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by Stacy

FAQ How do I get the stink out of a shell?

October 16, 2012 in FAQ

CrabbyMum asked:

Get the odor out of shells? I know to boil newly purchased shells, but I want to reuse some of the shells that are smelly from a crab dying in it. So far, we’ve lost one of the Littles (PP = Faith) and I think another is not going to make it. I have her in iso and will wait til we are sure before dealing with it’s shell tho. But I tried soaking the ones that Violet and Faith were in because the odor was so strong in them yet and then boiled them. I remember reading how Vinegar can damage them so I didn’t use anything but declorinated water. Didn’t dare try soap or dishwashing liquid either. But once the water got to boiling the odor nearly drove us all out of the house. :sick: What should I have done? Is there a safe way to remove the odor?
I really want to get these shells clean because they are both usable shells. Violet’s was large and not particularly pretty on the outside, but the inside is in good condition except for the odor. Faith’s is painted and boiling removed most of the paint and the clear shellac or what ever the polish was on it. The size of that one is perfect for the other Little one and since I don’t have much in the way of tiny shells (waiting for a new order to get here), I really need it before she comes up from destressing. At least I HOPE that is why she is still in hiding…

are you boiling with SALT water?

I just had a crazy thought that might safely work….ocean water will probably eat away the shine of the shell if there is any. But put some ocean water within the shell and leave it sit for a couple of hours. Shake out the ocean water, and here is the crazy part…put it in a baggy with a twisty tie on it and place it in the freezer overnight. Not sure if you have ever heard of it or tried it, (and it works too….if one has a smelly pair of tenny shoes, (or any shoes) and put them in a garbage bag and put them in the freezer for 24 hours it kills the stench of the shoes. Honest…it works with shoes.

Hmmm… Hadn’t thought of using salt in the water. Just declorinated and boiled about 5 minutes. I was tempted to try a weak bleach solution but was afraid of what that might do to the shell and didn’t want to risk not being able to get it all out of the shell. I would think that a crab with a bleached bottom would be crabby indeed. :blush:
I like the baking soda and/or lemon idea as they are natural and are natural deodorizers. Faith’s shell is a shiny spotted one (looks to be a Babylon Spirata type) so I’d like to preserve it if possible. Violet’s shell is a nonpolished Pica and the outside is sort of crusted with a stone like material that I was afraid would come off when it was cleaned – but it didn’t.
Marie. Oh golly – I remember doing that with tennies when I was a girl. It really did kill alot of odors – we soaked them in baking soda water, froze them in the snowbanks in winter and then left them hanging on a line for a day or two. I’ll give it a try with the soda and the freezer.

Ok – I wonder… How about soaking in Hydrogen Peroxide? Just in case the odor is still there because there is something still stuck inside the shell that I can’t get at. Wouldn’t that bubble it out?

I was a bit leery to post this link last night, but if you think something maybe stuck in the shell, (part of Violet or another previous critter) this maybe a route to try. But I would be very hesitant about any chemicals within the hermies shell. (one never knows if the shell will absorb them or not)

From: http://www.seashells.org/cleaning/liveseashells.htm

How to clean live seashells
It might be a good idea to check with local authorities where you will be gathering the sea shells as some areas prohibit the practice of collecting live specimens. If you are lucky enough to gather some live sea shells there are a few methods of cleaning that can be followed. Before starting to clean your live seashells you might also want to read through cleaning dead seashells.

1- Burying-This one is by far the easiest to do. Find an area in your yard where you don’t mind digging a hole and bury the seashells about 18 “( enough so animals will not dig them up). Let them remain buried until insects, larvae, worms, and bacteria remove all the tissue (a least a couple months). The longer the better. Go to step 5

2- Freezing- If number 1 is not an option then this method will work also. Place the seashells in a water tight bag and cover with water then place them in the freezer(just like you would fresh fish). When ready to clean allow the seashells to thaw at room temperature. After they are completely defrosted you should be able to grab hold of the animal inside and gently pull it out. Go to step 5

3- Boiling-Take a pot of water large enough to hold the seashells you are cleaning. Bring the water to a boil and let boil a few minutes(longer for larger or a great number of seashells). Using tongs and being careful not to burn yourself remove 1 shell and grasp with gloves or towel, so you don’t burn yourself, and gently pull out the animal tissue inside. Go to step 5

4-Microwave- This is an easy method if you don’t mind the smell in your microwave (my wife is not to fond of this method). The time you cook your seashells can really vary by microwave so really just try it until you figure out how long to put them in for and then treat them just like you would in step 3. Go to step 5

5-Bleaching-After no tissue remains soak the seashells in a 50-50 solution of bleach and water. There is no set time to let them soak because it various by the type of seashells and quantity of seashells being cleaned. Just make sure to remove them after the periostracum is gone. The periostracum is the flaky leathery covering that covers most live seashells.

