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How to Clean Hermit Crab Shells (Step By Step)

How to Clean Hermit Crab Shells (Step By Step)

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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Did you know that hermit crabs change their shells every four to six weeks, specifically after molting? These buddies are in constant need of bigger homes as their bodies grow, which is why you should always include new shells in their tank.

That’s not all you have to do, though. Before gifting your hermits with larger shells, you must make sure they’re 100% clean first. Plus, the shells that already exist in the tank will need to be washed regularly because they often contain grime, bacteria, or even crab waste.

Not to worry if you’ve never done this before; we’re here to help you out.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to clean hermit crab shells step-by-step and answer a few related questions you might be having.

Let’s dive right in!

Step 1: Grab a Few Items to Prepare for Your Cleaning Session

The first thing you should keep in mind is that there are several ways to clean a hermit crab’s shell. Some people simply use water and a toothbrush; others boil used shells, while a lot of crab parents do both.

It’s up to you to decide which method to follow, but it never hurts to learn every possible way to clean a crab’s shell. Even if you’ve bought the shells at a pet store, it’s a good idea to boil them and then scrub them with a toothbrush to be extra safe.

Now that this is out of the way, here are a few thing you’ll need to grab before you start washing shells:

  • A ceramic or glass pot (don’t use a metal pot as it affects the water negatively, which can harm the crabs)
  • A clean toothbrush
  • A strainer
  • Paper towels
  • Aquarium salt and distilled water (for boiling)

Step 2: Rinse the New Shells Thoroughly

Whether you’ve found some shells at the beach, bought them at the store, or picked them up from the tank, they should all receive the same treatment. You don’t know what kind of bacteria, sand, or crab waste possibly lies in there, so it’s best to take the extra mile anyway.

Now that you’ve gathered all the shells that need cleaning, put them in a strainer and rinse them all quickly under a kitchen or bathroom faucet. Don’t worry about using tap water since you’ll boil the shells later in distilled water.

This should get rid of anything stuck on the shells’ surface.

Step 3: Scrub Each Shell Clean With a Toothbrush

After that initial rinse, set the strainer with the shells aside and pick one by one, rinsing it more thoroughly. Then, use the toothbrush to get rid of any stubborn buildup of grime or sand on the surface.

Remember to pay special attention to any crevices or rough areas where grime is more likely to get stuck. 30 to 40 seconds of scrubbing should take care of most of the buildup.

We know that it can be a bit tempting to use a cleaning agent on the shells to make matters easier and speed up the entire process. Yet, you should fight off this allure because chemicals can be toxic for your little buddies.

Once you’re done, give each scrubbed shell one last rinse before lining them all up in your glass or ceramic pot.

Step 4: Boil the Shells in Distilled Water

After filling the pot with the shells, add enough distilled water until the shells are fully submerged in it. Make sure not to use tap water here.

It’s optional to add one or two tablespoons of aquarium salt to the water. Your friends will love to stumble upon tiny particles of salt in and on their shells, so consider it the cherry on top!

Just be careful not to use table salt as it might be harmful to hermit crabs.

The step after that would be to turn the heat up until the water gets to the boiling point. When you get this far, lower the heat to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to kill any germs or bacteria that might be living inside the shells.

Sometimes, a lot of water will evaporate during the extended boiling process, so the water level inside the pot will recede until it no longer covers the shells. In this case, you must pour more water into the pot until the 15-minute mark.

However, you must make sure that this additional amount of water isn’t too cold and doesn’t come in direct contact with exposed shells. This can cause the surface of the shells to crack.

Step 5: Put the Shells Back into the Strainer and Dry Them Out

When you’re done boiling the shells, turn off the heat and use a large spoon to carefully fish each shell out of the pot and place it in a strainer. Be careful with the hot shells not to burn yourself or accidentally break them during the move.

Leave the shells in the strainer for a while after rinsing them with some cool water. Then, dry each shell with paper towels and set them all on a big tray to air them out.

Make sure that the openings of the shells face downward to allow any water to slide out faster.

After waiting for 30 minutes for the shells to cool down, place them in your hermit crabs’ tank, spreading them over the substrate at irregular intervals.

You can test the shells to know if they’re cool enough to introduce them to your crabs. Simply, touch them with your fingers and see if they’re too hot for the touch.

If you can hold the shells in your palm with no trouble, they should be ready to join your crab friends in their enclosure!

Step 6: Consider Putting the Shells in Their Exact Same Spots in the Tank

If the shells you’ve cleaned already existed in the crab enclosure, it’s a good idea to put them back where they originally were to encourage the crabs to use them.

