How To Clean Seashells

How To Clean Seashells

I’ve recently spent 2 weeks in Croatia on a miraculous family holiday. Miraculous, because we booked it in November last year and after the pandemic started for good, I  doubted it would go ahead. Luckily, I was able to see my family for the first time after 6 months and spent a fortnight in a small Croatian village, away from the crowds, which was certainly safer than living a normal life in London.

One of my favourite things to do on the beach is collecting seashells. I’d get bored to death if I was to just sunbathe for hours and I don’t particularly enjoy swimming in the sea, but walking on the shore or in the shallow water, looking for seashells and live sea creatures can keep me busy for days. Yet again I came back home with heavy bags of seashells, and I immediately proceeded to clean them.

Seashells before cleaning, on a table

There are a few rules I always follow when collecting seashells.

First of all, you need to make sure it’s legal to do so. Collecting shells in some exotic countries might be forbidden, so  double check it to avoid any trouble.

Secondly, make sure it’s legal to export seashells which you’d like to take home. Certain shells from some countries might be forbidden to export and they can be taken away from you at customs at the airport. It may apply to specific shells (for example those originally belonging to an endangered species) or all natural goods in general.

Finally, only collect shells when you’re confident that they aren’t anyone’s home. In Croatia, about 99% of shells that you find at the bottom of the sea are inhabited, even if they seem empty at first glance. You spot one in shallow water, you pick it up, you hold it in your hand and a few seconds later some curious feet appear to check why the world around them is moving and the water has gone. Hermit crabs occupy most of the pretty, spiral shells. If you see one – just high five it with the tip of your finger, appreciate it for a moment and then put it back where you originally found it.

However, if all of the above checks have passed and you’ve found some empty shells that you want to take home, congrats! Carefully pack them in a padded bag or a box and hope they’re all in one piece after the travel.

Once you’re home, open the bag… and be immediately hit with a pungent smell of rotting fish. Seashells smell. A lot. They don’t seem to the moment you collect them, but once they’ve dried and then stewed in a sealed container for a couple days, the smell will be hard to miss. But fear not, there’s a simple way to get rid of it and clean the shells from impurities at the same time.

You’ll need:

  • bleach
  • water (same amount as bleach)
  • a plastic bucket that you don’t mind filling with bleach
  • protective gloves
  • a toothbrush

Mix water and bleach in equal parts, enough to have a solution in which you can fully submerge your shells. I’d recommend doing it in parts and not having a thick layer of shells at the bottom of the bucket. Put the shells in the solution and leave them in it for 30 minutes.

Seashells in a bucket with water and bleach

After 30 minutes, take the shells out of the container (wearing gloves!) and rinse them well in cold running water, scrubbing them with a toothbrush to remove any dirt from their surface.

Let them dry and enjoy clean seashells without the nasty smell! You can use them for various DIY projects or just display them as decoration.

Cleaned seashells in water, gloves and a toothbrush

Cleaned sea urchin, a few spiral seashells and small double shells

Cleaned crab carapace, big spiral seashells and smaller shells

A few extra notes for this method:

  • Be careful not to spill bleach on clothes or any delicate surface – wear old clothes and clean your shells outdoors if you can.
  • Try this method on a smaller number of shells first to make sure it doesn’t ruin them.
  • So far the only shells I’ve tried that didn’t fully benefit from this method were sea urchins – as you can see in the photos, the urchin lost most spikes. Other shells, including crab carapaces, survived without any issues.
  • You can paint cleaned shells with shiny transparent top coat for nice, store bought souvenir level effect.

Before and after photos:

Seashells before cleaning, on a table

All of the seashells, cleaned in bleach

Holding a DIY Harry Potter wand
DIY Harry Potter wand
Three completed paper roses: white, yellow and pink
Simple paper roses
Aliexpress craft supplies - quilling, model, box, gift tags
Aliexpress craft supplies
Colourful mini paper flowers
Mini paper flowers

4 thoughts on “How To Clean Seashells

  1. Nice work, they are beautiful! I’m glad you could see your family, Alphe. It’s been a year now since I’ve seen mine thanks to you know what. Be safe and well. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course it is. I’ve been hiking a lot lately, and saw a giant puffball the size of a soccer ball in the woods Friday, and I am planning on snowshoeing with my dad this winter. Also, being outside in nature you do not need to worry about “social distancing”


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