How To Preserve A Turtle Shell

How To Preserve A Turtle Shell: A step-by-step Guide

So your beloved turtle has passed and you feel bad for losing him or her? Sorry for your loss; death is an inevitable part of life cycles for us and our pets. But the good thing is that you can preserve the shell of your turtle friend as a way to remember them for more years to come (probably forever!).

To preserve a turtle shell, you simply get rid of all the organic matter inside and clean it with a water/borax/salt solution followed by a water and vinegar solution. And lastly, apply a preservation solution such as varnish, polyurethane, or lacquer and you’re done.

This informative guide will take you through the exact procedure to follow to preserve a turtle shell for the first time. We have also discussed additional helpful information related to turtle shell preservation you need to know.

How To Preserve A Turtle Shell?


Saying goodbye to your beloved pet turtle is never easy. But as we just said above, you can always preserve their shell as a way to remind yourself of them.

If you’re preserving the dead turtle shell for educational purposes or if you just found a dead turtle by the road and want to learn how to preserve it, the procedure below is for you. The procedure also works for different turtle species.

How To Preserve A Turtle Shell

Things You’ll Need:

  • Cleaning gloves
  • Old toothbrush
  • Rubbing alcohol or vinegar
  • Borax
  • Salt
  • Super glue or school glue
  • Polyurethane or varnish

A step-by-step guide for preserving a turtle shell:

Once you have all the above items in place, this is the exact procedure to follow to preserve your dear pet’s shell.

A step-by-step guide for preserving a turtle shell

Step #1. Remove all the organic matter attached to the shell

As you already know, the shell is always attached to the carcass of the dead animal. So the first thing you need to work on is removing all this organic matter inside the shell.

This step is crucial in not only eliminating foul odor but also keeping your shell from decomposing further.

You can do this by placing the carcass in an area where the bugs and insects can consume it, say in an ant bed. You can also bury the shell for up to a month to give it time to decompose.

Afterward, scrub the shell with a toothbrush and water to remove any remaining organic matter. let the shell dry for up to 24 hours to give any moisture present in the shell enough time to evaporate.

But if you don’t have time, you can simply use a knife to take out the carcass from the shell and then scrub it using an old toothbrush and water. Make sure you get out as much flesh as possible. And let the shell dry for an entire day after rinsing it.

WARNING: Avoid using acid solutions to get rid of the organic material of your dead tell. These are hazardous and best left for professional use only.

Step #2. Thoroughly clean the shell

Once you have taken out all the organic material inside the shell, it is now time to give it a thorough cleaning for proper preservation.

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Proper turtle shell cleaning involves using a solution of water, salt, and borax. Mix this cleaning solution in a bowl and let your shell inside for up to 60 minutes or 1 hr.

Afterward, put the shell in a water + vinegar solution to disinfect it and keep off bacteria and mold from your shell. Let it sit for an additional 60 minutes. be sure to mix water and vinegar in the same ratio.

In case you don’t have vinegar, you can use rubbing alcohol to disinfect the shell.

Lastly, rinse your pet shell with water and then dry it with help of a towel.

Step #3. Apply a preservation solution (varnish or polyurethane)

Now is the time to treat your shell with a preservation solution. This is important to help guard it against scratching, flaking, and other possible damages that may occur over time. A good solution will also give your shell a beautiful and clean appearance.

BEFORE applying the solution, however, we advise you to use super glue or school glue to stick back those scutes that may have fallen off during the previous steps of this preservation procedure.

Apply your solution of choice to the shell (you can use varnish or polyurethane. If you go with a varnish, be sure to apply it on the inside of the shell as well as a measure to prevent bacteria buildup and decay. Also, be sure to conduct this part in a well-ventilated area.

Air dry the shell after applying the preservation solution. And you’re done!

Here’s a video taking you through the process of cleaning your turtle shell for preservation.

How to preserve a baby turtle shell?

The problem with the baby turtle shell is that it is not fully developed and feels softer compared to the adult turtle shell. And this makes it a bit more challenging to preserve.

Nonetheless, if you still want to preserve it, here’s the quick procedure to follow (it is similar to that of an adult turtle for the most part):

How to preserve a baby turtle shell

Step 1: Carve out the turtle from the shell with the help of an outdoor knife. Make sure you get rid of as much as internal organs as possible.

Step 2: Take the shell outdoors for decomposition. Note that the baby turtle shells tend to decompose faster, so you shouldn’t put them outdoors for longer periods to prevent insects from devouring and disintegrating them.

Step 3: Once the shell’s insides get fully decomposed, put it under running water to remove dirt and insects. Next, clean it in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and water. Rinse the shell afterward.

Step 4: Use disinfectants such as rubbing alcohol to help clear or keep off mild and fungus from the shell.

Step 5: Tape any scutes that have fallen off the shell with the help of glue

Step 6: Lastly, coat the shell with a varnish or polyurethane to keep it from getting damaged and improve its overall appearance.

What can you do with a turtle shell?

After you have preserved your shell correctly, there are many things you can do with it. For instance, you can hang it up. You can also place it inside your bathroom as decoration.

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Some folks also prefer displaying it on the shelf or on nice furniture. If you go this path, make sure you add felt feet to the bottom of the shell to keep it from scratching your furniture.

Regardless of where you put it, well-preserved turtle shells look beautiful and will make a great home décor item.

What can you do with a turtle shell

Native Americans also use these shells to make musical instruments. Ever heard of the turtle shell rattle? That’s the name of a musical instrument made from turtle shells. You can find more details in this news article.

How long does it take for a turtle shell to decompose?

A turtle shell takes up to 50 years to decompose fully, which is around the same time human bones take to decompose.

This is because the turtle shells are part of the animal’s skeleton and they’re chemically and anatomically different from the flesh, innards, and organs.

Turtle shell

For this reason, they decompose at a much slower rate than the rest of the body parts.

Note that preserving your turtle shell using the correct procedure explained above can help extend its lifespan.

Is it legal to preserve a turtle shell?

It is 100% legal to preserve your turtle shell. However, buying, selling, or importing turtle shells is considered illegal in the US, and many parts of the world.

Don’t get the idea of importing turtle shells as souvenirs into the United States from other countries. This is considered bootlegging and may land you on the wrong side of the law!

a turtle shell

If you’re not sure whether this is allowed in your area of residence, check with the local authorities. Some people raise turtles just to have their shells, which the authorities consider illegal.


1. Do turtle shells last forever?

No, turtle shells eventually decompose and don’t last forever. But the good is they decompose at a slower rate and will take half a century to decompose fully. Properly preserved shells will last for even longer.

2. Can you boil a turtle shell?

You can boil a turtle shell if you want to carve it out easily and quickly. Simply boil the water and then let it simmer for around 6 hours. This is enough time to help you remove most of the flesh and leave it clean and ready for the decomposition phase.

Final Verdict

Preserving your pet turtle’s shell is a good way to remember them long after they die.

The preservation process is pretty simple and involves removing the organic matter from the shell if it hasn’t decomposed already, cleaning it to remove remaining matter, and finally finish of the shell with a varnish or polyurethane.

If you follow this exact procedure, we assure you that your dear turtle’s shell will last for many, many years to come.

How To Preserve A Turtle Shell

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