5 Simple Steps for Processing and Cleaning Bones

bone processing, bone cleaning, bone collecting, oddities, oddities blog, cleaning skulls, whiten bones, clean animal skulls, clean animal bones

Those who have followed me long enough know that I have a peculiar hobby. Every shelf and decorative nook and cranny of my house is adorned with salvaged animal remains. In recent years, with more and more bone jewelers popping up on Etsy and the success of the show Oddities, bone collecting has become an increasingly popular art form. I’m asked fairly regularly for tips on cleaning bones, and I’ve finally compiled a complete list of the simple steps I follow for bone processing.

Supplies for Cleaning:

1 // Dead specimen 2 // Plastic container 3 // Hydrogen peroxide 4 // Dish soap 5 // Gloves

01. Leave the Specimen to Decompose.

The method for obtaining the bones from the specimen is a matter of preference and available resources. I personally find the process of natural decomposition fascinating and typically allow nature to perform its usual routine in an open area where I can keep an eye on it (my parents live on 5 acres with plenty of land for leaving a decaying carcass without disturbing neighbors with the smell or sight). Depending on the weather and location, the whole cycle could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Be mindful that other animals may come along and take pieces of your project (like they did with this particular skunk). Avoid losing any bones by caging or fencing off the carcass. Other options include burying, skinning and defleshing for immediate masceration, or dermestid beetles. Side note: I frequently get asked about beetles, and I think they mainly gained so much attention because of their mention on Oddities. Beetles are great for companies or individuals that consistently need a fast turnaround on flesh removal, but they’re not very economical for a once-in-a-while bone processor like myself. For some reason people don’t realize dermestid colonies consist of living creatures that need to be fed and maintained even when you don’t have skulls to process. With a little patience, you’ll find that the great outdoors has plenty of naturally occurring stages and other critters and crawlers in the wild that will strip most of the flesh just fine.

02. Gather the Bones.

Use proper sanitation methods when gathering the remaining bones. Wear gloves at all times when handling caracasses, and also protect yourself from breathing in particles from dead organisms by wearing a respiratory mask or covering your face with a bandana.

03. Remove Remaining Tissue.

Depending on how much flesh is still stuck on the bones, you can either pick it off or you may want to opt for maceration. For this particular skunk, I easily washed and gently pulled off any remaining tissue. My earlier coyote I processed was held completely intact by dry hide and fur, so rather than attempt removing all of this by hand, I put the whole thing in a large trash bin filled with water and left it to macerate for several months. Maceration essentially reboots the process of putrefaction and creates a bath of bacteria that eats any flesh, tissue, and cartilage remaining on the bones. Again, use sanitary handling methods and be prepared for the ungodly stench that emerges from the hellish cesspool that is a maceration soup.

04. Degrease.

Once your bones are flesh free, drop ’em into your container and fill with water and dish soap. Leave the bones soaking in a closed container for about a week or longer. The before and after photos above show the grease that collected at the surface after two weeks of soaking. If the bones are still pretty greasy looking, start a fresh soap bath and soak for longer. Check out Jana’s article on Bonelust for more info about degreasing.

05. Whiten and Sanitize.

Most bone processors will preach about the no-no’s of boiling and bleaching. These methods damage the bone in the long run, if not immediately. (Not to mention they’re more labor intensive than this easier, safer method.) Instead, I whiten and sanitize with a 50/50 bath of hydrogen peroxide and water. Using the same container, fill above the bones with approximately 50% H2O2 and 50% water, and leave the container covered but not air-sealed for another week or longer until your preferred whiteness. Once the bones are white and clean, lay them out to dry completely.

Hope these tips were helpful for some of you! I would love to hear your experiences with this particular method and if there’s any alternate methods you use for processing and cleaning bones. Let me know in the comments!

EDIT: Please read the comments before asking a question. It has most likely already been answered in some form.

204 comments on “5 Simple Steps for Processing and Cleaning Bones

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve often wondered how you process your bones to such perfection and I’ve got a ram’s skull that’s been in need of processing for months now. I haven’t been able to find a tutorial that I trust but now you’ve created one. Thank you, again.

      • Just git a rabbit head and I need a diy
        Home remedy. I live pretty close to a lot of people so I don’t have the option to leave it out around. 1st step. Take off the ears and fur right??

        First timer. No idea what I’m at.

        Thanks :)

        • If you don’t have the option to leave it to decompose naturally, yes you’ll have to skin and deflesh as much as possible before putting it in a container of water to macerate. I’ve processed a skinned mouse skull before with a lot of the flesh still intact because it was too delicate to try to remove. It look months for maceration to strip it down to clean bone. The more flesh there is, the longer it’ll take.

          • If you live in the south try placing the bones on a fire ant mound for a few days depending on the size the ants will strip it clean. be careful when placing or removing it from the ants they also like to bite live prey.

  2. This is really awesome, thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to be lucky enough to scavenge some bones while camping and hiking this summer so this is definitely good info :)

  3. The amount of grease in otherwise perfectly presentable bones will never cease to amaze me. I dropped a (apparently clean) guineafowl skull in water a few weeks ago, just to macerate whatever was left after decomp (it was buried) and just a few days ago I went to check on it and… imagine cobwebs of grease inside the jar. Not pretty. It’ll probably stay there while I wait for the rest of the body to decompose as well (it’s still buried).

    So far my bone processing experience is pretty much reduced to a dead kitten I found back in December – there was no fur and no internal organs, so I just cut the skin out, separated the skeleton into different containers, and set it all down to macerate. It’s still there, but I don’t think there’s enough organic tissue to keep the bacteria active – the water is still clear, and there’s no noticeable smell. Then there’s the aforementioned guineafowl, and two mallard ducks – we have a few, so when they died my father just asked me if I wanted them… yes I did, but because I was busy with uni I just buried them. They’re still down there, as well.

    And also, glad to see you back! :)

    • Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. A lot of grease came off these bones as you can see in that photo above, but even still I probably could have soaked them again and gotten even more out of them.

      With those containers you have setup for maceration, it could possibly be that the surrounding temp isn’t warm enough. Since I live in California, I really haven’t had a problem with this. But if the remaining flesh hasn’t been eaten off by bacteria, it may be soft enough to just brush or scrub off.

    • That’s kind of the problem, it’s that there’s very little flesh – it’s mostly just skin in the paws, and it’s taken an almost rubbery consistency. Pretty weird. The problem areas are the paws, and I was hoping that water would soften the skin there and make my life easier (because I’ve tried to take apart one paw by hand and it took ages), but so far… yeah, not working.

      I’ve decided that I’ll set up shop tomorrow and do it all by hand, I’m tired of waiting. :)

    • I am a 7th standard boy which love animals . once in my home a rat is Dead I see that and remove her mussels and other parts. then I clean her bones study about him .
      My name is Shatrujeet Singh srivastava plz anyone teach me more about animal bones thanks

  4. SO going to use these steps to clean up a skull my husband found on an offroading trip. We’re not exactly sure what it is, maybe a deer head, or something. It definitely had horns or antlers at one point, and when he found it, it was home to a re-ant colony. It seems to have been picked over thoroughly, just needs a good cleaning and H202 bath. Looking forward to seeing how it comes out!
    Thanks Corinne!

  5. I’m happy to finally see a post like this. Ever since I’ve purchased your book last summer, I find myself highly interested. I’ve always been more of an antique person. My father is a big collector of fine clocks, painting, and Asian/African art. When I used to go on hunts with him I found myself more interested in religious and pagan art work. Coffins, horns, and last letters to love ones always get me. When I finally found your blog again and saw your room I was beyond amazed. Your collection and art work you make from your bones are astonishing. Hopefully, when I get my own place I shall be able to start a small collection myself. Cats are currently my favourite skulls to see.

