Cleaning and Whitening Skulls

Not everyone has a colony of dermestid beetles to clean a skull, and many who do quickly realize that they still have to feed them whether they have skulls that need cleaning or not! What to do, then, if you have a skull you want cleaned?

You could boil it, but that weakens the bone and stinks up your kitchen. You could bury it and dig it up the next year, but in my experience it takes a long time and the skull can take on a color depending on the minerals in the soil—which might be desirable.

The skull on the left was buried in soil high in iron creating an orange color cast. The skull on the right was soaked in water and whitened with magnesium carbonate and 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

The skull on the left was buried in soil high in iron creating an orange color cast. The skull on the right was soaked in water and whitened with magnesium carbonate and 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.

An alternative method is to simply put it in a bucket of water and let the microorganisms do their work. Don’t use chlorinated or treated city water, as it might not have the microorganisms in it. Instead, use surface water like from a pond or stream.

Yes, it’s going to stink and you will have to whiten the skull after, but simply letting a skull soak in surface water will remove all of the meat.

Yes, it’s going to stink and you will have to whiten the skull after, but simply letting a skull soak in surface water will remove all of the meat.

Mechanically (and carefully) remove the eyes, brain, skin and as much meat as possible, and then cover the skull with the water and let it rot. It will stink, so I’m not sure it’s something I’d do on an apartment patio or in a townhouse neighborhood, but in a few months you’ll have a clean skull.

You don’t need a colony of dermestid beetles to clean a skull.

You don’t need a colony of dermestid beetles to clean a skull.

You’ll want to whiten the skull, but don’t use bleach, as that will also weaken the bone. Instead, get some magnesium carbonate from Van Dykes or other online taxidermy supply store and use it with 3 percent peroxide according to the directions. You’ll end up with a very clean and white skull with almost no effort on your part.

 

 

 

Scott Mayer

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Scott Mayer
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