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. Pingback: Friday Findings-All About Condition Polymer Clay

  2. I have one 1-lb block of yellow that is as hard today as it was a year or so ago. When I’m in a hurry, I use the newer blocks of clay that I have, but when I’m just squishing clay waiting for an idea or that perfect color mix, I slice a chunk off that yellow block, chop it up a bit (the squiggly slicers grate it just fine), put a bit of plain vaseline on my hands and go at it. In the summer, heat and my hot hands usually get it going eventually, and in the winter it just takes a little longer. I tired mineral oil and baby oil and both feel equally vile to me, and most of the other products were more expensive than a new block of clay so I figure the vaseline was worth trying. It works, or else it was the time and the heat that did the trick. I don’t know which, I didn’t care which, I was squishing and waiting for that perfect idea/color mix. No time lost since I didn’t start out to make anything specific. My hands felt great afterward, too!

    1. Yes, vaseline will work, too. It’s a lubricant that will get the clay mass moving. Your hands are tougher than mine…mine hurt far too much to do hand conditioning, though. I suppose it’s early arthritis. Boo!

      1. I used vaseline to soften my clay and after I baked my pieces (for an hour and a half at 110ºC under a foil tent) they were brittle and would crumble between my fingers without being to rough on them. Do you think this could be because of the vaseline? Or do you think it could be something else?

        1. Unless you added a large volume of Vaseline, I don’t think that’s what the problem is. I would most certainly get an oven thermometer to make of the actual temperature in your oven. 110°C is the absolute lowest temperature that will cure clay, and that would only be Fimo (other brands require more heat for full strength). If your oven isn’t reaching and maintaining the correct temperature, then it’s not baking fully and that is the cause of the crumbling.

  3. I indulged in getting a NeverKnead – especially because of the new Fimo Pro. It was the best investment. I have a motor for my pasta machine but that can leave a crumbly mess until the clay softened up. I can do an old fimo classic in less than five minutes and then run it thru the pasta machine without crumbling. It is just about ready to use..
    It seemed frivilous to buy but if you have a lot of clay sitting around, for 120 it was a great investment.

  4. Pingback: Saving the Crumbly Clay – Polymer Clay

  5. Hi, Ginger! I know it’s a very old thread, but: I’m a self-taught polymer clay “putzer” … I make ornaments that are just a very small part of my Holiday “trunk” shows of handmade art creations, and I have only just found you, even with all the info I’ve gathered on Pinterest through the years! I can’t tell you how much more I have now gleaned from the three articles I have read so far, as well as in the comments and replies! You are that often rare artist who is happy to share your knowledge with all ~ who teaches willingly! So a huge THANK YOU … and I’m following along now!!!

    1. Oh Kath, thank you so very much for the very kind words. I am happy to share what I know…I love that spark when you learn something new.

  6. I’m going to throw in a plug for the NeverKnead. Ginger, I know you’re familiar with it so I won’t re-invent the wheel here, but I’ve been doing a major clean-out of my studio recently, targeting my clay. I have lots of old scrap clay, various brands. I’ve taken sandwich size bags, added about 3-4 oz (I’m guessing) of clay crumbles and worked it till I form a cube. Then I’m done. When I need scrap, I can slice and sheet out (or whatever configuration I need) what I need from the cube. If, when I get the clay pieces in the bag and press it a few times, it turns into dust or very tiny dry crumbs, I just throw it out rather than wasting time.

  7. I have several blocks that were stored in a Phoenix outside facility for about 1.5 years, and have been STRUGGLING to rework them with baby oil since my budget is rather tight. I’ve managed to get the Premo translucent and Premo white to come back the fastest and softest, and I’ve gotten some Premo green to come back, but man that was MESSY!!!

    I crumble the pieces up by hand, put them in a disposable container, and soak them with baby oil. In about a week, I take them out and work them on a piece of cardboard and that soaks the excess oil up, making the clay workable. The color leaches out and makes a huge mess. Doesn’t seem to affect the pigment that is still left in the clay, though (meaning the clay doesn’t seem to be less saturated in pigment). I suppose it’s for this reason: “Kato, Sculpey, and Premo are colored in their raw state.” …. LOVE that article!!!

    I’m going to try other colors (Premo yellow, orange & purple), but some of the little bits are so hard (like Premo black) that I think they were pretty much baked in that storage facility. I’m going to try other ways to use it up, like the mosaic ideas, since I can’t afford to waste it. Great thinking! Thanks everyone!

