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So, I love the beach.

A lot… 

One of the things I was looking forward to the most after we moved to the Pacific Northwest was decreasing our proximity to the beach. 

There aren’t a ton of beaches in New Mexico. 

Ya know. 

#Desert

(Not dessert.)

(There is a lot of dessert in New Mexico.)

Anyways, hanging out at the beach naturally led to me spotting a unique piece of wood, saying, “I could totally make something out of that!” to my unwaveringly supportive husband, grabbing it (along with 10+ other pieces I found shortly after) and carrying all my new findings in my rain jacket as I hadn’t brought a bag to the beach. 

Pretty typical family outing for a Restless Creative.  

But, while researching how to properly preserve my driftwood, I ran into conflicting instructions that ultimately led to a lot of trial and error. 

However, that trial and error eventually lead to a lot of success!

So, the next time you’re strolling along the beach and see the perfect piece of driftwood, I’ve got your back – 

Here are the 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning and Preserving Driftwood the RIGHT way: 

Before you get started, here are the basic instructions: 

  • Carve/cut the driftwood into it’s desired shape. You can carve after it’s preserved, but the wood will be two-toned – more on this 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, (2 cups of bleach per every 1 gallon of water) for 5 days, changing the water every day. I use this durable, inexpensive bin from Walmart to soak my driftwood: 

but any container that can be bleached and contain the fully submerged wood will work!

  • Let the wood dry completely. (At least 1 week).
  • Sand, seal and display your driftwood like the pro that you are!

Do: 

1.Look for pieces of wood you like the look of.

This may sound obvious, but sometimes your plan for cutting, carving or shaping your wood that won’t work out. Be sure you’d still want the piece of wood around just in case! 

2. Collect as much wood as possible.

Since the process of cleaning and preserving takes a while, preserving large batches of driftwood maximizes your time and resources. Driftwood pieces do NOT need to be soaked individually – batching your pieces all together is the way to go! 

3. Carve the driftwood BEFORE you soak it in the diluted bleach 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.

Ideally at the same time – I set a reminder for 9 am every morning the week I’m preserving driftwood. Otherwise, you’re in danger of deteriorating the wood by oversoaking it. 

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 protects you from mold AND ensures it’s ready to be crafted! 

Don’t: 

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 protects your wood AND your hands, whereas “grabbing tools” easily dent and scrape the soaking wood. 

4. Freak out when the wood changes color unexpectedly.

While most driftwood simply turns lighter during the preservation process, some pieces will get significantly darker, and some will acquire “burn spots.” There’s no way to tell what the wood will do in advance.

(Unless you know the secret – if so, teeeell meeee!)

The effect of the water solution depends entirely on the composition of the wood. However, don’t get discouraged here – this color variety makes your driftwood décor even more compelling! 

5. Buy sanding and sealing equipment before you know what you want to do with your driftwood pieces.

Even if you’re already certain of what you want to do with the driftwood from the beginning, this may change as you get a chance to examine the wood while waiting for it to be fully preserved. 

The more lightly you sand the wood, the rougher the finished product will be. Personally, I like to lightly sand my driftwood using this sanding sponge because I like it to look as natural as possible, (without the naturally accompanying millions of splinters). I use this quick-dry, non-obtrusive sealant (after sanding) to protect the wood without giving it a waxy feel. 

NOTE: If you’re end goal is to make the driftwood super smooth, you will need to use stronger sanding and sealing equipment!  

And BA-BAM! Now you have your perfectly preserved driftwood!

Before you leave… 

If you have any other questions while preserving driftwood, leave a response in the comments below and we’ll be sure to help you out! 

Have a great week, everyone, and as always… 

Stay restless, Creatives! 

~ Christine