How do I restore/preserve this old cow skull? It's a cow, right?
July 31, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I have recently acquired* a large bull's skull (seriously this thing is huge those are 2x2 tiles). It looks like it's been left outside for some time (there was dirt and grass embedded in the teeth). There's several teeth missing, the nasal/sinus folds (turbinates) came out of one nostril, the horns are very porous with algae/moss damage and discoloration. I would like to get it back to white, and do something to preserve it and slow wear & tear. (I plan on mounting it to a painted board and hanging it in my house). What should I do?

*Story of acquisition:
I was at work last week, and my sister and I got into a heated argument/fight about some really specific leftist politics, it eventually just had to stop in the middle because it got so bad that i just had to shutdown the conversation. near the end of my shift I got a text that she left a makeup present on my porch (we live in the same neighborhood). So, I get home, and there it is! I cannot think of something more accurate than this story to describe both my sister and I independently, and our relationship. anyway, details: she got it from the side of the road, an older gentleman was getting rid of it, he says he got it as a gift back in the day when he was in the air force in Arizona.
posted by FirstMateKate to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I hope this isn't too much of a non-answer, but instead of fixing up that ruined skull, you can easily get a decent-looking bovine skull for not very much money. The thing your sister left outside your house has been thrown away at least once already.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:32 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I remember my uncle cleaning cow and horse skulls by soaking them in bleach. That was after all the grodiness was off of them of course. So will it fit in a large bucket?
posted by coevals at 11:32 AM on July 31

I acquired a deer skull in much more reasonable condition, and I tried and tried to bleach it to a nice white color, but nothing worked even remotely well, so I just spray painted the dang thing and it looks amazing. In your case, you might want to do some bleaching anyway, to get rid of anything growing on it before you paint.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:33 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

When my wife's old beagle found what we su goat's skull in a field, we cooked it (not boiled) in enzymatic laundry detergent (recommended by google at the time) at 65C for getting any remaining tissues off. I think used a mixture of 1:10 3% hydrogen peroxide and water and put that in a ziplock bag with howie and squeezed out the air - I imagine you'll need a garbage bag, and just tie up the ends - this will allow you to use much less liquid than if you dunk it in a bucket.

I can't recall how long I left it in, I think 1-2 days and I was satisfied with the whitening. It's definitely a yellow tinted white instead of pure white.

The skull is definitely more brittle, and the nasal/sinus cavity is easily damaged - my results might not have been optimal. However the skull has survived the beagle and has been in our house at least a decade.
posted by nobeagle at 11:35 AM on July 31

Hmm. I think when I boiled the skulls for the taxidermist, he put some kind of powder on it, talc, maybe, mixed with high strength peroxide, the stuff used for bleaching hair. But that was a brand new skull.

For yours, I would suggest a careful tooth brush cleaning as best you can. The problem with the chemicals is that your skull is already decaying, and putting more on it may cause it to decay even more. Put it on a board, put some fake moss on it, call it good.
posted by 101cats at 12:00 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Don't use bleach! It will damage the bone and the damage will keep going after it's dry. If you can get a vessel big enough and can do this outside, boil it for a while in water with a generous amount of borax mixed in. Then, whether or not you were able to do the boil, submerge the skull in hydrogen peroxide for a good long time (I'm talking several days, a week shouldn't hurt). Get your hydrogen peroxide at a beauty supply store -- it's something like an 8% solution, as opposed to the 3% that drugstores sell. Just be careful with the disposal of that hydrogen peroxide -- it's dangerous in that concentration and you need to follow recommended disposal procedures. Rinse the skull with clean water and let it air dry. I've never done this process on anything as large as a bovine skull but it has worked beautifully on smaller animals. Can't overstress the importance of handling the hydrogen peroxide carefully, though.
posted by newmoistness at 1:24 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I used half and half regular hydrogen peroxide with water on an old goat skull. It sat in a bucket for maybe three days and came out a good not exactly white color. "Bone," one might say. Bleach will damage it. I used Elmers glue to put teeth in firmly.
posted by kerf at 1:55 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Baking soda paste and gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:01 PM on July 31

Yeah, I should amend my first comment to say that I used the word "bleach" in a more general sense to mean "chemical whitening". If memory serves I actually used high-strength hydrogen peroxide from a beauty supply shop, as newmoistness suggests. Regardless, it didn't work very well in my case, even after letting it soak for a significant amount of time and doing some toothbrush scrubbing.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:20 AM on August 1

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