    1. Gosh you’re persistent. But if you can make it work, then hey why not! Have you tried baking the clay yet? How does it act? There are lots of ways to use super hard clay, though, so I’m sure you’ll find some way to use it all up. When you get some new clay, you’re going to be so spoiled with how soft it is, LOL.

      1. I’ve made a Frankenstein head bead and some leaves from the reconstituted green; the head bead was fine, but the leaves were a bit greasy, most likely from the release agent I used for the mold (it had essential oil in it – don’t ask). I just blotted them off and antiqued the leaves with a darker acrylic green paint (for the veins) and they seem just fine. New clay is sooooo much better, but I love the challenge of using up the ‘unusable’. I’ve also crumbled the purple and incorporated it into differently colored fresh clay and it leaves a very nice speckled inclusion look. I now feel that the inclusion idea is the best for crumbled old bits of clay, as the other is way too much work.

  8. Pingback: Polymer Clay Tips for Beginners - The Blue Bottle Tree

  9. For experiments I did, I had an old freshly store bought block (new brand to me and a test block purchased months ago was equally hard so how was a newbie to know?) – I used alcohol which leached some color from dark clays and about two drops walnut oil. They baked fine and were usable like other clays- with no noticeable lack of intended hue! The alcohol is used as a softener anyway, but. I found hand sanitizer works better than alcohol- mine has aloe in it. But we used this trick in college classes and a friend who made large character sculptures swears by it.

    1. I’m not surprised that it works, actually. I know that when I add alcohol ink to clay to color it, it can become quite soft. I will have to try it and see what I think. Thanks for the idea!

  10. Angelia,
    What a clever little girl you have! She will be making tutorials before you know it! Let me know when she starts!

    Elizabeth Drake,
    I have lots of Kato clay that is much harder than I like (I don’t usually use Kato anyway and am not sure why I bought it), but if you would like it and be willing to pay postage, it is yours! Would love to get rid of it.

    1. Hi Karen, if Elizabeth isn’t interested I would love to take your hard clay off your hands and pay the shipping. 🙂 Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  11. I just have to share this!!! My 5 year old seen all the hard clay I was throwing away and asked if she could have it….So, we got all 27 small unopened clay blocks out of the wastebasket. Made her a place to work on the dinning room floor with wax paper. A few minutes later, I go and check on her…She had broken all the clay into small pieces and used her plastic needle and made holes in all of them. She had them on the cookie sheet nice and neat. I asked her what she was making and she looked at me and said beads! After they were baked she strung them and I have to say…Beauitful! She also took some of my foam balls and covered it in elmers glue and rolled it around in the little crumbs all over her work mat. Once dried…well lets just say we have new orniments for the tree this year!lol Better than throwing it away!lol

  12. Just thinking that all those cute little blocks of petrified color could be the beginning of a really cool rock garden!—–Hmmmm.

    1. Bwahaha!! Exactly! Not a terrible idea, actually. And there are some techniques people have developed to use up petrified blocks. It crumbles well after all.

  13. I have recently been enlightened about Sculpey Mold Maker ( From Lynn Ann Schwarzenberg, clay artist extraordinaire. Don’t use it for mold making, I’ve not heard good things about that. But as a -conditioner- for hardened clay? AMAZING stuff. And you only need very small quantities to get a block of pretty hard clay feeling wonderful again. For the minimal amount of money it costs, and the fact that it will probably last you for several years of claying, this is at least worth trying. I am in no way affiliated or financially involved by the company, just another clay artist with way to much hard, hard clay and friends who shared their knowledge with me.

    1. Yes, this is on my list of things to check out. I have some on hand and will be comparing it to Fimo Mix Quick, which has a similar purpose. Thanks for the suggestion! I also think that whatever you do to soften clay, time is also part of the equation. You have to allow enough time for the chemicals to soak in.

  14. I too live in boonieville..different part of America! Ohio! And I have to say I am with most of you…I don’t want to work hard crumbly clay. I am in a situation where I make clay babies and the orders stop and go. So all the clay I bought just 6 months ago are junk! Orders are rolling in and looks like I am off to the craft store an hour away!lol The baby oil idea is good but as stated it does effect the way it behaves and in my’s behavior is unforgiveable!lol Might have used too much but I am done trying! I am a Premo clay addict! Only 2 packs out of 19 were Premo and they are in very workable condition after 6 months. Keeping my clay in a old Tupperware container(1960’s type I got at a yard sale for .25)has been a life saver! All the clay I kept in the shoebox is junk! Thanks again for letting me share my nightmare!lol

    1. Angelia, I had never really thought about that, but I believe you’re right. I know that opened packages get crumbly much faster than closed packages. And the clay that I have in a plastic shoebox stays good longer than clay which is still in the shipping box. Hmm. I think I need to start scouring the thrift stores for old square tupperware boxes. Those lids seal tight and there’s no wasted space. Excellent idea!

