“I love preserving driftwood. A lot.”
I’d always admired driftwood décor from afar (AKA Pinterest), so I was super excited to collect my own stash after my family and I relocated to the Pacific Northwest.
There aren’t a ton of beaches in New Mexico, where I’m from originally.
Because, you know: desert.
(There is a lot of dessert in New Mexico!)
Anyways, not 10 minutes into our first beach visit after the move, I found an armful of driftwood. Then I found 10+ other pieces.
Then, my husband asked how he could help, which was an incredibly gracious way of asking, “How are you going to carry all this wet wood since we didn’t bring a bag?”
Long story short, my rain jacket ended up becoming a make-shift bag. (Sorry, jacket. You served a noble purpose.)
“But, while researching how to properly preserve driftwood, I ran into a lot of misinformation which ultimately led to a lot of trial and error, mistakes and damaged driftwood.”
I want to spare you the discouragement caused by sorting through all the misinformation.
Because of it, it took me a long time to develop my experience in determining why, when and how to preserve driftwood.
That’s I wrote this blog post!
So YOU can benefit from my mistakes and preserve driftwood like a pro!
[This post may contain affiliate links, which means I make a small commission on products you purchase through the links provided at no extra cost to you. See my disclosure for details.]
So, without further ado, here are my…
5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts of Preserving Driftwood
First things first, it’s important to note that preserving driftwood is entirely optional.
Preserving driftwood has two purposes:
1) To make the driftwood last longer, (as you probably guessed from the name.)
2) To kill any bugs or bacteria that may be living in or on the wood.
(After all, the beach is a fun place, but clean might not be the right adjective…)
If you like how the driftwood looks on it’s own and don’t want the color altered in any way, preservation isn’t the right option!
There are alternate ways to kill the bacteria/bugs on the wood which I get into in the comments.
To get started, here are the basic instructions for preserving driftwood:
Carve/cut the driftwood into it’s desired shape.
You can carve after it’s preserved, but the wood will be two-toned, which I’ll talk about more below.
Gently rinse all pieces in cold water.
This gets rid of the surface-level dirt, seaweed, and any other “sea stuff” that you don’t want in your home.
Soak the rinsed driftwood in a diluted bleach solution for 5 days, changing the water daily.
The bleach/water ratio is 2 cups of bleach per every 1 gallon of water. Any container that can be bleached and contain the fully submerged wood will work. (Aka, I go cheap here!)
Let the wood dry completely
I recommend letting it dry at least 1 week before attempting any projects.
Sand, seal and display your driftwood like the pro that you are!
So those are the basics. That’s how to preserve driftwood the right way – yay, no more research! Now, here are the 10 tips (that I learned through my trial & error), that enhance these basic steps:
The 5 Do’s:
1. Choose driftwood pieces you like the look of.
This may sound obvious, but sometimes your plan for cutting, carving or shaping your driftwood won’t work out. Be sure you’d still want the piece of wood around if that’s the case!
2. Collect as much wood as possible.
Since driftwood pieces don’t need to be soaked individually, preserving large batches of driftwood maximizes your time and resources. The process of cleaning and preserving takes a while, so batching is the way to go!
3. Carve the driftwood before soaking it in the bleach solution – if you don’t want the wood to be two-toned.
Here’s a picture of this “two-toned” effect on driftwood. Personally, I think this look is really beautiful, but if that’s not the look you’re going for, be sure you carve it beforehand!
4. Change the water solution every day.
In additional to changing the water/bleach solution daily, it’s ideal to change the water around the same time of day. I set a reminder for 9 am the week I’m preserving driftwood.
5. Let the wood dry completely for a minimum of 1 week.
You want to be sure it’s completely dry, especially if you’re carving, cutting or using the driftwood in projects. This step protects your wood from mold and ensures it’s ready to be crafted!
The 5 Don’ts:
1. Soak the driftwood inside.
Be super careful – as this solution contains a lot of bleach, always soak the wood in a well-ventilated area where children and animals do not have access to your work!
2. Over (or under) saturate the bleach solution.
Stick to a maximum of 2 cups of bleach per 1 gallon of water, and a minimum of 1.25 cups of bleach to 1 gallon of water. (Slight variations of bleach concentration subtly effect the color of the driftwood, which is why some people mess with the ratio.)
3. Use tongs or other “grabbing” tools to move the driftwood.
This comes into play when changing the daily water solution. A pair of hardcore cleaning gloves protect your hands while you move the wood, whereas “grabbing tools” easily scrape and damage the soaking wood.
4. Be concerned when wood changes color.
This doesn’t mean your wood is damaged! Most driftwood turns lighter during the preservation process, but some pieces get significantly darker, and others may acquire burn-like spots: there’s no way to tell what the wood will do in advance.
(Unless you know something I don’t! If so, tell me, pleeeease!)
5. Buy sanding and/or sealing equipment before you know the purpose of your driftwood.
Sanding is an optional step in the preservation process. I only sand wood when I want a specific feel or design, or if the wood has sharp edges that I want to smooth out. That’s why your driftwood’s purpose is so important before you start buying sanding material!
Tips for sanding
The higher the grit number on the sanding equipment you buy, the more lightly, (aka less) it will sand the wood. If you’re end goal is to make the driftwood super smooth, you need low grit number to have a stronger effect.
Personally, if I end up sanding my driftwood, I use a light, high-grit sanding sponge like this one, because I want my driftwood to look and feel as natural as possible, (preferably without the naturally accompanying millions of splinters).
Then, I’ll use this quick-dry, non-obtrusive sealant to protect the wood without giving it a waxy feel.
And BA-BAM! Now you have your perfectly preserved driftwood!
Before you leave…
If you have any other questions while preserving driftwood, review the comments below – here’s a lot of good discussion there already! If you don’t see your question, leave a response in the comments below and I’ll be sure to help you out!
I’m so glad you’re working with driftwood: it’s an amazing material! Have a great day, friends and as always…
“Stay restless, Creatives!”