How to Bake Polymer Clay: Part 1 – Choosing a polymer clay oven

It seems like it should be simple, and it is, but there is a bit more to it than just putting some clay in your oven to cure. In this series I’ll also discuss some tricks that I’ve found to make baking and curing polymer clay easier and more effective. I started to write this all in one post, but it’s getting a bit long. So I’ll break this up into several posts. Today, in part one, I’ll talk about polymer clay ovens. Part two will be about temperature. And part three will give tips and tricks for baking your polymer clay.

What polymer clay oven is best?

  • You can use any oven that will reach and maintain the correct temperature through the baking process.
  • It’s perfectly safe to use your home oven.
  • You don’t need to dedicate your oven to polymer clay.
  • Small ovens are fine, but tiny ovens can cause more burning.
  • Convection ovens are nice because the fan creates a more even temperature.
  • Digital readouts do not mean the oven is digitally controlled. They’re all done with guesswork.
  • Most ovens are wildly incorrect (they lie!) so you will need to adjust against a separate thermometer to get the right temperature.
  • No one brand is best…they all have terrible records for some people.
  • You can’t use a microwave.
  • There are valid alternatives such as Nu-Wave, Halogen, or roaster ovens.
  • Make sure to read Part 2 (Temperature), Part 3 (Tips and Tricks), and Part 4 (Time) of this baking series.

Do I need a dedicated polymer clay oven?

For some reason this subject brings up some mighty strong opinions. Some people will only use a dedicated polymer clay oven to bake their creations. Others only use their home oven. There are legitimate reasons for doing it either way, but let me state this up front and center. You CAN safely and effectively cure your polymer clay creations in a home oven, toaster oven, tabletop convection oven, or roaster oven…assuming that you are using it correctly and following some recommendations that I’ll discuss below. You cannot properly and safely cure polymer clay in a microwave oven or by boiling in water. (Though, boiling does have its uses in some situations, it does not give a complete cure.)

There is an “old wives’ tale” circulating in the polymer clay community about how polymer clay leaves a “residue” when baking. Some people fear that this supposed residue will then burn and release toxic vapors if the oven is then used to bake food. I’ve even heard of people cleaning their oven (hopefully not with toxic cleaners!) after using polymer clay in their home oven. I always cover my clay when baking and there is no residue or build-up inside the cover. Even after many years of use with the same cover. Also, refer to this excellent list of health and safety questions and answers put out by Polyform, the maker of Sculpey and Premo. Note in particular the question about the clay leaving a residue in the oven. There is no such thing as “contamination” by polymer clay. That’s just plain not true. Read here for another article that goes into more detail about the testing regulations and what they mean. In short, though, it’s going to say the same thing I do. Polymer clay is safe.

Polymer clay does not produce toxic fumes when baked at the recommended temperature. It can burn, however, when exposed to temperatures in excess of 350°F (177°C), and that does release irritating hydrogen chloride fumes (not chlorine gas as some sources have stated). If that happens, turn off the oven, open the windows, and leave the area until the fumes clear, just as you’d do if you burned your pork roast. Hydrogen chloride, by the way, the same chemical as hydrochloric acid, the very same chemical that our bodies produce in stomach acid. It’s nasty to breathe it, but it’s not cancer causing or something that requires decontamination. Baking polymer clay at regular temperatures can occasionally create a smell that can irritate sensitive people. Much in the same way some perfumes give you a sore throat or headache if they’re too strong. For this reason, many people choose to bake their clay away from the main living area. Here’s a tip. Covering clay during baking greatly reduces the odor.

Baking Polymer Clay: What is the best kind of oven? Article by The Blue Bottle Tree

Using your home oven to bake polymer clay

The best advantage to using your home oven to bake your polymer clay creations is that you already have it. No purchase required! Typically most homes have an oven with a dependable heating element that reaches the correct temperature and holds it without large fluctuations. If your oven isn’t dependable, you likely know it already and finding another oven would be great. Home ovens are large, you can put lots of trays of clay in your oven to cure at once. And you can bake large and tall items.

There are, of course, disadvantages to using your home oven to cure polymer clay. A large oven is more expensive to run than a small toaster oven. Plus if you do a lot of food baking, you end up with traffic jams at your oven, trying to finish your clay bake cycle before it’s time to cook dinner. Some large ovens have hot or cold spots, too, and don’t heat evenly. If you have several cooks in your home who might disturb your clay during baking (by preheating for a pizza!), then using your home oven might not be the best tactic.