    Hope you find time for more post like these in the future! <3

  6. I’ve personally always thought it was neat when individuals out there process and clean bones just for either personal decoration or to sell. Definitely going to give this tutorial a try whenever I process and clean the bones I fine for personal decoration!

  7. This post was awesome and much appreciated. I’m just an amateur and do it for fun, but when trying to research how to PROPERLY do it, I got a ton of “just bleach it, it’ll be fine” type things. Thank you!!

  8. What sort of brittleness do you encounter when you do a H2O2 bath after degreasing? I have a moose skull *with rack* that has been exposed to the elements for about 30 or 40 years so the sun appears to have not only bleached it but done an effective job of degreasing it naturally as well. My main goal is to disinfect it with the hydrogen peroxide bath, but even after all that time it’s a pretty sturdy piece and I don’t want to risk turning such a giant piece into a brittle mess

    • I haven’t experienced any brittleness from hydrogen peroxide if the bones aren’t soaked for too long (and by too long, I mean months). If you have a piece that old that’s already been cleaned by nature and processed by the sun, I wouldn’t mess with it too much. You already have a fairly clean piece on your hands. If you’re concerned about disinfecting, maybe just spritz it with hydrogen peroxide and wipe it down. But it’s really about as “dirty” as a rock you’d find in nature. The purpose of soaking fresh bones in H2O2 is to kill the bacteria lingering from the decaying process, which can be harmful to your health.

  9. I tried the maceration and dish soap method with a couple of specimens. After a little over a week, I was horrified to see that a LOT of my bones had turned completely BLACK! This really frightened me because I thought my bones were ruined. I took them out and let them dry. The next day, most of the black had disappeared but there were a couple of spots where I could still see it. This was only a WEEK in water and degreaser (I should probably specify that I had some bones just in water and other bones in water with dish soap. I had black bones in both solutions.) I’m having trouble getting rid of ligaments and little bits of tissue. A couple of my bones still smell as well.
    What caused them to turn black? How do I prevent that in the future?
    Also how much Dawn did you put in your solution? It looks like quite a bit. I probably only put in a tablespoon.

    • I’m hoping to do a detailed documentation of the maceration process for a future blog post since I think this is the part most people don’t quite understand. I just want to clarify a few things before I get to specifically answering your questions, haha. Maceration is a bacterial process that restarts the decomposition stage of putrefaction and essentially eats any flesh and tissue off the bones. [This] is a specimen before I put it in a bucket of water and left it in the sun for several months. And [this] is that specimen after I dumped the bucket and sifted out the bones. If bacteria was able to consume almost that entire coyote, it should be able to help you out with removing a few ligaments. However, maceration requires patience. That coyote was in there for 6 months, which is way longer than I would recommend, but about 3 weeks would probably do the trick. If it’s still not working, it probably has to do with temperature. Maceration requires warm temps; I live in San Diego so I’ve never had a problem with this, but I have heard a few people say they can’t seem to get this process to work in their state’s climate. In this case, you could potentially leave bones out for nature to continue to clean (ants and other things), but you risk losing them to little critters all together. Or you could carefully attempt to remove the tissue by hand.

      Now, as for the bones being black, I can’t really diagnose the problem without seeing a photo. But it’s probably either bacteria, grease, or both. As you can see in that second Instagram image I linked above, the bones are pretty dark after coming out of the maceration/bacteria bath. Your bones probably just need a good soak in a degreasing bath. Use a generous amount of dish soup (WAY more than 1tbs) and let them soak for as long as they need to get most of the crud out of the bones (this can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months – change the water and add new soap every week or so). Then, hydrogen peroxide should do the trick for whitening those once you’ve got most the grease out. Degreasing and whitening should take care of the smell – a strong smell means there’s still bacteria in the bones.

      This skunk skull featured in this post actually still has a bit of a smell in a few areas where I can still see grease spots under the surface. I also had a few coyote bones that were really stubborn and smelled horrible in the denser areas no matter how long I soaked them. I finally just let them sit in an open container of hydrogen peroxide for about a month until all the liquid had evaporated. I don’t really recommend this since it can make the bones brittle, but the smell was finally gone.

      Hope this all helps!

  10. Thanks for this page! My best friend gets a lot of roadkill and cleans the majority of them, and just afew days ago when I stayed the night he let me pick a lot of small femus and tibia ^_^ even gave me some deer femurs and I’m woeking on them right now :) I am so glad to know how to clean bones properly now ^_^ and for the bones I actually use the small ones for pins ( I make voodoo dolls and I love the look of the needles inside of the bone, kind of looks like a cool hatpin, only shorter :) and the vertibraeand small bones will be used for bone reading :) so pumped! Except he and 1 are only people that I think do this kind of stuff….my town is VERY weird about it xD

  11. Thank you for this! My best friend picks up roadkill and he gives me a lot of bones (I personally love vertebrae,skulls and Femurs, larger the better) :) I’m at the degreasing process already and im so glad I know how to do it well x) I’ll be making pins with the small femurs and tibia I received (for voodoo dolls, kind of like hat pins) and the big deer femurs into handles for something (not sure yet) and small miscrlanious bones will be for bone reading :)

  12. Hi I jist found a sort of spine at the edge of the water at the beach today. Its got a small amount of white flesh on it and I was wondering how to clean it whilst keeping it all intact l dont want the spine to fall apart. Please help! Thanks

    • You can probably just soak it in warm water and remove the flesh with tweezers. If you want to thoroughly clean them and get rid of any tissue keeping the vertebrae together, you’ll want to macerate them by leaving in a container of water in a warm environment for several weeks. The spine will come apart, but you can always easily piece it back together like a puzzle with some glue.

  13. Dear Corinne,

    My cat died last November, got hit by a car, and, without it sounding too macabre, I want to excavate her and use her as a reference skeleton for my archaeological dissertation on cats. Do you know how long until it would be safe to excavate her, without any risk of tissue still being present? I don’t think she was wrapped in a blanket at burial. Many thanks, Sarah

    • Hey Sarah! That should be plenty of time for most of the tissue to have decayed or be eaten by insects. If you disinter the body, you might find some tough bits of tissue still attached, but that should be easy to remove either through maceration of just following the tips above.

      • I’ll be burying my cat soon unfortunately, should I bury him in an intact bag or would it be better to put holes in the bag? He’s at the taxidermist having his fur tanned now… Thank you for your site and appreciation for the beauty of nature!

  14. once i read the bleach ruins the bones I ran outside to redo the whole process but with soap and water this time. Hopefully it wasnt out soaking long enough for it to do any damage. But I got the deer jaws from road kill and I wanted the skull too but well there was still some skin left making it hard to have just kinda twisted it off like I have other animals….hopefully its still there and I will go try again.

    • Depending on the bone, especially if it’s thinish, and how yellowed it already was, it may seem to yellow a bit while soaking, but should dry whiter. I’ve had one or two small bones that have done that, though it wasn’t a big change in color while soaking. I believe it may be due to the thinker bone being less opaque while saturated through, and letting light through differently. Mine have dried white once finished.

  15. My daughter found some opossum bones on a trail today. I think they must’ve been there a while there is no tissue on them (that I can see) and don’t look oily at all. Can I put them straight into a 50/50 peroxide bath or should I go through the dawn process anyway? Also was considering purchasing a microscope and viewing them at a later date. Will the peroxide damage the specimen for microscopic viewing? Thanks in advance!!

