DIY approach. So come with me, and I’ll take you through the preservation process.

Let’s do it!

preserving moss

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Preserving Moss 101

There are two main methods of preserving moss.

  1. You can use the glycerol, methylated spirit, & warm mater method, which is the one I went with.
  2. Or you can skip the methylated spirit and use only glycerol & warm water.

Glycerol (sold commercially as glycerin, so that’s what I’ll call it) is a fat that will replace the moisture in the cellulose, allowing the moss to keep its springy texture.

Hands pouring thick liquid into measuring cup
Glycerin is very thick and viscous.

And the methylated spirit (sold as denatured alcoholdehydrates the moss, so more glycerin can be absorbed. 

For this reason, the glycerin and denatured alcohol method is more effective, but there are reasons why you might just like to use glycerin, but more on that in a moment…

You can pick up both glycerin and denatured alcohol inexpensively from Amazon.

Can You Preserve Moss Without Glycerin/Chemicals? Safety Info

As far as I know, there is no au naturel method of preserving moss. If you want something to retain life-like qualities in the afterlife, it will take some chemical intervention. 

However, the chemicals involved in this process are very commonly used.

  • Glycerol/ glycerin is typically made from soy or coconut and is used in just about everything from food to cosmetics to laxatives. Nice…

It is somewhat toxic in high amounts – I wouldn’t go drinking gallons – but it’s about as friendly a chemical as possible and is certainly safe to use for crafts.

  • Methylated spirit/ denatured alcohol, on the other hand, is used primarily as a solvent and fuel, and it is very toxic to consume. Its main ingredient (and humanity’s favorite substance) is ethanol – the alcohol found in wine, beer, and spirits. 

So why is it toxic? Well, it also includes a small amount of methanol, which, despite chemically similar to its readily-consumed boozy neighbor, will land you in the hospital, if not worse. It’s also highly flammable, so no open flames near it, please!

Hands pouring purple liquid into measuring cup
Due to UK safety measures, it comes in a vivid purple so that it won’t be mistaken for something edible. If you’re in the UK, too, don’t worry; the color won’t affect the process.

Despite this, denatured alcohol is Healthline-approved safe to use, provided you don’t drink it

Stay safe and stick to tequila. 👍

Hopefully, now you know which method you want to go for, so we can move on to the good old green stuff we’ve all been waiting for.

Choosing Real Moss to Preserve

When it comes to custom moss art, the options are limitless.

And the good news is, you can preserve pretty much any moss you fancy, but here are some types of preserved moss to get you started:

  • Clumpy mosses – Mood Moss and Cushion Moss.
  • Sheet mosses – Fern Moss and Hypnum Moss.
  • Imposter mosses – Reindeer Moss (actually a lichen) and Spanish Moss (an epiphytic plant).

For bigger projects, like a moss wall, I recommend using a few different types for maximum visual impact.

The moss game is all about contrast and texture.

Mixed types of moss on plate
I chose a selection of mosses for this project!

Sourcing Your Moss – Where to Buy

When it comes to sourcing your live moss to preserve, I strongly advise against taking it from public places and national parks.

It might be free, but it belongs to the forest floor, and taking it is extremely unsustainable. 

That’s why the moss that we sell is sourced from private land. Only small amounts are harvested at a time, allowing it to regenerate freely. Plus, it’s guaranteed to be 100% organic and pesticide/fungicide-free.

👉 Check out our range of live mosses.

lush moss outdoors
If you have a mossy back garden or yard, however, by all means, go for it! 

Other Supplies You Need

While glycerin is a miracle ingredient for preserving texture, it isn’t great at keeping the bright green color. 

The moss will perish as you preserve it, meaning the green chlorophyll will no longer be used to photosynthesize, and the natural color will fade somewhat.

You might like to use a dye to keep things bright.

From what I’d read online, food coloring seems to be the most popular choice, but it didn’t work at all for me. The moss retained much more color when I tried fabric dye, so that’s what I’d recommend going with here.

And yes, you can dye it whatever color you want. Be my guest if you want to make a Barbie pink moss wall.

colored preserved reindeer moss
Check out this fabulous pumpkin-colored Reindeer Moss I bought recently

Just know that it isn’t suitable for closed terrariums as the dye could run if it gets wet. That’s why we use real terrarium moss.

You’ll also need a bowl you don’t eat from, gloves, something to stir with, something to measure with, somewhere for the moss to dry (like a rack), and lastly, but importantly, a peg for your nose because it smells nasty…

preserved moss supplies on bench
My preserving supplies at the ready. (And cleaning supplies, lol).

How to Preserve Moss (Step-by-Step)

  • 1. Pull out any debris, ensure there are no critters hitching a ride, and rinse it in water until it looks clean.
hands holding fern moss above bowl
My fern moss getting a pre-preserving MOT.
  • 2. Squeeze out the excess water and let it dry as much as possible over the next few days.
  • 3. It’s preserving time – crack open a window and get your space well-ventilated.

