Archive for Cleaning Seashells

Aug
21

How To Clean Sand Dollars

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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

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horse conchs before cleaning

In the past few months, we’ve seen quite a few large HORSE CONCHS found around the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach after disturbances in the Gulf Of Mexico by Tropical Storm Debbie and Hurricane Isaac. I was very lucky to have found all three of these empty shells right after TS Debbie. Since we’ve had quite a few discussions about how to clean these type shells, I thought I’d show you the process I took to clean my shells to get ‘em all spiffied up to look like…. drum roll please….   to look like THIS!!!!!

3 cleaned horse conch shells

This next shell is the one on the left of the top photo. The brown or blackish skin you see on this one is called PERIOSTRACUM. It’s not scum! This is the outer most layer of the shell that forms while the mollusk is still alive but may wear away with older mollusks.

horse conch black brown  layer

I happen to like the PERIOSTRACUM on some of my shells just because most of my HORSIES are plain white so I think it’s special to keep a few with the skin… and it’s actually part of the shell and it’s growth. So I’ll clean around the skin on this one.

horse conch brown skin

But sometimes the PERIOSTRACUM hides an awesome color of the shell. This next shell shows that bright yellow color underneath the skin so I wanted to take all of the PERIOSTRACUM off this one to see what it looks like…

horse conch periostracum

horse conch periostracum ap

This next shell shows lots of wear with tons of BARNACLES but it’s a whole shell and the color is spectacular so I’ll pick off the BARNACLES and clean her up.

horse conch barnacles

horse conch barnacle ap

Okay, so let’s get started cleaning these shells! This is the process I took to get these shells in tip top shape…

My  tools and “ingredients” :

Bleach, protective eyewear, scrubbers, picks, dental tools, screw driver, hammer, mineral oil, water and bucket (oops! I forgot to add the bucket in the shot).

tools for cleaning shells

Step #1-  Fill a big bucket with enough water to cover your shells.

prep clean seashells

Step #2-   Wear protective eyewear since we are getting ready to add the bleach and it may splash up. Since I was outside, I wore my sunglasses.

protective eyeware

Step #3-  Add 1/4 bleach to your 3/4 water. (Honestly, I just guestimate)

bleach clean seashells

Step #4-   Place your shells in the bleach water. Don’t just throw them in! That bleach will go everywhere. Trust me. I speak from experience. Place them in, y’all!

wash shells

Step #5-  Enjoy the site of your new babies taking a bath… for at least 24 hours.

cleaning seashells

Step #6-   Use a strong pick or dental tool to pop off those BARNACLES. Soaking in the bleach water softened everything up pretty well so most came off pretty easily. Thank you Soul Sister Susan for helping me clean these shells and being a lovely hand model! LOL

removing barnacles shell

Step #7-   For those really stubborn BARNACLES, I learned a trick from MurexKen… use a hammer and screwdriver at an angle to chisel those bad boys right off the shell. I know, sounds crazy to take a hammer to a beautiful shell but if you can get just a tiny bit of the screwdriver wedged under the side of the BARNACLE you can tap the top of that screwdriver like a chisel and… Viola!  They pop right off. If they are really tough I brace the shell in between my knees to keep the shell still and keep chiseling until the whole BARNACLE is gone. Really! It works!

hammer chisel remove barnacle

Step #8-   Scrub-a-dub-dub! Use any and every scrubber you have to scrub that PERIOSTRACUM off the shell. I have a blunt ended dental tool that was my best tool for scrubbing. Even my thumbnails worked great to change it up but everything I used was a veeeerrrrryyyy slow process. When I got tired of scrubbing, I just placed them back in the bleach water then started again the next day.

scrubbing seashells

Step #9-   Once the shell is clean, rinsed with fresh water then dried…lightly pour Mineral Oil on a double paper towel and wipe the oil on the shell. I prefer this method because I can control the amount of Mineral Oil a bit better and it doesn’t seem to puddle up in places on the shell. Just keep turning the shell in your hand with the lightly oiled paper towel until the whole shell absorbs the light coat of oil to keep its color.

restore color seashell

So it took about 4 or 5 days for my shells go from looking like this…

horse conchs before cleaning

To looking like THIS!!!

3 cleaned horse conch shells

This one turned out to be Shellacious!!! Wow! Look at the color and the stripes! Oh my. I am thrilled with this awesomeness! It is a huuugah Candy Corn!

cleaned conch

Leaving it in the bleach did nothing to the color and didn’t do any damage to the glossy inside of the aperture. And look how the mineral oil made the original color become so brilliant again. Spectacsheller!!!

orange clean conch

Okay but one more thing…. Let me show you one more easy trick to get that PERIOSTRACUM off your shell if your shell is white to begin with and you have a couple of weeks to wait it out (but folks, don’t use this next method if the shell is a pretty color that you want to keep because the sun will bleach it white).  Just put the shell outside in the sun without any oils on it. Plain and simple. The skin will peal and flake off.

pealing seashell skin

 You can even use these for outside decor while you wait for that brown skin to peel up then the rain will wash it away. That’s my kind of cleaning so you have more time for shelling! LOL

So on that note…. Gone Shelling

seashell steps

PS- For most of my other shells that don’t have the hard-to-clean PERIOSTRACUM or BARNACLES or major gunk, I only use 1/8 bleach to water and only let them sit overnight and rinse them really well.

Kings Crown cleaned not cleaned

Example of a Kings Crown dipped in muriatic solution and a Kings Crown not dipped.

I am so excited to show you how to bring that rich color back to your seashells that have dulled from a white calcium film. I thought I had ruined these KINGS CROWN shells for good after soaking them too long in a bleach solution (1/8 bleach to 7/8 water) to try to clean them up last year. I am so tickled I can save them since I learned a new trick on Monday. I stopped by to see my friend Mary at the Sanibel Community House during a session of the Sanibel Shell Crafters who meet every Monday from 10am to 3pm. She was kind enough to give us tips on using muriatic acid solution to take that white scum off our shells. She did, however, warn us that it doesn’t work on all shells….. don’t use it on OLIVE shells or other shells that already have a shine to them. It will do the opposite…. dull them. So I took her advice, bought some muriatic acid then headed home to mix my brew to make my shells just as luscious in color as when they come fresh out of the water. It works wonders! You  won’t believe the changes I’ll show you in the video. Since using Mary’s tips on a few of my own shells, I want to go through every box, bag, jar, bowl and dish of shells I have and dip those crusty old white ones in my brew. I can’t believe I never knew this before but please be aware of the dangers that can be associated with using this or having any type of acid in your house…. it can be DANGEROUS! So read all instructions, wear protective eye glasses, gloves and please dispose of properly.

PS- If you are a serious shell collector, muriatic acid is not the solution you should use on your shells as it is said to damage the shell. If you are a shell crafter, casual beachcomber or someone who just wants to have your beautiful shell displayed in your home that isn’t quite up to snuff …. use your own judgement.

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