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How to clean seashells

How To Clean Seashells For Use In Crafts

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I love using found objects, especially natural ones, in my craft projects and even in artwork where I can. But the trouble with picking things up and taking them home is you don’t know how clean they are. So if you’ve ever wondered how to clean seashells, this is the article for you.

Picture the scene. You’ve been for a walk on the beach and noticed some really beautiful shells on the sand. Maybe there was a storm, and the choppy sea washed the shells up onto the shore.

Either way, you realise they’d be perfect for [insert your current art or craft project here]. So you take the opportunity to collect a few shells while you’re there, being careful to only pick up open shells as you know they’re the ones that don’t currently have any critters living inside. 

When you get home, you give the shells a quick 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 then a day or two later you notice a weird smell coming from the box or bag containing your shells.

The truth is that no matter how careful you are when you collect shells, there’s no escaping the fact that they were once home to a small creature.

And any little bits of 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 creative projects.

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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 smells develop. 

And to do that you have a couple of options.

Bleach solution

This is the way I tend to clean the seashells I pick up. It’s a really effective way to deal with algae and the flaky covering that covers most shells (the periostracum, to give it its proper name).

Firstly, you’ll need a container that you won’t use for anything else. One of the two litre plastic ice cream tubs is perfect, or alternatively a bucket would work well.

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 should be fine. Alternatively, you can use my much less scientific method of adding a generous splash of bleach to the container and then topping it up with cold water.

All you need to do then is soak your shells in the solution until the flaky periostracum comes off. The stronger the bleach solution, the less time this should take.

You can also use an old toothbrush to help the process along. Make sure you wear gloves if you do this as you don’t want to get any bleach on your skin. 

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.

Soaking in water

This is another method I’ve read about but never tried, so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness. 

To clean shells using this method, start by soaking the shells in straightforward cold water for around a week. Replace the water at least a couple of times, or even every day if you feel like it.

When a week has passed, 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 to finish them off.

Sea shells on a beach
(Image source: Flickr)

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 another 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 like the way the shells look without a shine. I guess it feels more natural to me, but it’s entirely up to you.

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, feel free to share them in the comments!

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About Stacey

Stacey headshot

I’m Stacey and I’m a blogger, abstract artist and freelance writer. My aim is to help busy people feel inspired and get more creative with tutorials, hints and tips.

I live in Cardiff with my partner and dog, and in my free time you’ll find me hiking, reading, painting or sampling a craft beer or two.

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