How To Clean Crab Shells For Crafts (5 Easy Methods)

My kids had the best time collecting shells from the beach. But before I could use those shells to make crafts with my kids, I knew I had to clean them. 

It turns out that the seashells that crabs and mollusks leave behind on the beach have an external layer called periostracum. The leathery coating has several microbes that can make you sick.

But luckily, there are several effective ways to clean them. I’ve outlined how to clean crab shells for crafts in this post.

5 Ways To Clean Crab Shells for Crafts

You can clean crab shells with bleach, using toothpaste, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or muriatic acid. But before you use any of those substances to clean the shells, soak them in clean water for a week. Change the water every day since this will dissolve the dirt on the shells.

While I don’t do this, you can boil the crab shells at the end of the week to ensure any remaining dirt and residue animal tissue is removed.

How to Clean Crab Shells with Bleach

A bottle of bleach

First, make a 50-50 water-bleach solution and put the shells in it. After one hour, take one shell out of the mixture, and clean it in hot soapy water using a toothbrush. If it cleans off well, remove all the shells from the mixture and wash. Else put the shell back into the mixture and let all of them soak for 30 more minutes. Then wash and dry using a paper towel. 

Don’t soak shells for too long in the mixture, as bleach can discolor shells and leave them smelling like bleach. 

Also Read:  How To Dry Corn Husks For Crafts (Plus 3 Craft Ideas!)
A crab shell that has been bleached for too long

It’s also important to note that bleach is harmful to the environment and your health. While many DIYers don’t hesitate to use this method, you could consider using any other method listed in this post. 

How to Clean Crab Shells with Toothpaste

A squirted out bottle of toothpaste

Clean crab shells using toothpaste by applying a layer of it on the shell. Let it sit on the shell for at least five hours, and scrub it away with a toothbrush under warm water. Then, wash shells again under running water. 

You can also leave the toothpaste on the shell overnight. The toothpaste will harden. Use a toothbrush to work the toothpaste off the shell while running it under warm water. The dirt and germs will come off with it. A smooth and flawless shell surface means it’s nicely cleaned. 

How to Clean Crab Shells with Vinegar

A bottle of Vinegar and brush to be used as a cleaning solution

Fill a little bowl with a small amount of vinegar, then dip a toothbrush in it. Scrub the crab shells with the toothbrush for a few minutes. To clean the vinegar off, wash the shell with water and soap. 

Don’t soak shells in vinegar because shells are made from calcium carbonate. The shells will get fully dissolved in the vinegar

How to Clean Crab Shells with Hydrogen Peroxide

A bottle of hydrogen peroxide that can be used for cleaning shells

Put the crab shells in a bowl, and cover them fully with hydrogen peroxide. Let the shells sit in the liquid for at least five hours or preferably overnight. Then, dry the shells with a paper towel, let them sit under the sun for a few hours, and rinse them under running water. 

How to Clean Crab Shells with Muriatic Acid

Take two jars: fill one with 3/4 water with 1/4 Muriatic Acid (also known as Hydrogen Chloride) and the second with plain tap water. Put on some gloves, and dip the shells in the first jar for 3-4 seconds. Immediately dip the shell in the second jar, then dry it off with a paper towel. 

Make sure you wear gloves and eye protection and avoid splashing muriatic acid on yourself. It will burn your skin and hurt. 

Also Read:  How To Dry Cranberries For Crafts - I Test 4 Methods

You can find muriatic acid at local hardware stores. Remember to add baking soda and plenty of water to the acid solution to neutralize it before flushing it away. The solution will fizz as you add baking soda, but you must keep adding more until the fizzing stops.

Execute this cleaning method in a ventilated area, away from pets and kids. I have used this cleaning method once as I’m not comfortable working with strong acids.

How to Remove Barnacles from Crab Shells

A crab shell with overgrown barnacles

Dental tools, wired brushes, and soft toothbrushes are your best tools to get barnacles off crab shells. They’re easier to get rid of if the crab shells have been bleached. If the barnacles seem like too much work to remove, using muriatic acid should get rid of them like magic. 

Can You Preserve Crab Shells?

Preserving and restoring the shine of crab shells is possible by rubbing mineral oil on its surface. Apply the oil on the surface of cleaned crab shells, wearing gloves. If you don’t have mineral oil, you can use WD-40 to achieve the same effect.

Craft Ideas with Crab Shells

Painted crab shells are by far the most popular crab shell craft on the internet. However, I discovered that making adorable crab shell fridge magnets is quite simple.

How to Make Fridge Magnets with Crab Shells

After cleaning the shell, paint it red with acrylic paint. This is the body of the crab fish magnet. Next, cut a pipe cleaner into eight small pieces, and cut another one in half. Tuck the small pieces under the shell and hot glue them to make the legs of the crab. In the same way, stick the two longer pieces of pipe cleaner to make the crab’s claws.

Cut a piece of card paper into the shape of your magnet and stick it to the underside of the shell. You can then stick the magnet to the card. Finally, add googly eyes to the shell to complete the cute crab fridge magnet. 

How to Make Crab Shell Christmas Decorations

Paint a cute face of Santa on the crab shell with acrylic paint after cleaning it. Then, use white and red felt to craft his hat and use a piece of brushed felt or a cotton ball as the pom-pom at the end of the hat. Stick the hat above Santa’s face. Next, stick a ribbon to the back of the shell and tie a knot to make a loop. 

Also Read:  4 Crafts You Can Do With One Hand (Try It Yourself!)

You can use this decoration on the tree or anywhere else in the house.

How To Clean Crab Shells For Crafts

Crab shells make a great material to be used in crafts. They add a nautical element to an otherwise boring selection of paper mache and paperclips. They're sure to be a winner with the kids who will have fun collecting them and the cleaning process to enjoy the finished shells in their crafting.
Prep Time15 mins
Waiting Tie1 hr
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Keyword: Crafts
Cost: $10


  • Bowl
  • Toothbrush


  • 1 bottle Household Bleach
  • 1 Tap Water
  • 1 bottle Dish Soap
  • 1 roll Paper Towels


  • Pour bleach and water into a 50/50 solution into a bowl
    1 bottle Household Bleach, 1 Tap Water
  • Place the crab shell(s) into the solutiion and let them soak for 1 hour
    1 bottle Household Bleach, 1 Tap Water
  • Take out one shell to clean with dish soap and a toothbrush
    1 bottle Dish Soap, 1 Tap Water
  • If the dirt washes off the shell nicely, then remove all the shells and wash them too (otherwise, put the first one back and add 30 more minutes for soak)
    1 bottle Dish Soap, 1 Tap Water
  • After the wash, dry the shells with paper towels
    1 roll Paper Towels


Be careful with this method not to over-bleach the crab shells. Otherwise, they can end up becoming discolored and too pale, and they’ll stink of the bleach. Plus bleach is pretty bad for the environment, so use sparingly.
An environment-friendly alternative to this method is to just dip a toothbrush into white vinegar and scrub the shells. Don’t soak them in white vinegar, though, because it will simply dissolve the shells.