how to wash hermit crab shells

How To Clean Hermit Crab Shells (Equipment + Cleaning Process)

Last Updated on: 3rd September 2023, 05:39 pm

Hermit crabs go through various shells as they grow, leaving behind their old ones to inhabit the new ones. However, left-behind shells accumulate bacteria and start to smell.

You need boiled, non-chlorinated water in a ceramic or glass pan, a strainer, and a brush or towel to clean hermit crab shells. Aquarium salt is optional, but it can make the shells cleaner.

Wait until the hermit crabs leave their shells before cleaning them, as removing them by force can cause considerable stress and early death.

Once the hermit crabs are free, scrub the shells in water, boil them, and rinse them in cold water.

This is the ideal time to chip off calcium deposits. Vinegar should be used sparingly for stubborn calcium deposits because it thins and degrades the shell.

If you want to clean out a dead hermit crab shell, you can use insects to break down the body naturally. You can also freeze the shell/body overnight and remove them from the shell.

Do Hermit Crab Shells Need To Be Washed?

According to the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, the availability of shells directly affects the size of a hermit crab and its lifespan.

Aside from selecting shells based on color and size, hermit crabs know when shells are unsafe.

If shells are worn down, infested, or dense with calcium deposits, hermit crabs may decide there’s a shell shortage, leading to stress and in-fighting.

Maintaining the cleanliness of hermit crabs’ shells is an important part of ownership.

How To Wash Hermit Crab Shells

A hermit crab tank should have a wide variety of different shells. Occasionally, you’ll observe that hermit crabs will switch shells due to preferences and sizing issues.

After hermit crabs swap between shells, give the discarded shell a clean. Here’s how:


To clean shells, you’ll need the following equipment and materials:

  • Ceramic or glass pan.
  • Strainer.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Towel or rag.

Cleaning Process

With your tools assembled, you’ll address the cleaning routine in two parts:

  • Rinse the shell thoroughly with water.
  • Use a toothbrush to remove any stubborn grime that wasn’t removed.
  • Begin boiling the non-chlorinated water.

The use of non-chlorinated water is essential. According to Flinn Scientific, exposure to chlorine can blister hermit crab’s gills, which causes suffocation and eventual death.

Boil the shells to remove any bacteria and chlorine from the tap water by doing the following:

  1. Once the water has boiled, pour it into a ceramic bowl.
  2. Put the shells into the water as it simmers.
  3. Mix the shells in the water every 5 minutes.
  4. After 15 minutes, strain them with cold water and allow them to dry.

You can now safely return or add them to your hermit crab tank.

During boiling, you may use aquarium salt to remove bacteria and cleanse the shells. The boiling process should be sufficient, but aquarium salt is beneficial.

how to clean a dead hermit crab shell

How To Remove Paint from Hermit Crab Shells

Paint on hermit crab shells is dangerous, especially if they ingest chipped paint. If you’ve received any painted shells, you should replace the shell or remove the paint entirely.

Removing paint from shells can be achieved by doing the following:

  1. Place the painted hermit crab shells in a ceramic or glass pan.
  2. Fill it with boiled, non-chlorinated water. This will soften the paint and make it easier to remove.
  3. After allowing it to simmer for a few minutes, strain the shell with cold water and let it cool off.
  4. Once they’re cool enough to touch, use a solid, flat surface tool to peel the paint off the shell.
  5. Use sandpaper or nail files for more stubborn paint spots, especially in the shell’s deeper cracks.

We recommend getting another shell if you can’t remove paint from hermit crab shells.

How To Get A Hermit Crab Out Of A Painted Shell

Only do this once the hermit crab isn’t inside the shell. If a hermit crab is currently living inside the shell, attempt to coax it out with a better shell:

  • Place an array of natural shells similar in size in the tank.
  • If a hermit is ready to molt soon, choose bigger shells.
  • Leave them alone in a safe, dark, and quiet environment.

When hermit crabs are outside their shells, they’re vulnerable. They’ll likely refuse to transition between shells if they feel unsafe.

How To Remove Calcium Deposits from Shells

Calcium is an important mineral for hermit crab shells. In the ocean, calcium ions and carbon dioxide lead result in the hard exterior of shells.

However, calcium deposits can develop on top of shells, leaving a dull, white, and powdery exterior. This can happen when there’s a higher calcium concentration in the water than carbon dioxide.

These methods remove calcium deposits from shells:

Boiling with Aquarium Salt

Start by boiling the shells in non-chlorinated water with aquarium salt, as this is the safest approach when removing calcium deposits.

Scrubbing with Vinegar

Vinegar is effective in removing calcium deposits from shells. However, beware that soaking shells in vinegar can degrade them over time.

This makes them more fragile, so they’ll break down if left long enough. Only use this method if the calcium deposits on the shells are particularly stubborn.

Follow these guidelines:

  • If you’re opting to use vinegar, scrub the shell with it.
  • Don’t keep the shell in contact with vinegar for too long to avoid thinning.
  • Rinse the shells so you don’t introduce vinegar residue to the tank.

How To Clean A Dead Hermit Crab Shell

Cleaning the inside of shells isn’t much different from cleaning the outside.

However, boiled water alone may not be effective. A toothbrush or another smaller brush to get inside will help reach the debris the rinsing missed.


You can use backyard insects to remove a hermit crab’s body from the shell. Ants and worms often feed on decomposing bodies to gain nutrients.

Insects can’t break down a hermit crab shell, so this isn’t a concern.

Bury the dead hermit crab in the soil and wait a few days for the insects to do their work. The longer you wait, the more thorough they’ll be. Then, wash the shell once the insects are done.

Freezing And Manual Removal

After freezing the body overnight, you can use tweezers or another tool to wiggle it out from the shell.

This isn’t for you if you’re squeamish, as it may not come out in one piece.

If you plan to reuse this shell for other hermit crabs, you must wash it thoroughly because you don’t know why the hermit crab died or if it had an infestation, such as mites.