How to clean seashells, sea urchins and coral

how to clean seashells

You’ve spent the entire morning, or day even, combing your beach for local or Florida shells and other ocean goodies. Now that you’ve got a whole bag full, the real work begins. Most people who collect do so with the intention of displaying their prizes for all to see. With that said, you don’t want to decorate that beautiful coffee table or mantle piece with washed out shells do you? To help you out, we complied a short little ‘how to’ all about shells and other ocean treasures. Read below to find out the best ways on how to clean seashells, sea urchins and coral.

Why do seashells lose their color

You’ve probably noticed that the shells that you find in the ocean start to lose their color and even some of their shine after being on land for a while. This loss of color and shine actually starts when the animal inside it has died. The shells then start to dull further due to both the sun and sand. When waves crash against the shore, they take the seashells with them, thrashing them over and over again against the sand, almost like clothes in a washing machine.

Then the sun further strips the shells of pigmentation, causing the seashells to turn yellow, tan and white. One of the ways you can tell if a seashell can be saved or not is to put it back underwater, either fresh or salt. If you start to see a bit of color, then you know it has a strong chance of turning back into that beauty it once was.

How to clean seashells

Sometimes seashells don’t actually lose their color but rater have a build up of calcium on their shells, hiding the color underneath. This calcium is usually white and uneven with bumps and ridges. In order to clean this calcium off you need to:

  • Grab a bowl.
  • Pour in a mixture of cold or room temperature water and bleach (3 parts water, 1 part bleach).
  • Let sit for a few hours, sometimes longer depending on how much of a build up there is.
  • Once a few hours have passed, you can pull one of the seashells out and use a toothpick or paperclip to start tying to take the buildup off.
  • You can also use an old toothbrush or wire bush and scrub the shell, just make sure to be careful as to not break the seashell if it is a delicate one.
  • Sometimes you’ll need to put the seashell back into the bleach water and let sit for a few more hours.
  • Once they are all clean, rinse off with water to get all of the bleach off.

Make sure to wear gloves with working with bleach and to wear clothes that you don’t mind messing up if there is an accidental spill.

If cleaning cowries, you’ll want to use less bleach. Usually a ratio of 5 parts water to 1 part bleach will work. Cowries have a natural shine to them that can be lost if too much bleach is used in the cleaning process.

How to clean sea urchins

When you clean a sea urchin, you’ll have to be extremely careful as these guys are very delicate and will break easily. The steps here are a bit different then those for cleaning seashells as you’ll usually find some meat left in the sea urchin when finding it on the beach.

  • Soak the sea urchins in a bath of warm water (that will end up cooling down to room temperature) for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Take a pair of tweezers and pull out any meat pieces that are willing to come out. If the meat doesn’t want to come out, don’t force it. Sometimes the beak will still be in place, you should be able to pull this out with your fingers or tweezers without any complications.
  • In a large bowl, mix in a ratio of 3 parts water, 1 part bleach and gently place your sea urchins in.
  • Leave them for about 20 minutes or so, then check them to see if the meat has all come off, if not put them back in the solution for another 20 minutes.
  • Do this until all the meat is off, sometimes you can pull the remaining pieces off with tweezers as the bleach has loosened them up.
  • Make sure to rinse with cold water to get all of the bleach water off the clean urchins.

Sea urchin shells are known for being very, very delicate and are even more so after bleach is used to clean them. A great way to toughen them up again is to dip them into a mixture of Elmer’s glue and water. If you don’t want to dip them, you can take a brush and apply the solution that way. All you have to do is wait about 10 minutes and you should be good to go!

Sea urchins still have a little bit more work in store for them if you want to both clean and preserve your sea urchins.

How to clean coral

Perhaps the easiest to clean (and the hardest to break) is coral. When you clean coral, you’re actually cleaning off any leftover ‘skin’ that either still dying, or already dead. All you have to do here is put the coral into a solution of bleach water (3 parts water, 1 part bleach) and let sit for a few hours. Then you’ll want to let the coral pieces dry out outside for about a day.

Cleaning with muriatic acid

Some people will use muriatic acid to clean their seashells. Although the acid works like a charm and does an amazing job, it is very dangerous and can easily burn your skin if spilled or splattered. Most who use muriatic acid do so because they want to clean up their shells rather quickly (in 2 seconds) and don’t want to wait a few hours. If you have the time to wait, it’s best to go the safe route and just use bleach water.

Shining up with mineral oil

For those shells that have just lost their color due to sun and sand exposure, all you’ll have to do is brush on a thin coat of mineral oil. You can buy mineral oil at any food or drug store and it’s usually only a few dollars. When applying mineral oil:

  • Use a small brush or even your hand and smooth on a thin coat.
  • Place shell onto a layer of newspaper to dry for about 2 to 3 hours.
  • Then place seashell in its intended location for all to see!

Usually you’ll only have to rebrush the mineral oil on your seashells once or twice a year. It really all depends on how much you pick up your shells to show all your friends. 🙂