I love using found objects, especially natural ones, in my craft projects. The trouble with picking things up and taking them home is that you don’t know how clean they are. If you’ve ever wondered how best to clean seashells you’ve picked up on the beach, this is the article for you.
Picture the scene. You’ve been for a walk on the beach and taken the opportunity to grab a few shells while you’re down there. Maybe there’s recently been a storm and the sea has been choppy, washing up some really beautiful shells that would be perfect for use as decoration or in crafts.
You’ve been careful to only pick up open shells, ones that don’t still have critters living inside. (Please tell me you have…) When you get home, you give the shells a rinse to get rid of the sand and then pop them away in the garage or spare room until you’re ready to use them.
But there’s that moment, a day or two after you’ve collected them, when there’s a weird smell coming from the box or bag that your shells are in. No matter how careful you are when you collect shells – and check out this post on collecting natural objects for some tips on how to best go about this – there’s no escaping the fact that they were once home to a small creature.
Any little bits of… how shall I put this?… “creature” that may have been left behind, no matter how microscopic, will start to smell as they begin to break down and decompose. There might also be algae on the shells, and bacteria too.
And no one needs those added ingredients in their crafts.
How to Clean Seashells
The best thing to do when you’ve collected shells and pebbles is to clean them straight away. Go on the offensive, before the nasty whiffs begin. And to do that you have a couple of options.
This is the way I tend to clean seashells that I pick up, and I think it’s a really effective way to deal with algae and the flaky covering that covers most shells (which Google has just informed me is called the periostracum). Basically, you just need a container that you won’t use for anything else – an empty ice cream tub is perfect.
The next step is to make a bleach solution in the tub. Be careful not to get neat bleach on your skin, and wash your hands well after making up the solution. I’ve seen it suggested that you should use equal parts bleach and water, but I’ve never made the solution this strong in the past. One part bleach to 10 parts water is fine, or you can use my much less scientific method of adding a generous splash of bleach to the container and then filling it the rest of the way with cold water.
All you need to do then is soak your shells in the solution until the flaky periostracum comes off. You can use an old toothbrush to help this process along, but to be honest, the stronger the bleach solution the less time this should take. Give the shells a rinse under some cold water to remove any bleach residue and leave them to dry completely before following the steps for finishing your shells below.
Soaking in Water
This is another method I’ve read about but never tried, so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness. Basically, you need to soak your shells in regular plain ol’ water for around a week, changing the water every so often (or every day if you feel like it).
When the week is up, boil the shells to cook any little bits of critter remaining, then give them a good rinse. Leave the shells to dry completely, before following the steps below to finish them off.
Finishing Your Shells
Now you have clean seashells, you may find that they’re not as gloriously colourful as you were expecting. Don’t panic! That is easy enough to remedy by following a couple more steps…
Firstly you’ll need to deal with any growths that still remain on the shells, such as barnacles. Even if you’ve bleached your shells, this won’t have removed the barnacles, so you’ll need to pick them off – carefully! – with a pick, screwdriver or some other similar tool. You can also use sandpaper to gently remove any build up still remaining on the shells.
When you’re happy with the way the shells look, you can rub a little baby oil or mineral oil into the shells to really help bring out the colours. I don’t tend to do this as I quite like the way the shells look without a shine. I guess it feels more natural to me.
And there you have it – a couple of different methods to use to clean seashells. I plan to try the plain water method next time I’m cleaning shells, just to see how well they come up for comparison. If you know of any other ways to clean seashells, let me know in the comments.