Why is Garlic Sticky?


Reading Time: 6 minutes

When indulging in a dish enhanced with garlic, you’ll surely love its distinctive flavor and aroma. Yet, the process of preparing garlic for your meals can be somewhat messy, given its sticky nature and its globally renowned smell.

In this comprehensive guide, we will look at why garlic is often so sticky. We will also look at tips to help you avoid getting sticky garlic all over your hands and beneath your fingernails. Finally, you will learn which remedies are most effective in getting rid of the stickiness and odor of garlic off your hands and skin.

Crashing V Cutting Garlic Cloves

How messy your garlic ends up depends largely on how you prepare it. If you opt to cut or chop garlic cloves into small, proportionate pieces, you may end up avoiding much of the mess. However, you will still get some stickiness not only on your knife but also on the chopping board and, quite likely, on your fingers and palms as well.

Some Garlic Varieties Are Stickier Than Others

The stickiest garlic is one that has been prepared by crushing the cloves. Of course, some varieties of garlic are not as sticky as others. That said, you should use a functional mortar and pestle to crush your garlic, irrespective of variety. You should also avoid touching surfaces that you would rather not have smelling like garlic afterward.

Why is Garlic So Sticky?

Garlic is so sticky because of sulfur-containing compounds found in the garlic cloves, chiefly mercaptan. These sulfur-containing compounds are attracted to other compounds with sulfur ions, such as cysteine, on the skin, nails, and hair. This attraction creates very tight covalent bonds that can take days to break up.

People who have had to prepare garlic cloves for cooking often end up with sticky fingers. That stickiness cannot be washed away with soap and water. Any garlic juice that finds its way to beneath your fingernails is even more stubborn to remove.

How to Stop the Garlic From Getting Sticky

There are some fairly easy ways to stop the garlic from sticking so stubbornly on your fingers and utensils. However, you should note that there is no remedy to do away with sticky garlic altogether. These suggested remedies will ensure that sticky garlic is not as stubborn as usual. Your hands and utensils will still reek of garlic and prove hard to clean up, but not as they would without following the given recommendations.

1. Wet Your Hands, Knife, and Cutting Board Before Cutting Garlic

Water, even if it cannot neutralize the strong chemical bond produced when garlic juice comes into contact with certain surfaces, is nonetheless powerful enough to reduce its bonding power. Hence, it becomes a lot easier to wash and rinse off.

It would be best if you were careful when cutting up garlic cloves using wet hands, a knife, and a chopping board, though. You do not want the knife to slip and cause an accident that is a lot harder to remedy than washing off sticky garlic.

2. Apply Olive Oil on Cloves and Crusher

Olive oil (and other varieties of vegetable oil) is even more effective in stopping garlic from getting sticky than water. However, oily garlic cloves are even trickier to cut, so you should not use a knife to prepare them. Instead, use a crusher which should similarly have a coat of oil applied on its surface.

If the cloves and crusher have too much oil on the surface, it will become very hard to prepare the garlic. Instead of dipping the cloves and crusher in oil, use your fingers to sprinkle a small amount of oil on the peeled garlic cloves and crusher.

3. Use Coarse Salt and Spoon to Crush Garlic

Coarse salt also prevents the garlic from sticking to every surface it comes into contact with. In this case, the best kind of salt to use is one with considerably large grains of salt, such as sea salt.

Begin by cutting and peeling your garlic as usual and then placing them in a crusher. Put the crushed garlic in a bowl, and then sprinkle the salt liberally. A large tablespoon mix and mash the salt and crushed garlic to make a paste. Add some little water if necessary.

The process should produce a garlic paste that is somewhat creamy, foamy, and one that smells as garlic does. It is a pure form of crushed garlic that is ready for all your usual recipes.

By using the spoon to mix and mash the garlic paste, there is no risk of your fingers coming into contact with the reeky substance. Moreover, garlic prepared this way is easier to clean off surfaces and utensils.

4. Wear Gloves

A simple yet effective way to prevent garlic from sticking to your fingers is to wear gloves when preparing and cooking it.

Ensure the gloves you are wearing are food-grade. Such gloves won’t make a mess of your cooking nor cause contamination.

