How to Press and Preserve Fall Leaves

Keep Autumn Beauty in Your Home All Year

pressing fall leaves

​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 25 mins
  • Total Time: 1 day - 2 wks
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $25

Many plants put on a beautiful display of colors with their fall foliage in shades of red, maroon, orange, and gold. You can make this beauty last longer by preserving the leaves. Pressed and preserved leaves are excellent for decorating mantles, using them as centerpieces, and more. There are five basic leaf preservation methods to choose from—all of them easy.

When to Press and Preserve Fall Leaves

Pressing and preserving fall leaves works best when the leaves have just fallen from the tree, but before they have dried up and begun to curl. The leaves will shed at different times depending on the tree species and the fall weather pattern, so be prepared to jump into action when the time is right

Before Getting Started

Regardless of the preservation method you choose, it's important to select the right type of leaf.

  • Choose leaves that are relatively flat, not curled.
  • Look for leaves that are not spotted or bumpy.
  • Don't be afraid to pick leaves in various stages of changing colors.

Click Play to Learn How to Press and Preserve Fall Leaves

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Book Pressing Method

  • Heavy books

Wax Paper Method

  • Clothes iron
  • Ironing board
  • Scissors

Microwave Method

  • Microwave oven
  • Microwavable dish

Silica Gel Method

  • Microwaveable dish
  • Microwave oven

Glycerin Method

  • Shallow pan


Book Pressing Method

  • Fall leaves
  • Fabric softener (optional)
  • Petroleum jelly (optional)
  • Wax paper or newspapers

Wax Paper Method

  • Fall leaves
  • Wax paper
  • Rags

MIcrowave Method

  • Fall leaves
  • Paper towels
  • Acrylic sealant spray

Silica Gel Method

  • Fall leaves
  • Silica gel
  • Acrylic sealant spray

Glycerin Method

  • Fall leaves
  • Glycerin


Materials and tools to press fall leaves

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Press Leaves With Heavy Books

Pressing leaves with weight is the simplest method of saving fall leaves, but the leaves won't last as long as other preservation methods. For pressing, choose leaves that are flat and thin with a ​low moisture content, and collect some of your heaviest books.

  1. Prepare the Leaves

    If you would like a more supple pressed leaf, soak the leaf in diluted fabric softener before pressing. Or you can coat the surface of the leaf with a light layer of petroleum jelly prior to pressing.

    Fabric softener added to glass bowl with water for supple pressed leaves

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Sandwich the Leaves

    Sandwich the leaves between sheets of wax paper or newspaper.

    Place the sandwiched leaves inside a heavy book. You can stack other books or heavy objects on top to add more weight, if necessary.

    Leaves placed on wax paper between hard cover book pages

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Cure the Leaves

    Keep the book in a dry location. Check the pressing after about a week to make sure the leaves are drying and not rotting. You will probably need to press for at least two weeks before the leaves are completely dry.

    Yellow leaves checked under wax paper for drying conditions

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    How to Preserve Leaves With Wax Paper

    Using wax paper to preserve leaves is a popular and simple method, and these leaves will last for several months. You'll need a clothes iron and ironing board for this method.

  4. Prepare the Leaves

    Choose thin leaves with a low moisture content—leaves that have already partly dried out will work well. Sandwich the leaves between two sheets of wax paper.

    Cover an ironing board with a rag so you don't get wax on the board, then place the sandwiched leaves on top of the rag. Place another rag on top of the sandwiched leaves.

    Yellow leaves placed between wax paper sheets on iron board

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Apply Heat

    Heat the iron HIGH (do not use the steam setting). Slowly run the iron back and forth over the rag. Don't press too hard, or the leaves will shift.

    Once the wax paper has begun to seal, use the full weight of the iron and hold it for about five seconds on each part of the paper.

    Check to see whether the wax paper sheets have fully melted together and sealed the leaves. If they haven't, iron for slightly longer.

    High heat iron passing over towel with wax sheets and leaves underneath

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Allow to Cool

    Allow the wax paper sit until it is cool to the touch. Then, cut out the individual leaves. Leave a small margin around the leaves, so the wax paper stays sealed.

    Individual leaves cut out from wax paper after sealing with iron

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Dry Leaves in the Microwave

You can use a microwave to quickly dry leaves. However, the leaves can catch fire if you microwave them for too long. Constantly monitor the leaves, and microwave in short bursts.

  1. Prepare the Leaves

    Choose leaves that are still fresh and supple. Avoid dry fallen leaves. Sandwich individual leaves or small, flat sprays of leaves between two paper towels.

    using wax paper to press leaves
    ​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  2. Microwave the Leaves

    Place the sandwiched leaves on a microwavable dish, and put them in the microwave. Microwave for 30 seconds at medium heat, and check the leaves. If the leaves are not yet dry, keep microwaving in 30-second intervals until they are dry.

    Small yellow leaves placed in small dish in microwave

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Preserve the Leaves

    Spray the leaves with acrylic sealant on both sides to preserve the color.

    Acrylic sealant sprayed on small yellow leaves after microwaving

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Preserve Fall Leaves With Silica Gel

Silica gel is a white powder that looks like salt. It's great for absorbing moisture, and it speeds up the leaf drying process. It can even work on thick, moist leaves. You can find boxes of silica gel in craft stores. 

  1. Prepare the Leaves

    Select leaves that are still somewhat moist and supple. Place about a 1-inch layer of silica gel in the bottom of a microwavable dish.

    Silica gel applied to bottom of small dish with yellow leaves on top

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Cover with Gel

    Place the leaves flat on top of the silica gel, leaving space between the leaves and the sides of the dish. Completely cover the leaves with another inch of silica gel.

    preserving leaves in silica gel
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
  3. Microwave

    Place the uncovered dish in the microwave, and microwave at medium heat in 30-second intervals until the leaves are dry.

    Small dish with silica gel and yellow leaves placed in microwave

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Cool and Preserve the Leaves

    Let the leaves cool. Seal them with an acrylic spray if you wish to make them last longer.

    Yellow leaves pulled out of silica gel to cool

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    How to Preserve Fall Leaves With Glycerin

    Preserving leaves with glycerin is the best way to keep them supple and flexible, and they can remain so for years. Glycerin-treated leaves can be used for many crafts, including wreaths, garlands, and table accents. You can find glycerin at health food stores, craft stores, and online retailers.

  5. Prepare the Solution

    In a shallow pan, mix a solution of one part glycerin to two parts water.

    Glycerin solution poured into shallow glass bowl

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Soak the Leaves

    Place your leaves into the solution. Weigh down the leaves with another pan or dish, so they are totally submerged.

    Check the leaves in two to three days. They should be soft and pliable. If the leaves still feel dry, then leave them in the solution for another two to three days.

    Small yellow leaves soaked in glycerin solution in glass bowl

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  7. Dry the Leaves

    When the leaves are supple, remove them from the solution. Hang them to dry, which may take two or three days.

      Glycerin covered leaves hanging on string to air dry

      The Spruce / Meg MacDonald