How to Clean Bones

You may have stumbled across animal bones on the side of the road or in your backyard, and you wish to display them or add them to a collection. While animal bones can be a very interesting and, in my opinion fun, to collect it is very important to make sure they are cleaned properly in order to make sure they are smell-free and safe to handle. Always remember to wear gloves, take universal precautions, and observe your state laws involving picking up roadkill and owning certain animal parts.

Steps to cleaning bones:

  1. Cut away as much meat as you can and scrub away the rest with a toothbrush or other stiff-bristled brush and hot soapy water. If you have multiple bones that you want to keep together, such as multiple vertebrae making up a spine fragment or two bones making a leg, don’t take off the connecting cartilage. The cartilage will get soft and squishy under the hot water, but this can be reversed later. If you don’t wish to keep multiple bones together, cut or peel away as much cartilage as possible.
  2. Scrub your bones in a mixture of hot water and hydrogen peroxide. A 75/25 ratio of water to peroxide to work, but more peroxide can be added as needed. Cream peroxide (hair color developer) works just as well as liquid peroxide and is even better for large bones. Once all the dirt, meat, and unwanted cartilage is gone, rinse the bones thoroughly. The peroxide will whiten the bones as well but based on how dark the bones were when you found them, it can’t always get them perfectly white.
  3. Brush or rinse the bones with a 50/50  mixture of rubbing alcohol and witch hazel, then let it air dry. This is optional, but I find it helpful for some extra disinfectant and odor eliminator.
  4. If you left connecting cartilage on the bones in order to keep multiple bones together, leaving them in direct sunlight or under a heat lamp for 3-10 days (based on the size of the bones) will make the cartilage dry up and stay odor-free. Flip the bones to expose the other side of the cartilage halfway through.

Adrianna Baldwin July 2019

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