Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Whitening Bone Using Hydrogen Peroxide NOT Chlorine Bleach

BONELUST BONE PROCESSING PROGRESS: Cat Skull finished (mandible still in maceration). Note, cat only had incisor roots remaining. Front view.

I recently edited my Bad Words: BOIL & BLEACH post here adding much more extensive info about using hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Posting it as a new blog with even more info and photos so you guys don't miss this important info.

BONELUST BONE PROCESSING PROGRESS: View Of Raccoon Skulls & Bones Recently Posted Here In Peroxide Bath. They Are Cleaning Up Nicely.
In the H2O2 bath.

ON THE DRYING RACK: Always Seem To Have Every Step Of Bone Processing Going On Here At All Times - Learn More At My Blog Bone-Lust.Blogspot.Com
Drying after the H2O2 bath.

NEVER use chlorine bleach on bones.

Chlorine based bleach permanently damages the bone itself. It will start to break down the structure of the bone and will continue to even after it is rinsed and dried. Resulting in chalky, fragile and extremely porous bone that will turn to bone meal with age. Not to mention it turns the bone yellow. Which pretty much defeats the purpose if you are trying to whiten the bone. It may appear white at first but will turn yellow. Once it yellows from bleach there is nothing you can do about it. Believe me, I've tried to salvage yellow bleached skulls before to no avail.

Bone Collectors Gold: I enjoy quickly 
changing the topic every time I buy a mass quality of Hydrogen Peroxide.
 Most people wouldn't appreciate the truth. Finding this much all at 
once isn't easy around here.

To sanitize and whiten bone use regular household hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) that you can easily and inexpensively get ahold of at the grocery store, dollar store or drugstore. Do a 50/50 bath with water just above the bones in a loose lidded plastic container to reduce evaporation. Oxygen activates the peroxide so you want to let air get to it. But it will evaporate so keep an eye on it and top it off as needed. Also, if you have a tight lid on it pressure may build up and the top literally blows off.

BONELUST - Skulls, Bones & Teeth 
in Hydrogen Peroxide Baths
Lids are loose to let oxygen in and pressure out.

How long? Just keep the bones in this bath until they are the color you want them. This is a personal preference. Note that the bone will dry lighter than it looks wet. This process can take days or weeks. Although if you leave it too long it will eventually make the bone brittle. But this usually would take months for medium sized bones like say of a raccoon. This is a very safe process for most bones if you properly follow my steps. When done whitening, rinse the bones in water then lay out to dry in the sun on towels or dry inside with a fan on. I put towels or paper towels under the bones to help pull moisture out. Be sure the bones are dry before you put them in a sealed container for storage or they may mold.

Just my usual day. Cleaning & 
sorting bones for Bone Lust projects.
Sun drying bones.

More About Mold

These were bright white cleaned bones. I thought I had left them out to dry long enough but apparently hadn't. I bagged them up in a ziploc and put them in my supply drawer. Only to find some time later that the had become splotched with black mold through the bone core and on the outside. I soaked them for weeks in full strength hydrogen peroxide but they only got this white again. In the closeup on top you can see the actual mold inside the bone. I think the molding also had to do with the bone needing to be degreased more. The mold spread to all bones in the batch though. Those not needing degreasing as well.

Problems With Bone Processing: Molded 

These bones had been cleaned and dried but got humid and grew a green fuzzy mold on them. Luckily I just hosed them off and gave them a H2O2 bath and they cleaned up beautifully. So this is a reminder to store bones in a dry place.

The Hazards Of Bone Processing In The Humid South: Moldy Bones - These Deer & Wild Boar Bones Were Already Cleaned & Stored On My Porch - All The Rain Lately Made Them Mold

Important factors: If your H2O2 bath gets really cloudy you likely need to dump it out and start a new bath. Otherwise it will start to macerate instead. Do not use a metal container with H2O2. Use plastic or glass. Store in a cool dark place. Direct sunlight will eventually deactivate H2O2 that's why it comes in dark containers. Do not do this step outside with no lid. You will just end up with deactivated H2O2, algae and insect larvae all over you bones and you'll have to start over... or the bones may be ruined.

Nearly Done: Peroxide Bathing Deer Skull 
& Jaws
Bubbles is a good sign your H2O2 is still active.