  15. I also hate dealing with crumbly clay, and if I open a package and it crumbles all over, it goes in my “gar-BAHge” box. I hate cleaning up those crumblies, it just takes up my time. I wasn’t about to throw it away either, so in defiance, I took a bunch of it, got a food processor and ground that gar-BAHge up. I had to add some TLS to it to get it grindable. I ground it up until I got a sort of gravel that’s pliable when pressed. I did different colors of hardened clay and even did this with my scrap clay. I put the different colors in baby food jars my then-pregnant daughter gave me. I had quite a collection of jars of different sizes, but now her baby is going to be 7 so no more a jars. But now I can store them easier, plus, whenever I need gravel or mosaic filler, I’ve got it.

    1. Sounds like a fantastic solution. I found yet another package of crumbly clay today and was thinking about this very issue, about grinding them up in bulk and storing them so that the TLS or softener would “migrate” through. Baby food jars would be fantastic. Do they even have them anymore? I’ll admit I’ve not looked in years! Thanks for commenting. I love the “gar-BAHge” box!!

  16. You’re quite welcome. LOL

    I marked Hobby Lobby off my shopping store list…yes, I’m boycotting them because of their attitude toward health insurance for their employees. Really? I mean REALLY? We’re having the fight the battle our grandmother’s won? Jeez…off soap box now.

    When I was told about Joann’s sale on the pasta machines, I toddled over there (letting my fingers do the walking, so to speak) and was AMAZED at the variety and their PRICES.

    ‘Forever Yours’ is the song I’ll be singing about them now…LOL

    1. I’m so glad to hear that others share my feelings about Hobby Lobby. We just got one in my community, and I will NEVER set foot inside it

  17. I guess I’m the odd duck here. I LIKE working with hard clay…LOL For me, it is very satisfying and zen-like to get it back to a soft state. So, If ya’ll want to get rid of your hard clay, I’ll pay the postage. 🙂


    Electric food processor is my friend

    JoAnne’s has clay on sale all the time for $1.00 a block. Check out their website.
    I even got a 29.99 pasta machine for 9.99 the other day. Prices vary weekly. They even have a famous 40% off coupon and free shipping on orders over $25 this week. Last week, shipping was a dollar. You might want to check this out.

    I also live in the ‘boonies’ and I find that the internet is my friend.

    1. Oh wow, you are the odd duck then! The stuff drives me nuts. I need to just set aside some time to chop it up and let it sit with diluent on it. I agree about for their clay sales. I buy Premo and Fimo from them (I don’t use SculpeyIII) and the clay is always fresh and nice. Also, their prices on alcohol inks, pearlex, and inka gold is phenomenal. I also keep buying up the Spectrum Noir markers when they’re on sale, too. I love that they have free and low shipping specials…it makes up for living in the boonies. My town is pretty good sized, but I find that the more “unique” things are hard to find here, so I’m always ordering something from somebody! Thanks for the info!

    2. I’ll be an odd duck with you. 🙂 In addition to actually finding the experience pleasurable, it can also provide a challenge. And I will NOT let a mere block of clay beat me. 😉

      I also soooooooo agree about JoAnne’s. I just recently discovered their sale after being disappointed with my local craft store’s “sale”.

      I agree, if anyone wants to send off their hard clay, I’m happy to pay postage as well. 😉

  18. Haha, I so agree with you. I like to do the math with these kinds of things. If I spend an hour bringing back a $2.79 block of clay, I just made $2.79 an hour. Definitely not worth my time.

  19. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I used a few methods you mentioned but never left crumbly clay to soften in a zip lock bag. Will try and remember this for next time. Ideally I just make sure I use most opened clay up immediately as I am very impatient and don’t want to spend valuable time trying to make my clay workable again:) I find that Premo keeps fresh for longer than Fimo.

    1. I keep the opened packs of clay in a ziploc bag, too. Keeps it fresh and cat hair free. Premo does stay nice, but it is also a bear to work with in the summer. Mushy city. I’ve always worked with Kato until recently and was really surprised how differently Premo acted in winter vs summer.

  20. Great article! I also have lots of hardened Kato clay that I don’t have the patience to try to soften it! My craft store is an hour away (50+ miles as I live in the boondocks) so I can’t just get into the car to buy softer clay. Maybe some day I’ll try your methods and use that clay!

    Thanks for another informative article.

