One of my favorite things to do while at the beach is look for seashells and driftwood. The subtle colors and intricate shapes always fascinate me. I tell people that my face never tans at the beach because I am always looking down.

Over the years, I have made several projects using shells that we collect while visiting the ocean.

Using shadowboxes, I glued shells and sand dollars that my husband and I found in Kiawah Island on our honeymoon and 22 years later, they’ve lived in 8 homes and they’re still hanging around. (See what I did there?)

When we first moved into our current home, I made this mirror frame for our dining room. All of these shells were collected by our family except for the starfish. We purchased those at a little beach shop.

Many years ago, I filled a printer’s tray (which was my grandfather’s) with collected shells. I think I enjoyed sorting them by color and type as much as anything. I glued them into place so that I could use a vacuum attachment to keep the dust in check.

I also filled a shadowbox frame with shells for our boys’ bathroom.

My latest project is a resin collage using shells and reclaimed wood. I will be teaching this technique in conjunction with a coastal cooking class with Mise en Place in Bowling Green and thought it might be good to show you how I prepare my shells for projects.

You don’t need to only collect intact shells, many of my projects use partial seashells. Basically, if I like the color and texture, I know I’ll like it in a project.

When I get home from or trip, or in our condo/hotel if convenient, I always give my shells a good rinse with tap water. Make sure there are no live animals in your shells and use a little dishwashing liquid if handy. An old toothbrush helps get any dried-on dirt or sand off of your shells.

When I get home, I soak my shells in white vinegar for about 1-2 minutes. You want to be careful not to soak them too long because shells contain calcium carbonate and will eventually break down and dissolve when they react with the acid in the vinegar. 

The vinegar will start to bubble- I usually let it bubble for just a minute.

Then I rinse them very well in clean tap water and lay them out to dry. The vinegar should have removed any odor and hopefully any remaining bacteria.

Your shells should be ready for your next project. If you are leaving them out, on their own, you could always rub a little coconut oil on them to restore some shine. I kind of like the sunbleached look they get after they are totally dry. If you are using them with resin, just let them dry thoroughly.

Let me know if you’ve made any shell projects by tagging Elizabeth Rhodes Studio in your post on Facebook or Instagram. I can’t wait to see what you make!

6 thoughts on “Cleaning Seashells

  • TracyJune 29, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Love this post❤️….. ?

    • Elizabeth RhodesJuly 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Thank you, sister! You guys are my best seashell buddies!

  • MimiJune 29, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Lots of good information that you have never told me before. I think I have a box of shells in the basement that have never been treated. I guess I better get busy☺️

  • Richard McClincyFebruary 5, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Vinegar should never be used because it is acidic and will dull shiny shell surfaces. Always use dilute chlorine bleach (~ 3/1) – a much better disinfectant. Vegetable oils will eventually go rancid. Instead, always use mineral oil.

    • Elizabeth RhodesFebruary 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      This type of cleaning, with vinegar, is to be use in resin projects. The resin will make the shells shiny, so dulling the surface is not an issue. And you should never, ever use any kind of oil when you plan to pour resin over your shells as the oil will repel the resin.


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