    • If the bones aren’t greasy, a soap bath will just clean em up and sanitize. If after doing that and after you’ve left them to dry, the bones are white enough to your liking, I wouldn’t bother with the peroxide bath. The only bones I clean with peroxide are ones I’ve processed from fresh carcasses since there’s still usually a lot of active bacteria inside and on the bones. I rarely clean dry bones I find that have already been stripped clean by nature.

    • I also found a possum carcass, almost completely rotted! Luckily I could see the feet and tail still and that I info plus the narrow skull showed me it was a possum :) This article was extremely helpful as I have never done anything like this before. Is it possible it might’ve decayed too much? No matter how gentle I was, the skull kept breaking and I was unable to use it(I got the teeth out and other bones).

      • I’m not sure why, but possum skulls are really finicky. I’ve never had one not fall apart into a million pieces after trying to clean. If you’re lucky/careful, you can piece it back together with some glue.

      • Could you tell me what the concentration of the peroxyde you got from target is? Should be somewhere on the label.
        I’m not from the US and I have no idea what the standard concentration is over there, so I’d like to make sure the one I can get here (which is 3%) aren’t too far off, or, if it’s very different, adapt the water-to-peroxyde ratio to match c:

  16. Hi! This information has been extremely useful, I’d like your advice regarding a research project I’m doing. I need to clean some pig spine (that I’m most likely going to buy from the butcher’s) and I’m going to be casting it in some polyurethane-like molding. What’re your recommended steps for complete cleaning of the vertebrae, since there’s going to be a lot of marrow and other tissues attached to the spine? Are there any special precautions I should take, or certain reagents to use? Also, approximately how long will the entire process take? Thanks so much for your help :)

  17. I buried my cat 2.5 years ago. He was about three feet deep. I have been struck by this need to keep his bones, so I very much want to dig him up and clean his bones. I live in NorCal near Sacramento. Any idea what I can expect when I dig him up? Thank you for posting this tutorial!

  18. How refreshing it is to see an easy explanation on how to do something ! Everything is so over complicated these days. I found a dead cat in my field. The Vultures were here in force on Halloween ! Such a treat ! The skeleton is mostly bones now. Not much left but the paws with fur and flesh on. I brought the skull and part of the backbone home, but, boy does it smell ! Beyond me as to why it smells with no flesh on it. Anyway, I want to clean them all up and put him back together. Never have done this before. I will try to get some of the soap you mentioned. Might wait for nature to finish off the rest of the body. Thanks, for your blog. Loved reading it. Thanks, for keeping it simple~~~

  19. Thanks a lot for the useful guide. I would like to ask do I have to repeat the whiten and sanitize step with the time and how often do I have to do that? I’ve noticed that the colour of the bones is changing with the time and they appear more yellow than they were before. I suppose a 50/50 bath of hydrogen peroxide and water could fix this.

    • They’ll have a yellowish tint when they’re wet, but should lighten as they dry. You can do as many hydrogen peroxide soaks as needed until they achieve the desired whiteness. But you won’t get bleach white bones though — since this is a natural cleaning method, the bones will maintain a slight yellow that’s natural to their color. I typically soak them for a few days in the 50/50 bath, rinse them with water, smell them (gross, but if there’s still bacteria in them, they’ll have a bad smell), and then do another 50/50 bath for a few more days.

    • It’s perfectly safe to keep the peroxide solution in your house, as hydrogen peroxide is a household item more frequently used for health and beauty purposes (cleaning cuts, whitening teeth, etc). Just keep it out of reach from your pets so they don’t drink or spill it. (Side note: small amounts of hydrogen peroxide can be given to dogs to induce vomiting if they’ve ingested something poisonous. So it isn’t toxic for them to be around it if that’s what you’re worried about.)

  20. Hi, I used dermestid beetles to clean off a rabbit skeleton but some of the bones (the spine and ribs as well as some of the feet) are still connected loosely by connective tissue. How do you recommend removing this?

    I soaked them in hydrogen peroxide for 2 days and although they are whiter, many of the bones are still a red/brown color (maybe where the bone marrow was since it is in the long bones and ribs mostly). Will the peroxide remove this eventually? Since rabbit bones are already very fragile/brittle, I’m worried about leaving the bones in the peroxide or water for too long. I’ve moved them to a dish soap bath for at least a day now after reading your post.

    • Hi Liz! What you need to do is a process called maceration. I’m currently working on a new bone cleaning post that will cover this method more in-depth. But essentially what you would do is put the bones in a container of water. Depending on the climate (maceration needs warmer temps), maceration can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for the bacteria to strip the remaining flesh.

  21. I have never worked with bones before but recently a friend gave me some and I am attempting to clean/bleach them. I put the bones straight into a 50/50 peroxide-water bath and did not degrease them first. They were subdried bones found in the bush, but many of them have dark discolourations which I assume to be grease.
    Can I degrease them after a peroxide bath? I now realise I should have cleaned/degreased them first, but is it possible to degrease after a peroxide bath?

    • It’s not necessary to degrease before peroxide. The degreasing step is really just a matter of preference. Without seeing the bones, I can’t exactly tell you what’s going on with them. But I’m assuming the dark spots are more likely algae or mold. I tend to find that sundried bones don’t have a lot of grease in them. You can try soaking the bones in peroxide longer to try to get rid of the stains, but sometimes they’re on there for good.

  22. Hi, I recently went out looking for bones and found some random bits before stumbling across a whole deer skeleton. Im currently in the process of doing a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide bath with the skeleton. But I wanted to experiment with the random bits i found so I boiled them (I mostly found parts of jaws and i wanted to get the teeth out ) and I was wondering about drying them. Everywhere I’ve read says to lay them out but I was wondering where I should lay them out? Like can I just lay them on a counter in the house or do I need to leave them outside?

  23. greetings!! your bone cleaning tutorial looks fantastic, all steps are explained well and the imaginary is great! got me real excited for bone collecting, too, and i’ve as for so far got two pike heads out in the open waiting to decompose. today I found a bird skull from our yard, and im super excited!! it’s really very fragile, really thin, and paper-dry, likely its been out there for quite a while? most likely going to skip the degreasing step with this one, but is the whitening okay for fragile skulls? also would you have any tips that it could be strengthened anyhow?
    thank you so much for taking time to read my mess of a comment! you’re a wonderful person! ‘v’

    • Be careful with bird skulls (if you’re located in the US, that is). Nearly every bird species, save for a few, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act making it illegal to possess any part of a protected bird. Glossing over that though, haha… I really wouldn’t put it in anything if it’s already fragile. The hydrogen peroxide can make it brittle, and if it doesn’t need whitening, I’d just put it in with a little soap and water to clean off any dirt and then display it somewhere for safe keeping. For strengthening, some people coat skulls in varnish, but I personally think the glossiness looks bad, so I just leave skulls as they are.

  24. i was wondering what skull that is you have as an example! i found the same one in the forest but i can’t identify it because it was too weathered. that one appears to be an almost perfect match :D

    • This one is a skunk. Can’t say yours is the same without seeing a photo of it. Small animal skulls can look fairly similar unless you know what differences to look for.

  25. I was wondering how you go about cleaning the inside of skulls and such ? Like getting stuff out like stubborn dirt

    • Hi Paige! I usually macerate skulls that are really dirty and that typically takes care of everything inside. I’ll be making a more detailed post on maceration as soon as I’m finished processing my latest find. :)

    • I work almost exclusively with small bird skulls. I use a waterpik, set on low pressure to flush gunk out of skulls. You have to be careful with the pressure of the water, but as long as you start at the lowest setting and adjust accordingly, you’ll be fine. Also, find a place to work outside because you’re gong to get wet.

  26. Iv got a goat skull and it has fur and its eyes are still in but they are all dry,do you have some tips to get rid of the fur and tissue fast?

