Hermit crabs go through multiple shells as they grow, leaving behind old ones to inhabit the new. However, these leftover shells can accumulate dirt and bacteria. To make sure hermit crabs shells are sanitary for your tank (and your other hermies), they should be cleaned.
To clean hermit crab shells, you need boiled, non-chlorinated water in a ceramic or glass pan, a strainer, and a brush or towel. Using aquarium salt is optional, but it can help make your shells extra clean. Wait until the hermit crabs leave their shells before you ever start cleaning, as removing them by force is deadly. Once the hermies are free, you can scrub the shells in normal water, boil them, and rinse them again in cold water. This is also a great time to chip off calcium deposits and clean away paint.
For stubborn paint spots, use tools such as sandpaper, nail files, or a butter knife to chip off paint. For stubborn calcium deposits, vinegar should be used sparingly, as it tends to thin and degrade 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 body and remove it manually.
Do Hermit Crab Shells Need Washed?
Leaving dirty shells in your tank can be dangerous. According to the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, the availability of shells directly impacts the size of your hermit crab and its overall lifespan.
Aside from picking shells based on color and size, hermits also know when shells are unsafe. If they’re worn down, infected, or dense with calcium deposits, your hermit crabs may decide there’s a shell shortage. That can lead to stress and even in-fighting.
Worse yet, abandoned and unclean shells can decrease the water quality of the tank. Lower water quality can harbor harmful bacteria and parasites, which could make your hermit crabs sick. With that in mind, maintaining the cleanliness of your hermit crab shells is an important part of owning these crustaceans.
How to Wash Hermit Crab Shells
Every few months, you should wash and cleanse your hermit crab shells. Of course, you shouldn’t do this while the hermies are still inside.
As they swap between the options during their molts, or as new shells become available, that’s the time to act. You can gather up the spares before they’re taken over and scrub them clean.
Get Your Gear
To do this, you must gather the appropriate materials. These include:
- Ceramic or glass pan
- Towel or rag
Get To Scrubbing
With your tools assembled, you’ll address the cleaning routine in two parts.
- Give your shells a good rinse with normal water
- Use a toothbrush to remove any excess or stubborn grime that was not removed before
- After this step, begin boiling non-chlorinated water.
This is very important. According to Flinn Scientific, exposure to chlorine can blister your hermit crab’s gills. This is fatal as it causes suffocation and eventual death. As such, you’ll need to boil the shells in order to remove any bacteria and any chlorine from your tap water.
- Once the water is boiling, pour it into your ceramic bowl
- Put the shells inside as it simmers
- Mix the shells in the water every 5 minutes or so
- After a total of 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 the boiling stage, you may or may not want to use aquarium salt. It’s not strictly necessary, but it does help remove any trace bacteria and fully cleanses the shells. The boiling process should be enough, but aquarium salt is a great option if you want to be extra careful. Don’t use anything other than aquarium salt, though.
How to Remove Paint from Hermit Crab Shells
Contrary to what some people believe, paint on hermit crab shells is not harmless. It can be dangerous for your hermies, especially if they ingest any chipped paint. Chemicals in the paint can be extremely toxic. If you have received any painted shells, it is highly recommended that you either:
- Replace it with a natural one
- Remove the paint entirely
Removing paint from shells is similar to that of general washing:
- You should place your painted hermit crab shells in a ceramic or glass pan.
- Fill it with boiled, non-chlorinated water. This will help to soften the paint and make it easier to remove later.
- After allowing it to simmer for a few minutes, strain them with cool water and let them cool off.
- Once they are cool enough to touch, you can use a tool with a solid, flat (but not overly sharp) surface to peel the paint off the shell.
- For more stubborn paint spots, especially in the shell’s deeper cracks, some owners use sandpaper or nail files.
What if you cannot remove paint from hermit crab shells, even after washing and chipping away paint? Then you may be better off getting another shell. It is safer than performing an incomplete cleaning job and giving that shell back to your hermit crab. In this case, the paint will still be detrimental to its health.
How To Get A Hermit Crab Out Of A Painted Shell
Of course, you should only do this if your hermit crab is not inside the shell. If it’s currently living in a painted home, try to coax it out with a better one:
- Place an array of natural shells similar in size in your hermit crab’s tank
- If your hermit is ready to molt soon, choose bigger shells
- Leave them alone in a protected, dark, and quiet environment
When hermit crabs are outside of their shell, they are vulnerable. If they do not feel safe, they likely stay put and refuse to transition between homes.
How to Remove Calcium Deposits from Shells
Calcium is an important mineral for hermit crab shells. In the ocean, calcium ions and carbon dioxide are used to form the hard exterior of shells. However, calcium deposits can sometimes develop on top of shells, leaving a dull, sometimes white and powdery exterior.
This can happen if there is a higher concentration of calcium in the water compared to carbon dioxide. There are a couple of methods you can employ to remove calcium deposits from shells:
Boiling With Aquarium Salt
You should first try boiling the shells in non-chlorinated water with aquarium salt. This is the most gentle and safest approach to take when removing calcium deposits. There is no risk of damaging your hermit’s home.
Scrubbing Gently With Vinegar
Vinegar is also effective in removing calcium deposits from shells. However, beware that soaking shells in vinegar can degrade them over time.
This makes them fragile, and they will even break down if left long enough. You should only use this method if the calcium deposits on your shells are particularly stubborn and the above method does not work.
- If you are opting to use vinegar, gently scrub the shell with it.
- Do not keep the shell in contact with vinegar for too long to prevent thinning.
- Make sure that you rinse the shells thoroughly after, so you do not introduce vinegar residue into your hermit crab environment.
How to Clean Out Hermit Crab Shells
To clean the inside of your hermit crab shells, the process isn’t much different from cleaning the outside. However, boiled water alone may not do the job. Having a toothbrush or another smaller brush to get inside will help get the debris that the rinsing missed.
How to Clean a Dead Hermit Crab Shell
Losing a pet is always hard for an owner. Perhaps you want to keep the shell as a memorandum. Maybe you want to give the shell to your other hermits, but don’t want to wait for the body to decompose. Luckily, there are several ways that you can clean a dead hermit crab shell:
If you do not want to remove your hermit crab’s body from the shell yourself, you can employ the help of common backyard insects. Ants and worms often make use of decomposing bodies to replenish their nutrients.
They cannot break down a hermit crab shell, so you do not have to worry about this. You can bury your 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 will be.
However, make sure that the soil does not get wet during this time. It may have adverse effects on the shell, such as growing mold.
Freezing And Manual Removal
Freezing a dead hermit crab may also work. After freezing the body, you can use tweezers or another tool to wiggle it out from the shell. If you are squeamish, this is not the method for you, as they may not come out in one piece.
Regardless of the method you choose, make sure to wash the shell with soap and water. This will remove extra gunk and prevent the smell of decomposition. If you plan on reusing this shell for other hermit crabs, you must wash it thoroughly like any other shell.