How to Clean and Polish a Conch Shell

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While in Jamaica, we did a lot of snorkeling. We even picked up a few conch shells from the sea floor to conchbring 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.

HOW TO CLEAN CONCH SHELLS

conchFirst, 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.

brush   conch 1

HOW TO POLISH CONCH SHELLS

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 small amount. 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 oil 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 again with the dry cloth.

conch 2   conch 3   conch 4

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

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4 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!

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