Collecting seashells is one thing that is done worldwide and a favorite pastime of many. Whether you are a casual collector, or are searching for that special, elusive specimen, you will want to clean your shells before displaying.
Clean shells won’t smell and they will look more beautiful, yet still very natural. As a word of caution I suggest you make sure there is nothing living inside your shells before you bring them home. Mollusks are the sea snails that build their homes around them as they grow, and those homes are the shells you find at the beach. Usually you will know right away if the shell is occupied when you can see the creature or it’s “trap door” in the canal of the shell.
Sometimes hermit crabs will occupy an empty shell and they can hide way down inside the shell and may be difficult to see.
Take a bucket of sea water and add the shells to it and wait. If something lives inside, it will most likely begin to move and be visible after a while. Do some more collecting while you wait. If the shell is occupied, you must leave it at the beach. In many areas, collecting living seashells is against the law. Read my page about Types of Shells to learn about what you collect.
Once your bucket of shells is home, rinse the sand off and fill a bucket, or the sink with a weak solution of bleach and water. Info on the ratio of bleach to water varies but a cup or two of bleach to a gallon of water should suffice. Drop the empty shells in and wait ten minutes or so. Be sure to rinse them well in clean water.
Although I don’t advocate collecting live shells, and in most places it’s illegal, if by chance you do bring home an inhabited shell, the How to Clean Seashells post at About.com has some ideas for getting the dead animal out of the shell.
The echinoderms (sand dollars & sea urchins) are much more brittle than shells and must be handled carefully. Rinse them or soak in a very mild bleach solution for a minute or two and then let them dry. Putting them in the sun for a short period of time may help whiten them.