Why won't my royal icing dry? Why is it tacky? Sticky? Bubbly?

Why won't my royal icing dry? Why is it tacky? Sticky? Bubbly?

Is your royal icing still wet after drying overnight? It is sticky or tacky to the touch? Does it look foamy and is it covered in little bubbles?

The problem is...WATER.

I addressed this in my TROUBLESHOOTING post. (There are a lot of Royal Icing Q and A's there.)

How to fix royal icing

(See more of the finished St. Nicholas Day cookies here.)

I'd experienced this issue when I thinned my icing with too much water for flooding. The good news on that front is that if you noticed that you'd done it, you can stir in some sifted powdered sugar (or some reserved piping consistency icing if you want some) and recover.

royal icing that won't dry

This week, I had another occurrence. Again, water was the culprit, but it happened in a different way. I only needed a little royal icing, so I halved my go-to royal icing recipe. I typically double this recipe, so in my head, I was quartering it.

For some reason when I measured the sugar, I weighed out 4 ounces instead of 8. UGH.
First clue something was wrong: it took FOREVER to form a stiff peak,
Second: it felt thicker when I gave it a stir with a rubber spatula,
Third: the piping consistency icing was looser than normal,
Fourth: even after adding water to thin it, the icing felt "fluffy."

After all of that...I STILL USED IT!!!! What was I thinking?!?!?

Why won't my royal icing dry? Why is it tacky? Sticky? Bubbly?

I knew it wasn't right and the next morning, I got confirmation. My royal icing had not hardened. It was tacky to the touch and covered in tiny bubbles.

It felt like the consistency of marshmallow cream. Maybe I should have used it to make fudge.

Here's the good news: if you have the time, you can still recover.

how to fix royal icing that is sticky, tacky, and wet

If you've covered the entire cookie, scrape all of the icing off. After scraping, you can wipe the cookie with a damp paper towel and dry it for a totally clean slate.

Start with a fresh batch of icing and go again. No one will be the wiser.

how to fix royal icing that is sticky, tacky, and wet

If the issue comes up in the flooding stage, say you've thinned only one color of icing too much, scrape out that color. This part can get tricky. I saved a few baby spoons that allow me to scrape out small areas. Small dip spreaders work well, too.

how to fix royal icing that is sticky, tacky, and wet

The moral of the story is: if it looks wrong in the beginning, it probably is!

Have you ever experienced this issue when decorating cookies?



  1. I just had a flop too:) Melted my chocolate of a bain-marie..a splash a minute drop of water splashed into my perfectly melted glossy chocolate.Immediate reaction is as always..it seizes of course:(
    I used it anyway..football cookies;)

  2. I've seen the same problem when over-mixing the icing and when using too much color. Red is notorious for doing this because it's so easy to over-saturate with color.

  3. Thank you for the tips! Is there anyway to fix overmixed royal icing? Can I add more powdered sugar to the royal icing? I don't want to throw it away.

  4. victoria warthlandJune 7, 2021 at 11:56 AM

    I am having the same bleeding of colors... red and black/ The climate where live is humid (Dominican republic) Even my cookies have a hard time staying crispy...
    I am trying different recipes and cooking temperature as well as twicking the batter so the cookie does not become soft too quickly (like over night to let icing be dry.


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