Also, it’s a great idea to position each shell with its opening facing up to make it more appealing to crabs. In addition to that, this position prevents substrate sand from finding its way into the shells so soon after you’ve cleaned them.

Step 7: Clean Used Shells Every Three Months

The last piece of advice you should keep in mind is that hermit crab shells should undergo the same cleaning process every three or four months.

This ensures an enclosed environment that’s free of bacteria and crab waste, limiting infections and the spread of diseases.

Sometimes, it’ll be a must to clean hermit crab shells at once, like in the case of a mite infestation or the existence of any other parasite. Of course, if that ever happens, you’ll also need to wash all the accessories in the tank and the body of the enclosure itself.

What Are Some Widely-Known Shell Cleaning Tips That Aren’t Recommended?

A lot of misconceptions have circulated about cleaning hermit crab shells, and some of your friends or neighbors might give you tips that can end up being harmful to your crabs.

Therefore, you must have some knowledge about such unrecommended acts to stay on the safe side. Here’s what you shouldn’t do when cleaning hermit crab shells:

  • Use vinegar with water to soak shells in
  • Put the shells in a solution of bleach and water
  • Clean the shells with dish soap or mild detergent

What to Keep in Mind When Picking Up Shells From the Beach?

If you don’t want to buy your hermit crab shells from a pet shop and you feel like hitting the natural road instead, you can always visit the beach for some. However, you’ll have to be careful of a few things.

First off, the beach itself must be well-known for being a clean spot. Second of all, you have to be sure that the location allows people or tourists to collect shells from the sand of the beach.

After clearing these two points away, put your sunglasses and sandals on and get ready for some digging. Not literally, though!

Once you’ve settled on a few shells, sit on the sand and look closely into each one of them. You need to make sure there isn’t a small marine hermit crab napping inside; it’d be pretty sad for one to wake up and find itself far away from its home.

Also, another point to keep in mind is to steer clear of any shells that appear broken or too old. You’ll want to avoid shells that have an unpleasant smell as well.

After taking your pick and getting home, follow the previous steps on how to clean hermit crab shells. Don’t ignore the boiling part because those beach shells likely include plenty of germs, the waste of former inhabitants, and who knows what more!

Can You Paint Hermit Crab Shells?

Technically, you can do whatever you want to the shells of hermit crabs, including painting them. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, a lot of pet store owners paint their hermit crab shells with colorful patterns to sell them at a higher price. It’s important for us not to encourage this practice to save the lives of those little, delicate beings.

Are Painted Shells Bad for Hermit Crabs?

Yes. Acrylic paint that pet store shells are decorated with includes chemicals that can be toxic to hermit crabs.

The paint can easily be chipped off and eaten by a hermit crab, which can lead to its passing. In addition, a crab can get stuck inside or on top of a shell if its paint is still wet.

Are Glass Shells Bad for Hermit Crabs?

Yes. Glass shells are a big no-no for hermit crabs, even if they appear to be innocent alternatives to normal shells. There are several reasons why gifting your hermit crabs with glass shells can be a bad idea.

First of all, glass shells don’t provide any protection from light, which defeats the whole purpose of a crab’s shell. These shells don’t offer privacy, a major key for a hermit crab’s well-being and stress-free living.

Quite the opposite, when the sun rays fall on glass shells, the heat will intensify. This added warmth may be too much for your fragile friends.

Let’s not forget that glass shells are a lot heavier than typical shells. Lumbering them around isn’t the best way for hermit crabs to live.

Still, if you’ve been wondering whether or not glass shells are toxic for hermit crabs, they’re not. They don’t contain any harmful materials; it’s just that they’re not the most convenient out of the lot.

How Many Shells Should You Leave Inside a Hermit Crab Enclosure?

You must include the right number of shells in your hermit crab enclosure so that everyone has plenty of options to choose from. There shouldn’t be any competition between your crabs so as not to stress them out.

Ideally, you should put two shells for each crab; those have to be a bit larger than their current homes. In addition to that, you must include one shell that’s slightly smaller for every crab in the tank.

Final Thoughts

As a first-time crab parent, it’s important to learn how to clean hermit crab shells.

Fresh shells minimize the chances of spreading diseases. Plus, you’ll constantly need larger and cleaner shells to match the crabs’ growth.

Thankfully, it’s easy to clean hermit crab shells using water and a toothbrush and then boiling them in distilled water and aquarium salt. Afterward, you’ll just have to leave the shells to dry, then introduce them to your little friends.

Easy peasy!