6- Fresh water-Remove from bleach and rinse thoroughly with fresh water. If preferred you can rub the seashells with baby oil to give them a luster.

Notes of interest

1- If tissue should break off inside the seashells you are cleaning there are two ways to proceed. Shake the seashell vigorously trying to remove the extra tissue or sit it outside where flies, bugs and ants will crawl inside the seashells and remove any remaining tissue.

2-Operculums- This is the trap door of the shell that helps protect it from intruders. Many serious collectors like to keep this part of the shell to show that it was a live taken seashell


3- Water picks- Sometimes on smaller seashells another method to remove the tissue is to squirt them with a water pick and the high pressure will push the tissue out. This will only work with smaller seashells.

4- Dental picks- A lot of times dental picks and other instruments are used to help in removing barnacles and other growth on seashells. These can be purchased at many seashell stores. Try checking www.seashells.com .


does the smell really need to be gotten rid of though? I mean, for us, yeah, of course it’s WAY more pleasant to have a clean, non smelling shell for our crab to inhabit, but for the crabs, they probably don’t care. I guess that there’s a smell there for a reason – i wonder if there is some little decomposing bits of the previous crab still left. If thats the case, they probably do need to be cleaned. I know i’ve cleaned (just boiled) some shells, other’s I’ve just placed back in the crabitat – the crabs don’t seem to care too much.

Normally if there is a stench to the shell that cannot boil away when sterilizing it there is ‘something’ down within it. So it is best to try to get the odor to go away. As you said though, it probably doesn’t bother the hermies as far as the smell goes…but if there is something down within the shell it could harm their soft abdomen. I have had this happen a couple of times with new shells I have bought online. They appeared fine, no odor, but when I boiled them prior to offering them to the hermies oh my goodness the stink! :sick: After a few boils, an ocean water soak and another boil, not sure what it was but upon shaking the shell small bits of black substance came out of them. On one shell I had to do the ocean water soak a couple times and boil again after each soak before the stink went away and each time something black came out of the shell. :sick:
P.S. Sorry to say to, but this ‘might’ of been one of Violets complications too?

i guess that’s probably a pretty good rule to follow – if it smells, there’s something causing the smell and it’s best to get it out

Perhaps I’m just stupid and didn’t know this, but, I had a shell that needed cleaning. It had some funky green spots inside that I’m thinking had something to do with when my hermit crab, Daes, who was occupying the shell died. I didn’t want to use bleach on the shell to get those spots out and I wasn’t sure boiling water would be helpful. I guess I should’ve tried vinegar first, but nope. I decided I’d try lemon juice. I left it sitting overnight and this morning I dumped out the juice. The shell it self was crusty (strange) and that could’ve been scrubbed off. BUT …the lemon juice ate a hole through the shell.
So, the conclusion? Do not soak your shells in lemon juice to clean them. At least overnight.
And the worse part? It didn’t even get rid of the green spots!
So I thought I’d just post this and save everyone a shell.

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by Stacy

Checklist for Regular Care and Maintenance of Your Hermit Crabs and the Crabitat

September 27, 2012 in Caresheets

Originally written by Vanessa Pike-Russell

After your crabitat is set up you will have to maintain it and your crabs. Below you will find a list of what tasks should be done daily, weekly and monthly.


o Refill fresh water dish and the ocean water pond
o Empty and clean the food dish (no chemicals)
o Offer a different food each day
o Rinse sponge in water free of chlorine
o Check the humidity level is within range (50-60% or relative humidity 70-80%)
o Check the temperature of air and substrate (21-27oC or 70-80oF) and that it is stable


o Clean the bowls and dishes (without chemicals)
o Pick through the substrate for food and feces
o Give your sea sponges a good cleaning , squeeze to get any stagnant water out and leave to dry (for long life)
o Sterilize (boiling) seashells and re-offer them to crabs


o Where needed, remove all items from tank (substrate, wood, toys, dishes etc) and clean by boiling or baking
o Wipe down walls of tank with vinegar and water, or ocean water mixture. (Avoid cleaning chemicals eg. bleach)

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by Stacy

Preparing to purchase Hermit Crabs?

