Can I soften hard polymer clay?

It would be lovely if every bar of polymer clay was as soft and supple as the day it came off the factory conveyor belt. But because of normal processes of polymer clay aging and becoming “unconditioned”, you will undoubtedly come across bars of clay that are hard, crumbly, and difficult to work. In most cases, the clay just needs to be conditioned. Read the article here to learn how different brands of polymer clay can behave as they age. Here are some tips about softening hard, crumbly polymer clay

Can you save hard, crumbly polymer clay?

  • It is exceedingly rare for clay to cure during transit. It can, however, cure in your car or black mailbox if you live in hot climates where temps regularly surpass 100°F (37°C).
  • If you can pinch together crumbs of the clay and make them workable, the clay is not damaged and merely requires “work”.
  • Fimo Professional, Cernit, and Pardo are naturally crumbly, but this goes away with conditioning.
  • Kato Polyclay is naturally stiff and requires effort to condition.
  • Some polymer clay brands can become too dry with age. They need to be “moistened” with one of many products.
  • Adding Sculpey Clay Softener or other brand of clay softener is the very best thing to mix with your clay.
  • Oil can be added, but only tiny amounts, perhaps 2-3 drops per 2 oz bar. Too much can make your clay weak or result in your project oozing oil. Clay softeners are far superior.
  • Liquid clay (any brand) can also be used as a clay softener, but dedicated softener products work better.
  • To mix these in, you can use a food processor, mix by hand, or use a pasta machine. It may take a long time for the clay to smooth out and mix completely with a pasta machine.
  • Warming your clay helps make this easier. Use body heat, or a heating pad, or submerge clay (in a baggie) into hot tap water.
  • Craft store clay is often hard when you buy it due to slower turnover.
  • The freshest clay comes from quality online suppliers.
  • Softening hard polymer clay is hard work.

How to soften hard polymer clay

Unless clay is already cured, it can be brought back to life with enough work. The way you soften hard polymer clay is a combination of working (conditioning) it and adding new materials to make it more supple and workable. In general, the basic procedure is to chop up the clay in tiny bits (with a blade, crumble it up, or use an old thrift store food processor). Then add some Sculpey Clay Softener or other brand of clay softener. Mix it up, put it in a ziploc sandwich bag, and leave it alone for a few days. During that time, the plasticizer will seep into the hard clay and soften it. You should then be able to get it to hold together and run through the pasta machine repeatedly to get it conditioned. You might need to repeat the process with more softener. If given enough time and patience, it’s not terribly difficult to do it this way.

If your clay is a shattering brand (read here to know what that means), then it will need to be physically “moved” to make it soft. Adding softeners is usually unnecessary. If you add softener when it’s not needed, the result will be sticky clay that’s too soft. Always try to condition it first, and be aware that the brand matters.

You can soften hard polymer clay. But is it worth it? Answers from The Blue Bottle Tree.

Can all hardened polymer clay be saved?

Is polymer clay ever too far gone and impossible to be saved? Generally, no. You can save it. It just requires clay softener, time, patience, and elbow grease. It’s annoying, but it’s also very normal for brands such as Fimo Professional, PV Clay, Craftsmart, Hobby Lobby Crafter’s Choice, and Cernit Number One.

While “social media” often tells us that crumbly clay is partially cured in hot trucks, I have to say that’s exceedingly rare. I’ve looked into this quite a bit and it’s far more likely that the clay is older, unconditioned, or aged. All of these states are normal and can be saved. Reports I’ve heard about clay truly cured in transit is generally hard and solid, not crumbly.

You’ll know if the clay is “partially cured” because it forms crumbs that cannot be pressed together and even clay softener will not make the clay workable.

Fun Projects for Hard Clay

I used a tutorial from Rebekah Payne to make these opulent faceted beads with some old crumbly translucent clay, some black clay, and some gold paint. I made these faceted beads from old, hard, dried, crumbly clay. This is just one solution for working with crumbly clay, Read more at The Blue Bottle Tree. Kathy from Flowertown Originals had a slightly different twist on the same tutorial when she made these square mosaic beads. Kathy then discovered these great multi-colored stripes when she was softening some more old clay. So she used that clay to make these really great striped beads.

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74 thoughts on “Can I soften hard polymer clay?”

  1. I just purchased some white creative paperclay at a yard sale for only 50 cents. I was going to use it but my daughter (who does quite a bit of modeling) said most likely it’s a cheap brand and swears by WHITE Sculpy. I notice it air dries as opposed to oven baking. Do you know anything about this brand, if it’s any good or should I just stick with Sculpy?

    1. It is an air dry clay made with paper fibers. It can be softened by adding water and letting it sit in a bag. I just rehydrated some of it a couple of weeks ago. It is nothing like polymer clay in the way it handles, though, so you’ll have to judge what’s the best product for what you will be making.