It was summer when I preserved my moss, so I just did it outdoors. I ended up majorly spilling the mixture so I was glad I did! 😅

  • 4. Mix your preserving mixture in your bowl [one part denatured alcohol, two parts glycerin, and two parts warm water- the water needs to be warm for it to work] or [one part glycerin and two parts warm water], mix in any dye you’re using, and give it a good stir.

Because my fabric dye was water soluble, I mixed it into the warm water before adding it to the glycerin and denatured alcohol.

pouring ingredients together
I thoroughly enjoyed being an amateur scientist for the day.
  • 5. Put your moss in the bowl and ensure it’s fully submerged; use something heavy to pin it down if necessary.

Leave it to soak for 30 minutes for the denatured alcohol, glycerin, and water solution. Leave it at least an hour if you’re using the glycerin and water solution; though I have read that it can take longer, I don’t think there’s any harm in leaving it a few more hours.

  • 6. When it’s time, pull it out, squeeze out the excess liquid like your life depends on it.
gloved hands squeezing moss above bowl
My arms were aching after so much squeezing.
bright green preserved moss in gloved hands
Gloves come with the highest of recommendations – my hands would have been as bright as that moss without!
  • 7. Wash your damn hands and leave it somewhere to dry for a few days until fully dry.

*Please be warned that when the moss is drying, it smells horrendous; I stuck mine in the garage to keep my nostrils safe.

Preserved moss in box left to dry
I’d estimate my preserved moss took around a week to dry.

When it’s fully dry, you’re free to use it in your custom design as you see fit. YAY!

That’s All for Today

Hurrah, you made it! I hope you’ve been significantly less confused than I found myself while researching this.

You’ll have some preserved moss ready for a stunning moss bowl in no time!

Which method have you gone for? Let me know in the comments & feel free to share any tips/tricks you’ve picked up along the way.

30 thoughts on “How to Preserve Moss for Decoration & Wall Art [Easy Guide]”

    1. As far as I understand, they’ll both work the same. Gel-based dye is more concentrated though, so I’d use less to avoid ending up with neon moss (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course!).

  1. I obviously should have paid more attention in chemistry back in my high school days, because reading multiple articles about preserving moss with denatured alcohol in its various forms has left my head spinning!
    I’m aware that acetone is not any form of alcohol, but could it be used as a substitute for the denatured alcohol in this preservation process? Likewise, could 90% isopropyl alcohol be substituted? I am trying to work with materials on hand as I live in a rural area and lack patience for shipping.
    Thank you SO very much for one of the less confusing tutorials I’ve ingested regarding this topic!

    1. Hi Georgie, you’re not the only one – preserving moss certainly comes with a fair amount of head spinning. 😅 As far as I understand, both acetone and isopropyl alcohol are dehydrating so in theory they fit the purpose, but I’m afraid I have no idea how or if they’d work in reality.

    2. How’d it go with the acetone? Did you use dye with the acetone? From my lab work I’d have thought it would be a lot stronger than the alcohols as it completely mixes in water and is also harsh on nasal passages and skin.

  2. Hi! Could you not just use a glass bowl and clean it well after? Glass is pretty inert. Can’t wait to try this!

  3. Hi! This is a great beginner guide, thank you. From what i have read the preserved moss can last for 2-8 years. Is this correct or is there a way to actually preserve it for ”life”? I want to make wall decor for my hallway where there is no sunlight. Best regards, Silje from Norway.

    1. Hi Silje, unfortunately it’s not an exact science but keeping it away from light and moisture is your best bet for longevity .

  4. Love your humour… and I love mosses too. I live in a rainforest area and most people around me have Moss Remover as a staple in their garages…. Ouch!! Ya, it’s no friend to roofs and gutters.
    Me? Nope, I’ll scrape it up and transplant it… I’ve not followed up on whether it survives or not, but I know I’ve tried.
    I’ve admired moss walls for years, and now I have the time to try creating one. Imma follow your instructions to the letter. Including the margarita:)

  5. Can you do multiple batches of moss in the same bowl of liquids? Like if you have a lot of moss you want to preserve and it won’t all fit in the bowl at once?

  6. Hi, many thanks for you sharing of Moss preservation. I am lucky to have plenty of moss in my garden. Shoud the Moss be fresh or dried First before putting it into the solution?

  7. Tried this and it worked! Only issue is I can’t seem to find this “inexpensive” glycerin you’re talking about. I paid nearly $30 CAD for 16 oz of vegetable glycerin on Amazon (which lasted me one use💀) and the 4 L bottle is like $70! I thought making my own moss would be cheaper than buying it but not if glycerin costs that much!
    Either way, I had fun doing this, so thanks for the recipe.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience 🥰. I tried with 70% alcohol, glycerin and warm water, and my preserved moss looks very well 😍

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