How to Clean and Polish a Conch Shell

Caribbean Sea

While in Jamaica, we did a lot of snorkeling. We even picked up a few conch shells from the sea floor to Conch 2bring back. The key is making sure they’re empty. A conch is basically a sea snail – a slimy creature that lives up in the shell. You don’t want to pick one up that’s inhabited or you’ll have a stinky mess on your hands. A lot of people dive for the shells, cut out the conch, then drop them back into the sea. Those are great to take… as long as a crabs haven’t already laid claim. You’ll know they’re conch-less when you see a small hole or slit near the top. When people cut conchs, they use a hammer or another tool, before sliding in the edge of a knife to release the mollusk. You’ll want to make sure to rinse the shell and let it dry before you travel.


Conch 3First, find a bucket and some bleach. Fill the bucket with enough water to cover the top of the shells. Mix in a cup or two of bleach (using more water than bleach). Add the shells carefully so you don’t splash the bleach mixture. Place the bucket in a safe place, away from pets/children. I put mine in a bathtub and flipped on the fan. Let the shells soak for 24-48 hours. This will help remove the algae/crud attached to the shell and the slimy coating. After about a day, I took the shells out one at a time and scrubbed them with a bristled brush that I bought for $2.99… you may already have something around the house that will work. Using a flat-head screwdriver, I carefully chipped away at the tiny white circles/crusty stuff left behind. I then placed them back in the bucket to soak for a few more hours. When you’re ready, empty the bucket and rinse the shells with fresh water. Once they’re clean, let them dry. I placed mine out in the sun for a few hours – you don’t want to leave them out too long or they’ll start losing color. Have you ever seen all white dried out shells? That’s from the sun. After a bit outside, I let them sit on the counter.

Conch 4  Conch 5


Now that your conch is clean and dry, you’ll want to rub some oil back into the shell to bring out the color. The spine will also look dry until you polish. I’ve heard mineral oil and baby oil both work. Since I had neither around the house, I picked up a tiny bottle of J&J baby oil at the grocery store for $1.69. You’ll only need a little. Lay a paper towel underneath while you pour a few drops of oil on each shell. Use a small wash cloth to rub it in. A little goes a long way… you want to cover the shell just enough to make it shine… while also lightly spreading the oil inside the conch opening. I let mine sit on the counter for a while before rubbing them down with the dry cloth.

Conch 7 Conch 1 Conch 6

Have any tips on polishing up conch shells? I’d love to hear them! Share in comments!

You may also like…

Jamaica: Snorkeling Negril Coral Reef

St. Maarten: Livin’ it up on the Lambada

Pinel Island: Taking the Ferry to Snorkel

Tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to How to Clean and Polish a Conch Shell

  1. fred says:

    Your tips are nice and informative for cleaning shells but you really ought to know that you are collecting juvenile shells which will grow to 5x larger. These are actually illegal in most places in the carribbean but rarely enforced as you experienced. They are easily depleted and thats why they should not be taken so small. In Florida you would be fined heavily. google Strombus gigas to see mature ones.

    • TIG says:

      Hi Fred ~ I was not in Florida, I was in Jamaica where it’s legal. Regardless, empty conch shells are not illegal to take so long as you do not remove/hurt the conch before taking. As mentioned in my article, I took empty ones!

  2. Adriana says:

    I just came back from punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and I bought a conch shell from the natives there in the island and it smelled so bad. I brought it home but how do I know if the animal is still in there or not. I’m sure it’s dead but I have it soaking in bleach/water.

    • TIG says:

      Hi Adriana! I know empty shells can smell from algae or grime after they’re taken from the sea, but once they’re clean you should be good. Usually you’ll find a slit or hole in a conch shell if the snail has been removed. Does yours have one? If not, it’s possible the creature inside left on its own. Let me know what happens!

  3. Allyn says:

    My shells are all white. Can I do anything to get the color back?

    • TIG says:

      Are they bleached from the sun? I’m not 100% sure, but I have read muriatic acid can restore color to some shells, in some cases. I’ve never used it, but it may be worth researching!

  4. Lynnie says:

    While scouting the waters down in The Keys, I found an empty Conch shell. I brought it home and aside for it being packed with sand, no dead critter inside….thank goodness!

