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Collecting seashells on the beaches of Sanibel, Captiva and the world

How To Clean Sand Dollars

sand dollars found on sanibel

Finding SAND DOLLARS on the beach is always such a special treat. If you find dark “furry” SAND DOLLARS with a fine coat of little hairs on their body anywhere near the water, they are most likely still alive so it’s best to leave them where they are. We feel so special just to see such amazing live animals in their own habitat in the wild. But… if you find completely dried SAND DOLLARS on the beach in lighter shades of white and tan without fur … Whoop Whoop! Those are such special treasures like Jill from Nebraska found near Gulfside City Park this week.

jill sand dollars sanibel beach

I found quite a few of these little gems in the high wrack line almost a month ago (my post Bittersweet Baby Sand Dollars). There were so many people picking them up, I’m so surprised there are any still there. After meeting Jill and seeing her sweet SAND DOLLARS, I felt a little embarrassed that the ones I found were still sitting in my garage… dirty… sandy… unorganized… and would probably get broken if I didn’t get them out of the way. How could I let that happen to such special finds??!!

dead sand dollars sanibel florida

So I got out the bleach, a plastic shoe box sized bin and my SAND DOLLARS then took them to my back yard to work some magic on them. I filled the container halfway with fresh water then added probably 5 capfuls of bleach to it. Okay… honestly, I don’t measure that well- I’m guestimating but if they don’t turn white within an hour, I add more bleach.

cleaning sand dollars with bleach

These puppies are soooo stinkin fragile, you have to be very gentle with them so I drop each one individually into the bleach solution.

turn sand dollars white

Since I didn’t want to get too much bleach on my fingers (it’s heck on the fingernails!), I chose to use a plastic shovel from one of my shell buckets to scoop them out after they turned white within an hour. I placed them on a plastic tray lined with a paper towel so that their edges were not touching. I wanted them to lay flat so their chances of breaking were less likely.  I learned on the second round that I really didn’t need the paper towel- they did fine without it.

how to clean sand dollars

Some were so stubborn! If they still had brown spots, I realized some had a buildup of sand on them so the bleach solution wasn’t getting through evenly. So I took them out of the solution, dried them off and gently rubbed my thumb on them to remove that sand build up. I added a little more bleach, then dropped them back in. Round 2!

how to turn sand dollars white

Then I let them dry in the sun. Once they are dried, you can protect them with an Elmer’s Glue solution. I didn’t do this to mine because I’m not sure what I will do with them yet… and it would take me 5 days to coat each of of them! LOL But if you want to add a protective coating, mix equal parts of Elmer’s Glue and water together then coat each sand dollar. After letting them dry on wax paper…. Viola! Gorgeous white SAND DOLLARS!

Here are the simplified steps:

  • In a bucket, mix 3/4 water with 1/4 bleach
  • place sand dollars in solution
  • remove in about an hour or after turning white
  • rinse with fresh water (thanks Dom!)
  • place on flat surface
  • dry in sunlight
  • coat one side with solution of 1/2 Elmer’s Glue  and 1/2 water
  • let dry on wax paper
  • coat other side
  • let dry
  • Enjoy finding a special bowl to display them or fun project!

clean white baby sand dollars elmers glue


  1. I LOVE them! I have some sand dollars from my past trips to Sanibel. I’m going to have to dig out the Elmers!

  2. I’ve been snorkeling off Indian Rocks beach lately for sand dollars. Last weekend I decided to clean them in a bleach water solution. One thing I found was make sure you really get all the bleach off in a rinse of fresh water when you are done. I just gave them a quick dunk in a fresh water rinse and they stank like an old mop for days. Finally I let them soak in fresh water over night and the bleach smell is gone and they have a nice clean / sea scent now. Also when they are still wet from the fresh water rinse you can paint the Elmers white school glue directly onto the sand dollar and skip the mixing step.

    • oops! you are right! i forgot the rinse cycle- Thanks Dom!

  3. I was there this past October/November and found my very first sand dollar! I had read about the glue and water trick so once it was bleached I painted on the glue with a small paintbrush. Worked so well that it made it back to Colorado with only a small chip in it. It’s my prized possession. Ha!

