How to Clean Shells you Find on the Beach or in the Ocean

Collecting seashells along Long Beach Island is fun all year round. The fun does not last long though if you don’t know how to clean them and care for them. The fun will start to stink, quickly. Here are some suggestions on the best ways to clean seashells.

Step 1: Start Immediately

The best time to start cleaning your shells is when you find them. Inspect them when you pick them up. Remember, shells are the homes of creatures. Things live in them. You might think it would be obvious if something was living inside the shell but it’s not. I have literally seen collected shells start walking away from a pile in the garage (marine hermit crabs can hide deep in the belly of a shell and will appear hours later after the trauma of you “collecting” their home has subsided)

The moon shell (street name: shark eye, home of the moon snail) is a top shelf find on Long Beach Island. Any LBI shell collector values a good moon shell, so let’s use that as our example shell.

If an actual moon snail is living in the shell it is obvious. Also, you would pretty lucky to see one of these elusive creatures washed up the shore (unless you were here for Mussel City) so we’ll skip that. More likely you will find one of these.

  • Baby Mussels
  • Baby Slipper Shells
  • Marine Hermit Crabs

Now, before we continue, take a moment to dig deep and find that line inside you that will define which creatures it is OK to “relocate” or kill and which it is not. I suppose that is a personal decision. Personally, I will clean a moon snail of attached mussels, but if it has slipper shells inside I will throw it back. It’s extremely uncool to kill hermit crabs. One thing that I don’t consider debatable: if you find a live moon snail please put it back in the ocean.

So, once you are ethically clear that you have a keeper, bang the shell in your hand to make sure it’s empty. Shake it. Rub. Smack it up, flip it, rub it down, oh no, and then rinse it vigorously in the ocean until you are sure it is empty. If you are the type of person who kills mussels, make sure you get them all out of there before you put it in your pocket.

Don’t forget to smell your shells! Your nose will tell you a lot. It’s OK and natural for seashells to smell a bit like the ocean, but if they smell like death, throw them back.

Step 2: Don’t Use Bleach

Don’t bleach sea shells. Bleaching your seashells is not necessary. You will destroy the color and your shells will forever reek of bleach.

Step 3: Soak Your Shells in Water for up to a Week

Put them in a big pot or bucket and let the water work its magic. Periodically flush the water. If you are really into it, change or flush the water once a day. In just a few days you will notice the difference. Ahhh, the miracles of nature. When your all done, boil them. That’ll kill whatever is left in there.

Step 4: Dry Well & Use Sandpaper

After letting the shells dry thoroughly they will probably look a bit dull & faded. You will start asking yourself, “why did I pick that dull, lifeless seashell in the first place?” They just faded a bit. We’ll get the shine back in Step 5, but for now, let’s make them look worse with sandpaper. Take some coarse sandpaper and rough up the shell. Use the sandpaper to remove depositis and gunk, but also give the whole shell a good roughing up.

Step 5: Mineral Oil

Mineral Oil will restore the color and shine, plus will help preserve the shell. Note: mineral oil is not usually found in the grocery store, but is easy to find in the pharmacy. (It’s in the poo-poo problem section)

That’s it. If you are as obsessive-compulsive and germaphobic as my family is, then you are a happy Long Beach Islander with clean, eco-freindly shells that look great and will last a lifetime. Best of all, you just found a great project for the kids.