Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Clean Sea Shells


* protective eyewear
* rubber gloves
* bucket of water
* tool to remove barnacles
* small brush for scrubbing
* plastic bowl for bleach solution
* plastic tool for use in bleach solution
* mineral oil or baby oil
* soft cloth for polishing shells with oil

How to clean sea shells:

1) Use protective eyewear while cleaning shells. Barnacles tend to fly off unexpectedly, and bleach can injure eyes.

2) Scrub with a small brush in water. Remove barnacles with your fingers or a small tool.

This is assuming there is no live animal inside the shell that needs to be removed first. I don't harvest live mollusks. Some places in Florida limit how many live animals you can take. Others prohibit it.

Don't dump sandy water down the drain or toilet. Sand will clog drain pipes. Dump sandy water out in the yard.

3) Soak in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. Use rubber gloves to protect your skin from the bleach. Use plastic tools for moving shells around in the bleach solution. There is no set amount of time. Usually a few minutes is all it takes to remove the outer layer of debris on the shell.

Take care to dispose of bleach solution properly.

4) Rinse the shell in water and scrub more if necessary. Then allow the shell to dry.

5) Polish with mineral oil or baby oil. This will bring out the color of the shell. Don't use food oils used for cooking, because they will eventually become rancid and smell bad.

Here's an example shell.

Before: This crown conch was covered with mud. Underneath the mud was a thick layer of algae. I used a bucket of water and a fingernail brush to scrub it. I dug out the mud that was packed inside the shell with a small screwdriver. Bleaching removed the outer layer of algae, but the shell still looked dull. Some color was showing through the inside, so I persisted with the clean up. I tried sanding it with fine sandpaper, but stopped. I didn't want to ruin the fine details on the shell.

After: I continued to soak the shell in water after bleaching, and scrubbed some more. After allowing the shell to dry I started polishing with mineral oil. The texture of the shell made it hard for the mineral oil to soak in, so I held it over a bowl and dumped the mineral oil all over the shell. That is when the color finally started to show up.

After: The top of the shell was a dull beige color before the mineral oil bath. I was so amazed when the stripes appeared. I'm glad I didn't ruin the details with sandpaper. The crown looks like fine porcelain.

Related links:
The Shell Factory, Fort Myers, Florida
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, Sanibel, Florida

    1 comment:

    1. Hey, this really works - just like you said!