  4. My mom and I found about 35-40 “medium” sized sand dollars (slightly bigger than golf balls) a couple months ago down by the lighthouse… I bleached them for maybe 15-20 minutes and they’re beautiful! Trying to figure out what I want to do with them now as well… thinking of putting them in a shadow box of sorts to just display as is, because they’re so awesome on their own!

  5. Such a great find! Didn’t get lucky enough to find any on our July trip, but looking forward to finding some in October.

  6. Thanks for the tip. I hope to find some when I come to Sanibel in Sept.

  7. Wow Pam, it’s a pity that the shops on Sanibel don’t accept “sand dollars” as currency, because you have so many you could go on a fine shopping spree!

    • Ha! If only! ;)

    • Hey, know what would be really cool? if on Sanibel any seashell could be used for money! Like, sand dollar=$1, moon snail=$2, flat scallop=$5, 7 inch lightning whelk=$10, alphie cone=$20, and so on.

      • Junonia would probably be $50 and queen helmet probably would be like $100. And the value of shells could be increased or decreased depending on their size and or level of damage…

        • and kittens paws could be quarters… okay I think I’m getting wayway to carried away with this idea… better stop now…

  8. I can’t wait to see what you do with all your little cuties.

  9. I love reading your posts because it brings me back in some way to Sanibel Island. Thank you for keeping them coming!

  10. I brought several baby sand dollars home this spring. I bought small, clear containers used to store beads and put one sand dollar in each container. I was able to give them to friends without breaking them. I love them and have one on the base of my computer monitor at work — reminding me of the lovely days on the beach.

  11. Does the glue mixture make a sheen on them, or do they look natural?

  12. Pam, I am wondering if you recommend a solution to soak the shells in after bleaching that will neutralize the bleach? I’ve been washing clothes on my own with no help from my mom for years now, and while I rarely use bleach, I don’t recall any specific instructions from my mom on how to properly use it other than to add the bleach after the detergent as the tub is filling, and then add the clothes as the final step. Imagine my surprise at finding out *just recently* that when bleaching clothes, the final step is to neutralize the bleach so it will stop working and reduce the damage to the clothing fibers!

    Hydrogen peroxide in solution of 2 parts hydrogen peroxide to 10 parts water can be used to neutralize bleach, and because it can also be used as a whitener if used straight (I removed a blood stain from a shirt after my cat clawed me, but I upsed the HP straight and then rinsed well and washed the shirt), I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried using it straight to whiten shells, or if you’ve ever used it as a bleach neutralizer?



  13. Pam, I learned the hard way that those little brown sand dollars don’t do well soaking “overnight” in the bleach solution – Mine (one, luckily) was in tiny pieces and had to be sorted out from among the coquinas the next day….so when you start the project, it needs to be watched closely and do what you did – remove WHEN WHITE….not the next day!!!! Oh well, R & D, hu? jl

    • Hi Johnnie,
      What is your experience….does bleach weaken the hinges on the coquinas?

      Just a side note to those who might want to clean the coquinas – dry the shells on waxed paper, not paper towel. They seem to stick less when it’s time to remove them and hinges don’t break.

      • The hinges on coquinas will dry out over the years and they will break apart eventually. If you keep them moist with mineral oil, that ligament wont dry out… but again, over the years, If you are like me- you might not be too diligent to keep them oiled. I just try not to touch them too much and keep them flat. Good luck!

        • Thanks so much for the advice, Pam!

  14. PS – been here 2 1/2 wks – how have I missed seeing you on the beach? I lucked out at # 7 one morning this week with a 6 inch long beautiful horse conch – my first of any size….several smaller ones before, but nothing mid-sized or large before. Yea!!! Also – I found TWO albino slipper shells at Nerita, among all those white little arks (I call them border shells because I use them for borders on crafts etc). Couldn’t believe it – they’re pure white and not worn. So despite the dirty water, and the so-so shelling this past couple weeks, it was all good. Be back mid-Sept for another go-round….see you then, maybe! Oh – Bob got the privilege of getting an up-close-and-personal encounter with a huge manatee at the edge of the “river” where the bridge goes across at Bowman’s Beach a few days ago. He was so excited. Thanks for sharing your videos of the manatees earlier. Neat.