September 25, 2012 in FAQ

Compilation of information by Vanessa Pike-Russell and Stacy Griffith

It is important that the hermit crabs are in good health when you buy them,as it is often very difficult to undo past damage, especially poor hygiene which leads to bacteria, fungus. Try to purchase hermit crabs from a pet store which has a range of hermit crab accessories, or at least from a pet shop that will get items in for you on request. If the store keeps their hermit crabs in wood shavings or other unsuitable substrate, then I would either try and recommend a more suitable one (sand, coral sand, playsand, etc) or find another pet store which will provide you with healthy hermit crabs that start off on the right foot. Studies have shown that poor conditions and bad hygiene have led to bacteria contamination, which can cause limbs to drop off, mould and fungus, leaving them stressed and in many cases, they will not make it through a moult.

Please read the PPS article how to help your new hermit crab to adjust to his environment when you get him home.

Preparing your crabarium and items for your hermit crabs is a very important part of hermit crab care. It is important that any item you introduce to your crabarium can not harm your hermit crab. Chemical residue could be fatal to these gentle creatures so it is recommended that you rinse, wash or boil the following items:

How do I prepare items for my tank?

The Crabarium/Crabitat/Tank

If the tank is to heavy to lift it out, I usually spoon the sand/gravel into a plastic bag -lined bin and then wipe out the tank with a vinegar and water solution and then a cloth scented with pure vanilla essence. Just a drop is all you need to freshen up the tank, and since Vanilla is known as a natural antibacterial agent it helps fight those germs! I then wipe out the tank with paper towels and allow to dry.

Once the tank is dry I gently pour the alternate substrate I prepared earlier since I have two batches. That way you can clean your tank, put the clean substrate in and you have time in the next month to get the other sand clean and dry. It is a little bit like the two sea sponge method, where you take the smelly sponge out and replace with a clean and dry sponge and go out and see to the smelly one. I prefer to sun dry my sponges as they not only last longer but absorb more water when you most need it. It also cuts down on bacteria since the sun’s rays partially sanitise them. Another method to sterilize the sea sponge is to rinse it and boil it in dechlorinated water for 5 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and let it dry.


Cleaning Method One – House With Yard

  • Take the tank outside on the grass. Tip the substrate into a clean container used specifically for this task(kitty litter tray, paint tray or bucket).
  • Pour a small amount of vinegar into the bottom of the empty tank and fill the tank using the hose, aiming at dislodging any substrate and scrubbing with a scourer as you do.
  • Once the tank is clean, start rinsing your substrate– stirring repeatedly, until the water runs clear. Dry in the sun, making sure that you keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t blow away. If there is no sun, then follow the directions below for cleaning the substrate inside the home.

Cleaning Method Two – Cleaning Inside Home

  • Scoop out the substrate into a clean container used specifically for this task(kitty litter tray, paint tray or bucket).
  • Wipe out the tank well and then wipe the sides and base down with a clean rag using a very weak vinegar (or salt) and water solution. Rinse your rag often and wipe out with paper towels until dry.
  • Once the tank is clean, start rinsing your substrate, stirring repeatedly, until the water runs clear. Make sure none goes within the sink or bathtub. It will clog the drain and then you will have a plumbing bill as well.

If you cannot dry your substrate in the sun, pour the sand onto a baking tray. Heat oven to 125oC (250* F)and bake for 30 minutes. Check that the sand/pebbles is dry and if needed, continue to bake until completely dry or your substrate (especially sand) will develop a musty, stale smell. One may also use an oval roaster for this task to help prevent sand spillage within the oven. Fill the roaster about 1/2 full and stir every 30 minutes. This will take longer than the cookie sheet method, so make sure to stir the sand at least every half hour to prevent it from scotching. When the sand is almost dry, you may wish to start stirring it every 15 minutes.

If you cannot use an oven, place the empty tank over the under tank heater and add a thin layer of substrate, stirring frequently and drying in batches. There may be condensation on the side walls of the tank, so make sure to wipe it down with a clean rag/paper towels before returning tank items and your hermit crabs once the substrate is dry and cooled. Make sure for how long this process takes, to have your hermit crabs in a controlled area during this long process.

