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How to Preserve a Cow Skull

Small skulls must be handled very gently so the teeth remain intact.
Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

Things You'll Need:

  • Small, sharp knife
  • Large bucket or tub
  • Laundry detergent
  • Hydrogen peroxide solution
  • Clear polyurethane


  • Hydrogen peroxide solutions can damage your skin and eyes. Use extreme caution when bleaching the skull.

Cow skulls hanging on walls or over doorways are all the rage in Southwest decor. Speaking to a simpler, wilder time, cattle skulls as decor evoke a sense of the Old West. Their beauty comes from stark lines and shadows; shades of white contrast with dark eye and mouth cavities. The famous artist Georgia O'Keefe loved cow skulls and the Southwest so much that she made a career of painting them. Whether you find a cattle skull at a flea market or on the spot of ranch land where it fell, preparing your skull for viewing will ensure a sanitary relic of a beautiful animal.

Remove as much skin and tissue as possible from your cattle skull using a sharp knife, taking care not to scratch the bone.

Place the skull in a tub and cover it with warm water. Let it soak for at least 12 hours. This will loosen the brain tissue for easier removal.

Insert a piece of wire with a loop on the end into the cavity at the back of the skull. Move the wire around in a mixing motion to loosen brain tissue. Fill the skull with water and shake it to remove the tissue. Repeat this mixing and rinsing process until as much brain tissue as possible has been removed.

Place the skull back in the tub and cover again with warm water. Add 2 tablespoons of laundry detergent for each gallon of water. Over the course of a few days to weeks, the remaining skin and grease will become easier to remove from the skull. Keep the water level above the top of the skull and free of debris.

Every couple of days, rinse the skull, remove loosened tissue with a knife and scrub with a scratchless scouring pad or toothbrush. Change the water, add more detergent and continue this process until the skull is completely bare of skin and tissue.

Soak the skull in fresh water for 24 hours, rinse and soak again for 24 hours to remove any remaining odor.

Bleach your skull if you want it to be white rather than its natural color. Soak it in a 6 percent hydrogen peroxide solution, available as a "20 volume" concentration product at beauty supply stores. Soak your skull until it is as white as you want it to be or when the peroxide solution stops bubbling, at which point the solution will no longer be bleaching the skull. If you want your skull to retain its natural color, skip this step and proceed to Step 8.

Allow the skull to dry completely.

Spray your skull with clear polyurethane. Several very light coats will preserve your skull and give it a bit of sheen. Let each coat of polyurethane dry completely before spraying the next coat.

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