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How to Find and Preserve Sand Dollars for Use in Crafts

I enjoy doing DIY projects and crafts. It's a great way to make use of free time.

Learn how to identify and preserve sand dollars to use for craft projects.

Learn how to identify and preserve sand dollars to use for craft projects.

Where to Find Sand Dollars

If you’re a beach lover, you’ve probably seen sand dollars at the shore. Maybe you’ve found the occasional one at the water’s edge or even stepped on one in the shallows. You’ve doubtless seen tons of the white echinoderms in souvenir shops, where they’re often in the form of earrings and necklaces or painted with beach scenes.

If you want to find sand dollars, you don’t have to wait for fate to lend a hand. By learning about the dollar’s habits, you can find lots of them!

First of all, you need to know that the greenish-brown sand dollars are probably still alive. If you find one this color, turn it over and look at the underside. If the tiny spines are moving, the specimen is still alive. You might want to return this one to the surf after sharing it with the kids. If the spines aren’t moving, or if the sand dollar appears white, tan, or gray, it’s dead.

Many sand dollars can be found right at the edge of the surf. Just walk the beach and carefully watch the sand under retreating waves. You’ll need to be quick. If the dollar is alive, it will dig itself under the sand in a matter of seconds, leaving you wondering where in the heck it went. The best time to search is at low tide, but I’ve found them at all different stages of the tides.

You can also find sand dollars higher up on the beach, but you’ll have to dig for them. Look for a slight irregular hump in the sand that has a hole or two in it, especially at the bottom. Using your toe or a small shovel, dig down about three or four inches to find your treasure. I must warn you that this is a lot of exercise for your calf muscles. After digging up several hundred sand dollars one afternoon, I could hardly walk for the next couple of days!

Sometimes when the water is exceptionally muddy because of a storm or rough surf, you’ll often find loads of sand dollars in the water. Just walk through the waves slowly, inching your toes along the bottom, feeling for the creatures. Usually, where you find one, you’ll find a lot more.


How to Preserve Sand Dollars

  1. If you decide to keep some of the brown sand dollars, soak them in cool water until the water turns brown. Discard the water and add fresh water.
  2. Continue doing this until the water remains clear.
  3. Next, soak your sand dollars for about 20 minutes in a solution of half water and half household bleach. Remove them from the bleach water and place them in the sun to dry.

How to Harden Sand Dollars

  1. To harden the sand dollars, mix together white glue, like Elmer’s, and water in equal portions.
  2. Paint the sand dollars with the glue mixture and let dry completely. You can also purchase a commercial hardener made just for sand dollars. This is usually found at beach shops or in craft stores.

Now, your sand dollars are ready to be turned into craft items. Use the small ones for earrings by adding earring holders purchased from Walmart or from craft supply stores. The dollars in the two-three-inch size make nice pendants for necklaces.

You might want to “bling” them up a little by embellishing the edge of the sand dollars with gold paint. If you choose this option, forego the glue bath. Instead, paint the sand dollars with several coats of white acrylic paint. The gold leaf or gold paint will adhere to this finish much better than it will to the glue surface.

Those with beach-themed living rooms sometimes decorate their entire Christmas tree with sand dollars. Just add a red or green ribbon to the preserved sand dollars and hang. You might want to completely gild some of these by covering the entire surface with gold leaf or with gold acrylic paint.

Larger sand dollars—the ones in the five-six-inch size, make wonderful little displays for your paintings. I’ve sold lots of these! I usually painted sand dunes, seagulls, sailboats, palm trees, or other beach scenes on them.

To make painting easier, apply a coat or two of white acrylic paint before adding your artistic touches. After painting is complete, allow it to dry completely, then spray the sand dollar with a matte-finish polyurethane. Find a small easel at the dollar store on which to display your painting.

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Questions & Answers

Question: Can I use polyurethane to preserve sand dollars?

Answer: I'm sure that would work fine.

Question: Can clear nail polish protect and give a sheen to sand dollars?

Answer: I've seen nail polish used successfully. Depending on the particular brand, it might take numerous coats.