Note: Make sure that the substrate doesn’t go down the sink!

It is very important that you do not use any chemicals which may cause stress to your hermit crabs. Bleach, Ammonia, Chlorine, Acetone and other powerful chemical-based cleaning agents should be avoided. If you use them in your buckets, basins or tubs make sure that you thoroughly rinse and wipe them out before using with hermit crabs.

Where possible, go for natural cleaning agents such as vinegar and water for cleaning the tank; vinegar and salt for deep cleaning; baking soda on a damp sponge for wiping out tubs and containers before rinsing; salt water for cleaning tank items such as coral, cuttlebone; vanilla essence diluted on a clean rag for a clean scent.

Natural Sea Sponges

My method is to rinse in dechlorinated water and squeeze dry. Then soak in dechlorinated and squeeze dry a second time before lowering the sponge into the water dish. Carefully cover with dechlorinated water for drinking.

As mentioned above, you can use a ‘two sea sponge method’ first suggested by Crablover Don, where you take the smelly sponge out and replace with a clean and dry sea sponge and go out and tend to the smelly one. Some crabbers microwave their sponges but one must make sure the sponge is dry or a sponge the size of a walnut will shrink to the size of a pea. I prefer to sun dry my sponges as they not only last longer but absorb more water when you most need it. It also cuts down on bacteria since the sun’s rays partially sanitise them and they don’t fall apart. Another method as mentioned above is to boil them in dechlorinated water.


Another rinse, boil and dry method. Sometimes when you buy seashells there is a gunk inside from the mollusk that had inhabited it, other times there is just dust or bits of seashell. Even if there is no noticeable gunk inside it is always best to sterilize the shells before offering them, and perhaps leaving a small amount of water in the shell if placed ‘hole upright’. I always start off by tapping the shell against the driftwood after making sure there isn’t a hermie inside. (it is always best to do an antenna count befor boiling any shells that have come out of the tank) Any substrate or bits that sometimes get caught inside the spirals are dumped into a ‘refuse’ bucket and then I rinse the shells and soak for a while, ready for boiling afterward. Sometimes if the shell is relatively clean I pour boiling water into a heatproof container (like Pyrex) filled with some shells, then repeat a few times after rinsing.

Climbing Toys

If made of wood I often rinse and either place in the microwave or sit in the sun to dry out. Some crabbers like to soak the wood before placing in a microwave in case the wood catches fire (yes it has happened before) and still others like to place the item within a plastic bag so that the steam actually helps to sterilize the wood and keep it moist, rather than evaporating off and leaving the wood too dry and thus catching fire on thin pieces.

If made of plastic, you want to be careful with the preparation method. Most plastic items are not boil friendly and definitely not bake friendly, so I often just pour some ‘recently boiled’ water onto them and let them soak for a bit

Water and Food Dishes

During the daily regime of removing the food and water dishes to replenish, I always empty excess or old food into a plastic bag-lined bucket/container and scrape with a piece of shell or plastic spoon, then wash them in water that is rather hot and with a drop of Tap Water Conditioner (or other dechlorinator) and set them to dry, either outside or on the windowsill. The ZooMed ReptiRock water dishes I use often develop a layer of ‘scum’ or residue from the bathing of the hermit crabs


Boil water and then pour it over the coral and let it sit for a while, especially if it has been bleached to whiteness and there is the faint smell of chlorine. After washing the coral, some have also baked it in the oven on a cookie sheet. Hermit Crabs often eat the coral and they definitely love to climb all over it. Try to be careful with the coral while cleaning as it is fairly fragile and usually expensive.

Plastic Item

Items such as Dwarf RunAbout exercise balls, feeding syringes, tank items and everything plastic that isn’t microwave proof should be treated with boiling water and left to sit, then rinsed and dried. If you have used it in the tank with damp sand or gravel or foodstuffs, it is often a good idea to add a little bit of vinegar and/or salt but make sure to rinse well before returning to the tank or using again. Whatever you do, don’t boil the exercise balls, or you will need to buy more.

Resin Items

Resin Items should be treated similarly as Plastic Items, especially if they are delicate. Because they are usually artificial rock or wood they are usually pretty easy to clean. You can use a scrubbing brush to get into small parts with any gunk, and remember to check for dust on a regular basis.