Using a dedicated polymer clay oven

Many people prefer to use a toaster or tabletop convection oven to bake polymer clay. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to this. Certainly the convenience factor is high. Small ovens preheat quickly, they take less energy to run, and if the smell of baking clay bothers you, you can put a small oven outside on a patio or in the garage. They’re also portable. You also have to find a place to put them and that can be a real problem for the space challenged among us.

It can also be exceedingly difficult to regulate the temperature in a small oven. Some brands have a tiny dial without fine control and they have rather temperamental thermostats. Small toaster ovens have, by design, a small area to heat up with an element rather close to the rack. So the element can sometimes scorch the clay when it’s heating up and then the oven cools down to below curing temperature before the thermostat kicks back in to heat the oven up again. While that works for cooking pizzas, it doesn’t work so well for polymer clay, leaving underbaked and scorched projects. A lot of people overcome this by putting ceramic tiles in the bottom of their toaster ovens in an attempt to help it hold the heat. Toaster ovens also tend to be quite small and you’re really limited on the number and size of polymer clay items you can cure in one. If your project is large, it might end up being too close to the oven’s elements and could easily burn. So toaster ovens are really only good for small projects.

Tabletop convection ovens, however, heat by blowing hot air. This gives a much more even and reliable heat and many people love and swear by their convection ovens! These ovens also tend to be a bit larger and give more vertical room if you like to work with sculptures. But not all brands work well. I can’t recommend a specific brand, unfortunately. I use my home oven.

There are several brands of small inexpensive ovens marketed to polymer clay enthusiasts. Let me be perfectly clear here. You do not need a special oven to bake polymer clay! If you want one, great. Especially if you use a coupon they’re very inexpensive. But you do not need one. And remember that you can often find used toaster ovens at thrift stores for even less money.

A note about those who work professionally with polymer clay and who cure large amounts of clay frequently. A stated on the Polyform website, polymer clay is safe, even for those who work with professional volumes of material. They do recommend a professional oven, though they say it’s for temperature control reasons. Bottom line, you have to do what you’re comfortable with. For a lot of people that means getting a dedicated clay oven. For others that means using the home oven. Each person knows their own routine and know that works best for them.

Next up, I’ll go on to Part 2, where I talk about temperature and why it’s so important for curing and baking polymer clay.  By the way, I always post a link to new blog posts on my Facebook page, so if you’re not already a fan, come on over and join us.

52 thoughts on “How to Bake Polymer Clay: Part 1 – Choosing a polymer clay oven”

  1. I like the fact that you give both methods a fair shake. I always felt a little guilty about using my home oven, but it really works well given the height of some of my pieces.

    I have found one unexpected downside to using the oven. I leave my pieces in the oven to cool, sometimes overnight. It has become such a ritual, that I mistakenly left a tray of meatballs “to cool” overnight. Needless to say, I had to through that batch away when I discovered it the next day.

    1. I got tired of feeling guilty about using my home oven, LOL! And after reading some threads online I got really worried. So I looked it up. I read a lot of articles, even some scientific ones. I read up on what the chemicals are. And I’m not quite so worried about it.

      I have a bit of a different story on the food in the oven. I often put pans of raw meat in the oven (cooled) to thaw because otherwise the cats get into it. And I’ll forget about it until I realize I’ve preheated the oven to bake some clay. Then I have partly cooked, plastic enmeshed meat. Yay!!

    1. I know. I have been cringing all day waiting for the backlash. But you know…I answer this stuff time after time by email and I figured it was about time I just laid it all out there and said it. I’m a rebel like that. 😉

  2. Do you have any advice on brands of toaster/convection ovens that work the best? I have a Black and Decker and even with ceramic tiles it can scorch things I’ve tented with foil. Everyone swears by the old Farberware ovens, but finding one is next to impossible. What about the digital controls do they work? I watch the temperature as best I can but you know how it is when you are playing with clay. So we need to invent a thermometer that sounds an alarm when the oven overheats. Thanks for taking this on as a blog subject it is one that needed to be revisited.

    1. Sadly, I don’t. I tried an old toaster oven, it was a Farberware, a few times and it did not give me the results that my oven gives. So I just use it. I think if I were doing production work, I’d get a second full-sized oven in a separate studio or garage. I honestly don’t hear many people complaining about their full sized ovens (if they’re relatively modern, that is). Life’s too short to deal with something that doesn’t work for me. Maybe others will weigh in with their successful models of small ovens.