  2. Nika van Tilburg

    Not sure this is the right place to ask this question, but here goes. I use my big oven and would like to be able to bake a bunch of pieces at one time. After I’ve gotten my clay conditioned and my pieces shaped, how long can I let them sit before baking? I was reading an article at Kater’s Acres that says “after about 12 hours [clay] will start to lose that conditioning.” If that’s the case, then it sounds like I have to bake at the end of each day rather than collect pieces to bake over 2 days. Any experience or suggestions on this issue?

    1. When polymer clay sits for any length of time, it sort of “gels” up and needs to be mixed or kneaded to make it workable again. So if you’re going to work the clay it needs to be reconditioned. But there is no time limit between when you finish your project and when you bake it. It can sit on your workbench for decades and be just fine. The one thing is that it will attract dust and lint, so do make sure it’s covered.

      1. The comment on not having to instantly bake is very helpful. This coming spring I will again be responsible for 24-30 mini-gardens for our Church plant sale. I am a total newbie to polymer clay but have high hopes it will be the answer to gnomes, fairies and critters that would be shaped to the scenes needs rather than having to shape the scenes to what is available at Hobby Lobby and Joann’s. The rummage sale committee does a great job of saving pots and figurines, but there are times I need baby ducks or this coming year, a Fred Flintstone. I think polymer clay and your marvelous information will save me. Many thanks.

  3. Thank you for the article. My husband is trying to soften some Fimo Professional, that I purchased because of the gorgeous colors, and he is ready to through in the towel. He has been working so hard but the clay is totally crumbly and won’t soften. The last step will be the food processer, which we had not known about, thanks for this final step otherwise I’d have to return them all to Michael’s. BTW, I don’t think these are old, at least not on the shelves in the store. If they are old, it must have been from wherever they get their supplies.

    1. Yeah, sometimes you just need to give up and buy fresh clay. If you can pinch the crumbles together and make them stick together, then the clay is worth saving. But if you can’t make it do that, then it’s too far gone and should absolutely be returned to the store. Many of us prefer to buy our clay online because they go through so much clay that what you receive is always fresh. I like http://www.polyclayplay.com and http://www.munrocrafts.com.

  4. Thanks, I’ll definitely try any of these methods when I can
    I use Kato Polyclay and I’ll tell you one thing, it is hard af, even when straight out of the packaging

  5. Hello , SO much great advice, so much knowledge out there, all thanks to you for sharing it. May I ask for some advice re sculptures that I’ve allowed to go hard through beginners ignorance.. I’ve some very precious sculpted figures that I was working on for several years, that I left to do other sculptures, meaning to go back to the original figures to complete the finer detail, but to my horror I now find the figures I left, extremely brittle and dry. I really don’t want to lose them…Would you recommend I bake them as they are, dry and brittle? Or might the chemical composition have altered in the drying out? The material is super sculpy (pink) h-e-l-p!!!

    1. I would go ahead and bake them. They might crack, but then again they might be fine. It depends on the deeper preparation you did. If the clay is more than 1/2″, you might have cracking. The fact that the sculptures are now old and hard really shouldn’t make a huge difference. But I haven’t ever done this myself and I can only give general advice on the subject. Good luck!

      1. Thank you SO MUCH Ginger, you’ve given me hope, I’ll bake them and let you know how they turn out. Thanks again, and for all the fabulous information on this fabulous site, a gold mine. Gill

  6. I’m using polymer clay for the first time and accidentally picked up some fimo professional, I also have fimo soft, but I was distracted and stressed that day, so anyways I opened the pro, ALL of the clay except the premo translucent is hard as hell, its winter time so that is a factor for sure. First I tried putting it under warm water and a plastic bag, that never worked, now I’m using baby oil and my hands/rolling pin, and so far its working so I’m relieved, I was about to exchange my other unopened packs, but its fine, Its brand new clay, so next time I’ll stick to premo clay it seemed a lot softer at the store!

    1. Fimo Professional is different from most other brands of clay when it comes to being hard and crumbly. Most brands are dried out when that happens and need clay softener to be added. But Fimo Professional will actually soften up quite well by conditioning it. IF you can get it worked without losing your mind! A lot of people advocate using a mallet on it. I use an arbor press (similar to the Never Knead). Slice it in thin slices, put it in a ziploc bag, then whack the heck out of it with a hammer. This will help it start loosening up and moving. Pretty soon it will be soft enough and sticky enough to stay together when put through the pasta machine. Not too long after that, it will smooth right out. Premo, Fimo Soft, and Kato will soften with conditioning, of course, but not like Fimo Pro. It really is different.

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