How to clean a mortar and pestle

Last night I realized that my mortar and pestle needed cleaned. It looks a bit sticky inside the bowl of the mortar. You see, I like my green tea pretty finely ground up. I received a big bag of large cut green tea last year and have been grinding it up daily using my mortar and pestle. Unfortunately there were tiny pieces of dried fruit in with the tea and even though I tried to pick them out, a few pieces were ground up from time to time.

Directions for cleaning a mortar and pestle

This left a sticky residue that attracted tea dust with every use. Obviously I need to clean it. Luckily it is a marble set so it was super easy to clean up, but not all mortar and pestle sets are made of the same material! Instructions for cleaning your set are different depending on what material it's made of.

Knowing what type of material your set is made of before cleaning it is important. Wood, lava rock, granite and marble are the most common materials used in a mortar and pestle set. Marble and granite get confused the most, but I'll explain how to tell them apart and how to clean them. 

In my case I have 2 small sets with a 1 cup capacity. I use them primarily for grinding herbs and seasonings. These smaller ones are not typically used for food preparation unlike larger sets. One of mine is granite and the other one is marble. 

Let's talk about how I clean these mortar and pestle sets first.

Cleaning a mortar and pestle

Rinse the mortar and pestle in warm water. 

Using a small brush, scrub the inside of the mortar and the grinding surface of the pestle with a solution of warm water and a little bit of dish soap. I like Mrs Meyers basil...but I like basil everything, so there is that! lol Wipe the outside of mortar with mild dish liquid solution and a sponge.

Rinse the pestle, and the inside and outside of mortar and allow to dry.

cleaning a mortar and pestle

It will seem like your done at this point and you may be, depending on which material your mortar and pestle is made of. Marble is not known for holding flavors or scents, but granite can since it's more porous. You want to make sure you clean the mortar and pestle thoroughly since flavors left behind can transfer to the next thing you grind. 

You can do this next step with either type of material but it's especially important with granite. 

Take a small handful of rice and place it inside the mortar. Using the pestle, grind the rice into a fine powder. This will help remove any soap residue.  

If you're not sure which type of material your set is made of (I mean, they both feel like stone, right?) here's a good guideline from Marble & Granite Inc: Marble typically has veining whereas granite has more fleck-like, granular appearance. So if you know you have marble stop after rinsing and if you're not sure, do the rice step.

Cleaning a wooden mortar and pestle set

If you have a wooden mortar and pestle the washing method is slightly different. 

Rinse both pieces in warm water.

Using a diluted dish liquid and warm water solution, wipe the mortar and pestle with the soft side of a sponge. Make sure all debris is wiped away before rinsing.

Rinse thoroughly with warm water and allow to dry before use. 

Cleaning a wooden mortar and pestle.

You'll follow these same steps if you happen to have a mortar and pestle made of pottery, glass, ceramic or stainless steel. 

Cleaning a lava rock mortar and pestle

The third type of material often used to make a mortar and pestle is a type of volcanic rock or basalt stone. This is called a Molcajete. It is extremely porous and will hold onto any cleaning solution you put into it so you don't want to use any chemicals at all! You'll want to only use white rice and water to clean these. First rinse both pieces thoroughly under running water. Allow to dry might take a few hours.

Once dry, grind a small handful of white rice into a fine powder. Look at the rice closely when done, if there are grey specks in it start again with more rice. Continue till the rice is completely white when ground. It may take a few times. Rinse with warm water and allow to dry. 

Unlike a marble, granite or wood mortar you'll want to season a Molcajete when you first get it. Check out this article from RSVP International on seasoning your Molcajete.

Marble and granite mortar and pestle sets.

Now that your mortar and pestle is clean and ready to go...what are you going to make in it? I use mine to grind up dried herbs to make my own herbal capsules, here's why I 'd rather make them myself than buy them (it has nothing to do with cost!)


There are 11 herbs the can be grown indoors in winter, which ones will you grow?

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