Knowing how to clean and transport shells is vital
(Editor’s note:This is part two of a three part series on how to find, clean, and safely transport shells. The majority of the content has been taken from the Museum’s recently produced shelling ” tip sheet.”)
Last week the finding aspect of the equation was explored. This week it’s on to how to remove bacteria as well as organic material that can serve as a food source for bacteria. This will eliminate that wonderful “beach aroma.” It’s been said that the best place to collect shells is the Georgia/Florida border which is about how long it takes for the olfactory senses to be offended by the beach treasures.
Before embarking on a shell clean-up detail, it’s important to decide the type of shell collection you intend to own. If you’re planning a career in marine biology or conchology (study of mollusks) or intend to donate your collection to a museum, minimal “preening” is best. The specimens can be brushed lightly and cleaned with fresh water, not chemicals. Removing the salt from your specimens is an important step. Salts are hygroscopic, meaning that they attract water. If the salts are not removed, the water that is drawn to the shell serves as a potential channel for acids to attack the shell, which may destroy the shells scientific value. Chemicals or heavy surface abrasion also may destroy natural evidence/information valuable for research purposes. If your collection is recreational and the goal is a beautiful display, more aggressive cleaning and the application of mineral oil will add contrast to the colors present with minimal impact to the shell or the environment. Apply mineral oil with a cotton ball. Let it stand for a few hours or overnight. Then wipe off any excess oil with a clean cotton ball.
n Remove loose debris and sand.
n If there is a dead critter inside pull it out with tweezers, a dental pick or a coat hanger bent to form a hook.
n Eliminate odors and bacteria by mixing equal parts of household liquid chlorine bleach and water and completely covering the shells with the solution.
n Soaking time is dictated by the type of shell, the quantity of shells being cleaned and how heavy the periostracum coating is. The periostracum is a thin organic coating that serves as the outermost layer of the shell.
n Bleach should not be used on tulip shells, king’s crowns, and shiny shells like olives and cowries.
n When working with the bleach solution or removing animals, a mask, goggles and old clothes should be worn.
n Scrub both the outside and the inside of the shell with a toothbrush, nail brush or wire brush. A steel dental pick can be used to remove barnacles or other small shells attached to the outside of the shell. This tool is especially helpful with cleaning the ridges in cockle shells and scallops.
n Spiral shaped shells may be cleaned inside by using a small curved wire brush on a twisted wire stem, like a brush used to clean baby bottles.
n If you use bleach on sand dollars leave them in the solution for about 20 30 minutes. Sand dollars can be left to dry for the winter and they will whiten by themselves.
n If you leave sand dollars in the sun for extended periods of time they become very brittle and crumble easily.
n Coat sand dollars, sea urchins, and other fragile shells with a solution of 50% water and 50% Elmer’s glue. Mix and apply solution to one side with a paint brush, dry and then flip over and do the other side. Apply three coats.