    There is a thick, hard white sandy crust covering this shell. I’ve soaked it for over 24 hours in bleach but it has done little to remove the coating on this shell. I can see the peachy pink hue of the shell in the opening.

    I am certain the crust is not due to it being an old shell since we saw many live conch that day and they all had this crust. Many times we thought they were lumps of coral or rocks until they moved.

    Is this a specific type of conch or is there something else I can try?

    • TIG says:

      From that area, it’s probably a Queen conch. They usually have thicker shells. It sounds like you may need to do some scrubbing! You can use a flathead screw driver to chip away at some of the gunk/barnacles. I would also read up on muriatic acid for restoring color. I’ve never used it, but I know it works in some cases. Good luck!

  5. Shelly says:

    I found a conch shell in Turks and Caicos that had the meat cut out already by the excursion guides. It still stunk pretty bad so I put it in the dishwasher, once with the dishwasher soap and then a second time with just the hot water. The smell is gone and I plan on scrubbing it down once we get back to the states.

  6. Shell Collector says:

    Thanks so much for the informative article! I also enjoy snorkeling and like to collect especially the queen conks which are very beautiful to me. Obviously humans have been collecting these shelves for thousands of years and there are still thousands of shells in the sea. While I agree in the balance of using and not abusing our “natural resources “the earth and all that is in it was made for us to enjoy not too worship Lol! I recently completed a study on the queen conch and it’s interesting that when they lay their eggs they lay a half a million eggs about 60 feet long!!!

  7. Barb Malloy says:

    I want to bleach my conch but dont know if it will ruin the beauty of the inside. Can u tell me. Thank you

    • TIG says:

      Hi Barb! As long as you don’t use too much bleach and keep an eye on it, the conch should be fine. The inside of my shells remained pink and still look glossy after rubbing them with the baby oil. If at any point you become worried, just take them out of the bleach/water mixture and rinse! Good luck!

  8. Mike says:

    Hello, just wondering, is it better to put the shell in warm water or cold? Or does it not matter either way? Thanks.

  9. Cindy says:

    we just returned from Jamaica with a few conch shells. We were told by locals to scrub them into wet sand. We did, in the sun & surf, at the waters edge, and it did a WONDERFUL job of cleaning the outer surface! They also said to use a small wire bristle brush to take off any stubborn areas. We did not need to do that as the sand worked wonders.

  10. Robin says:

    Has anyone ever used any kind of finishing spray to preserve them? The edges are chipping on the ones I got last week.

    • TIG says:

      Hi Robin! I haven’t used a spray for conch, but I have used Krylon finishing spray on other projects. Might be worth a try! It comes in matte and gloss and you can print a 40% off online coupon for Michaels and Hobby Lobby. Good luck!

  11. Cole yock says:

    I found a conch a wildwood on an island 🐚.Its a medium one but I love it😍. AND YOUR WEB.

  12. Sharon says:

    Does anyone know how to cut a Conch Shell? My husband and I just returned from a cruise to Nassau and bought two BEAUTIFUL Angels made from Conch Shells. I would LOVE to learn how to make them but haven’t found any info on how to cut them! Thank you for your help!

  13. Melinda says:

    What can I use to fill in the slit ? My grandson is wanting to make a horn. He purchased his in Nassau

  14. Brenda says:

    we just returned from the Virgin Islands where we found by diving for our shells, thanks for all the information. Ours are conchless and not small… actually huge!! I can’t wait to bleach them.

  15. I have been attempting to clean two shells for several weeks. I have them soaking in a bleach, water, Dawn (blue). Every few days I take one out to work on it. I have used toothbrushes, scrubbrushes and dental tools. Each produced minimal results. The item that did the most to get the calcium deposits off the shells was, a Dremel, on low speed. I have used several of the tips and sanding pads. I still have a long way to go. Caution: when using the Dremel, use a mask and eye protection. I will try Lime Away, next.

  16. Peter says:

    My conch shell is large & beautiful. I cleansed it in bleach as suggested. It is clean but has a brown varnish or shellac type surface that peals in very tiny chips. How do I get this “skin”off?

    • TIG says:

      You’re supposed to be able to peel the “skin” off when wet, though my shells are still slightly fragile (may have a little skin) at the opening. I was able to scrub most of the gunk off, hope you can too – best of luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *