Fossils found on a dive in Venice, Florida

Marine Fossil and Shark Tooth Dive: How to Clean Your Fossils

Sunday, March 26, 2017: Fossil Dive in Venice, Florida, with Florida West SCUBA and Charters

The Charter:

This was my first time hunting for fossils and sharks’ teeth. I definitely recommend this charter. I called earlier in the year to book a trip with 12 divers, filling their entire boat, and through some miscommunication we never actually solidified the reservation. You can imagine my panic when I called the week before and they were like Uhh wtf are you talking about.

I’m sure my scatter brain thought I booked it and was supposed to call back to confirm. Somehow they were able to squeeze ALL 12 OF US in! I was MAGNIFICENTLY grateful that it worked out. Even after the mix-up, they were very courteous and efficient with us. They showed us what to look for, how to look for it, and even helped us identify our findings. They had cold water for us between dives and freaking BANANA NUT MUFFINS. They helped us load and unload our gear. I’m sold. I will be booking with them again.

There’s a little restaurant right next door that we ate at after the dive. It’s called the Dockside Waterfront Grill. It was really convenient to not have to drive somewhere else and the food was good.


The Fossils:

Before the dive I did some research on how to clean the fossils. I talked to a couple of people who have done it before and did some online research. At the bottom of the post I’ve listed my sources. I’m sharing what I found in my research, and also what I actually did to my fossils. Let me preface this information by saying this was my first time fossil diving, and this compilation is by no means guarantees a good outcome. Messing with your fossils too much could cause deterioration. Less is sometimes more.

Anyway, so. I have to start with this. One of the methods I found for cleaning your fossils is… I swear I’m not making this up.

Not bleach. I bet you thought bleach. Apparently you do NOT want to bleach your fossils.

Leave it in your toilet.


Okay.. the TANK of your toilet. Don’t go throwing it in your toilet bowl and expect magic to happen. I don’t even know if magic will happen regardless.

Let’s take a step back here. There are several approaches you can take to cleaning and preserving your fossils. I tried both of the methods listed below. More avid fossil hunters may use buffers and fancy things that I am not including here.

FIRST OF ALL, take a good look at your fossils before you begin to clean them. A visual inspection will show you where any cracks or punctures are, places you’ll need to be careful around while you’re handling the specimens. Pick off any debris you can at this point, like barnacles and algae. You can run a tooth brush over it and use a pick if necessary. Some of the barnacles might not come off. No big – they’ll come off more easily after a soak (keep reading).

The Toilet Tank Method

After soaking your fossil for some undocumented amount of time in your toilet tank (one forum member said he left it there for several months), clean it with vinegar to remove some of the marine growth and then let it dry completely. You can leave it in the sun (although I’ve read that this may cause it to deteriorate and/or discolor) or just in a warm, dry place. You then could use a consolidant to stabilize it, but you don’t have to. Sometimes just cleaning it and then leaving it alone will do the trick and if it’s a sturdy fossil, it’s probably best to just leave it as is after it is cleaned and dried.

A consolidant is a hardener to help keep your fossils from deteriorating. This can be a resin or an emulsion: a resin is to be used with completely dry fossils while an emulsion can be used to treat those that still contain moisture. The problem with emulsions is that they tend to yellow over time.

Let’s recap (toilet tank method):

  1. Stick your fossil in the toilet tank.
  2. Go potty like normal for a few weeks or months, and either:
    1. Just forget about it entirely and when you move out, the next person will be very confused but probably satisfied when they open the toilet lid to fix a problem and discover that, indeed, there had been sharks causing the trouble all along; or
    2. Set a reminder in your phone to periodically take out the fossils to scrub away anything that was loosened, and remove them from the tank when you are happy with your toilet washings.
  3. Wash the fossil and gently scrub with vinegar.
  4. Allow the fossil to dry thoroughly in a warm, dry place.

Of course now I have a fossil in the tank of my toilet. I’ll let you know how that goes after some time passes.

TAKE NOTE: These specimens were found in salt water in Venice, Florida. Salt is notorious for causing deterioration. As your fossils dry, they may become more fragile.

The Kitchen Sink Method (The one you should probably actually use)

I didn’t know what else to call it but I figured if you’re down here then you didn’t want to be in the bathroom anymore, so, let’s move it to the kitchen. This is the method I used on the rest of my fossils.

  1. Soak your fossil in a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water for about an hour.
  2. Scrub the fossil again with a toothbrush. Make sure the acidic vinegar isn’t harming your fossil.
  3. Rinse, then soak the fossil in fresh water at least another hour.
  4. Wash all that stuff off with hand soap or dish soap and rinse.
  5. Dry your fossil in a warm, dry place.

If vinegar doesn’t work, another potential solution (pun not intended. but appreciated.) is CLR (Calcium Lime Rust) Remover. I did not try using this. I only tried the apple cider vinegar.

What I Did

Other than the one fossilized bone I stuck in the tank of my toilet, which I only did for the sake of science and curiosity, I used the Kitchen Sink Method for all of my other fossils. I soaked them in a 50/50 mix after kind of removing the easily-removable stuff.

After 5 minutes, some stuff started floating off. After about an hour, I was super excited and took them out for inspection. A few of the smaller fossils were ready and could easily be cleaned the rest of the way. But most of them were not ready. I tried to scrape off the barnacles but it was entirely too much work.

So then I ended up just leaving them in the vinegar mix for two whole days. After adding some more vinegar. I was worried that was overkill but that sh*t worked perfectly so I’m owning it. I barely had to brush anything off and the dead fish smell was gone. My kitchen still has a lingering vinegar scent but that’s nothing a candle won’t fix.

Here’s some more in-depth information on Fossil Preservation and Treatment from The Fossil Forum.




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