DIY: Here’s How To Clean Animal Bones So You Can Use Them As Decor

A while back I was shooting some engagement pictures for my friend at an abandoned ranch area in San Diego and we noticed a lot of animal bones around. I mentioned to her that I thought they would make cool home accessories and even Halloween decorations if they were cleaned up. They can be quite expensive at trendy stores. She didn’t have much to say about the subject, but a few weeks later her husband showed up with a paper bag containing a goat and cat skull for me. I was pretty stoked about the goat skull but I won’t lie, the cat skull still creeps me out a little, because aww kitty. I saved it for later (for you know, like, spells and stuff), but I got down to business with the goat.

Skull cleaning

I know the idea of cleaning animal bones probably sounds creepy to some of you. I don’t really blame you. At certain points it kind of weirded me out too — like the moment I realized I was brushing a dead goats teeth. It’s fiiine. You’re recycling.

Anyway, the first step is to clean off whatever dirt and grime you can using warm water and a soft tooth brush.

Next, you’re going to soak the skull in 40% liquid peroxide. You can get this at beauty supply stores. It’s basically the developer you use for dying your hair. Regular peroxide from the pharmacy isn’t strong enough.

Skull cleaning

Then you’re going to soak it for as long as it takes. You want any grime, fatty deposits, and stains to dissolve or break away from the bone. This could take a few weeks depending on how dirty your bones are. There are other methods you can use, but peroxide and patience is the best for this kind of relatively clean skull. By that I mean no remaining flesh or hair on the bone. Jakes Bones is a really good resource for other methods and techniques. A great tip from Jake is to not get peroxide on the antlers or horns because “it looks rubbish”. So I obviously tried to avoid that.

I let the goat skull soak, covered with a tea towel, for about 2 weeks. I topped it off with warm water any time the liquid level got a little low. I was a little worried that it wasn’t going to be white enough, but I had to leave on a trip and didn’t want to leave it soaking unattended for too long. The problem with wet bones is that they can look brown or dark, so it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re at the level of whiteness you want. Let dry and check it out. If it needs more time, just put it back in the bucket for a few days. When your skull is ready give it a quick rinse and remove any remaining debris. Let it dry in a sunny spot for a day or two.

Bone cleaning using peroxide

As you can see it dried nice and white.

Bone Cleaning with Peroxide Bone Cleaning with Peroxide Bone Cleaning with PeroxideNow you know what to do if you ever find a cool looking animal skeleton and want to try to use the bones for decor or art.

I went a little further and added a little copper leafing to mine by using Martha Stewart Crafts gilding products.

Gold leafing

I brushed gilding adhesive onto to the areas I wanted to cover. I didn’t go too far up the horn because it’s very porous and probably wouldn’t stick, plus I like the texture and natural color.

Let the adhesive dry a little to become tacky enough for the gilding sheets to stick to.

Copper leafing with Martha Stewart gilding products

Tip: These little gloves are great to prevent your fingers from sticking to and ruining your gilding sheets.

Cooper leafing with Martha Stewart gilding productsNext, just brush away any excess by using a soft bristled brush.

Gilding with Martha Stewart productsI like the texture and finish the copper leaf much more than paint.

DIY copper leafed skullCheck it out looking all snazzy on my bar cart.

DIY Guilded Skull. Bone cleaning and gilding tutorial.

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13 thoughts on “DIY: Here’s How To Clean Animal Bones So You Can Use Them As Decor

  1. This is awesome (and hilarious- “it’s fiiine”) haha. I have a cow skull that’s been sitting in my trunk for the last few months and honestly had no idea what to do with it as far as cleaning and making it less gross to bring into the home. Thanks for posting this!

    -Jaclyn
    Pretty Petals

    1. Yessss! Just get a big bucket and a bunch of peroxide and it’ll be beautiful. Send me a pic or post on your blog when you’re done! I’d love to see how it turns out.

  2. I’m cleaning a deer skull we picked up in the paddock. This was the most clear instructions I could find. Thanx for that!

  3. The teeth are my biggest worry, I have skulls with ALL their teeth still intact. I’m excited to clean my girls (my husband works with cattle on the daily and he’d stashed some to naturally decompose for me, 8 + a ribcage). You have the easiest to follow instructions I’ve found. Just wondering how well your teeth help up and did you have to do any reassembly?

    1. The teeth whitened beautifully and nothing came loose. The onllllyyy part that got a little soft was the bridge of the nose, but it stayed intact and I didn’t have to do any reassembly at all. The peroxide/water is a slower, but a more gentle approach in my opinion. Let me know how it turns out for you! Good luck xo

  4. Thanks for posting such a clear tutorial! My only question was about how much peroxide you recommend using. I have a pretty large cow skull I need to clean so I’m trying to figure out how much I need. Thx!

    1. You’re basically going to need enough to completely submerge your skull. I think the best way to determine how much you’re going to need is by first figuring out the vessel you’re going to use. For instance, if you use a 1 gallon bucket, it’s probably best to get a gallon of peroxide. It’s better to have too much than too little in case you need to refill over time. I hope that makes sense! Let me know how it works out for you! Good luck 🙂

      1. What is the ratio water:peroxide I still don’t see how much I should be adding to my water. I have a mule deer skull I just found and can’t wait to try this! Thank you!!

      2. At first I soak it in straight liquid peroxide. Get enough to cover the bones and then top it off with warm water any time the liquid level gets low enough where the bones aren’t submerged anymore. You can also top it off with more peroxide if you have enough. The water just serves to keep the liquid level high enough to completely submerge the bones while soaking. I hope that makes sense!

    1. 40% (also known as volume 40) is the strength of the peroxide. Most household peroxides are only 3%. You can find volume 40 peroxide at beauty supply stores, it’s also called “developer”.

  5. Thanks for the info. I think awhile back I found something on cleaning bone that said peroxide(beauty shop) and to make it faster he had a big pot on his carport on a burner. He dropped that sckull in that boiling peroxide and water. Can’t remember for how long. Maybe a couple of hours..Turned off,soaked overnight.hung to dry(next day)then rinced off.was beautiful. I really need to know what glue to use that lasts.

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