Shark Teeth & Fossil 102 – Cleaning and Preserving


In researching how to take care of the shark teeth fossils I have found, I have come across many different tips and procedures.  There are numerous fabulous places in Florida to hunt for sharks teeth and other fossils.  Venice Beach, Casey Key, Peace River, Fernandina Beach, White Springs along the banks of the Suwanee River, Vero Beach shoreline, and Ponte Verde Beach  are all great.  I have compiled a little help sheet here on how to clean your fossils.

Tools that you need will vary an are a personal choice, but definitely:  Water, Mild dish detergent, paper towels, several old used toothbrush, old sock, mineral oil or baby oil, apple cider vinegar, stanley tool picks, small grout brush for harder debris.

I never throw away old toothbrushes, they are good for many things including shark teeth cleaning!

Step 1:  My first little bit if advice I would like to pass on is to wear gloves when hunting.  You will often find some little treasures in cracks and crevices and in my experience, this is wear sharp pointy critters like lobster, crabs and even scorpion fish can lurk.  Also the gloves are great for rubbing off the black gook that may be on your fossil.  Shark teeth and shark fossils are easier to clean when they are wet so many times you can rub a respectful amount if the grime off right away.

Step 2:  The second the little nugget of advice I have it to keep your fossils wet until you are ready to clean them.  If you take them up from your dive, snorkel or beach adventure and dry them out, it will be more difficult to get them ready for cleaning as the dirt and debris will dry on them.  Most people I have come across, immediately put them in the sun to dry. Grab yourself one of those painter buckets you have lying around in the garage or storage and put about 2 gallons of water and about 2 cups of apple cider vinegar in.  Then if you find something just put it in there until you are done diving and get back to your hotel or home.  If I am away for a few days, I will do this first.

Step 3:    Soak  them in fresh water for a few hours to let the debris soak off.  Then use your picks to get off any debris that easily comes off.  be careful of any cracks or stress points as you uncover them.  You don’t want to break the tooth.

3.  When you get back from the dive and are ready to see what you have, do yourself a favor and be patient.  Let the sharks teeth or other fossils you found, soak  fresh water for a few hours to let the debris soak off.   Remove those fossils and then decide what sort of cleaning mix you need.

A.    For fresh shark teeth or those with hardly any debris, two drops of mild dish soap in a bowl of warm water will usually suffice.  Alternatively a 10% vinegar mix.  So 360 ml water to 40 ml vinegar.

B.  Vinegar is an acid and usually the debris like mollusks or other critters are calcium based.  The calcium reacts with the vinegars and dissolves.  For those with a slight amount of debris stuck use 25% apple cider vinegar to 75% fresh water. So say 300 ml water to 100 ml vinegar.  If only a small amount of the tooth is able to be seen through the calcium deposits use a 50/50 mix.  For sharks teeth completely encrusted use a 60-75% apple cider vinegar to remainder fresh water mix.

C.  For very dirty fossils or if you have a lot of sea muck on it, Lee’s cleaning with acetic acid (vinegar) diluted half and half with fresh tap water works has been recommended by some but I would just up the vinegar solution to 60-75% and not pay for a product.

I use a pyrex glass bowl for measuring.  If you split up your fossils in advance into different bowls, you can mix up each compilation and pour it in the bowls.
Set your shark tooth in the prepared mix. Let it sit for 5-15 minutes depending on amount of debris.  You may have to repeat this step a few times.

Step 4:  Fill a 3-5 gallon bucket with about a gallon of water and take your fossils one at a time and scrub with your toothbrush in the water to remove the deposits. I have three that I use, one soft bristle, one firm(newer).  For the really stubborn ones, use the grout brush.

Step 5:  Wipe your shark tooth off with a paper towel. If it look clean than set it aside for a second.  If it still has stubborn deposits on it, (go back to step 3) put it back in the appropriate solution for 15 more minutes.

Step 6:  Once you have your fossil clean, you need to soak it in plain fresh water.  The size of the fossil will determine how long you need to soak it.  For 5-10 pound on or large bone fossils you will need to soak them for 2 weeks and possibly as long as a month.  For bull sharks lemon sharks, horse, whale teeth soak them for 2-3 days at least and as long as a week.  You have to change your water at least once a day or when the water gets cloudy.

Step 7:  Now you need to dry your shark teeth.

Step 8 : Polish it up with an old sock.  Works great to give it a little shine.

Step 9:
Wipe the shark tooth down with baby oil to give it a shiny appearance if you desire or a mineral oil.

Step 10:  You can make a necklace out of your find or put it in a shadowbox.

I personally do not recommend using bleach, while others due.  You can make the fossil break down and crumble.

Some things to keep in mind:

It is trial and error.  That is part of the fun.  everyone has their own groove.  I am not generally very patient but thankfully have Rich to tell me to leave things alone.  I have heard of other fossil hunters using dremel tools, dental picks, buffing wheels, polishing rouge and even aluminum oxide abrasive.

Be cautious of damage, especially when using bleach and vinegar. The vinegar needs to be washed off well which is why we soak it.  Some treasure hunters also neutralize their fossils with baking soda afterwards.

The last little nugget of info for river divers.  Sometimes you have what we call river stain on the teeth or bones.  I have heard a diver say that cocktail sauce removes river stain overnight.  This has not been tried by me.

Feel free to shoot me some pics of your finds!

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About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
This entry was posted in Florida Diving, Home page, Sharks, Technical tips, info, or other useful thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Shark Teeth & Fossil 102 – Cleaning and Preserving

  1. Gary Nodler says:

    You might also recommend a yearly fresh water soaking of 24 hours or more for
    your personal collection teeth….keeps them from cracking as they dry out from the
    inside…….

    • hadn’t heard this, thanks for the tip. With sanddollars you put glue on the outside, what are your thoughts about doing this with the teeth for sealing them and protecting them?

  2. Sierra says:

    Dear Mr.Daniel;
    Can you put more facts of Lemon shark teeth on here please?

    Sincerely,
    Sierra

  3. Faith Crump says:

    want to use mine in a vase with water and add a floating candle as memorial to my husband who collected them. the water turned cloudy so I am soaking them now in vinegar and water. Any problems that you know of keeping them in water after cleaning?
    Thank you

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