DO NOT use hair developer type peroxide on bones, ever.

There are additional ingredients in it besides H2O2 and it is MUCH stronger than regular corner store purchased H2O2. Which I think is only 3%. I have experimented with this myself and the developer turned huge deer vertebrae to literally mush in my hands. Likewise, do not use the powdered hair bleach packets. The same results will happen. So you've been warned!

Bone Processing No-No: This Is Why You NEVER Boil Bones To Clean Them. This Normally Very Thick & Strong Boar Vertebrae Literally Turned To Mush After 2 Days In Very Low Heated Water. Imagine What Damage  A Full Boil Could Do In A Matter Of Hours. I Crush
Improperly processed vertebrae that turned to mush in my hands.

Algae & Moss Covered Nature Cleaned Bones

Note that some staining will not come out especially if bones were decaying on the forest floor for some time. Remember, you want to be sure the bones have already been degreased and cleaned of all flesh/dirt/etc before putting into the peroxide.

This Is What Happens To Bones Left Outside For Too Long: Might Leave Some Of These Wild Turkey Bones This Way For My Art

Too late to clean and whiten these bones. After bones have been left in the elements for some time they begin to break down. These bones are now "living" again covered with algae/fungi that is eating it. This is one reason I choose not to do the bury method. If you wait too long bones have already begun to decay. I like processing methods where I can see what is happening to the remains at all times.

BONELUST - Old Bone Box Growth/Rot on Misc Animal Bones (Macro)


BONELUST BONE PROCESSING PROGRESS: First Adult Goat Skull processing progression photos & timeline.

See the post that goes along with the above photo here -  BONELUST BONE PROCESSING PROGRESS: First Adult Goat Skull processing progression photos & timeline.

For even more extensive info about all the steps I use in processing bones check out the rest of my blog. Enjoy!


Miss Kitty said...

Great info! No since I dont have a studio to do this in what can I do about the smell because last time I did this my house stunk like decomposing deer for 3 month.

Jana Miller said...

Thanks! There should not be a super bad smell once you get to the H2O2 step. But if there is try to rinse the bones really well first. If the H2O2 bath gets cloudy super fast and still stinks it is already time for changing the H2O2 out. I know if I drop a whole bunch of large deer or boar bones in straight after maceration this can happen. Just rinse very well first, it helps for sure. Also, you could try letting them completely dry before the H202 bath. That also helps. If you are trying to do maceration inside it is absolutely possible to do it without a bad smell too. Just be sure to have tight lidded containers. I did it in a garage before and nobody ever even realized it! Zero smell. I get old tupperware containers off of eBay to use.

Kerry Estey Keith said...

Greetings from the mountains of Arizona. Ah, thank you for such a real and refreshing blog. I'm always looking for ways to process the bones (and such) I wild-gather while out hiking. beautiful work!

Jana Miller said...

Hello from Florida Kerry! Do I ever wish I was in Arizona. I love it over there! Every time I go out West I return with loads of beautiful nature cleaned bones. Thanks for stopping by and happy bone hunting!

Pixie said...

What do you recommend as the best way to degrease bones before the peroxide bath? I saw something in a previous post about water and dish soap. Is this something that you just let sit in a container for a certain period of time? I've been collecting bones found on hikes and am dying to start making jewelry and other kinds of art with them. Your blog has been very helpful so far! Thank you!

Jana Miller said...

Hi Pixie, as I mentioned in my only degreasing post so far I very rarely have to degrease any bones. I'm fortunate to be in a fairly warm climate and between the natural decomposition and maceration processing I do I'm left with very little grease in my bones. So I don't honestly have much experience in degreasing because I do not often have the need. But yes, many bone collectors literally let their already macerated bones then sit in a bath of water and dish soap. It is a long process. Grease slowly rises to the surface. If the water gets too cloudy/greasy a new soapy bath it made. This can take literally months. Similarly you can make a degreasing bath with ammonia and water. But note that there is very low content of water to ammonia. Too much ammonia can harm the bone structure. Sorry, I don't know the exact ratio at this moment. I will try to experiment with this stuff and do a blog post at some point but that's the best I can do right now.

NudasVeritas said...

