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How Do I Clean my Shells?

I’ve been collecting shells for the past 7 years when we vacation in southwest Florida.

Cleaning set-up for mineral oil and dental tools to get the stuff off

When I got the shells back to our rental I would soak them in water, let them dry and pack them in containers to bring home.

Well, I now have 7 years worth of shells to go through. As I was sorting the shells into like shells, I noticed that the shells all had this white hazy coating and all the color seemed so dull.

florida shells with a junonia

When you collect shells and rinse them off they always look so vibrant and beautiful. I wanted a way to get those shells back to their original shine like when I picked them up the first time.

Kice Island near Marco Island, Florida

Here are the steps to cleaning your shells after bringing them home from the beach.


Step 1: Soak them in water (can add soap to the mix if you would like) to get the sand, salt and grime off. (This is what I would do in Florida and then pack them up).

cleaning shells

Step 2: Some shells will need to be soaked in a bleach/water mixture to help get the tough grime and grit off them. This will help weaken the barnacles and other stuff that gets stuck to the shell. Then rinse in water and let dry.

* Note that some shells require different cleaning techniques. Olive shells might have tiny shells in them that you have to dig out. Sand dollars are different all together and you will need bleach to clean them (most of the time)


Step 3: Next you have 3 options

  1. Leave as is and your shells are ready for crafts or display

  2. Dip in muriatic acid for no more than 3 seconds for each shell. Rinse in water/baking soda mix then allow to dry.

  3. Rub mineral oil on the shells to bring back the color and shine (picture below)

I haven’t done the muriatic acid because it seems like a lot to set up, it’s not natural and could damage your shells. You have to dispose of the acid properly and you have to do it with gloves and protective eyewear in a well ventilated area.

Before and After Mineral Oil Application

I’ve used the mineral oil method on my scallops so far and am very happy with the results. I plan to try it on more shells. I will post more as I go.


Happy shell collecting/cleaning!

Lots and lots of shells from Florida beach


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