Is it possible to revitalize a dried-out cork?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is it possible to revitalize a dried-out cork?

—Chuck, Kodak, Tenn.

Dear Chuck,

Cork has a honeycomb-like cell structure that gives it its critically important elasticity. Wine bottle corks are cut larger than the opening they're intended for, and then compressed upon insertion. If you’ve ever tried to put a cork back in a bottle after removing it and found that it doesn't fit, you’ve seen how quickly they can expand (this is especially true of corks for sparkling wine). But cork loses its elasticity and resilience over time, and an older cork won’t expand as well as a fresh one—especially if it dries out, which can cause it to become quite brittle and crumbly. (That's why it's so important to store wine bottles on their sides, so that the cork doesn't dry out.)

Once that cork dries out and turns brittle, any effort to restore its elasticity really isn't worth the effort, in my opinion. Some folks claim to have had success with boiling old corks to rehydrate them, but I've also read that that can leave the cork susceptible to new microbial growth. The good news is that cork is plenty recyclable, as well as biodegradable. Old corks can be recycled into everything from flooring to furniture to footwear, and they're also great for crafts, like those fun wine-cork trivets!

—Dr. Vinny

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