Do you do any kind of after treatment when you are done with the H2O2 bath? I've been mentioned varnish or some oil for the bones to stay white.
Is that necessary?

Jana Miller said...

NudasVeritas - The peroxide bath is generally my last step for my personal collection. I prefer my bones raw to better see the detail and really don't like them shiny. And any kind of seal is completely unnecessary really. Also, some bones may continue to seep natural oils and you don't want that trapped under a seal. It will cause bacteria to be trapped and a bad acid reaction that can damage the bone structure. I talk about that here -

pernillesa said...

Hi Jana! I have just found your blog, so i am sorry if this is described somewhere else, i haven't seen. But what strenght should the hydrogen peroxide be? At my local store you can get it in 3% wich you can put directly on your skin, without anything happening. And then you can get it in, i think, 18% wich says on the label, that it is for bone bleaching.
But i'm a bit afraid that the Jaw(with teeth) i want to clean would get ruined with the strong hydrogen peroxide, because it is very(propaply over a 100 years,because it was found when the road in the old part of my city was dug up) old. What do you think?
All the best, Pernille
(and sory for my horrible english!)

Jana Miller said...

Hi Pernille! Here is the US regular drugstore bought hydrogen peroxide (like pictured here) in on 3%. Then on top of that I water it down more half water, half peroxide. Honestly though for a super old bone like you describe there I would not put it in peroxide at all. Especially 18%. It won't honestly likely do anything but destroy it. It won't likely whiten it at all. Bone that old may have even begun to fossilize. I have very old bone like that myself that is brown and black. It is just going to stay like that and can not be whitened.

James Crawford said...

I get great results from slow boiling the bones for 6 hrs to clean off most of the tissue and make stock for homemade stew, scrape any remaining tissue off with my pocketknife, then I bury the bones in feed salt inside a tupperware container for 3-5 days to dry, sand them lightly with fine sandpaper and make them pretty, then soak them in Hydrogen Peroxide from the grocery store to whiten. Sometimes I add some shading with a piece of coal from the campfire before a couple light coats of varnish.

Jana Miller said...

There are just so many variations of processing different types of remains and many factors come into play. Something what works really well for one person may not work for another and the same processing may not always work exactly the same for the same person on a diff specimen. There is a HUGE difference between actually boiling and simmering. A rolling boil is just not good for the structure of any kind of bone over a long period of time. While a very low heat over a shorter period of time will cause much less damage. But even that can still turn some small bones to mush. Again, so many deciding factors come into play. Like size of bones, type of bones. Large bones like deer or boar may be just fine after hours of heated flesh stripping. But smaller bones would likely begin to brittle and fall apart. More info about why not to boil here - Bad Words: BOIL & BLEACH -

I've never heard of salt drying the bones. I have dried actual small animals, organs, limbs in similar processes though. If I want to dry bones I just set them in the sun. I prefer my bone natural and raw so I'd not likely ever sand, color/stain or seal it in any way for my actual collections. If I used them in my art projects/jewelry that's a whole other thing. That's a good example of the personal preference of the bone collector. A finished piece to one person can greatly vary from person to person.

Rick Kratzke said...

Jana, I found your posts to be very informative and easy to read and understand. I came across a deer skeleton and kept the jaw bones. I wanted to whiten them a bit and display as a way to tell a deer age by their teeth. I am going to post about what I am doing on my blog and I was going to reference your process which will be linked back to you.
I invite you to browse my blog if you want and have time.
Thanks again for your post.
Sincerely, Rick Kratzke

Jana Miller said...

Great Rick, glad my blog was of help and thanks for linking to me! jana

Sblack2004 said...

Hi Jana - thanks for all this - it's hard to find good info on this subject! I have a set of of moose antlers that I am wanting to 'bleach'. Do you have any suggestions for tackling bones of such size? Obviously too large to put in a container! Any input is much appreciated :)


Jana Miller said...

Hi Sarah, if you put any kind of antlers in a peroxide bath it will loose the natural brown/gray/golden color and turn white. If you don't care about that put them in a big strong plastic bag and pour the peroxide bath mixture in with it. Otherwise, to leave the natural coloring try cleaning only by hand with water.

Sblack2004 said...