    • Congrats on the 6-in horse conch. That’s exciting! I’ve never found a mid-sized one, mostly tiny babies. I lucked out a year ago and found a large very old one amongst some pen shells in the water. It’s broken on both ends, but has a striking orange color on the inside. It will do for now. :)

      • Janet,
        I can’t wait til Jan. to go shelling on SANIBEL. THX for the great tide over until I hit the beach :)

    • Whoop Whoop! So happy for you finding the horse conch!

  15. Those tiny sand dollars are adorable. I found a few sand dollars that were a little larger this past June while on Sanibel. Bleached them just the way you said once I got home and they look great, BUT next time I will get the ingredients and do my cleaning while in Fla. Unfortunantely some of the sand dollars were broken when I got home, I was sad…….I individualy wrapped each sand dollar in paper towels and placed them in Pringle cans to travel home thinking that was a good method..maybe not

  16. I just came back about 3 weeks ago with about 50 of those little baby sand dollars from Gulfside City Park. I also made the mistake of leaving them too long in the bleach! Mine were mostly okay but very fragile now! I have been meaning to put the glue solution on for 2 weeks. They’ve been sitting on my table with the bottle of glue & foam brushes. Lol… Thanks for telling us about the gray spot in the middle. I was wondering why some of mine still had that!
    Sherri from MN

  17. Great post Pam! Years ago, I took a whole bunch of my sand dollars, and made a hanging wall deisgn that was looked like a flat version of a mobile. From a medium sized piece of driftwood, i hung multiple strands of monofilament. On each length of the monofilament, i tiedt the sand dollars together using their convenient holes. It has a sort of wind chinpme look to it, it was cool but took a long time to make!

  18. Pam, I’m curious…would these instructions work as well on sea biscuits? They are “cousins” of sand dollars. I have some that I found in the keys and would like to them clean up, properly AND safely.

    • Yes, Maribeth, you can do the same thing. We used to find them in the upper Keys as well so i did the same thing with them… BUT dont leave them in the bleach too long. Just an hour and rinse well. I think I would use Kimberly’s advice (thanks Kimberly!) by soaking them in peroxide solution to neutralize the bleach. I had a few that turned brownish again because I think I left them in the bleach too long. It was almost like they had rust on them. Maybe the peroxide will prevent that from happening. Good luck!

      • Great! Thanks Pam & Kimberly. I have a plan for something to do this long weekend! Now to double check my ingredients. ;-)

  19. I found some sand dollars at tybee beach in Savannah Georgia of the weekend and am on my way home with them. I’m getting back later than planned and have to be up for work. Would it be alright to just keep them in a bucket of regular water until tomorrow after work? I don’t think just leaving them in an empty bucket would be a good idea, I think the smell would be to bad after a day. And I’m not sure bleach water would be a good idea for that long with it may make them to fragile. Any ideas?

  20. Would you be interested in trading 6 to 8 sandollars from Florida for some from Oregon? They are clean and bleached and in really god shape. We were at Sanibel island a year ago and cant wait to return. Our trip to the Oregon, Washington coast last summer was really special but has really fueled our desire to return to Sanibel to experience the incredible diversity of shells.

    • Sorry Steve, I dont sell, trade or ship shells. I just like to share my shelling adventures

  21. We will just have to return to Sanibel. Always enjoy your pics and comments.

  22. Had our wedding on Sanibel Island this past weekend and have never experienced such amazing shelling in our lives! Currently have a tub filled with shells and sand dollars.. Cleaning is underway for our keepsake ideas.. Can’t wait to return to that spectacular gem of an Island. Happy Sheller ;o)

  23. Just returned from Florida an did travel to Sanibel An was so excited to find a big Sand dollar!! Of course with thousands of other finds. First time there an was there during the Shelling festival. So awesome! Ate at the Cow Island I believe was the name! Amazing food!!

  24. Wow! You all are very fortunate to be able to travel to Sanibel and enjoy the shells, beach, sand dollars & life. You are all so very fortunate
    I live in Oregon and the closest I will get to them is buying from someone…
    Oh well


  26. I’ve read that it’s best to soak in bleach solution for 10-15 minutes at a time. Longer will make them more brittle.

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