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What makes homemade potato salad watery?

Potato salad is a classic summer side dish that can be found at backyard barbecues and picnics. When made properly, potato salad has a delicious creamy texture and flavor. However, nothing is more disappointing than potato salad that turns out soggy and watery. So what causes potato salad to be watery and how can you avoid it?

What Causes Watery Potato Salad?

There are a few key culprits that can lead to a watery potato salad:

Using Wet Potatoes

The potatoes are the main ingredient in potato salad. If the potatoes are wet when you make the salad, that moisture will seep into the dressing and make it watery. Make sure to drain and thoroughly dry the potatoes after boiling and cooling them. Letting them air dry for 15-30 minutes can help remove excess moisture.

Adding Too Much Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is the base for many potato salad dressings. While mayo is essential for creaminess, adding too much can make the salad soggy. Use just enough mayo to lightly coat the potatoes and bind the ingredients. Start with 1/2 cup mayo per 3 pounds of potatoes. You can always add more if needed.

Using Runny Mayonnaise

The consistency of the mayonnaise also matters. If the mayo is very runny or liquidy, it will contribute extra moisture. Make sure to use high quality, thick mayonnaise. Refrigerate mayo after opening to help prevent it from thinning out.

Not Draining Other Wet Ingredients

Onions, celery, pickles and other wet ingredients can also leach moisture into the salad if not drained properly. Be sure to drain any canned vegetables or jarred pickles. Pat fresh chopped onions, celery and other produce dry with paper towels.

Adding Too Much Liquid

Some potato salad recipes call for a splash of vinegar, lemon juice or other acidic liquids. A little bit adds nice brightness, but too much liquid will make the salad watery. Add small amounts of liquid a tablespoon at a time until desired taste is reached.

Using Overripe or Mealy Potatoes

The freshness of the potatoes also affects water content. Overripe potatoes tend to be drier and mealier. As they break down, they can absorb more liquid. For best results, choose new potatoes or waxy varieties and make sure potatoes are firm.

Not Chilling Completely

Potato salad needs to chill fully, preferably overnight, for the flavors to meld and the liquid to stabilize. If served right after mixing, the salad will likely seem wetter. Give it time to chill and absorb excess moisture.

Tips to Fix or Prevent Watery Potato Salad

Luckily, there are some easy tips to salvage or avoid a watery potato salad:

Drain and Pat Potatoes Dry

As mentioned above, start with completely drained and dried potatoes. Cut potatoes into same size pieces so they cook evenly. Drain after boiling and spread out to air dry for 15-30 minutes. Blot with a paper towel to remove any remaining moisture.

Use Starch from Cooking Water

Instead of dumping out the potato cooking water, save a 1/4 cup. The starchy water acts as an instant thickener for the dressing. Whisk a spoonful at a time into the mayo until desired consistency is reached.

Add a Dab of Mustard

Mustard contains vinegar, which helps bind and thicken mayonnaise-based dressings. Whisk in 1-2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard. Dijon mustard also works well.

Stir in Cream Cheese

For extra richness and thickness, mash in a couple ounces of cream cheese. The fat in the cream cheese will stabilize the dressing. Just avoid going overboard, as too much can make it gluey.

Increase Mayonnaise Gradually

When making the dressing, add mayo gradually and adjust to taste. You can always thin it later with more mayo or liquid. But it’s hard to thicken once overly thin. Go slowly until ideal creamy texture is reached.

Add Binders Like Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt

For more stability, substitute sour cream or Greek yogurt for some of the mayo. The proteins and fat help create a thicker consistency. Replace up to half the mayo with sour cream or yogurt.

Include Thick Ingredients

Ingredients like hard boiled eggs, shredded cheese, starchy vegetables and cooked beans will soak up excess moisture. Diced celery and onions also add texture.

Toss with Extra Potato Starch

If the salad is already dressed and too thin, sprinkle a little potato starch and toss gently. It will absorb and bind up the extra liquid. Start with 1 teaspoon and add more if needed.

Chill Overnight

Give the potato salad time to rest and fully absorb all the flavors and liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. The texture will improve greatly after chill time.

Ideal Potato Salad Ingredients & Ratios

Getting the ingredient ratios right is key to creamy, moist potato salad without it being watery. Here are some ideal ingredient amounts:


– 3 pounds potatoes, peeled if desired
– Cut into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes
– Drain and dry potatoes well after boiling


– 1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise
– Balance creaminess without excess moisture


– 1-2 tablespoons mustard
– Adds moisture and flavor

Vinegar or Lemon Juice

– 1-2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
– Brightens flavor, but don’t overdo acidity

Dill or Sweet Pickle Juice

– 1-3 tablespoons juice
– Adds tang without thinning too much


– 2-3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
– Protein soaks up moisture


– 1/4 to 1/2 cup diced onion
– Provides texture and flavor


– 2-3 stalks diced celery
– Extra crunch without moisture

Optional thickening agents

– Sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese
– Use sparingly to stabilize dressing


Great potato salad requires the right technique and ratios to end up properly creamy and moist without being soggy. Starting with dry potatoes, gradually adding small amounts of mayo and acidity, including moisture absorbing ingredients, and thoroughly chilling overnight are all keys to perfect potato salad with a great texture. With the right methods and ingredients, you can definitely make potato salad at home that beats any deli or picnic variety.