A bag is a great idea! Yes, I want the antlers to have a 'whitewashed' appearance. Thank you!

Naelín said...

Greetings from Argentina! I have a question that I didn't found in any of the bone collector sites that I know.
How can I sanitize things that I can't put in the peroxyde bath? I'm mostly speaking of bird beaks. I have a lot of birds macerating right now, and I don't know what to do to clean the nasty maceration water out of the bird beaks. I hope you know a method... Thank you!

Jana Miller said...

If you're concerned about whitening the colored beaks you could just soak that part is rubbing alcohol I guess. Should also sanitize it.

Debora said...

Hi Jana! I asked you a few weeks ago about my capybara skull. The maceration process went well (the mummified hide is completely gone), but now I have another question. I discovered that part of the skull, where the mummified hide used to be, is black. I'm about to start the hydrogen peroxide bath, and I'm wondering if that will be enough to get rid of the black, or if I need to do something extra (or even if there's nothing I can do at all). And if there IS something that can be done, will the colour be evened out or will that portion always be darker than the rest of the skull?

Thanks in advance!

Jana Miller said...

Hi Debora, glad it worked out! Really the only way to know if the peroxide bath will work is to give it a try. The "stain" could be any number of thing that likely can only possibly be removed by the peroxide bath. Good luck!

Caren Beck said...

Hello Jana - Great blog! Very informative, and I am glad to have found you. I have a question, and if it has been previously addressed, I apologise. I have a rat skeleton which was found in an old grain silo, and is thus quite clean, only requiring a bit of brushing up. He is very rigid and held together by connective tissue. As my first skeleton, and first acquisition that was not cleaned previously, I am wondering if a peroxide bath will disintegrate the connection? I have no wish to try to reassemble him. Thanks for your help.

Jana Miller said...

Hi Caren Beck!

You honestly won't know until you try. I have had some luck in the past with putting smaller remains in peroxide that were still connected that did stay together. I could even pull it out, pose it & let it dry afterwards.

good luck!


Luca Chance said...

What if I bleached my skull? Did I seriously screw it up for ever? It wasn't in for very long but it did start to disintegrate on the weaker thinner spots. Am I screwed or can I somewhat save it? Btw I think it's a kitten skull.

Jana Miller said...

Hi Luca... That honestly depends on what strength chlorine bleach you used and for how long it soaked in it. Once it is in bone you can't really remove it anymore than minimally if your rinsed it really well with water right afterwards.

eevadesade said...

Hi from Los Angeles, amazing info i love how you didn't miss any details...i recently came across a wild boar head i think it was cleaned with insects since i found little empty insect cacoons on it. I doubt it was bleached since it still has some yellow on it. I want to bleach it but the teeth they have been glued on. Will that affect the process and how long should i bleach n dry ? Also i sorry of like the natural color if i don't that harmful to my health?

Jana Miller said...

Without actually seeing the boar skull myself I can't really tell you what the yellow is (improper previous processing or grease), how to deal with the glued in teeth, size & condition of skull, etc. If you like the way it looks as-is, then just leave it alone. Whitening is a personal preference not a requirement. I only highly suggest a peroxide bath after maceration to sanitize it.

Maureen Leahy said...

I collect bones of deer who have died on my property. Some of them have what appears to be grass stains on them. Is there a way to get rid of the grass stains?

Jana Miller said...

They are most likely algae or moss, all I can do is suggest giving them a peroxide bath if they are already defleshed. Good luck!

Katie Lingle said...

I am trying to clean up some possum bones I found and put them in peroxide (they had been buried so there was no flesh or anything left) and some of them came out orange...any clue what would cause this?

Jana Miller said...

That's most likely soil staining from burial processing… and one of the main reasons I don't do burial processing. Many times there's nothing you can do to remove the soil staining. All I can suggest is soak it for a while in peroxide, good luck!

Christine P said...

Will this step also take care of cartilage? I have some old sun dried skulls I want to make into art, they still have some cartilage in the nose.

Jana Miller said...

Hi Christine, you'll need to macerate those skulls for that to decay and fall off of them. Then move onto a peroxide bath. Start at this blog which has links to my other related blog posts on this topic:

Shannon Cater said...

