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

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.

Want more beach bling cleaning tutorials? Click on my links….