How Clean Seashells

How to clean your seashells

Many people who come to Sanibel pick up at least one seashell or two. It makes a nice inexpensive memento of their vacation. The problems do not occur until they realize that if not cleaned properly, seashells can have a devastating effect. From glares of other travelers wondering why you have not showered, to airport authorities searching through your bags for the unknown odor emitting from them. Properly cleaned seashells, on the other hand, will show no such effects. Many times seashells actually look considerably nicer without any algae and barnacles covering them. The natural color of seashells are often quite different from what you find at the beach. A good cleaning is all that is needed to bring this out and destroy any odors the seashells might have.

A seashell that is found already dead with no animal tissue inside is actually a lot easier to clean then most people think. 

A seashell with periostracum still on the seashell

A seashell without the periostracum

A seashell with the periostracum removed

Outer covering (algae and periostracum)- Take the seashells and let them soak in a 30-70 solution of bleach and water. There is no set time to let them soak because it various by the type of seashells and quantity of seashells being cleaned. Just make sure to remove them after the periostracum is gone. The periostracum is the flaky leathery covering that covers most live seashells.

Barnacles- If after bleaching there are still some barnacles and other matter on the seashells you can use an instrument such as a dental pick to pick off the material. Other useful tools are a water pick, toothbrush, and a grill brush.

Rough lips- If the lip of your seashells are chipped or rough and the natural state is not important to you, one may use a rotary grinder or file to smooth down the lip. Another great tool that can be used is a Dremel.

Shining- If you wanted to give your seashells a luster you can then wipe them with a mineral or baby oil. This will need to be done again over time as it dries out but will give them that “wet” vibrant look.  Some places shell a glaze to put on the seashells.  The problem with most of these glazes is, while looking great for awhile,  they tend to yellow over time.  Unless you are sure your glaze will not do this, we do not really recommend this process

Still Smell?-Sometimes when a seashell is found on Sanibel no matter how hard you try they can still have an odor to them. This usually is because there is still a small piece of the mollusk that created it lurking deep inside the chambers of the shells. This does not mean you picked up a live shell that is prohibited on Sanibel, but simply that not all of the mollusk inside is gone from the shell.  Don’t give up hope yet.  There are a few more actions that can be taken to remove it.  One obvious one is to shake the shell really hard and sometimes that little bit of animal left will fly out.  A second option is to try a tool like a water pick and squirt inside the shell to try and remove it.  If these options do not do it you can either bury the shell (and hope and animal does not drag it away) or find a nice ant mount and let the ants climb up inside the shell and clean it out for you.  As a final hope when all else fails you can take cotton ball or toilet paper and jam them as far as you can side the seashell.  This does not remove the offending odor but will help to seal the odor inside and eventually it will decompose and the seashell will be odor free