How to Clean and Care for a Mortar and Pestle

Do's and Don'ts to Help Your Molcajete Last for Years and Years

Nancy Lopez-McHugh

Volcanic rock mortar and pestles have been used by cooks for thousands of years. The rustic tool is ideal for making guacamole, grinding spices, or for serving thick dips like salsas. After the seasoning process, you'll want to properly care for your mortar and pestle to keep it clean and in great shape.

Get to Know Your Mortar and Pestle

It is very important that you know exactly the type of material that your mortar and pestle is made from. Every type requires a different cleaning and caring technique. 

This guide is for mortars and pestles made from volcanic rock (also known as a molcajete). Read any instructions that were included with your mortar and pestle and follow any tips for cleaning and care. Ones made from wood and other rocks, like granite, may call for the same care as volcanic rock, but ceramic types can be cleaned with soapy water. 

How to Clean a Mortar and Pestle

The most important things to remember when cleaning a volcanic rock mortar and pestle is to avoid using soap and let it dry completely before storing it. Follow these steps for the best results.

  • Warm Water: After each use, thoroughly rinse your mortar and pestle with warm water. Repeat a couple of times. 
  • Never, Ever Use Soap: You know how you should never use soap to clean a cast-iron skillet? The same applies to this type of mortar and pestle. The porous volcanic rock has little holes that will trap the scent and taste of soap.
  • The Only Tool You Need: A firm and clean kitchen brush is a rock mortar and pestle's best friend. Purchase a brush that you use only on your molcajete, this way you ensure that no soap will contaminate it. 
  • Air Dry: It is very important that your mortar and pestle be completely dry before putting it away. If you don't empty, properly rinse, and thoroughly dry the molcajete, it could attract mold. After cleaning it, use a towel to blot excess water off the surface. Flip it upside down, then right side up, and repeat if needed to ensure even air drying. 

Other Tips for Your Mortar and Pestle

  • Dealing With a Stinky Mortar and Pestle: One great thing about using a volcanic rock mortar is that over time, just like a cast-iron skillet, certain flavors are absorbed into it. This can lend a nice taste to whatever it is that you are grinding. But there are times when those trapped flavors are unwanted or become too strong. The solution is another round of seasoning—fret not, as it won’t be as difficult the second time around. You should really only require one or two rounds of grinding of rice.
  • Protect Your Countertop and Tables: The surface of this type of mortar and pestle are rough and it can scratch surfaces. Simply place a kitchen towel underneath the molcajete to prevent damaged surfaces.