3 easy steps to cleaning seashells

Seashells come in many sizes, colours and varieties, but they can be smelly if not properly cleaned. Use these simple cleaning techniques to remove the ocean smell and enjoy your shell collection for years.

3 easy steps to cleaning seashells

1. Soak them

Before cleaning seashells, soak them in a 50:50 solution of bleach and water. How long you do this depends on the shells you're cleaning, as well as how many you do at once.

  • Soak first for 30 minutes, longer if you want shells bleached white or if they feel really grimy.
  • Before removing them from the solution, make sure that the periostracum — the leatherlike, flaky covering on some shells — is gone.
  • Rinse thoroughly with fresh, warm water.

2. Remove the clingy stuff

If barnacles and other clingy stuff stay stuck onto the seashell, use a pointy toothpick or scalpel to remove them. Also, if the lip of a seashell gets chipped, use a rotary grinder or file to smooth out the rough edges.

3. Choose your way to clean them

To clean seashells still containing residual decayed matter, you have a choice of cleaning methods:

  • Bury the shells 45 centimetres (17 inches) deep in your garden for a month or two. Insects, bacteria, worms, larvae and other tiny organisms will eat everything you want to get out of the shell.
  • Give them the deep-freeze treatment. Place the shells in a waterproof bag, add enough water to the bag to cover the shells and stick them in the freezer for a few days. Then allow them to thaw to room temperature. You should be able to grab the remaining dead tissue inside and pull it out without too much difficulty.
  • Boil water in a pot and submerge the shells for five minutes. Using tongs and being careful not to burn yourself, remove one shell at a time and, grasping it with gloves or a towel, pull out the tissue inside.
  • A smelly but no less effective way to clean shells is to 'cook' them in the microwave. (Time will vary depending on the oven's power and the strength of the shell.) Start with 30 seconds and increase the time in 10-second increments.

Finally, if you like your shells to shine, coat them with a light layer of paraffin oil or baby oil.

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