Shells are among nature’s most stunning gems but can appear dull, crusted or dirty from being exposed to the elements and other contaminants. A variety of cleaning methods are used to clean and polish shells to be able to use them for home decor or craft projects. Whether the shells are naturally shiny, such as cowries or olive snails, or not, such as clams or scallops, it is important to disinfect them before attempting any cleaning. Bleaching shells with a solution of water and bleach is one method used to accomplish this.
Some people are afraid to use bleach on natural seashells for fear of damaging the shell’s sheen but using a very dilute solution will not. Even muriatic acid can be safely used on shells to strip them of encrustations and bring back their shine. When using either the acid or bleach, it is recommended to wear gloves and eye protection due to the caustic reactions that can occur. Using a glass jar and plastic tongs to dip the shells in the solution is preferred, as metal can react with the chemicals. Leaving the shells in the solution for more than 3 seconds can also compromise their color and sheen. After the shells have been dipped in the acid solution, they should be rinsed thoroughly with clean water and allowed to dry.
Alternatively, you can place the shells in boiling water to help them break down the encrustations and make them look whiter. This technique should be done with caution, however, because the heat from the boiling water may crack or damage the shells. Boiling should be done only for a few minutes and the shells should be allowed to cool. Then, tweezers can be used to remove any remaining debris from the inside of the shells.
Bleach can also be used to scrub away the dirt and organic matter that accumulates on shells over time, causing them to smell unpleasant and becoming dull in appearance. The use of a toothbrush is another common way to scrub the outsides of shells and to remove any growths or buildups on them, but it should be noted that using too much pressure on the outer layers of the shell could damage it.
Once the shells are cleaned, they can be set in the sun to finish the bleaching process and they should turn whiter. This is a good option for those who want their shells to be as natural as possible, but it should be avoided on shells that have pretty markings because the bleach can cause them to fade in the sunlight.
If you find that your shells are still not as white as you would like, it is recommended to re-bleach them by soaking them in water with 10% bleach again for about an hour. This will also allow the shells to rinse thoroughly and help them become whiter and cleaner. This method can be used on all types of shells and is a great way to get them ready for use in crafts and other activities.