Ok, I just tired typed a message on my silly phone and something glitched, so hopefully this won't be a repeat post... anyway...
Hi Jana! Have wanted to get into this hobby for the longest time and finally pushed myself to try it this year. Couple of questions for you. I will try to make it quick:
1. For something small like a rodent skull, which has been (newly) nature-cleaned do you recommend skipping degreasing and going right to the whitening phase? (I understand you don't often do degreasing yourself)
2. I have some stubborn little bugs hiding in a couple of my skulls' crevices. I tried spraying them out with hose water, and plan on picking up some small medical forceps/tweezers to try and get the rest... but how much of a crisis is it if some get left in when you go to put them in the degreasing and/or whitening solutions? I would imagine their little bodies would eventually break down and disintegrate...
3. I have a deer skull macerating and I believe it is almost done with that stage. Some teeth have fallen out and others are still in place. From your above pictures this appears normal - that not all fall out? What do you do with loose ones during the next phases? Throw them in the solution(s) too? Or leave them out?
Thank you for your time! I've really enjoyed looking through your blog posts (I apologize if I've missed some of my inquiries answered elsewhere)

Jana Miller said...

Hi Shannon… If there is any flesh left on it at all it need to macerate otherwise go straight to the peroxide bath. Maceration normally takes care of insects as well. Although I literally carefully remove them out of the water and put them safel on dry land before sealing my maceration lid. Those insects are a very important pat of the natural deco process. If there is still some in after maceration then swish the skulls around while submerged in water and that will help remove them. Which at that point are likely molts from carrion insects mostly. They cleaned out the nasal and brain cavity for you so you didn't have to. My favorite helpers! Really not a huge issue if they are still in it all the way through the peroxide phase. I sometimes can't get some out that are lodged deep in a skull's nasal cavity. But the live ones will come out on their own when they run out of food… or with help from water submersion. As for teeth falling out, completely normal for this to happen. I usually run them through all the same steps along with the skull. And no, not all teeth of all species fall out all the time and they don't need to be removed to clean. To put them back in after all do processing just use regular white school glue. I have a post here about that as well to help put teeth in and mandibles back together. Good luck!

David said...

Any experience using Oxiclean to clean up bones?

Jana Miller said...

Hi David! I avoid using any harsh additives, cleaners, solvents in my bone processing. In my experience the more unnatural processes you put the bones through the greater than chances you are lowering the quality of them. More on that here -

Susan said...

Hi Jana,

I'm cleaning my bear skull my maceration. I have had it in the bucket for 2 months, and dumped half of the water out after one month, and replaced it with fresh water. There is a little bit of white soft flesh on the skull still. Do I need to wait for this to come off, or can I put it in the 50/50 hydrogen peroxide solution?



Jana Miller said...

Hi Susan! You want to be sure everything is removed from the bone before moving onto the peroxide bath. You can't go backwards on this step. So if say you found that you couldn't get it off after the peroxide bath you'd have sanitized the bone/flesh so well that you could not easily get the maceration bacteria to grow again. Good luck! I know bear skulls can take a long time to process as they are very greasy.

Tina Scoggins said...


Hi, I'm Tina. I need your help. My fiance' (owns a game ranch and does some skull bleaching for his customers) just walked in and handed me a hog head. My fiance' has a headache and needs my help getting this thing bright as it could possibly be. Now, you mention in your blog to NEVER use hair developing peroxide. Well, he already has used it on several bones, including this one. Fortunately, the skull is still in great condition and I think I can still manage to get it as white as he wants... with you help. What would you recommend I do at this point since he already used the hair developing peroxide? Do you have any secrets you would be willing to share with me that may help me move forward and getting this hog head a brighter white? Please and thank you in advance. Love the blog BTW!

Cristina Bencina said...


I'm a newbie when it comes to bones. I got a four skull bundle (my first skulls ever) and I'm really excited. Three look clean and pretty white, but my coyote skull is greasy.

It's currently being degreased in warm water and dawn. I'm trying to get the general yellowish out and two noticeable brown spots. Should I degrease until the brown fades or will the peroxide handle that problem?

Secondly, unfortunately the teeth came glued. When I put the skull in water, the glue turned white. Will this affect the next step (peroxide)? Should I leave the glue as is or remove it before proceeding?