  3. Ginger, I use a Nesco covered roaster oven, but about that residue… I definitely get an oily residue on the underside of the cover. It has a plastic smell to it… and so I have always told customers who ask not to use their home oven in which they prepare food…

    1. Well, again, all of our mileage varies. Polyform clearly states that their products don’t produce a residue (and I know you are a Premo girl) so who knows. Each person has to use their own judgement and do what makes them the most comfortable. But according to the manufacturer, there’s not a problem. I dunno! *shrugs*

    2. Roaster oven is my choice, to. No spiking, plenty of room, and a window on the lid to see the the temp gauge I keep inside. And inexpensive!

      1. Thanks for this new idea!! I am researching toaster ovens to use in the garage for baking clay, and hadn’t considered a roaster oven! I will definitely not use my in-home oven due to even a possibility of fumes….I have a parrot, and they are very sensitive to chemicals/ fumes. Cooking with teflon can kill them, and oven mats are out, too! So no way will I take a chance with her! Pus, I am just leery of chemical exposure for the household, too… Thanks for the idea…..I’m going to research roaster ovens now!

  4. Evening Miss Ginger. Great Post!!

    Just thought I’d sound in, too. Living in a small apartment, add to the fact my husband and I are both sensitive to the smell of curing clay, ( i would like to add, some brands are smellier than others – names withheld ) not only do I use the T.O. but I use it out on the patio or in the garage.

    I found I could not trust the “dial” temp so I used an oven thermometer and marked the two temps I use most often. As for residue, I do find I have to clean the “smudge” off the little window from time to time. Now this could be from other things I’ve added to the clay, like chalk, paint, ink, mica powders, etc. I’m not sure who the culprit is, but someone is leaving something behind. hmmm, I guess they could be adding to the smell as well.

    So in short… I’m a Toaster Oven Girl… for now. Hubby says, “when we get our ‘forever house’ he’ll get me a Big Girl Oven for my ‘forever studio’ … Anyhow, keep up the awesome postings. I have a few thoughts of my own, but I can’t wait to read yours on “temperatures”. ~ Kate

    1. But see, there’s nothing wrong with making a choice to use one. You have a reason. I’m all about informed choices. I’m wondering what the residue that you and Lynda are seeing is. If Polyform is to be trusted it’s not from the clay. Hmm…we’d have to run a test with identical ovens but one without clay in it to know for sure. My car gets a film on the inside windows from the plastic outgassing. I guess ovens could be the same? Oh who knows. But I think the point I was trying to get across is that the FEAR over using a home oven is just not warranted. I love how your husband says when you get your “forever house”. Such a cute idea.

  5. Everyone has consern about helth when use home oven to bake polymer clay.
    I solved this problem (consern) use metal box . I have little metal box which I use when I bake polymer clay. This is little metal box that mean I don’t have much spase. I put on box only 6 pairs of earrings.
    Reading your blog I wondering what you exactly use for cover polymer clay?

  6. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! for Clarifying the myth about using the home oven. I’ve always used the home oven I started out using the home oven and then everyone got freaky and my life got busy so Polymer went on the back burner (no pun intended). Honestly, I burnt more clay and gassed my house out more while using a small oven than the home oven and took all the fun out of my polymer clay. I realize there are exceptions to everything. But I’ve been seriously ridiculed and made to feel like a horrible person for poisoning my family for acknowledging I used my home oven. I have always used an oven thermometer and covered my clay when I use my home oven. I LOVE that you mentioned the so called residue and that people scrub their oven out with probably harsher chemicals than the clay. THANK YOU! I honestly always thought it was a bit much and it was just a group of people catastrophizing the situation in an era of over-information.(yes I realize you can never be too cautious when it comes to your health) Now I feel like I can cure my clay with a clear conscience.

    1. Well, this was exactly why I started reading up on it. I wanted to know the truth. I’ve been reading people’s scare tactics and outright bullying and I knew there had to be some answers. I have enough scientific training to know when I’m reading something that’s a load of hogwash and some of the “proof” of polymer’s supposed dangers were not ringing true for me. I was stunned to find the plain and simple answers on the Polyform site. Every manufacturer says that it’s safe for children (with supervision) and every single one of them says it’s non-toxic. No, we can never avoid all dangers. We live in homes with outgassing formaldehyde from our furniture, our air is smoggy, and our rain has pesticide residues in it. We try to avoid as much outright toxicity as possible, of course, but you have to consider all the risks. The same people who are worried about baking clay in their ovens are likely burning scented candles, eating bacon, or using fabric softener sheets in their dryers. Compared to the tremendous exposure we all have, everyday, fears about a little polymer clay (that’s even been certified to be non-toxic) is the least of my worries!

