If you’re ever been lucky enough to stumble upon a perfect sand dollar on the beach, you know how exciting it is! They’re so fragile, and so beautiful… but they can carry this awful scent: the scent of decaying marine life. Today, I am going to share the steps I do when I clean and preserve sand dollars!
How To Clean and Preserve Sand Dollars
Knowing What to Collect
First, before you can clean and preserve sand dollars, you need to know a little bit about sand dollars — so you can avoid collecting ones that are still living!
When a sand dollar dies, it leaves behind the shell we find on the beach, called a test. When these tests wash ashore, they are naturally bleached by the sun.
You can find them in the water, too. On Marco Island, David and I find them on the sand bars frequently. Most are dead, but we do find live ones from time-to-time. On some beaches, it is illegal to collect living sand dollars, so knowing the difference is huge.
If it is is living sand dollar, it will be purplish. If it’s white, you’re safe! When we find them in the water, they can be darkish. You’ll want to carefully flip it over, and examine the underside. If a sand dollar is living, you will see hundreds of cilia (which are basically small hairs that help the sand dollar move and bury itself in the sand). If you see tiny spines moving, the animal is still alive, so a good way to check is to hold the sand dollar in your hand and feel the spines moving, gently place it back in the water. These little hairs are what gives the sand dollar its purplish/dark color.
You can also check out this blog post, where I share my favorite spots to search for sand dollars!
How To Clean Your Sand Dollars
Once you get these beauties home, it won’t take long for you to notice the smell. They don’t “stink” per-say, but there is an odor. (Again, if you were lucky enough to find some already bleached by the sun, so they are nice and white, you can skip this step!)
What you’ll need:
I soak my sand dollars overnight in fresh water. Fresh water will actually help to harden the shell, as well as pull out some of the sand and gunk inside the test. The next morning, I set them on a tray in the sun to dry. You will want them FULLY DRY for the next step!
I mix a 1:1 solution of bleach and water. I soak each sand dollar one at a time for 2 minutes. Then, I gently scrub with a toothbrush and rinse under the sink. Remember to be gentle – they are fragile!
If you can’t get everything off, soak it in the bleach mixture again for a minute, and repeat until you’re happy with them! Make sure to rinse them well, otherwise, they can get a yellowish tint.
Again, let them dry in the sun – I usually let them go all day and overnight. You will need them completely dry for the next step.
You can watch this short video, to see the steps in action:
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How to Preserve Your Sand Dollars
Once your sand dollars are cleaned to your liking – or if you found some great naturally-bleached sand dollars, you can jump into preserving your sand dollars!
I make a solution that is 1:1 glue and water. I use Elmers School Glue. You want to make sure the mixture to be runny, and more like water than glue. Stir until there are no glue clumps, and add a little more water if needed. Runnier is better than thicker here!
Using a paint brush (NOT a sponge brush), carefully AND THINLY cover one side of the sand dollar with the glue mixture. I start with the bottom, and lay it top-down to dry. Repeat with all the sand dollars you are preserving. I cover the glue mixture with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter.
You want to make sure you aren’t COATING the sand dollar, but applying a thin layer.
Pro tip: I leave mine to dry on a cooling rack meant for baking. It’s perfect!
Once they have dried (about 30 mins), I re-stir the glue mixture (it will settle a bit), and repeat the above steps for the other side of the sand dollar. This time, I also try to get around the edges too. I let them dry an hour or so, until they are no longer shiny/wet to the touch.
This helps to reinforce the fragile tests of the sand dollars, which are actually made more fragile through bleaching. Once you have cleaned and preserved your sand dollars, they are ready for display or crafts!
I hope you enjoyed learning a little about sand dollars as well as how to clean and preserve sand dollars!