Lastly, how do you know a skull in general is sanitized? As far as I know, the seller either boiled or used bugs. Do you reccomend a peroxide bath anyway, for the other skulls at least?

Thanks for the help and tutorial, much appreciated!

Court Chu, concept artist said...

How would you suggest to dump the used water/peroxide? Is it safe to put down the drain?

Jana Miller said...

Court Chu, it is best to dispose of the peroxide bath down the toilet or sink drink. Absolutely never pour it out outside. It will kill any living creature it touches, especially the poor worms hidden under the soil! Take care... jana

Jana Miller said...

Court Chu, it is best to dispose of the peroxide bath down the toilet or sink drink. Absolutely never pour it out outside. It will kill any living creature it touches, especially the poor worms hidden under the soil! Take care... jana

Darren said...

Dear Jana, We have deer and antler droppings that we want to whiten for home decor using the hydrogen peroxide solution. Some are intrinsically brown and others stained due to lying on the ground for a long time. In addition, they can be large (curved and up to 3' long). Any experience with antlers? Pretreatment needed at all? I may try to use a trash bag as a vessel to whiten large antlers due to volume of solution needed. Any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated! Darren

Jana Miller said...

Hey Darren, if you want to completely whiten the antler she's then hydrogen peroxide is the way to go for sure. But if you want to keep them brown or any of the patterns on them then it is the worst thing to do. No kind of pre-treatment deeded other than removing dirt. If you don't have a container large enough then you could try putting it in a really thick trash bag trying real hard not to let the antlers poke through. Or rotate the antlers in a smaller container until it looks even on all sides. Or get a cheap storage bin from a dollar store type place. Be sure to dump off the peroxide INSIDE in your bath tub or a garage sink and not outside where it will kill any creatures living in the soil. Good luck!

Jana Miller said...

Hi Cristina! I honestly could tell you if the brown will come out during degreasing or only peroxide without seeing it in person. Just see what happens. If there is actually glue in the teeth you'll want to remove the teeth (noting where they go) and scrub off the glue with a toothbrush or pull it off with your finger. Again, without knowing exactly what kind of glue was used I don't have an exact answer for you. Put the teeth back in after you're completely done with regular white school glue. No way of having any idea what processing has been doe to a skull unless you know and trust the person you got them from. If it smells it could be grease or just not sanitized yet. But hydrogen peroxide with take care of sanitary issues in your last processing step. Yes, I often do a peroxide bath is a new skull I bought smells or it a little first. Or if I have sanitary concerns. Good luck! jana

Jana Miller said...

Hi Tina… Sorry for such a long delay in my reply, I'm very busy and just now catch up on comments here. There's no reason you can't use regular 3% hydrogen peroxide after you used the hair type. It is how I whitened all of my big boar skulls. Just takes some time. Can take literally weeks of patience mostly. Good luck! jana

Sarah Jeanette said...

In one of the comments you say if the maceration process smells too bad (which it always does!) then to leave in a tight lidded bucket. You do not want to do this as it will slow down the process greatly. To macerate properly you need air to be able to enter and escape, you need bacteria to be able to get in and multiply. The bacteria are what helps to eat away and degrade the flesh. Instead of taking months maceration can take as little as two weeks this way. Also their are two different ways to macerate: Cold water and warm water (needing an incubator to keep steady temps). Warm water maceration is more productive but not recommended for various animals like small rodents or if you're trying to preserve cartilage (which is possible).

Jana Miller said...

Hi Sarah, not sure where you got your info, how long you have been processing bones or what your background/education is… but you've been misinformed. I have been collecting/processing bones for 35 years now, so I'm very well aware maceration smells. It is literally putrefying of flesh. Likewise, well aware of cold and warm water maceration as I talk about both here on my blog. Also aware maceration (with a lid even) takes on average 2-3 weeks in optimal conditions. Never said it "normally" takes months, but some projects like a deer/boar spine will take at least a month. I know this from doing it countless times myself. As for the maceration bacteria, if you stick rotting flesh and bones in a bucket of water there's no need to leave a lid off. That bacteria is already on the rotting carcass. Perhaps you misunderstood some things you read here especially if you were just reading the comments. But thanks for the critique, ha.