  27. I have a cat that is in a similar situation as your coyote. Is the threat of animals eating/stealing the cat still there during the maceration process? Do you cover the container that you are macerating in? You said the coyote took a few months, do you have an estimate on how long a cat would take? The bones are still stuck together, but there isn’t much else on them. How fortunate you are to have a yard! I am trying to figure out where I can do this, we live in an apartment. Have you ever had anybody tell you how they did it without much space? Have you ever tried articulating any of your finds? If so, what is the reality of that? Is it as crazy hard as it seems to be?

    • Your maceration container should be sealed closed. The whole process can vary depending on size of specimen, how much tissue is left on the bone, surrounding temperature, whether or not there’s a lot of bacteria growing and staying alive, etc, so I really can’t tell you how long yours will take. You just have to leave it, be patient, and check on it once in a while.

      I don’t know of anyone who does this in a small apartment setting and I highly advise against it. It smells really bad (like really REALLY bad). Even in an airtight container, the smell still manages to permeate. And after the process is finished, you absolutely will not want to open that thing inside your apartment or anywhere close to where other people will be. When I lived in a smaller space, I kept a few small maceration containers in the laundry room and dumped them in the shared front yard far enough away from the building. I’ve heard of people driving their maceration tubs to another location and dumping em outdoors too. But the smell totally stunk up the laundry room even in sealed containers.

      I’ve personally never articulated any of my finds mostly because I don’t usually gather every piece after leaving it to decompose. I know most artists who articulate use dermestid beetles for cleaning to ensure they have everything. There’s nothing more frustrating than starting a puzzle and realizing you’re missing a few pieces!

  28. Pingback: Crafting a Green World | The home for green crafts and tutorials!

  29. Pingback: How to Whiten Bones | hometips.co.za

  30. I’ve had my dead rat in the freezer for months waiting to find something to do with her. I’m going to try this process. I sat her inside a shoebox, inside a plastic bin, and I put a cage around that to protect from things eating her. Hope in to figure out how to articulate her skeleton after this is all done. Any suggested tutorials for that? Some people might think it’s weird to do this to a pet, but I’ve always wanted to do something like this with something, so why not one of my pets so I can hold on to her forever?

  31. I bought a wrist band made with a snake spine, its whiten, but there seems to be a little stench. Does step 5 help remove the stench ?

    • Bones will always have a bit of a smell. If it bothers you, don’t wear dead animal parts. I don’t mean for that to be snarky, but some people try so hard to turn these once living organisms into man-made lifeless plastics for jewelry and decoration.

  32. Hi! I recently found a skeleton of a small animal in the forest. I decided to bring it home, clean it, and possibly mount it on a block of wood. Your blog has been a great help, thank you so much! I have been unable to identify the skeleton, because it was picked clean when I found it, until I saw your picture for this. It looks almost identical to mine! I’m wondering what it is you have there, so that I know what sort of animal my skeleton might be.

  33. Would you recommend the same process for teeth extracted from a still-alive cat?

    I want to save his teeth- I scrubbed and soaked for about 2 minutes with 3% hydrogen peroxide (is that the standard percentage it comes in?) should I still do a degreasing soak and a long hydrogen peroxide bath?

    On one hand, the death/decomposition process probably hasn’t started if they’re freshly extracted, but also the teeth had cavities and enough crap around them that they had to be removed in the first place…what would you recommend? The main goals are sanitizing and not damaging them- whitening is cool but less of a priority…thanks!

  34. This post is so informative and detailed – thank you for sharing your process. I have some older bones I’d like to clean up a bit: the spine and pelvis of a small deer (possibly antelope?) that I found about 6 years ago in the desert. It was already fairly sun-bleached with virtually no odor when I found it. However, it’s all still amazingly been held together by some sort of tough stringy connective tissue, probably cartilage, but completely dried out. This tissue stuff doesn’t look very nice, and I’d like if possible to remove it or at least get it less visible, then reassemble the bones using glue. Do you recommend a maceration bath even after all this time, or might the peroxide bath whiten it up as well as making it easier to clean up?

    • Maceration is really the only way you’ll be able to get all that tough tissue off without damaging the bone. I’m working on a more detailed post about that and will be posting it as soon as I’m finished processing and documenting my latest find. :)

  35. Hey there!

    I dissected a fetal pig when I was a junior in high school (2013) and my teacher let me keep a section of the vertebrae column! I wanted to use them for jewelry (more specifically plugs) and I was curious as how to get the remaining flesh off of the vertebrae. I believe the fetal pig was preserved in something (not so sure what it was) and the vertebrae section has been wrapped in a paper towel and in a ziploc baggie since 2013. I really have been wanting to use it, but I don’t know how to get the flesh off.
    Any advice??

    Thank you!

  36. I found a moose skull with antlers on it (but the tips of the antlers are all beat up because it was hit by a car). Anyways, I am going to soak the skull in the dish liquid first, as mentioned above. This skull with the antlers is not going to fit in a regular sized bucket due to the width. So my question is this: Do I just soak the skull part and not the antlers? I am trying to figure out if the antlers will be harmed by this soaking process, or the hydrogen peroxide process.?

        • Hm, strange. I’ve never heard of antlers having an infestation problem (only skulls, horns, and taxidermy having issues with carpet bugs). I can’t tell you what to do with certainty, but my first response would be to just hose em off.

          • I hosed them off, they came back. I will figure something out.
            Just put the skull in the water / peroxide mix, my first attempt at this , so let’s see how it goes. Need to get a bigger bucket though, gonna have to soak the bottom half now, then flip it over.

          • oh, I just noticed in the directions for the peroxide bath that it should be mostly covered, my skull is too big for the bucket, gonna have to leave it uncovered, hopefully will come out okay.

  37. I found a perfectly intact snake skeleton. All the flesh is gone but there is still some dried skin attached to the bones. They’re so delicate, I’m afraid to try to pull the skin off myself. What would you suggest as the best way to remove this remaining skin? Thanks in advance!

  38. Thank you so much for this! My dad found a carcass behind our fence (I think it’s either a raccoon or a opossum it’s pretty unrecognizable) and I’ve gathered up the pieces of the skull, which was completely stripped of flesh by nature, so I just went to the fourth step. I can’t wait until it’s all done being clean so I can glue the pieces together and display it! Also would super glue be good enough, or if there a specific glue for this sort of thing?

    • I use a tiny bit of hot glue to piece skulls back together. Super glue works too, but I just hate getting it on my hands – which definitely happens when you’re working with small pieces. You can glue teeth back into place with regular Elmer’s or white glue.

  39. Nice to see you presenting such interesting post. I am really happy with this information. If you are OK enough please discuss the difference between natural and chemical maceration of bone. It is difficult to have this material from internate.

  40. I live in an apartment complex. Today I found a dead rabbit and I would be over the moon if I could process the bones. But I’m worried about the smell affecting my neighbors. Ive got it in a cardboard box with the top open in the back of a truck at the moment. Would it be simpler/safer to bury it?

  41. I recently purchased a large cow skull from an antique store that I intend to paint, but i can’t even bring the bone inside because the stench is so repulsive. I made the mistake of soaking it in a bleach and water solution for one whole night, but removed it immediately when I heard of the danger. I then soaked it for a day in a cleaning solution with a pleasantly strong smell, and also let it lay in direct sunlight for a week. the color doesn’t concern me, but the smell has to go. any tips?

    • Try soaking it in hydrogen peroxide and water for a few days to a week. Then do like you did and leave it to dry completely in the sun. Cow skulls are really dense so sometimes the smell is hard to get rid of. I have a pretty smelly one hanging on my wall (it’s the horns that stink the worst), but you only really notice if you put your face right against it. Remember, bone will always have a bit of a smell to it anyways, but hopefully this method will help make it tolerable.

