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Oct 10, 2010 02:31 PM

How do you clean a tall wooden pepper mill?

Hi all, how does one clean a large (12-20 tall") traditional wooden pepper mill - when first purchased (to get rid of dust and other things that might be hiding in there), and periodically?

The inside of these traditional models seem to be solid unlined wood, so not sure how on earth one would clean them.

Something like this:

Can't seem to find cleaning directions anywhere.

Many thanks!

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  1. I'd brush it out with one of these:

    and then spray out the gunk with canned air, which you can get at any camera shop.

    Alternatively, how about filling it with rice (uncooked) and shaking it for a while? You can also grind up some of the rice grains to clean out the grinding mechanism.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tanuki soup

      Wow, where on earth did you find that thing? Thanks! I guess I'm also worried about the things that won't come out with a dry method of cleaning.. but maybe I should just not think about it!

      I wonder what other people do who have these tall wooden mills.

    2. I'd completely disassemble it , wash in hot soapy water and then dry by putting it outside in as much sun as available.

      5 Replies
      1. re: c oliver

        Thanks, c oliver. Have you done this before? Wondering about immersing the wood and metal parts in water in terms of potential damage to the wood or rust to the metal. Part of the internal assembly seems permanently fixed - i.e., doesn't screw or pop out.

        1. re: iyc_nyc

          I haven't done it specifically with a pepper mill. But I have done it with other wooden things successfully. For me, the important part was to get it dry as quickly as possible.

            1. re: iyc_nyc

              with a good one, there's no need to wash it. I could see emptying it and using compressed air to blow out any whatever it is that's populating your anxiety closet, but DON'T submerse it in water!

              It's wood -- wood absorbs water like a sponge, doubly so when it's been dry for an extended period, as a pepper mill is. It's not going to dry in a few hours in the sun.

              The metal isn't built to be submerged. If it rusts, you can kiss your expensive peppermill goodbye, as there's no way to remove the rust.

              If it's a good one, there's no way they're going to honor the warranty if you've taken all to bits.

              Leave it just as it is. Blow it out with air if you just can't stand it. But don't wash it.

              (remind yourself...what's the last time you heard of any illness or any other problem linked to a pepper grinder?)

              1. re: sunshine842

                Thanks Sunshine! I thought little pantry bugs liked spices and recently had an awful infestation in my kitchen cabinet, so am admittedly squeamish about the long dark tunnel inside the pepper mill and what might be hiding inside.

                The mill came unwrapped in a dusty box - do you tk it's okay to use as is? (I guess bugs can't really kill you... they just gross me out).

      2. Agree with sunshine. I don't think it is necessary to water clean it.

        Using compressed air or a brush to remove surface dust should be sufficient, but water cleaning is not necessary for a pepper grinder. Are you trying to clean something deep inside the wood with water? Unlike a finished wood surface, water will get absorbed into unfinished wood, so there is no "washing". Like Sunshine said, a unfinished wood surface is like a dry sponge. How do we deep clean a sponge? We will soak it with water, squeeze the water out, soak it with water, squeeze the water out, repeat the process. This approach will not work for wood because the "squeezing" part does not exist.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Just read your reply to Sunshine.

          If you absolutely worry about bugs, then there are few methods. There are few methods I can think of.

          1) After you remove the metal pieces, you can pop the wood body into a microwave and microwave it for 10-30 second and that should pretty kill much everything. Make sure the wood is dry.

          2) Spray distilled vinegar solution into the tube and let it air dry. Vinegar is a known disinfectant for wood cutting board and it is food safe. If you have a brush as mentioned by Tanuki Soup, then you use it to brush vinegar in the pepper mill. However, do not soak the pepper mills in vinegar.

          3) A UV lamp

          Water washing is not the method of choice here. Do not soak the pepper mill into water, or you will turn that the long dark DRY tunnel into long dark WET tunnel. :)

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            and at least a mist of a vinegar solution might actually dry in a few days.

            That long dark WET tunnel will grow cooties that a dry peppermill wouldn't even begin to host. Think you're worried now? Hooboy.

            Yes, you can use the mill as is -- I can see the thought process in taking the top off and dumping it out...or even blowing it out with compresed air..and that's pretty logical...

            But there really isn't much that's going to live in a pepper mill. (Bugs will avoid it.)

            1. re: sunshine842

              Sunshine, I found some of the pantry pests INSIDE my tightly closed spice jars, including cayenne. Was shocked they would like this.. Do you know if black pepper is any different?

              Thanks again for your thoughtful and helpful responses, and for helping me be more rational about all this. It's amazing what a pantry pest infiltration can do to one's frame of mind --

              1. re: iyc_nyc

                do yourself a favor and don't EVER read USDA regulations for the allowed quantities of "other materials" allowed into everything we eat.

            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Another way to kill bugs is to take the pepper mill, wrap it in a dry towel (to absorb condensation), put everything in a Ziplock freezer bag, push out as much air as possible, seal it tightly, and stick it in the freezer for two weeks. After that, take it out and let it sit sealed for a couple of hours until it comes up to room temperature. Kills bugs, larvae, and eggs.

              [I ran across this method at the Website of a museum in Hawaii, where they apparently have a lot of problems with wooden objects becoming infested with mites and other bugs.]

                1. re: tanuki soup

                  Excellent choice. We pretty much mentioned everything from heating (microwave), freezing (freezer), acidic (vinegar), radiation (UV lamp). How about an organic method? How about sending in spiders in the pepper mills and have the spiders kill the other bugs? :D

              1. I'm just going to reiderate, don't wash it. The reasons are obvious to woodworkers. Keep in mind, before your pepper mill was made, the wood was kiln dried to a moisture content of around 7%, it will more or less stay that way in the air, but add water and you have the potential for disaster. There is a lot of moisture in a tree when it's cut, as it is dried to make it usable for woden objects, it shirnks, just like a grape to a rasin. If you add moisture, it will expand, this will cause stresses and could very likely crack the wooden mill. Although the exterior finish is probably ok with damp hands and a quick wipe with a damp paper towl for cleaning, it's probably not compatable with submersion in a sink full of water.

                Unless you are concerned the bugs have bored into the inside of the mill, you should be able to use a dry bottle bursh and then compressed air to blow out any dust or residue.

                I'm not making this statement for the shock value, but are you aware of the FDA regulations for allowable contaminant in ground pepper? If you were, you would't have even posted concerns about a bug or two.

                2 Replies
                1. re: mikie

                  Thanks Mike. Yes, read some gory article about FDA regs but try not to think about it! This woodworking info is super helpful - will likely leave it alone.

                  1. re: iyc_nyc

                    The dry bottle brush idea would work if there really were something in there that shouldn't be. Then use the can of air with the straw used to point the airflow. I use it to blow dust off the computer keyboard. I have also used it to blow dust out of desktop computers when opening them up to add memory or to replace a drive. I never thought to use it to blow the dust out of an old peppermill. Maybe I should because we have quite a collection of peppermills the majority of which were purchased at thrift stores. I always just assumed the only thing inside were peppercorns.