Archive for Cleaning Seashells
“How do you clean SEA URCHINS?”
I was asked this question countless time last week after posting photos of Masses Of Sea Urchins On Sanibel Island last week (to see the article CLICK HERE). So now Im going to do better than tell you… Im going to show you!
I only collect SEA URCHINS that are in the high and dry wrack line on the beach – they are never damp so I know for sure they aren’t alive. I love the ones that have already lost their spines and have a big empty hole in the center since most of the cleaning has already done by Mother Nature. But if Mother Nature hasn’t had time to do our cleaning for us, we have a couple of options.
First option- leave your SEA URCHINS outside in the sun for several weeks and let the spines fall off and shake the “crumbs” from the inside. Easy peazy but it takes a while.
If the spines of your dry URCHINS don’t come off by gently rubbing your fingers against the test (body), place your SEA URCHINS in a bucket of water for a couple of hours. Take one out at a time and pinch and rub the spines off. Use a brush if you want or wear rubber gloves if you have tender skin.
While handling your URCHINS, sometimes you will hear the ARISTOTLE’S LANTERN (the mouth) inside the URCHIN so if you remove all of the “skin” or fleshy parts around the center mouth with a dental pick, you can usually pull or shake the dried pieces of mouth (or jaw) out of the URCHIN. If you are lucky, the whole piece will come out in tact. If the ARISTOTLE’S LANTERN comes out in one piece, I save it – don’t ask me why, I just think they are cool (? heehee).
Once the SEA URCHINS are spineless and hollow, place them in a bleach water solution. I used about 1/8 bleach to water. In this plastic shoebox size container, I used 3 capfuls of beach.
After an hour or so, rinse them in fresh water then leave them out in the sun to dry. The URCHINS get even more brittle if you leave them in the bleach solution for too long but I do leave some in a little longer so that they will be a lighter shade that the others. I like the different colors!
Once they are clean and dry, you will probably want to harden and preserve your SEA URCHINS. Mix a solution of Elmer’s glue with water. I guesstimate about 50/50 but I don’t worry too much if I have more glue than water- it always seems to work out. You can either be neat and paint the glue solution on your URCHINS or you can dunk. I prefer pouring the glue solution inside the URCHIN then dunking the whole thing in the glue cup then spreading it with my hands (I’m messy like that!). I place a piece of parchment or waxed paper on my tray then let the glue covered SEA URCHIN dry.
Still have questions? Check out the video tutorial I made to show you each step of the process. CLICK HERE to see it on my YouTube Channel or click on the next image.
This is what the finished SEA URCHINS look like. There are several different types of SEA URCHINS from Sanibel so each one tends to be a little different. Beautiful!
PS- Never take live SEA URCHINS. If you dont know how to tell if they are still alive CLICK HERE.
Join me on an iLoveShelling Shelling Adventure trip! CLICK HERE for dates and reservations.
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.
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??!!
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.
These puppies are soooo stinkin fragile, you have to be very gentle with them so I drop each one individually into the bleach solution.
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.
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!
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!
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!!!!!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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).
Step #1- Fill a big bucket with enough water to cover your shells.
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.
Step #3- Add 1/4 bleach to your 3/4 water. (Honestly, I just guestimate)
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!
Step #5- Enjoy the site of your new babies taking a bath… for at least 24 hours.
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
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!
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.
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.
So it took about 4 or 5 days for my shells go from looking like this…
To looking like THIS!!!
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!
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!!!
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.
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
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.