It goes without saying that hand gloves capable of preventing garlic essence from sticking to your hands will also prevent them from being smelly. It is recommended that any food-grade gloves you wear while preparing garlic to be used only for that purpose unless you do not mind transferring the characteristic garlic odor to other foods in your kitchen.

Is Sticky Garlic Bad?

Garlic that sticks to hands and on surfaces is not bad. If anything, when a garlic clove produces sticky essence when it is cut or crushed, this is an indication that it is full of nutritious goodness and will produce plenty of flavors when cooked.

Concerns that sticky garlic may be unhealthy are misplaced. Instead, the bigger concern would be if the garlic wasn’t sticky at all when cut and didn’t give off the characteristic odor.

The kind of sulfur compounds which make garlic sticky and smelly depends on the soil in which it is grown. If the soil has an adequate supply of those compounds, the more sticky and odoriferous the harvested garlic bulbs will be.

The only time it would be appropriate to be weary of sticky garlic is if the bulbs are sticky and smelly before they are cut or crushed. If that is the case, this is an indication that the garlic bulbs have gone bad.

There is a Difference Between Normal Sticky Garlic and Garlic That Has Gone Bad.

You may tell that garlic has gone bad if the bulbs show other signs of decay and putrefaction, such as blackened outer layers and even visible signs of fungal growth such as blue mold. Such garlic should be disposed of and not used for cooking food meant for human consumption.

Removing Garlic Smell and Stickiness From Your Hands

It would be best if you washed your hands with plenty of soapy water immediately after cutting or chopping garlic. Once the sticky garlic juice has dried up, it will be impossible to remove using water alone.

Here are some effective tips for effectively removing that pungent garlic smell and the stickiness.

1. Using Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is effective for removing garlic juice’s stickiness and the pungent smell it causes. To begin with, the citric aroma in the lemon juice will neutralize the pungent garlic smell.

The citric acid is also effective in breaking down the strong covalent bonds which make garlic juice so sticky on the skin and nails of your hands.

It is important to keep in mind that citric acid is corrosive and can cause pain if applied on either cut or grazed skin. Therefore you should avoid applying it on any parts of your hands that have been cut or bruised. This also applies to the area beneath the fingernails, where it can be particularly painful.

2. Using Parsley to Remove Garlic Smell and Stickiness

Parsley, the aromatic green vegetable, is also effective in removing stickiness from crushing or chopping garlic. It is able to mask off the pungent smell and also make it easier to remove the sticky leftovers on your hands. However, you need to wash your hands as soon as possible if this is going to work for you.

Ensure you cut or chop fresh parsley into small bits before rubbing it on your hands as a remedy for removing sticky garlic. It also helps if you can add baking soda to the mix.

3. Deep Scrub Using Abrasive Dish Soap and Warm Water

The common dish soap in your kitchen has some qualities that render it effective for removing sticky garlic essence from your hands. It is also good for washing knives and other cutlery used in the preparation of garlic.

Warm Water is Better Than Cold

To remove sticky garlic from your hands, use warm water instead of cold water to make it easier. Warmed-up water works better to increase the action of the abrasiveness of dish soap.

A Caution for Those With Sensitive Skin

If you have very sensitive skin, you may find a deep scrub with abrasive dish soap is not for you. If that is the case, you should also avoid preparing garlic with your bare hands. Stick to using food-grade gloves when working with garlic and washing your hands as soon as you are done with the preparation.

4. Rub Oil on Hands Prior to Washing Off

As noted previously, vegetable oil, particularly olive oil, can break the strong covalent chemical bonds that ensue once sulfur-containing compounds in garlic react with other sulfur-containing compounds found on the skin cells of your hands as well as on nails and hair.

Too Much Oil is Not Good Though

Do not put rub too much oil on your hands as you attempt to remove garlic’s stickiness. This may make removing other forms of dirt that stick to oil even harder.

After applying olive oil to your hands, wash away with soap and water. As recommended above, dish soap is much more effective than ordinary soaps or detergents in removing the sulfur compounds that make garlic sticky.


Garlic is sticky because its bulbs take in certain sulfur-based compounds in the soil, which form very strong bonds when they come into contact with similar compounds on the skin. It is possible to prevent this stickiness and odor from being off-putting, though. Moreover, you can get rid of it using simple remedies right at home.