One question that arises most often when talking about collecting seashells is, how to clean them. And before we get into that, let me say that I strongly suggest collecting EMPTY, UNOCCUPIED SEASHELLS ONLY. I actually came across an article at a certain site (I will not link to) that tells you how to kill the living animal inside so you can keep the shell. THERE IS NO NEED TO COLLECT SHELLS CONTAINING LIVING CREATURES!! It’s easy enough to find loads of empty seashells. Also, in many areas it’s against the law to collect occupied shells.
Back when the kids were little, when we came home from the beach our pail of shells stayed in the garage for a while. We were busy cleaning off the chairs, cooler and car, so the shells didn’t get cleaned until a later date. I didn’t collect shells to display in my home. They were mostly collected by the kids, and I kept them because that is what moms do – hold onto the children’s treasures. Usually I would put them in the garden outside or in the top of potted plants as decor.
But, if you want to display seashells in the house, or use them in crafts or jewelry making, they do need to be cleaned. Cleaning will bring out the color and prevent unwanted odors. As I said in the beginning of this post, never bring shells home that have something living inside. If the mollusk is still inhabiting it, you will see a flap covering the opening. If you see red claws poking out, it’s probably a hermit crab that is using the once empty shell as it’s home. Even if you see nothing at all, place the shell on the ground, or in the boat (wherever you may be) and wait a bit to see if it “walks away”. Hermit crabs can hide way inside the shell.
Sometimes living things will be attached to the outside of the shell. I once found an enormous horse conch that was no longer home to the mollusk that made it, but weird moving things were attached all over the outside. So I took a photo of the shell and put it back in the water.
When I found a big, uninhabited horse conch (not the same one in the link above), I wanted to see if I could find some pretty colors underneath the blackish coating that was all over it, so I began by soaking it and using a brush to scrub away the black. That cleaning job was ongoing, and I never did get all the black off. It was enough to see the shell beneath which didn’t seem to contain a lot of color anyway. It sits on my kitchen shelf and I think the black coating adds interest.
Ideas for cleaning your seashells usually include soaking them in some sort of solution. Bleach and water – very small amount of bleach – is the common thinking. Shells that are white, or are supposed to be white can withstand a bit more bleach, or a longer soak. Be careful with delicate shells like the sand dollar, starfish and urchins. To bring out the colors after soaking, apply mineral oil and let dry.
Pam (i love shelling) has a post about using muriatic acid to restore color to shells. She lives on Sanibel Island so just imagine the shell collection! Her post claims the solution will restore color to a ruined or calcium covered shell. But, the acid is dangerous stuff and caution is required when using. As an acid, it eats away the unwanted covering and reveals the colors underneath.
If you know of a good way to clean shells, please leave a comment. Happy beach combing!