So, why bone cleaning?
For years, I’ve had friends who find and collect bones, and in 2015, I decided I wanted to start a bone collection of my own. I especially liked the idea of having a variety of animal skulls, which would double as excellent reference materials for my artwork. The more I started researching bones, though, the more I realized that the idea of finding my own bones was much more appealing to me than just ordering them online… so, the obvious solution was to get into bone cleaning!
Can you teach me how to clean bones?
Yes and no. I can give you advice, tips, and tricks to give you an idea of how to get started, but bone cleaning is something that you have to practice firsthand get a feel for. Learning what a greasy bone is supposed to look and feel like is all well and good, but being able to examine a bone and determine whether or not it needs degreasing can be a little trickier in reality. I’m planning to write up a walkthrough on how to clean a batch of bones that will hopefully answer some of the basic questions, and when I do, I’ll link to it here!
How do you find/get bones?
I feel that one of the most important things to mention is that all of my bones are ethically sourced. The majority of the bones I work with are those I’ve found in the wild from animals that had already died of natural causes, but I also clean bones that have been gifted to me from trustworthy friends and livestock owners, as well as discarded bones from hunters. I don’t and will never condone hurting or killing animals just for their bones… or for blog content.
Most of the time, I feel like the bones I find on my own are thanks to pure dumb luck. On two different occasions, I’ve noticed bones on the side of the road and been able to pull over and collect them. Once, I found a raccoon skull just sitting on the ground near the pond behind my house! You never know where you might find bones, so the best advice I can give is to always be on the lookout!
If you’re not content to leave bone finding to chance, exploring forest preserves, rivers, and ponds is a good way to get started. You can find parks and forests even in the city, and where there’s water, there’s sure to be animal activity, too. You’re not as likely to find bones if you keep to the trails, but always be cautious, stay aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye out for any signs that say “stay on the trail” – more often than not, they’re there for a reason. And if you can, take a friend with you… it’ll make your outing safer, and it’s more fun!
Do you hunt?
Nope! Sometimes I get bones from hunters who have already stripped them of their meat, but I myself don’t hunt.
I want to start cleaning and collecting! Where do I start?
Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of bone cleaning! One of the first things to take into consideration is the stark reality that you’ll be handling pieces of dead animals in varying states of decomposition. Also remember that, if you share a living space with others, they may not be too keen on your smelly new hobby! Keep in mind that being clean and discreet with your bones is not only courteous to the other people who live with you, but a good rule of thumb in general.
The second thing you’ll need to think about is where you’ll be doing this. I don’t have a backyard, but I do have a garage, and that’s where all of my bone stuff lives when I’m not cleaning. I push my buckets and containers against the wall next to my car so no one else has to see, smell, or step around them. One of the determining factors in how much space you’ll need is what kind of bones you’re cleaning: Do you have a tiny raccoon skull, or a bunch of long leg bones from a deer? If you don’t have much space available, you may find yourself limited to collecting smaller bones without much tissue remaining on them.
After you’ve determined how much room you can devote to bone cleaning, you’ll need a few essential supplies: rubber gloves/dishwashing gloves; a toothbrush; a bucket; biological washing powder (I use Biz, which you can get from Target, Meijer, or Amazon); and liquid dish soap. You’ll also want to carry a stash of plastic shopping bags/Ziploc bags and some disposable gloves for when you’re out hunting for bones.
I’m currently writing out a step-by-step bone cleaning guide that details how I clean and whiten bones, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of what you’ll need and what methods I use to clean my bones, stay tuned! I’m hoping to have that posted soon.
How do you identify a bone?
Pretty much all of the bones I’ve found have been easy to identify, or were given to me by someone who knew what animal they’d come from. Every once in a while, though, you stumble across something that you’re just not sure about. If you’re lucky enough to find part of a skull or pelvis, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to use Google to narrow down the possibilities, but sometimes you find a little piece of bone that could belong to just about anything! If you’re really stumped, try the Facebook group Bone Identification.
Can you identify this bone for me?
That depends; do you want me to tell you what kind of bone it is, or what animal it’s from? It’s not too difficult to tell the difference between a leg bone and a pelvis, but figuring out what kind of creature it came from is a different question entirely. Unless you have something like a skull that has a lot of distinct features, I probably won’t be of much help. I’d suggest Googling it, and if search engines don’t turn up anything for you, try the Facebook group Bone Identification!
Which bones are your favorite?
Intact skulls and pelvises are definitely the most exciting to find out in the wild, but vertebrae are pretty cool, too. My favorite bone in my collection (so far) would probably be my cat skull!
What do you do when you’re not cleaning bones?
Depends! I’m a freelance artist, so I pretty much always have at least one project in the works at any given time. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I draw, and sometimes I stitch or craft. You can see what sort of things I make over on my main blog, Katy Blogs Things.