How to Clean Abalone Shells for Jewelry

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Things You'll Need

  • Gloves

  • Face mask

  • Abalone shells

  • Abalone iron

  • Bowl of water

  • Mild soap

  • Old toothbrush

  • Clear varnish

  • Brush

Abalone shells can be found at just about any beach and make for a beautiful collectible. However, they are often filled with residue, dirt and grime that reduce the overall luster of the shell. But you can clean the abalone shells you find on the beach to a polished sheen for use in fine pieces of jewelry. The following steps will help your abalone shells sparkle.


Step 1

Put on your face mask and gloves. Keep them on throughout the entirety of the cleaning process.

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Step 2

Clean the inside of the shell. If there is meat still inside, use an abalone iron to pry it loose from the shell. An abalone iron is a handled piece of metal that's rounded on one end and primarily used to free abalone from shells and rocks for harvesting. Place the iron next to the abalone and lodge it between the shell and the creature, wiggling it around the perimeter of the shell until the gastropod releases.

Step 3

Rinse the inside of the abalone shell in cold water scrub it with a toothbrush to remove meat particles. Once cleaned and dried, rub the surface with your finger. Any grime or cloudiness should be removed.

Step 4

Cleaning the outside of the shell is a bit more complicated. Fill a bowl with water and a mild soap and dip the toothbrush in the water before scrubbing the shell's exterior surface. This should get some of the built up dirt and residue off.


Step 5

Use the abalone iron to break off barnacles and larger growths. Then, give the shell another scrubbing with the toothbrush for good measure.

Step 6

If some exterior particulates remain, leave the shell under a running faucet for an hour or two. This should help clean away the debris.


Step 7

Once the shell is cleaned to your liking, coat the outside with a varnish like Varathane. Use your brush to paint on the varnish in a light coat. Let the varnish thoroughly dry before touching.


Choose an abalone shell that is relatively clean. It is better to leave those shells with meat still inside them on the beach and to opt for the already empty ones for your jewelry making. Be patient during the cleaning process. It may take several attempts before larger growths come off. In a pinch, clear nail polish can be used to seal the abalone shell. The result is glossy and provides the look of a high level polishing at less than half the price. To bring out the Mother of Pearl iridescence inside the shell, wipe it briefly with a soft cloth that has nail polish remover on it.


Always wear your gloves and mask when cleaning abalone shells. Don't use harsh chemicals when cleaning abalone shells. Some people recommended soaking the shell in bleach or using an acid cleaner, but both of these fade the color of the shell and weaken the material. Don't leave your abalone shells out in the sun. Doing so will cause the colors to fade. Be careful when chipping barnacles and exterior growths from the shells. The dust emitted can be hazardous to your health. Use varnish in well ventilated areas only.


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