How to Clean Seashells – How to Preserve Seashells

How To Clean Seashells

How to clean seashells is often the first question that I get asked  by new collectors….often they have collected on a trip to the beach and have come home with shells with  animals inside. Within a few days, that characteristic odour of rotting sealife becomes evident.

I have heard of horror stories of people finding a black Cowry or similar valuable species and leaving it in the sun for the ” animal to be eaten by ants”!!!! Of course the shell bleached and was eventually thrown away.

 There is no magic answer to cleaning shells… it takes patience and effort and an understanding of each species that you are dealing with.

Some are easy….e.g. bivalves…just leave them in fresh water and in a day or so they will open and the animal is easily removed.

Many gastropods can be extremely difficult but one method that I have used successfully is to put each individual specimen in a clipseal back and leave in a shady warm place. In no time the animal starts to fall out and the shell can then be washed. The only hazard with this method is coping with the smell when you open the bag.  Always test this cleaning method and any other you plan to try before using it on a potentially valuable shell….What works for one species may not work for others!

we have lots of other tips on cleaning seashells on our site…just use the search engine above on the top Right hand side.

You may also find this article of interest “How to Clean Seashells”


How to preserve your seashells

Shells are subject to deterioration over time. the main elements are light , dust and Byrnes Disease


Store shells in low light situations…inside closed cupboard or drawers is the best ..avoid showcases in well lit areas as shells will fade in colour exposed to bright light over time

Make sure your showcase is away from strong light…even better, have a cover that can be put across the front when it is not being looked at


In our environment in South Australia, Dust and extreme heat are something that we are coping with all of the time. The best solution that I have found  is to give each shell a liberal coating of Baby Oil ( easily available at any supermarket). Allow it to dry before storing the shell. I use a small pasty brush to make sure all parts of the shell are coated. I t helps keep the dust away from the shell, enhances the natural colours and also, in the case of extremely brittle shells, gives some protection against cracking caused by expansion and contraction (shells in the families PINNIDAE and PTERIIDAE are amongst the worst for this problem)

BYRNES DISEASE ( The following is an extrat from Conchologists Forum ” Let’s Talk Seashells”

Description: A white powdery residue that appears on shells.

It is not a disease! The use of the term “disease” was used before the exact cause was known and it was thought to be caused by bacteria.

What causes it? The white “fluff” are powdery salts (hydrated calcium formates or acetates) resulting from a chemical reaction between the calcium carbonate in the shells and acidic gasses in the air, with water vapor acting as the catalyst. The acidic gasses arise from wood (cabinets and shelves) and any acidic materials used to store or stored with shells (cardboard boxes, cotton, paper, cloth, etc.). Oak is a particularly acidic wood.

Prevention! Essentially there are two steps to prevent Byne’s disease

1. Remove or reduce the presence of sources of acidic gases. Use acid-free materials. Keep storage area well ventilated.

2. Minimize presence of water vapor. Store shells in humidity controlled areas. Be sure shells are thoroughly dry before enclosing in containers such as plastic bags and boxes. Keep storage area well ventilated.

3. Stop it from spreading. Since Byne’s disease is not a disease, but a chemical reaction, it will not “spread.” If it appears, it means conditions are right for the chemical reaction to take place. So, identify the source of the acidic gases or water vapor, remove them, and the chemical reation will stop and the problem will not “spread.” Clean the effected shells (soap and water, maybe some bleach), dry thoroughly and replace in collection. Paul Callomon, Collections Manager Malacology, Invertebrate Paleontology and General Invertebrates, Department of Malacology, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA noted in Conch-L email on 3/20/09 that, “Bleaches, detergents or solvents are unnecessary (and ineffective) for removing Byne’s salts from shells. Just soak the shell in clean water overnight to break up the crystals, then scrub it lightly with a toothbrush under running water and dry it thoroughly.”

A shell collection is a beautiful thing so you should always take appropriate steps to clean and then preserve your collection so that it will remain a treasure for many years to come


Comments are closed.