  42. I’m not sure if you’re still active on here, but I thought I would try asking :)
    I just brought home a raccoon I’ve been watching decompose in the neighborhood for months. I think he was hit by a car in early summer and seems to just be bones and skin now. Its just that the whole thing is one big mass of gross fur and as much as I love bones, I’m pretty squeamish with the skin. To make things harder, I live in an apartment with a tiny public patio so I don’t have much work space. Do you have any suggestions to excavate the bones from the skin and fur, as cleanly as possible? I think I’m going to just have to suck it up or enlist help to slice off the hide.

    • What you’ve described is how all of my pieces start. I’ll pick up fresh roadkill and leave it outside to decompose naturally until it’s just fur and tough hide. Then I go out with a bandana around my face, rubber gloves, and a pocket knife, and start carefully cutting back as much skin as possible. Most of it should come off fairly easily. The rest, maceration will take care of.

  43. Hi, these steps are very helpful, considering I just found a dead field mouse, by one of my neighbors house. I live next to a lot of other houses, and with my parents, I have some questions for you. First off, I’m planning on burying the little guy, then follow your steps. Here’s my questions, my mom doesn’t want it to smell, even though it will while it goes through its decomposition process, I was wondering if you have an advice to bring down the smell a bit? Can I cover it, if I bury it in an old garden pot, or? I don’t want my mom to throw it away if she starts to get bothered by it, since this is my first time cleaning bones. Also how long should I keep the field mouse buried, since he’s pretty small? If this info would be helpful, the field mouse seems only a couple of days old, still totally intact, he only started stinking a bit.. Sorry I’ve written a lot, but one more thing, once I’ve done all your steps and the little guy is all clean, no flesh, I wanted to reconstruct his skeleton, might also mount him on a plaque or something, do you have any advice/tips in doing that too? Thank you for your wonderful tips, I hope you can help me!

  44. Hi,
    My 7 years old daughter found a tortoise shell. It’s beautiful and white (found near the sea shore), and apparently there’s no flesh inside, only few darker spots, but it smells quite bad and I’m not sure how to proceede with it.

  45. I saw a few comments on birds and such. We had a few too many roosters a few years back and so I have two heads. One I left under a pot near an ant hill and so it is pretty well cleaned of meat and such. Definitely fragile and in need of some love to make it look nicer. Any tips?

  46. This is fantastic. I’ve recently started collecting bones and they’re just stuffed in jars and I’d much rather have my lovelies out in the open for everyone to see.

  47. I found a dead snake two days ago. I live in Estonia and the weather is quite cold already so I guess maceration is out of question. What ohter methods work and if I decide to bury this snake, how long would it take for it to decompose?

  48. Thank you so much for writing this. I went outside today and found some adorable little chipmunks that unfortunately met their end in a large tub of water. I’m aiming to get them out and bury them today so that they can decompose in the dirt. Do you think that will take a long time? Where I live there are a ton of bugs (I live right next to the woods). Anyway, I’m excited to save this cute little guys’ bones.

    • Decomposition time varies greatly depending on so many factors (size, climate, exposure to insects, etc). So I can’t really give you an estimate. I would just suggest keeping them covered enough so something doesn’t take them away but still so flies can access and lay their eggs.

  49. I picked up two goat skulls at a farm a few days ago, one is already whitened/bleached from exposure and the other still has its horns and is a bit dirty. I took them home but I live in an apartment and have very restricted space, do you have any tips for cleaning/sanitizing that doesn’t involve long periods of soaking in toxic chemicals? If I gently scrubbed them in the laundry sink with just some soapy water would that get rid of most of the bacteria? I’m not too concerned about whitening them right now, I just want to make sure they’re sanitised/relatively hygienic. Thanks so much!

  50. Hello! I’m a second year vet student and I find animal sculls to be very exciting and interesting as well as educational for myself, I found some skull sin the forest and would like to start a collection. Right now I’m keeping them in the dish-washing step but I wanted to ask about peroxide. Does it kill all bacteria ant germs that may be found on the skull? Can I touch it with my bare hands freely after that? I’ve always been told to leave bones alone so not to get any diseases? I’m not that far into studying so I don’t really know these things yet, thank you for your time!

  51. Very helpful! !!
    I’m now overloaded with ideas! Question. . . Older bones that have been laying in fields for a year or more have turned grey and have tiny cracks all over them; will these stand up to your ‘whitening’ step, or crack further?

  52. Great article. My son wants to clean bones of his cat. I am going to show him your article. Actually your information is really useful. There isn`t a lot of methods of cleaning bones on the web. Greetings!

  53. Hi! It seems there are so many comments on here about cleaning bones, so I have my answers there. My boyfriend found a dead rabbit in his yard, he kept the skull, I have some of the bones. I’m wondering if you have ideas of creative ways to display the bones, or pictures of your own findings. I am also considering digging up a stray cat that had died and we buried a few years ago. It was left in a container. I think this might make a good project knowing that all of the bones would be there. Also, I am curious on other ways to find animal carcasses/bones. Do you take them home from the woods or sides of the road when you find them, like roadkill? Thanks!

  54. I use peroxide for whitening as well – I’d love to know why you’ve said to not use an airtight container? I travel in summers with my van around the country and clean an bleach the bones i find for jewellery. I loved using urine sample containers for bleaching small bones with peroxide before they dont leak or spill while im driving or things get moved around.
    Am I impeding the bleaching process by using sealed containers?

  55. Really urgent question!
    Does it matter if you use the hydrogen peroxide first and degreaser second?

    Really good article… Will add to my notes I’m using to reatriculate my fox skeleton.

      • Damn ok :) thank you… I saw you arctical after I started putting them through hydrogen peroxide. They won’t go yellow again will they? Also if it has a black tinge on the end of the bone, that you see when wet, does this mean it is mouldy? I would send you a photo but I can’t

  56. Ok I’ve whitened a few bones before but I wanted to try chicken bones that I got from a chicken I cooked. Note that I deboned the chicken first so these bones have not been cooked. My question is how do you get the marrow out? I thought I’d heard that if you don’t take the bone marrow out it may stink or rot or something. Sorry if this question was already asked.

    • Marrow is just a fatty substance in the bone. Degreasing draws out some of this. Honestly you want some grease in your bones – it keeps them from becoming chalky and brittle. Just follow the cleaning methods I’ve listed above – I’ve used this for all types of bones (large and small skulls, found bones with little remaining tissue, and fresh bones from roadkill with lots of connecting tissue). I’ve never had a problem with bones rotting.

  57. Great blog! Looking for some advice. Do you have any suggestions for grease marks that show up AFTER degreasing and using peroxide? I went through this whole process with a coyote skull last year it looked perfect but recently I noticed 2 perfect circular grease spots on the top of the skull, right beside where the eye sockets end. I’m not sure what caused them, but do you think I would have a better change of removig them with some water and dish soap or a hydrogen peroxide bath? I could e-mail you a photo if it helps. Thanks!

    • That’s a common location for tough grease spots. You could soak it in dish soap and water for longer to try to draw more of it out (could take a couple weeks) or do another peroxide soak for a couple days. It’s really a matter of preference though. I prefer skulls to have some grease in them because it keeps them more durable. Treating skulls too much and drawing out too much grease causes them to become brittle.

  58. Hello!

    Here is my question: I recently found a squirrel that has been dead for a few months now. But, it was buried under wet leaves all Autumn and then two feet of snow. I can see bones, but it appears partly mummified. What would be the best process to strip it completely? Not even the hawks, pigeons, raccoons, or bugs of NYC have helped.