  7. Pingback: Common Uses of the convection toaster oven

  8. I recently acquired a convection microwave – I am loving it for regular baking as it is so much faster (and more energy efficient). I wonder if, using the convection feature, it would work for clay?

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t really know. Microwaves don’t work to cure polymer clay. So you have to rely on the convection part. If you can completely turn off the microwave and you also use an oven thermometer to verify that you’re getting the right temperature, then I suppose there wouldn’t be a problem.

      1. Just wanted to check back in & let you know that I was able to use the convection part. I was a little nervous about the temps, even with the thermometer I wasn’t sure – so I just buried everything in corn starch and let it bake extra long. 😉

  9. Hello!
    Let me start of by saying that this is a very informative post, and a balanced discussion.
    Curious if there is any particular risk of curing Sculpey in a gas oven? Obviously, following all temperature and bake time instructions! What are your thoughts and/or has anyone used it any reported anything?

    Paper is flammable at 451*F, so I’m doubting any chemicals included in Sculpey have a flash point lower than that, it being such a benign product anyhow… I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter, though!

    1. If the gas oven can maintain a consistent temperature and you protect your work by enclosing it inside of a pan, there’s no reason you can’t use a gas oven. Polymer clay is not flammable and it doesn’t release any flammable fumes during baking. That being said, polymer clay DOES burn at 350°F, so make sure you don’t exceed that temperature. At that temp, the clay turns black and releases acrid smoke (like any burning plastic does). Remember that as an oven heats up, even though the average temperature may stay at a certain point, the temperature may jump in certain areas of the oven or at certain times, leading to browning of your piece. This is true for any oven. That’s why I recommend covering your work during baking. Foil pans are readily available and work very well for this purpose.

  10. Hi, just wanted to share my experience. I just got into making clay stuff and I don’t have an oven at home, so I’m restricted to working with air dry clay. They aren’t very malleable (those who worked with air dry before would know what I’m referring to). I do have a tiny toaster oven but it’s for food and I can’t convince my mom to let me use it for clay curing, so I was looking into other alternatives of curing polymer clay.

    I came across this site where the person experimented with what’s essentially boiling the clay in a microwaveable container in a microwave oven. I gave it a shot recently and my clay charms cured! They were about 5 cm each and I microwaved in bursts, ie. 2 minutes, rest for a bit, 2 minutes again – for a total of 9 minutes. When everything is done I inspected the charms by pressing down (very hard) on them, no denting. And I accidentally snapped off an arm from a charm during inspection, it might not be accurate cause it was really tiny (like 1 cm), but the inside was definitely cured. I noticed a smell (like that plasticy smell you get from plastic coming into contact with heat) during microwaving but I think microwaving small items in water (boiling) works.

    If claying is a long term activity for me I guess I would need to look into a separate oven for this.

    Question: So did anyone notice the same plasticy smell when using a toaster oven/home oven? Did anyone experiment with microwaving in water/boiling?

    1. Hi Natsu, a lot of people have experimented with boiling their polymer clay creations in water in the microwave and while it does allow the item to become hard, it does not allow for a full and complete cure. Polymer clay needs to reach at certain temperatures for a certain time to fully cure. Boiling can never reach temps higher than 212°F/100°C, which is not high enough. The fact that you could break your piece is evidence of that. Polymer clay is made from PVC particles bound together with a plasticizer (and fillers) and boiling will allow the PVC to harden, but it does not get hot enough for the PVC particles to fully fuse together into a solid mass. This makes the item brittle and weak. Fully cured polymer clay will not easily break and in fact, is fairly flexible. It should be quite durable and not easily broken by hand.

      Yes, there is a slight plastic smell when baking polymer clay. It’s plastic, so this is not surprising. It’s not toxic, however. Nail polish has a pretty awful toxic smell and nobody ever thinks twice about that. Polymer clay is far less toxic than this.

