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.
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. 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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