    Thanks! :)

    • Remove what you can with your hands and/or tweezers. You can also soak in warm water for a bit to soften it up before trying to remove. Just be careful not to damage the bones while doing so. Then soak it in a sealed container of water for several weeks to a couple months (time varies on so many factors – temp, size, etc). This process is called maceration. What it does is creates bacteria that will eat the remaining tissue off the bone. Then follow the steps I’ve explained in detail in this post.

  59. Almost two years ago I found a skull while hiking. I saved in a box for a long time and then my husband took it out and cleaned it. We think he used bleach, but aren’t completely sure what it was. Today I noticed that the skull was going yellow! It was mostly isolated to one edge of the skull, but still concerning. We looked it up only to discover that bleach is not the way to go. We love this skull (we think it’s a fox) and want to salvage it, if possible. Please, any tips??

  60. Hiya, sorry to bother you with this but I recently got some large cattle thigh bones to clean for use in a jewellery project, I had recently started to macerate them but have recently been advised to remove the marrow, but Ive seen you mention in the comments that this is not entirely necessary.

    My issue is that I had planned to cut these bones, cross section them so I had disks of bone. I’ve seen this done in jewellery before, with what looks like marrow in the centre of the circles… But now I hear that marrow can rot and I’m not entirely sure what to do or how that will work anymore? Is there any way to preserve the marrow?
    The bones need to be cleaned before they are cut as my workshop will unfortunately not allow me to cut unclean bones o_o

  61. So I have this project for a college biology class where we have a semester to articulate a bird skeleton. I found a dead bird today and its in my backyard. I am incredibly grossed out by it. I’ve been reading blogs and stuff, It seems really fresh and I just don’t know what to do next (other than vomit).

  62. I was given a little bat over the summer last year. It had been sitting outside for quite some time and doesn’t have a whole lot of flesh left on it. However the bits of fur and whatnot that is left is mostly mummified. With having such incredibly tiny bones (and it’s still fully intact with claws, teeth etc) I don’t want to lose any and hope to re-articulate after fully cleaning.
    Do you have any advice for something so small to keep everything together? How would you go about cleaning it?
    I have minimal experience but all was with much larger specimens, (I have a nearly complete deer skeleton from two years ago that a family member found in the woods and later burnt to avoid larger predators in the area. But there was still a lot of flesh on those bones on the underside. Salvaged what I could of the burnt bones. I’d say she was about 70% complete. I also discovered she was pregnant and have a few pieces of her baby) but the deer was simple in comparison. I also have two birds wrapped in a mesh buried currently and a lizard also the same. But again small bones and I’m not sure how to proceed once I dig them up.

    Any advice would be immensely helpful!

  63. Good morning! I’ve been trying to hand at cleaning bones this past year but found a new problem in my degreasing bucket. I have a little buck that check on this morning to see that there’s little worm like bugs swimming in my water. Have you ever come across something like this? If you havent, what would you recommend doing? Thank you!

    • Those are larvae from insects (either flies or mosquitos) laying eggs in your maceration water. That’s why I recommend covering your container. The bugs won’t damage the bone, but you probably don’t want those maturing and turning into pesky adult insects around your house.

  64. nice blog! but have 1 quick question, my female jacksons chameleon died, i laid her outside and ants ate everything no more flesh and everything else but there this bit of skin that sticked in the skull? any ideas on how to remove them? thanks!!

  65. You post is great. My dog just passed and we buried him two days ago. He was like our child and I’d really like to keep his bones after the decomposition process is complete. Do you have a suggestion as to how long I should wait before I dig him up? He was a lean dog but pretty tall and weighed about 85lbs. He’s buried in a cool and moist, shaded area with soil that I imagine is fairly active with bugs and microbes. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Decomposition time varies greatly depending on so many factors (size, climate, exposure to insects, etc). So I can’t really give you an exact estimate. Due to the sensitive nature of handling a family member, I would suggest waiting several months to a year to disinter the body unless you’re absolutely comfortable seeing it in whatever state it’s in. The dry decay stage can take up to a year, so you won’t find dry bones until about that time. Before then, you’re likely to find dry tissue and hair attached to bone.

  66. Pingback: Cleaning bones: mallard – VsQ - The Visual SquirrelsVsQ – The Visual Squirrels

    • I use super glue for piecing skulls back together. But I’ve also used hot glue as a connector where parts of the bone may have crumbled away (it’s not as nice looking obviously, but it works good enough).

  67. Hey there! Was just wondering if theres any way to clean/restore bones/antlers that have been left outside and seem to have developed a bit of green algae build up? My friend hunts, and has given me some deer skulls with racks he had laying around his camp, but they all seem a little on the green side. Id love to restore them to their glory and use as art pieces but am unsure how to go about it. Or are they too far gone? Thanks!

  68. Hello Corinne,

    My son and I found a jaw bone, sacrum bone and spine of an elk recently. Some of it still has some greyish stringy bits on the spine. Should we just put it in a container with washing up detergent or something else.

    And regarding the hydrogen peroxide – we would have to have a large container for all these bones – and a lot of hydrogen peroxide too. Is it safe to have a big vat of hydrogen peroxide lying around? Also, what percent hydrogen peroxide?

    Thanks. We are looking forward to hearing back from you and sharing our results when the bones are cleaned up. This is our first bone project.



  69. Great stuff, very good sound info here. I’m a trapper in Southeastern Texas and this lil blog will b most helpful.

  70. Hey Corinne! I live in sw Colorado, and my boyfriend surprised me by bringing home the better part of the spine and pelvis of a cow that he found in an old ranch field at work the other day. All bones are still attached as one solid unit, however are already sunbleached. The fact that they remain connected even after being picked up and transported home leads me to reckon that there is still some connective tissue between the vertebrae. First off, would you recommend macerating first in this case? Or do you think it best to let them be? I guess my main concern is that if I allow the joints to dismantle from one another then I will not be readily able to re-attach them with enough strength to bear any weight (I’d like to weave a macrame wall hanging to drape from it). These vertebrae are very sizeable. Would some kind of epoxy be strong enough to hold the vertebrae together? Thank you for all previous recommendations; you are a wealth of osteo wisdom!

  71. Love reading the blog. Haven’t finished it yet. But what I have read I didn’t see any thing about a snake. I have a baby snake someone killed. It was coiled in a circle so I just left it that way. Let nature take its course. Looks really cool. So I want to keep it the way it is. Will the bleaching prossess make the snake fall apart? Then do you know what I should do so it won’t fall apart? Thanks so much

  72. Hello! Thank you for this post. I have a bison jaw bone with some brown bits on it. It stinks. Def needs a cleaning. Can I do the soap and water then the hydrogen peroxide mix in a glass sealed dish instead of plastic?
    Thanks again!

  73. Fabulously informative u guy’s. There’s just so many different ways but I think this soapy water then peroxide water is the best and is less harsh on the bones. So far have only done skulls of a Cat, a Bluejay and a Rat. But planning and always looking fore more. It’s a pretty cool little hobby I’m starting to pick up.

  74. Hello! I recently found a dead kitten skeleton and I want to clean it up for a science project. It’s surrounded by a lot of fur but I don’t think it’s attached, there also is some dried skin/ tissue on its paws and a bit in a few other places. I may be able to leave it for maybe another week because it’s in our neighbors backyard (it’s vacant) but I think they are trying to rent it out. Should I just clean it now or leave it there? And what should I do if I do clean it?