Hannah on June 20, 2016:

How can i paint a sand dollar to pretty?

Cindy Franklin on May 25, 2015:

Sounds like fun!

HC on May 04, 2013:

You should NEVER kill living sand dollars just to make crafts as described in this post

Chantelle on June 04, 2012:

I once went to a beach in Nova Scotia, and found 25 sand dollars as I walked down the beach, I didn't have to look they were all just laying there, must have just collected there over the winter!!

Cheryl on May 29, 2012:

I have collected shells for 40 years. Here's one for you guys...

With broken sand dollars or chipped ones...carefully open and you will find the 5 angels inside. You can find and print legend of sand dollar online.

On back of sand dollar...carefully tap away from hole in center to make hole large enogh to shake out your angels.

Any type of shell gift you give attach an angel in safe place so won't brake off...and give copy of legend. Guaranteed gift your recipient will treasure! :-)

ThePelton from Martinsburg, WV USA on April 02, 2012:

That was fascinating. I remember seeing them when I lived in San Diego, although I think the west coast variety was closer to round.

Patatie on March 09, 2012:

Has anyone ever tried to preserve sand dollars using an artist's medium known as "gesso?"

Arman Azmi on March 01, 2012:

sand dollars liveunder ground in the ocean

Cherryl from Arizona on December 04, 2011:

I haven't been to any beaches where picking up dead shells is illegal. Picking up live shells though is illegal. You should check carefully to make sure there is no little critter living in the shell.

Gary on November 05, 2011:

I am trying to make sand dollar ornaments painted with two fish on it as a wedding favors..I outlines the fish with permanent marker and painted the fish with acrylic paint...I tried spraying them with glitter spray and the permanent maker ran all over the place ruining them (50)

any suggestions?

Jessica on October 05, 2011:

I got a bunch of dead sand dollars and made bracelets out of them

-thank to you I have lots of fun

Nancy from Arizona on September 11, 2011:

I love to make seashell trees. They are absolutely beautiful when combined with inexpensive crystals. Use

foam trees that you find in craft stores and have fun. Warning, I did not know that you are not supposed to pick them up off of beaches and we were warned that we could be fined. Has anyone else had this experience?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 27, 2010:

I have some of those, too!

Dorsi Diaz from The San Francisco Bay Area on August 27, 2010:

Great hub! I have a handpainted sand dollar that's a Christmas ornament and it's my favorite ornament!! Every year when it comes out I get excited.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 25, 2010:

Granny, we love the fishing down here!

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on July 15, 2010:

I don't know. I was going to ask you if you knew. lol

I have asked my husband if we can come there and do some fishing because of your hubs

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 13, 2010:

Granny, can you find them up your way?

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on July 13, 2010:

Great hub. This is the first time I have learned anything about sand dollars. The video was GREAT!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 18, 2010:

I've made all kinds of jewelry from seashells! Glad you stopped by for a read, Polly!

Pollyannalana from US on March 15, 2010:

Sounds like fun, I had a ton of sea shells I was gonna make something out of for years, don't know where they went, but I still collect sea shells from yard sales, knowing an idea would one day hit me. I love sea shell earrings and I haven't seen any of those for years, guess that's not an easy project tho. Good hub, makes me remember when, which I love to do.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 19, 2010:

Cool, LArry! Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on December 06, 2009:

Hi, PEggy. Sand dollars are easy to find if you know what you're looking for, but I don't think you can find them everywhere. Cool idea for a wreath!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 06, 2009:

I love collecting shells when I am at a beach. Have made some shell wreaths and given them away as gifts. Of course I use an assortment of colorful shells and then when finished gluing, spray everything with a clear acrylic spray. Makes the shells keep that beautiful wet look. Have not found too many sand dollars. My uncle in Florida likes to collect sharks teeth.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 08, 2009:

I guess you don't have them in the UK? Thanks for reading!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 08, 2009:

I never heard of it and found yout hub so interesting. Thank you for all these information.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 08, 2009:

Thanks, Suziecat. Yep, they'll do that if you don't preserve them. Better luck next time. Thanks for visiting!