How to Clean and Preserve Sea Shells

The shells were pretty dirty looking, but my bigger concern was that they were so smelly! Priority number one was to take care of that problem while also cleaning them up. I decided that a method involving bleach was the way to go. Although it was a common sentiment that it is best to avoid bleach and soak in plain water, I didn’t think soaking the shells in water would be enough to do the trick.

Also, I started with the shell that was the most broken–I figured if one of them got messed up, that would be the one I’d be least sad about. I filled a bucket with three cups of bleach and one gallon of water. I soaked my first shell for about 3 hours.

The next step was to choose a technique to polish the shell. As far as I could tell, the most common techniques involved using an abrasive on the outer surface of the shell. I found a scrub brush, sanding block, and steel wool in the shop. I also got toothpaste and toothbrushes and ended up using a combination of all of these techniques. And all of it helped a lot! The shell looked much better than it did initially, and the smell was way better too!

On a whim I decided to try one last thing to clean the shell: to put it in the dishwasher. We have a dishwasher at the workshop that we only use for workshop tools and things like that, but I probably wouldn’t try this with my dishwasher at home.

I was happy with my result so I repeated this process on the other two shells! I soaked them in the bleach and water mixture for three hours, scrubbed them with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and put them in the dishwasher.

All that was left at this point was finishing the shells off with a coat of mineral oil. The mineral oil started out kind of glossy, but it soaks in a bit for  much more natural-looking finish. Mineral oil is really nice because it doesn’t look like an artificial high-gloss on the edge of the shells!

The conch shells looked great and made an awesome addition to my home decor! I definitely recommend this method as an easy way to clean and preserve any seashells you’ve collected over the years.

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