  75. if you dont have to worry about it getting dragged off, throw any bone with biological s on it into a rabbit pen. take the rabbit pen full of bones, or a skeleton, onto a ant hill, poke it a few times and leave it. you may want to put a block on the top of it, to keep from a dog or such from dragging it off, but i can assure you, its not necessary, after a few ant bites the dog will want nothing to do with trying to breach the cage. it was a cat skeleton, with no fur, and 90% of the meat gone, and it was a bed of the big fire-ants about 6-8 inches high….option 2 and my favorite, and possibly the best way ever, is throw it into a lake . like into a bed of bream or such. a lake will have fish that will pick it clean like piranha with a piece of meat, even the microbes eat the smallest particles left between the joints. come back in a few weeks and check, depending on how much was on their to start. the water softens it, just like some of the options above, the food chain does the rest, the school fish, minnows, and microbes…it will be amazing. i never had problems with them being dragged off because i never put them in more than 4-5-6 inches of water, so only the smallest fish has access. if youre afraid of them being washed out to the deeper water, you might try tying some fishing line around your bones and anchor to the bushes, i again just dropped them in a rabbit pen, and sat a block on them, in about 6 inches of water. they were dog bones, fully dismembered and 80% clean already, and they were fully submerged…fish, minnows, picked them clean as a whistle

  76. I work primarily with bird skulls, and I macerate them in a screened in box above ground since they are fairly delicate. After a few months of natural decomposition, I would spend many hours cleaning the skulls of debris. I recently found a product which has saved me tons of time in the cleaning phase, however. It is a 5 gallon bucket that you hook up to a water hose and it creates a venturi effect with water. The loose debris floats to the top of the water. Cleaning time is cut in my projects by 75% or better. The best part is that you can calibrate the water pressure for the types of skulls you’re cleaning. Light pressure for snipe and quail skulls, but full blast for a hog skull. It’s called a gamewasher. I would think it would be a good macerator too, in that you could just turn on the water to flush out the fat and debris and refresh the water in the bucket.

  77. I was wondering how long it would take a larger bird to decompose in the ground, and do the skulls keep well? We wrapped him in mesh and burried it today. Its been dead about 3 days and was full of fly larvae. We were going to let it decompose above ground but couldnt take the smell. I want to keep his skull and im afraid it will decompose as well since birds are so delicate. Thank you so much, your article is very helpful.

  78. I found 2 amazingly large fish skulls while doing research and decided to take them home. This is my first time dealing with bones, but both specimens were pretty clean when I got them. One has this weird white buildup that didn’t smell that bad, but I’m unsure what kind of reaction it’s having. I’m dumping it straight in H2O2 and water with a dash of bleach to disinfect it. The second one is still greasy, so I’m putting it in the soapy water bath.

    My question is, if you disinfect bones with H2O2 and water, but it still looks greasy, can you soak it in soap again?

  79. I’ve used the peroxide before it defiantly changes the bone alittle differently then the bleaching compound or natural bleaching from the sun. It’s almost a rubbery feeling to the bone after, but haven’t had problems over the long run the bones have all held up good!! I will defiantly use the peroxide again! Thanks for the site! I was looking for something, the first attempt I did the boil method, all kinds of issues with that, but the results turned out decent… next I tried burying one, after a year in the ground it had barely been touched! now I leave it out on top of a bed of rocks with a tote over the top and weighed down by blocks! the skull came out clean, but the surrounding air can be unpleasant for the first part of the year…

  80. So I found what I think is a fox head and it has no tissue left on it. I put it in a container with the hydrogen peroxide and left it for a few hours, and when I checked in on it, the entire thing turned green. Is this normal? Will leaving it longer in the soak make the green go away? Did I do something wrong?

  81. Hi, thanks a ton for the post! I’m entirely new to all of this, so it’s very helpful.

    I have a quick question though. I recently bought a couple of skulls from a local person that appear to be clean, but they have a peculiar smell to them. The coyote skull does have some yellow tints in the bone the skunk one doesn’t have, but maybe that’s just normal. I wished I’d asked her how she cleaned them, but forgot. Is the weird smell just normal to bones, or if I put them in the peroxide solution would that go away?


  82. Hello!
    So I did a Eurpean Deer Mount with my buck I shot last year. I was able to get it all clean after I had left it outside most of the summer. The problem is, it rained a lot this summer and the head mount has a little bit of a musty smell to it. What do you suggest to get rid of the wet musty smell?
    Thanks again!

  83. This post is amazing, so succinct! I’ve been wanting for ages to start making bone jewelry, renaissance fair accessories, art, etc and I am finally starting to put together a list of materials and procedures..this post was exactly what I needed. Any tips on removing teeth for reuse without damaging the teeth or the skull from which I’m pulling them?

  84. I’ve recently found a dead bat, would like to clean the whole skeleton as a project with my kids. Do you know if we need to worry about viruses, etc, that may be carried by the bat? Do you know how long these may stick around?

  85. Hi there! This guide is so helpful, and I’m excited to use these methods to clean a gopher pelvis. However, while I found the pelvis pretty clean, there is still the tail attached. Any advice on how to handle the tail?

  86. Ok. So I don’t know if you’re still answering questions on this post or not, but I have three wishbones I would like to preserve and whiten and such. However, their about 10 years old or older and still have bits of flesh on them. Idk how to get the flesh off of them and even though I read your post, you really didn’t get into the whole process of maceration. I don’t have access to beetles and what not. Can you please tell me what I should do? I’d really appreciate it Thanks :)

  87. Hello!
    So I have a question for you. my cats, being the little murderers that they are, killed a sparrow last night and it is mostly void of any real meaty bits. just a few feathers and some skin left. Is there a quicker way than burying that might be appropriate for this task?

  88. I have some pelican bones that are all clean except a small amount of cartilage on the ends. They are otherwise clean and very white. Would the peroxide/water solution take care of it?

    • The hydrogen peroxide step is for whitening and sanitizing. It won’t remove flesh/tissue. You’ll need to soak in a closed container of water for several weeks to boot up the maceration process so the bacteria can eat away at the remaining cartilage.

    • I’ve never cleaned bird bones. Most / almost all bird species are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are illegal to possess parts of (in the US).

      Glossing over that though, haha… You can use the same methods above. Just keep an eye on it during the hydrogen peroxide stage since it can cause fragile bones to become very brittle if you soak for too long.

  89. Thanks for your step to step guide. A friend gave me a whale bone they found on a beach. As it is rather big I am guessing it will need rather a lot of peroxide to clean it. Could you recommend any other way to clean it? I donlt mind if it is not really white.

    • Standard household 3% hydrogen peroxide is super cheap. It’s like 60 cents for a 16oz bottle at Target (if you’re in the US). I’m sure you could find larger quantities for even cheaper online. If you can’t get ahold of 3% hydrogen peroxide (I know the UK has some restrictions, making it difficult to find), you could just soak it in a bucket of dish soap and water. That won’t whiten it, but it’ll at least clean and sanitize for the most part.

  90. My Mother In Law is taking ages to decompose, any suggestions to speed the process up? (my wife is home at 3pm today and it would be great to have it all finished by then…).

  91. If anyone checks this, My dog died a few years ago. I wanted to do a full skeletal recreation. I dug him up, well… after 2 years and a very impressed me, he had bearly decomposed. Still fur meat no eyes but it looked like he was sleeping, where do I go from here? Do I skin him I live in the city don’t have space to let animals pick at him. How do I begin here? He’s my dog I had him for 5 years. Help?

