This is the final post of the series on digging crystal in Arkansas. Last time we discussed how to find crystal (what to look for). This time we’ll cover what to do with your crystal once you get it home, namely, cleaning.
When you’re finished digging and ready to go home, the best way to pack your crystal for transport is with newspaper. If you have used the zip top baggie suggestion I mentioned in post number four, they can be placed side by side in the floor behind the seats. Clusters can be placed in a flat box with newspaper around and bunched in between them to prevent them from bumping each other. The same goes for any large points you might have found.
If you were lucky and found a cluster with lots of clay on it in the fresh tailings, it is best to leave the clay on for protection until you can get it home (we discussed this briefly in the previous post as well). Resist the temptation to “unwrap” it from the clay, and it will be safer for the jiggly (and sometimes jarring) ride home.
After you wash off the dirt and clay, some crystal appears clean or almost clean straight out of the mine (like it looks when you see it in shops). Most, however, is stained or coated with rust which requires an acid bath to remove. This layer of rust will vary crystal to crystal and mine to mine. Some of the mines produce crystals with very thick layers of rust, some with less. There are a few ways you may wish to clean your crystal.
The first is the traditional way, and that is by using oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is a dry white powder and they sell it packaged by the pound at almost all of the rock shops which also have mines open to the public. If you choose this method, plan to buy some acid at the rock shop to take home with which to clean your crystals. Generally it is one pound of acid to two to five gallons of water. While one pound is generally more than enough, you can ask the person running the rock shop what they recommend for the amount of crystal you found; they are very helpful. There is a process to using the acid, so be sure to ask for the instructions as well, usually they have a printout with the acid. This can be quite a process. Stu Smith from Clear Creek Crystal Mine has a really excellent write up of the ins and outs of using this acid. I’d rather not re-invent the wheel, so you can find that info here. It is advisable to wear thick gloves, however I have yet to do this and keep my hands dry and out of the acid. I don’t know what my problem is! Goggles are also highly recommended. I have splashed the oxalic acid in my eye a time or two, and since I usually use a pretty dilute solution I didn’t suffer irreparable damage. Don’t take the chance, though. Put on your goggles.
Another method which I have recently discovered which also works really well (and has become my method of choice) is something called Super Iron Out. This picture is from the website www.superironout.com. I bought mine at our local Walmart but you can find it in many places both on and off line. It comes in liquid form as well as powder. I have only used the powder, because it was what the store had on hand.
I have found that this does work more quickly than the oxalic acid (as quickly as overnight on lightly stained crystals), but it only works on the iron, it doesn’t do anything unless you remove all the dirt. In contrast, a little dirt won’t stop the oxalic acid from cleaning your crystal (especially if you heat it) Read Stu’s article about heating the acid. I had several used crock pots which I used to use for this. Anyway, if you do choose the Super Iron Out method, be sure to wash your crystals very well first.
The third option is to leave them in their natural state by washing them but leaving the rust. I really like the pretty rust-free look personally, so I most always soak mine to remove the rust. The only time I don’t do this is when the crystals are exactly as they came out of the mine (dirt and all). Sometimes I will send people uncleaned crystal if they express interest in this.
Moving on (but also backing up). When you get your crystal home, you will need to wash it off well with water. You might choose to leave it in the sun and weather to let the process of nature clean it (rain and sun). This is what I described when I mentioned leaving the clay in clusters for protection on the ride home. If left in the sun, a certain amount of the clay will shrink and fall off. (Obviously don’t leave amethyst or other colored stones in the sun, they will fade. We’re talking about clear (aka colorless) quartz crystal here.
The more clay and dirt you remove before putting it in the acid, the better. There are two reasons for this. Firstly if you don’t, the crystal might require two trips through the acid and secondly, the less dirt you get in your acid, the better. It can be re-used until it gets saturated. When it turns a dirty green color, it is time to throw it out. When finished, neutralize the acid with lime (the kind you buy for the garden) or baking soda and use plenty of water. When the mixture stops fizzing when you add the lime or soda, that means it is neutralized. If your crystal isn’t heavily stained with iron, it should take only a few days in the acid bath to get it clean.
With either of these soaking-in-the-acid (or Iron Out) methods, be sure to rinse the crystal extremely well with water after you take it out. A good barometer is after several rinses, if you think it is well-rinsed, then rinse it once more. I have been lazy a time or two and didn’t get all the acid off. When your crystal dries, it is covered with a layer of acid which is not fun to touch or breathe. With all of these instructions, your common sense is your most valuable tool.
That concludes our discussion on what to do with your crystal once you get it home, and also winds up the 6 part series on digging crystal. I would say the single most important things to plan to bring with you to the mine are your gratefulness, respect and reverence, as well as your gratitude and respect for the crystal and your reverence to Mother Earth for enduring this birth process on our behalf. Most especially remember to bring your laughter and good vibes; this is a joyous endeavor! Until next time, if you are blessed with the opportunity to dig your own crystal, Happy Digging!