Sand dollars are sea-dwelling echinoderms that are related to sea urchins and starfish. Once they have died, their hard outer shells remain and are considered by many to be a fascinating, even beautiful, souvenir. If you live close to a saltwater beach, you can collect your own sand dollars and preserve them yourself using household supplies. But first, take some time to learn about how these creatures make it to our beaches and where best to find them.
Finding and Collecting
Check with the local authorities at your beach about rules regarding collection of sea shells.
Prepare your bucket for collecting by padding it with rags or paper towels. Before they are preserved, sand dollar skeletons are extremely fragile and will shatter if you don't provide a soft cushion.
Visit the beach after a storm or during an outgoing tide. Sand dollar skeletons are most likely to wash up on the beach during times when the water level swells.
Search for and collect sand dollars on the moist part of the shore. Do not look for sand dollars in the water. This is where these creatures live their lives and any you find here are more likely to still be living.
Examine any sand dollars you find for a coating of brown hairs, or cilia, looking somewhat like the fuzz on moldy food. If you see these hairs, you've found a live sand dollar and should leave it on the beach. Taking live sand dollars can hurt the animals' population and doing so is often illegal.
Stack your sand dollars on their sides in your bucket if you find a lot of them, because stacking them one on top of another may cause those on the bottom to break from the weight.
Transport your sand dollars carefully home.
Cleaning and Preserving
Remove your sand dollars and padding from your bucket and rinse it out. Fill it with clear tap water and put your sand dollars in to soak.
Empty and refill the water in the bucket periodically. It will repeatedly turn brown and smell bad as the remains of the sand dollar dissolve. Continue replacing the water until it stays clean.
Mix a solution of water and bleach, with no more than a third of the solution consisting of bleach. Soak the sand dollars in this for no more than 15 minutes (bleach can make the skeletons more fragile by partially dissolving them). Hold each sand dollar upside-down in the bleach water to allow it to fill.
Use a toothpick to clean any remaining hairs from the sand dollar's mouth (the hole in the center bottom).
Allow sand dollars to air dry. For best results, let them sit in the sun.
Mix a solution of one part water, one part glue. Paint this evenly over each sand dollar (do one side at a time) and allow them to dry.