  92. Found these almost perfectly clean bones. Was wondering what they were, i linked my instagram but im not sure if it will be posted with this hopefully it will. Jist put them in a bath of soap and water to clean them slightly and they shpuld be good to go

  93. Hi, thank you for such a great post.
    I’ve been processing small animal bones that I find and the occasional fresh bird (I just wrap freshies in a wire mesh cage and loosely bury them).
    Yesterday on our drive home we came across a freshly killed racoon, and thought if we could get the skeleton it would be a cool addition to our collections.
    Usually I just find bones that need a little cleaning, this guy is huge and fully intact. I drilled holes all over a large clear plastic container, sealed the coon in and placed it in the woods with rocks on top. Do you think this will be effective? I want it to decompose with nature’s help and be able to keep an eye on it as well…but without it being buried I’m not sure if this will work as well.
    Any advice or thoughts would be appreciated :)

  94. I found a whale vertebrae a couple days ago in the ocean while shallow diving for shells. The vertebrae is very clean. It appears to have been tumbled around and stuck in the sand for a while. It’s dingy in color but does not need any other cleaning done to it. Would I still need to soak it in dish detergent and then peroxide and water to get it whiter in color?

  95. So I was at the beach today and found two vertebrae. I’ve never cleaned bones and I was wondering if I have to remove the marrow? It’s white but I wasn’t sure If it will start to smell or something. Also, one is in great condition to just start degreasing and cleaning but the other has some brown stuff stuck to it and I’m really not sure if it’s ligaments or stuff from the sea, and I’m not sure how to tell. I may be able to just cut it off. Any advice on vertebrae would be helpful!

    • Marrow is just a fatty substance in the bone. Degreasing draws out some of this. Honestly, you want some grease in your bones – it keeps them from becoming chalky and brittle. If the brown stuff doesn’t come off easily, you can follow the masceration steps above.

  96. Hi Corinne,
    Before I saw your paper on the technique of removing soft tissue from skeletal tissue, I discovered a similar technique detailed in a report from Colorado Mesa University. The title of their report is, “A Comparison of Maceration Techniques for Use in Forensic Skeletal Preparations”. They compared two products, Dawn liquid soap and Greased Lightening. The report stated that the Greased Lightening (GL) produced better results. Upon their recommendation, I used the GL but, in my effort to prepare a Ground Hog corpse, I found that the tendons were reluctant to part company with the skeletal tissue. What do you suggest as the best technique to employ to achieve separation of the tendons, without damaging the skeletal tissue?

  97. Thank you for this post. I used to have a lovely place to have my dogs cremated after a long and joyous life; but the last time I brought a rescue dog there, they tried to scam more money out of me…which I would have paid if I’d had it, but had to borrow the cost I was told. Since then, a couple of my dogs have crossed the Bridge. I have buried them shallowly in wire mesh and then check the remains after a year or so. I saved the bones, but now I get to clean them, and have a piece of my beloved friends still with me. Lots more work than the cremation, but I can afford this. So: thank you.

    • Sorry, I don’t know of a substitute for peroxide that would work for this. You could just soak it in a bucket of dish soap and water. That won’t whiten it, but it’ll at least clean and sanitize for the most part.

  98. I was given some black bear rib bones they are cleaned off but the marrow is still in the bones I tried boiling them to get them out but it didn’t come out so what is a good way to get it out so I way I can clean them and make them White

    • Marrow is just a fatty substance in the bone. Degreasing draws out some of this. Honestly, you want some grease in your bones – it keeps them from becoming chalky and brittle. But since you’ve already boiled, there’s not much I can recommend now.

  99. Can you use this same process for turtle shells? Found a full turtle shell about 2 months ago, and I’ve just let some of the bugs do the process of getting the last little bit of the inside? Would it be a good idea to also do a soap bath? I wouldn’t wanna strip anything that makes the shell what it is..

    • I’ve never processed turtle shells, so I can’t recommend anything from experience. Definitely don’t use peroxide though, as I imagine this will strip the shell of its color. Dish soap and water should be fine.

  100. Hi
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience- I am looking for a bit of advice- friend found a whale vertebrae on a beach – its very clean no flesh – near white . Do we need to do much with it? Was advised to soak in a weak biological clothes washing detergent for a few days, then wash out well and dry it out- is that about right? Should I also degrease in dish soap or will the biological detergent be enough? Do I need to involve peroxide?
    It’s big and alkward shape so would need vast amount to soak it

  101. Hey a dead whale washed up and what was left after about a week was a it’s back bones they were still connected to each other by white muscle or something. I’d cut a piece off since it’s heavy lol and at work my grandpa boiled it 😅 but that did get the remaining meat off but really smelly lol I have it in soap water in a bucket now but I’m leaving here October 9th… should I just keep it in soap water for two weeks and try and peroxide next year? Or is it better to do is sooner. I was really hoping to make a clock out of it so I’d want it strong. Please email me

  102. hi there,
    so i’m new to bones and all.
    Here is my question:
    My girl friend has some jewellery from her grandmother and by accident it has turned slightly purple being mixed with other bean type jewellery from Brazil. i was wondering if this method of cleaning would (Whiten and Sanitize) would get rid of the color that has entered the pores. if not could you suggest any other alternative.
    thank you

  103. Hi there. I have been collecting bones, skulls etc for about 2 years or so. I have been cleaning them etc but should I be doing a coat of varnish, shellac or anything like that? I have the smaller skulls on the window sills so the sun does hit them and eventually they will get pretty brittle. I have 4 porcupine skulls (2 full skulls and 2 with just the top jaw – no idea where the bottoms went), fox, black bear (a friend gave me), 1 coyote (another friend gave me), coyote and quite a few buzzard bones (pelvis etc – no skull though. These are all clean and ready to go. I also have a couple of deer with the antlers that I am still working on and tons of misc bones that are all cleaned and in bags that I marked on the outside, pelvis, vertebrae, ribs, etc. I also found a full deer rib cage and ribs (intact) that is amazing but that one will be tough to clean. The coyotes chased her out onto the ice a winter ago and they ate everything. The were 2 legs, a bunch of fur and a few random bones as well as the lower jaw – I am still combing the woods for the skull and hopefully the top jaw.

    I am happy to have found your page and hopefully you can answer about the shellac for the final step. Thanks a lot!

  104. I would like to know how you clean the teeth – along the gum line that are black. I had the in the peroxide but it did not do much. Any ideas? Should I send a picture?

  105. Hi, I have recently found a skull of a Scottish Highland cow, which have pretty big horns. Now I have a plastic box, in which the skull can be put in with only the horns and top of the skull sticking out above the water. I have used Biotex for about 3 weeks, leaving the box out in the open without a cover (because its not possible with the horns sticking out). Even after 3 weeks though, there is still small pieces of tissue left, and I have no idea how to get rid of this tough tissue (for example on the back of the head). Can you give me any advice on how to get rid of this tissue? I can’t boil it sadly, as i dont have a pot that is big enough.

  106. Is there a way to clean bone without taking away the decomp stain? I prefer the look of bones as I found them versus white bones. So say I wash with soap and water, can I stop there? Or is the peroxide totally necessary? If it’s of any importance, I’ll be drilling holes into them. Also, while drilling is only a face mask needed? Thanks!!!

  107. Hi There
    I’m from South Africa and have gotten into cleaning skulls for the last year so or. I was looking at faster ways of cleaning, as to to supply my art.
    To test it – I bought a frozen pigs head from a butcher. I removed most the flesh, tongue, eyes and brains manually and then used mealworms for two weeks and maceration (with bio washing powder, which i’ve used to great success previously) for one week. The skull was surprisingly clean in the short time, the stench was utterly unholy – but it was more brittle than I’ve experienced than with any other skull. Which won’t do for carving skulls.
    Literally the back of the brain section fell away when I took it out the water. Do you think it’s like this, because it was frozen, or because of the mealworms? It can’t be the masceration?

Leave a Reply to Sian Lee Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *