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How to clean a sea urchin test?
02-20-2009, 08:37 PM,
How to clean a sea urchin test?
Hi everyone! I am new and this is my first post. I have been collecting since I was a kid and am happy to find this website. Back to my question - I found a complete sea urchin test with spines and all (empty inside). It is purple and white. However, I need to clean it and it smells AWFUL!! I have read posts on this site about cleaning shells, but I cannot find anything pertaining to sea urchins. How do I clean it without breaking the spines, and how do I remove the smell without taking away its beautiful color? Any help would be much appreciated!

02-24-2009, 09:40 AM,
How to clean a sea urchin test?
First of all what you DON'T want to do is clean it the way we clean seashells!  Bleach is the usual product for cleaning shells and removing odors from them, but bleach will rapidly remove the spines from an uchin test, and shortly thereafter cause the test itself to fall to pieces.  As you may know, a sea urchin test is not one continuous piece like a mollusc shell, but is composed of many small plates that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Fibrous tissue holds the plates together.  Dissolve that tissue with bleach and it will really look like a jigsaw puzzle!

There isn't a lot of internal anatomy to an urchin but what is there can certainly cause an odor.  To remove it, you need to take a small sharp knife and cut around the mouth at the center of the underside.  There is a fairly large opening in the bottom of the test and the area immediately around the mouth is covered by a tough membrane.  You want to cut around the edge of that membrane, close to the test itself, then grasp the mouth area with tweezers or needle nose pliers and gently pull it out, along with whatever is attached inside.  If the specimen is fresh, the next part is easy. If it is thoroughly dried it may take more time and effort.  You fill the test with water through the hole you just cut, then shake it as vigorously as you can without damaging the spines, then dump out the contents, and repeat several times.  Once the test is empty you can dry the specimen and most of the smell should be gone.  See if the smell is sufficiently removed for your liking.  If not, the most effective way to get rid of all remaining odor is to immerse the specimen in formalin (formaldehyde solution) for an hour or longer, then rinse well with water several times.  But not everyone has access to formalin, or experience working with potentially hazardous chemicals.  Soaking in rubbing alcohol works quite well but unfortunately some echinoderm pigments are soluble in alcohol so you could lose some color.  If the alcohol remains clear (doesn't become tinted with the color of the specimen) you are probably safe.  And make sure the alcohol is isopropyl alcohol (also known as isopropanol), not ethyl alcohol (ethanol).  Rubbing alcohol is made from either of these, and ethyl alcohol is much more likely to dissolve pigments.

Once you are past the above steps, you can dry the specimen thoroughly, and not do anything else.  However, such a specimen is pretty fragile and will probably start losing spines eventually, especially if it is handled much.  So I usually do a couple more steps.  First I soak the specimen for a short time (10 minutes or so) in a solution of white glue (Elmer's Glue-all, Sobo Glue, etc.) in water, about 1 part glue to 10 parts water.  Then remove the specimen and allow to drain on a surface that won't be harmed by the glue, and which the glue won't adhere to.  Wax paper or a plastic trash bag works well but if a puddle accumulates under the specimen, switch to a fresh surface before it dries.  This greatly strengthens the attachment of the spines to the test.  Once the specimen is dry I usually further strengthen the test by painting the interior with full strength white glue, working with a small art brush through the hole in the bottom of the test.  An alternative to the glue soak which I have also used with some success is an aerosol matte spray available at an art supply store. You can spray it down among the spines, allowing it to run down onto the test, then let the whole thing dry.  Glossy sprays obviously add an unnatural gloss to the specimen but matte sprays don't.  Hope this helps.
05-04-2009, 01:00 PM,
How to clean a sea urchin test?
Thank you for your response, Paul. I will try these techniques. I was aware there is a tissue holding the spines onto the test, but I didn't realize the tissue was also holding the test itself together. Thank you for that! I would have most definitely ended up with a jigsaw puzzle on my hands! I will practice these steps on a less desirable specimen first, before I risk ruining my good ones. I noticed ever since I've collected the specimens that it sort of has a brownish tint on both the test and spines overall. Many tests I find on the beach are white and purple. Is there any way to remove the unappealing brown color and keep the white/purple color?

P.S. I've noticed that fire ants and pill bugs (or what we call roly-polys) work really well at cleaning off any remains of the animal.
05-25-2009, 01:33 PM,
How to clean a sea urchin test?
 You can put crushed cloves on the inside to remove the oder.   This helps with anything with strong odors. I have tried this and it works great.

01-12-2010, 12:23 PM,
How to clean a sea urchin test?
Not to say anything about the cleaning methods listed above... however if you have a sea urchin that has dark spots on the outside of the test, simply soak it in bleach for 5-10 minutes.  It will become its natural color, all the flawed dark spots will be removed, and it will not fall apart.

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