  11. Ginger, So happy I have found you and your great down to earth information. I had been convinced I needed a specific oven for Clay work. Now I feel very comfortable using my regular oven, although I will get an oven thermostat for better control. Besides I am a beginner and need all the help I can get. I am filled with excitement, but waiting until after Christmas to become a fanatic (which I am prone to do.) I am sure I will come to you for instructions in the future. Sincerely hope your holidays are happy and your Christmas one of your Merriest ! Sally Milliken

  12. Dear Ginger
    I am using sculpty original white. I made a decorative plate about 16 to 18 inch diameter, cuved about 5/6 deep. Ibuy glass plates the size I want my plate to be I use colored chaulk to add color through out the whole piece. I haven’t used sculptures in 20 years and now my plate is finished a year later I’m ready to cook. The plate is over all 1/4″ thick might be slightly thicker another place on plate. I like your tecghnquic in curing and will apply. I realize from 20 years ago the cooking temp is higher than they recommend back then 235 for 25 mins. My plate is large I’m going to cook it in my home oven which is accurate I’ve done the tests. I’m scared it’s ready to go. I’ve got lot of hours in this piece wish me luck. Check my Facebook I have a picture of my plate if you have anymore advise after seeing what I’ve made let me know asap.
    Ty Barb

  13. Pam Gari-Wheater

    I finally sat down to give this a good read. I just wanted to comment that I have in the past used a crock pot with the crock removed for my faerie sculptures. I did check the pots temp with an oven thermometer that I left in with the clay and I baked on pillow stuffing. Being able to keep a close eye because of the glass lid was great, and I think I may give it a go again when I only have a small amount. And this time on wool roving because I would like to try it on high. Since there is no exposed heating element, I want to try making “glass” balls with some translucent for a sea shell brooch. Once again, you are a blessing even to an old hand like me! I don’t know what I would do without you!

  14. I am new to polymer clay. I deeply appreciate your articles. I made my own clay dough with corn starch and glue, air drying takes FOREVER!!!! I tried baking, they all cracked. , so I’m thinking homemade is not the same. I will keep them to practice on as i ordered mica powders. My oven doesnt have a 275 setting, it goes from 265 to 280, so an oven thermometer is my next purchase. Again, after all the rambling, thank you.

    1. Yes, air dry clay is not the same thing. Polymer clay works very differently. If your oven doesn’t have a 275 setting, it is okay to use the 280 setting, but do get a thermometer to make sure where the oven actually is baking, and always cover to prevent browning.

  15. Hey Ginger,
    Very Informative article. i am a beginner and learnt a lot from article.
    Just one question : can we bake Stainless steel bowls,spoons and silver coated bowls etc decorated by polymer clay in oven? Also can we be able to wash these bowls and spoons?

    1. Yes, certainly you can bake metal that’s been covered with polymer clay. And yes, you can wash them. Hand washing is best, but an occasional trip through the dishwasher doesn’t seem to hurt anything as long as there are no surface treatments and varnishes.

  16. Thank you for your informative articles. I’m brand new to polymer clay, and am wondering if all polymer clays are able to be baked, or only those which specifically say “oven bake” on them. Is bake-ability one of the universal characteristics of polymer clays?

    1. There are some “air dry polymer” clays, but they’re not the same material that we use when we refer to “polymer clay”. They aren’t made from PVC resin and plasticizer the way that our polymer clay is. Yes, oven-baking is universal among polymer clay.

  17. Just wondering if i can bake food after baking clay in the same home oven. Ofcourse not both together. As there are many posts i read recently which speaks abt polymer clay being toxic and not safe to cook food

  18. I have a toaster oven. I am waiting for my first order of Polymer clay to arrive, in the meantime, I’ve been reading your tutorials. Behold, my thinking these past day: Convection -vs- Toaster oven??? I have a large toaster oven, [and a separate thermometer] so this is what I will try first. I like the idea that 1. I already have one, so no need to purchase, and 2. it is portable so I can relocate it indoors once the temperatures turn cold here in Minnesota. If that fails or results in problems, I’ll use my regular electric baking oven [much more expensive to operate]. Thanks so much for the great tutorials. A shout out and big thanks to Alan Cordiner for his inspiration.

  19. Can you bake polymer clay in a Halogen oven?
    We need a new oven and in researching it have come across halogen ovens and I wondered.

  20. Rima Phillips

    Hi Ginger,

    Have you tried polyurethane finishes for glazing clay beads? Is it comparable to Sculpey glaze?

    Thanks for all the info you provide!!

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