Cleaning seashells may be considered in two consecutive subjects: cleaning the live collected specimens and cleaning the dead findings.
If you are lucky enough to gather some live seashells, bearing in mind the ethics of shell collecting, there are a few methods to get rid off the animal.
CLEANING LIVE SHELLS
1- Burying-This one is the easiest to do. Find an area in your yard where you don't mind digging a hole and bury the seashells about 15-20 cm. (enough so animals will not dig them up). Let them remain buried until insects, larvae, worms, and bacteria remove all the tissue (a least a couple months). The longer the better. . The advantage of this method is that you are not exposed to the bad smell of the decaying tissue however it is a rather prolonged method for impatient collectors.
2- Freezing- If first method is not an option then this method will work also. Place the seashells in a water-tight container and cover with water then place them in the freezer. Then allow the seashells to thaw at room temperature. Repeat this procedure two or three times. After they are completely defrosted and when ready to clean you should be able to grab the animal inside and gently pull it out. In order to finish the job, you will need to clean the interior. The fastest way is to use a strong water jet. Go now to cleaning dead shell specimens. In this method also you don't feel the smell of the animal but you have to reserve a place in your freezer.
3- Boiling-Take a pot of water large enough to hold the seashells you are cleaning. Bring the water to a boil and let boil a few minutes (longer for larger or a great number of seashells). Then gently pull out the animal tissue inside while the animal is still hot. The reason for that is because the "columellar muscle" softens at about 65 C°. It hardens again when cooled down which makes cleaning harder. You can count one minute of boiling for every 2,5 cm. If your pot isn't large enough, you have to boil them one by one in order to prevent them crashing each other. The primary disadvantage of this method is the smell of the shells and the probability of burning yourself. The advantage is that cleaning takes only a couple of days.
4-Microwave- This is an easy method if you don't mind the smell in your microwave . The shell is put in glass container wrapped by a paper towel. The time you cook your seashells can really vary by microwave so really just try it until you figure out how long to put them in . This method works better with medium size shells (2-15 cm.). Grasp cooked shell with gloves or a towel and gently pull out the animal tissue inside.
5- Vacuum Pumps- A new but quite effective method. The shell is placed, aperture upwards, in a bowl of chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide. The bottom of the bowl should have a sand layer to support the shell. Then the bowl is placed in a vacuum dissector. The pressure is decreased gradually so as to allow trapped air bubbles to escape. The bleach or peroxide will flow into the spire and dissolve the tissue of the animal. This method, of course, cleans the "periostracum" as well.
After the above procedures the tissue of the animal is cleaned under pressurized water with a dental pick-like apparatus. To avoid the lime deposition on the shell, "pure water" or "rain water" should be preferred.
If the "periostracum" will be conserved, then one should pay extreme attention during "boiling" and "micro wave" procedures. However, generally the collectors want to see the the colors and the patterns of the shell so they clean it up.
Most of the seashell families have an "operculum" attached to the animal. This is a trap door used for the protection of the animal. To increase the value of the live collected seashells, we must keep this "operculum", clean it, stick it to a piece of cotton and place it in the aperture.
CLEANING DEAD SHELLS
To clean the exterior of the dead found shells or the shells free from its animal, you will need the following materials and solutions:
4-Piece of soft fabric;
6- 1/1 Domestic bleach: water solution;
7- 1/1 Strong acid: water solution;
8- Soft vaseline or baby oil;
To clean the outer covering (barnacles, algae, and periostracum), take the seashells and let them soak in a 50-50 solution of bleach and water. There is no set time to let them soak because it various by the type of seashells and quantity of seashells being cleaned. If there is a highly developed incrustation you may use strong acid solution but with much more attention. Then remove from bleach and rinse thoroughly with fresh water. You may use the tooth brush, the pocket knife or the drill to help in removing barnacles and other growth on seashells. At the end you can rub the seashells with vazeline or baby oil to bring out their colors and to give them a luster.
1-Sturm,C.F., Pearce, T.A. and Valdes A. 2006
The Molluscs - A Guide to Their Study, Collection, and Preservation, American
Malacological Society, Universal Publishers, Florida.
2- www.britishshellclub.org.uk/pages/clean1.htm http://www.britishshellclub.org.uk/pages/clean1.htm
3- www.seashells.org/cleaning/liveshells.htm http://www.seashells.org/cleaning/liveshells.htm
5- www.citrisurf.com/shell/cleaner.htm http://www.citrisurf.com/shell/cleaner.htm