Seashell collecting on Long Beach Island can be an enjoyable activity for children and adults alike, though a seashell’s beauty may diminish without proper care being taken when cleaning it.
Bleach solutions disinfect shells by dissolving away their outer coating, periostracum. After cleaning, some people choose to rub their shells with mineral oil for an attractive sheen.
Table of Contents
Bleach cleaning of shells is one of the most widely-used techniques. It works effectively on most species, effectively eliminating periostracum that forms on some seashells as well as dirt, algae and ordinary mud that forms. Furthermore, bleach can kill bacteria and fungus which cause unpleasant odors; additionally it does not harm most colors but may strip some away in certain species, prompting serious collectors to refrain from using bleach in this regard.
Other cleaning solutions for seashells may include toothpaste, hydrogen peroxide and muriatic acid – stronger options than bleach but potentially discoloring shells if overused. Please use them cautiously as these chemicals contain dangerous toxins.
Before using any cleaning methods on a shell, it’s essential to determine whether there is anything alive inside. Some beaches prohibit collecting live clams, oysters and mussels so make sure the shells you collect do not contain living organisms before undertaking any cleaning methods on them.
If you find a shell that still contains living organisms, be very cautious in opening it and never remove them from their enclosure. Instead, set the shell on absorbent paper or in sand with its canal facing downward to let it dry naturally before cleaning and cataloguing for safe display away from direct sunlight.
Unless there is evidence of life within a shell, you can try using a mild bleach solution to clean off dirt or stains from its surface. Since some types of encrustations may be difficult to remove without harming the shell itself, a toothpick, toothbrush and/or other tools may be required to gently scrape off any buildup on its surface.
Hydrogen peroxide is an alternative to bleach that can deep clean shells without altering their colors. As an effective cleaner, hydrogen peroxide will kill bacteria and fungus while eliminating unpleasant odors. Fill a bowl or container with enough hydrogen peroxide to submerge one shell for at least eight hours; rinse well in cool water afterwards, patting dry with toweling afterward.
Muriatic acid can be found at hardware stores’ paint departments. When applied directly onto shell surfaces, it will almost magically strip away barnacles and algae to restore their colors, leaving only delicate specimens vulnerable. Since some shells may break if exposed to extreme temperatures, this method should only be employed when necessary and for shells you are willing to break should something go amiss.
Typically, shells should be put in a pot of room-temperature water that covers them by two inches, then brought to a boil at various speeds depending on their size and complexity. When finished boiling, turn off the heat and allow them to sit in their own juices for several minutes to cool before taking them out and placing on soft surfaces such as towels or surfaces that won’t be damaged during removal from their containers.
Last but not least, make sure that the shells are thoroughly rinsed with lukewarm water. After they are clean, dry them off before brushing on a thin coat of mineral or baby oil for added shine and polish. This step should make a world of difference!
Another method for polishing seashells is freezing them, which will help remove animal tissue while taking much less time than traditional polishing techniques. To do this, find an area in your yard large enough to dig a hole 18 inches deep, then burry your shells until bacteria, maggots or other creatures that feed off dead flesh have taken the opportunity to take over and dispose of any leftover bits.
No matter your reason for collecting shells – whether a serious collector, beachcomber, or just someone who simply enjoys having beautiful decorations around their home – cleaning them periodically is always recommended. Just don’t overdo it as too much cleaning can reduce their quality and accelerate their degradation faster; some shells may even be damaged by bleaching agents and treatments like peroxide; be sure to research which treatment option best applies for the type of shell you possess before proceeding with cleaning them thoroughly.
After collecting seashells at the beach and cleaning them (with bleach or boiling), it’s a good idea to give your seashells that extra bit of sparkle by giving them some shine with mineral oil or acrylic spray. A dab can really bring out their colors while giving a lasting, shiny surface finish.
Some people use cooking oils on their seashells, but these can easily turn rancid and discolor. Mineral oil has no smell and is completely safe; just pour a few drops onto a clean rag and rub over your shells until their shine returns – simply repeat this treatment when they start to look dull again!
Before applying any type of chemical cleaner to your shells, it’s a wise precaution to inspect them for live creatures. Many beaches prohibit taking alive clams, oysters and mussels so it’s essential that whatever’s inside any given shell has died before taking it home. Gently touch it with your fingertips – any movement or hollow feeling indicates there may still be living creatures within.
Bleach, muriatic acid and other strong chemicals can be hazardous to shellfish and other living things, so it’s vital to work in an airtight room and wear protective clothing when working around these substances. Bleach in particular is particularly hazardous due to being an caustic chemical which can burn your eyes, skin and lungs.
Mineral oil and acrylic sprays can provide your shells with a more eco-friendly option as they do not contain toxins or strong chemicals that could pose risks. Unfortunately, however, over time they may fade or erode their surfaces over time if handled repeatedly.
Mineral oil should also be noted that crude oil used to produce gasoline differ significantly; cosmetic-grade mineral oil found in cosmetics and personal care items differs drastically from chemical-laden crude oil used as fuel. Once applied to your shells and allowed it to dry completely, only touch up is typically needed every few years.
Painting seashells is an enjoyable art project to do together with children. Acrylic paint is the best choice, as it dries shiny and opaque while being easy to use; additionally, its nontoxic nature and safety make it safe to use around children. To achieve great results with acrylic paints it’s essential that the shells be thoroughly prepared prior to application of multiple coats of color.
Start by thoroughly cleaning and drying the seashells before priming them with paintbrushes and cleaning paintbrushes as well. When ready, dip your brush in lightest seashell color and outline its shape on a sheet of paper; any design from simple animal faces to complex beach scenes are possible! When painting intricate details directly on the shells it may be useful to prime first as this makes painting much simpler!
Once the outline is completed, fill in the rest of the shell using this color. After painting it over with another hue and blending into its edges of shell. For an extra elegant touch add metallic colors such as gold or silver for more refined results.
After your shells have dried, use a clear sealant to protect their paint job. A glossy sealant is best to avoid dulling down their shine; matte or satin will dull its brilliance and reduce any risk of smudges or discoloration of colors. Ultimately this will keep them looking vibrant!
After you allow the paint to dry, showcase your shells in a jar or vase for display. Add flair by hot gluing a ribbon bow for extra flair or transform one into a creature by painting designs on it and including extra features, such as googly eyes.
Are You Repurposing Seashells as Educational Activities? Why Not? If you have seashells left over from vacations or purchased at craft stores, put them to use as educational activities? Create a beach small world in a bin or tray by filling it with sand and blue water beads before adding painted seashells as storytelling prompts. Or use painted shells as math manipulatives by arranging them in number patterns!