    1. Hi Karen, I think we’ve talked before about living waaay out in the middle of nowhere. But you’re down where it’s awfully pretty, so it all balances out. I grew up 90 miles from the nearest town over 2500 people. We’d get to “town” a couple of times a year and see a movie and hit the mall. My parents still live there, so I know exactly what it’s like to live “in the boondocks”!

    2. What about just crumbling it up and using it as filling for a larger price. I mean you won’t us it for anything fine but in the same way hat you cancelling up an old cake gone dry into a new dessert it must be doable. There may be lots transposable would be impossible to do with fresh clay, like a crumbly coating on a teddy bear or yellow crumbly dust on a little bee. I would work with it as issues what is possible than try to rework it.

  21. Thank you Ginger for this enlightening answer. I do however have a question about old and crumbly canes. If they are large enough, i guess reducing is the answer. But, if it is already small in circumference, or, as i just had, an old Stroppel cane which crumbled, what do you do then?

    I already have a shoebox of old canes 🙁 and would rahter be able to use them as sich and not mush them all up into scrap clay….

    1. I’m with you, Suzanne. I wish I had an answer, too. Though, I wonder if you could coat the outside of the cane with Sculpey Clay Softener and then wrap it up and leave it for a month or two. Would the softener diffuse and leach through the cane, making it soft? I really don’t know the answer, but if the cane is unusable, it might be worth a try. What do you have to lose?

      1. Ginger -I enjoy your blog so much Thanks for being so generous. Jana Benson stores her canes coated with liquid sculpey and wrapped in plastic wrap to keep them fresh. Don’t remember if it softens already hard canes but do remember Cythia of polymerclaydaily mentioned trying it. Jana may have posted on polymer clay central about it too.

      2. Thank you Ginger! I guess you are right. What do i have to loose… I’ll try out coating some canes and see what happens!

    2. I know this is quite an old thread but I thought I’d point you in the direction of someone who has done experiments specifically for this issue:

      She is trying to reduce them but I think the techniques she decides are best would be great for just bringing them back to life and using them as-is. Also, she has a wealth of knowledge about claying that is just fantastic. Good luck!

      1. Cindy does a wonderful job trying out different things. It’s interesting that she found that heat was actually the best solution for canes. I agree that the Sculpey clay softener doesn’t do a whole lot. I’ve had the same experience. Thanks for the link.

    3. Hi – jumping in here. Our local guild sponsored a workshop with Jana Roberts Benson last year and about a week before the workshop, she had us take OLD HARD canes and coat the outside of the cane liberally with liquid clay, then wrap them with plastic wrap. I was amazed that the canes became more workable in just a week’s time. My first love with polymer clay was caning so I had quite a few that I made early on that were hard. I came home from that workshop and went to work on the rest of those old canes! AMAZING!

      1. Very good to know. I had heard this before, but it’s excellent to get the info verified. I will make sure to recommend that in the future. It’s such an easy fix, too.

  22. I’m totally with you Ginger. To spend many, many minutes whacking, banging, working, conditioning a block of clay is just such a time waster. I have Kato clay from a few years ago that I never could get workable, even tried running over it with my car tire!!

    1. That’s just it. It’s a time waster. It would take a whole day to get my clay conditioned and I don’t have that much time to create as it is. The car tire…that’s funny. Talk about desperate measures!

      1. Yep — put it inside a heavy duty freezer bag and ran over it a few times. All it did was crumble into hard chunks and bits that never got soft.

        1. To be honest, I’ve never had clay do anything but crumble when I whack or smoosh it. I suppose it works if you’re using that method to mix the clay, though. Run it over, fold, run it over, fold, etc.

  23. Excellent post. I use Kato and it is often a lot stiffer that other clays I’ve worked with. The black is usually darn right hard. I absolutely agree with the “whack” method. But for me it’s more like a good ol’ beat down. Even if the black is just merely “stiff” it takes forever to get it well conditioned. So for stiff clay, and always for black, I do like you suggest. I use 1/3 translucent and 2/3 base color. and whack, whack, whack the two together – take the flat piece fold, rip and tear, re-stack and whack, whack, whack again. (repeating several times as needed). It does work wonders. But then again, I do like your “grab your purse and keys” methods almost as much.

    I do so enjoy these post and all the wonderful tips and information. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Yeah, I’ve noticed that the black can be a bit testy. But let me tell you, fresh clay is a joy. Lately the packages of Kato that I buy have been nice and soft, even the black. Maybe it’s getting better? I hope so!

    1. I am, and I know just the tutorial you mean. I hadn’t thought of including ways to use hard clay, but you’re right, that’s a fantastic one. Thanks for mentioning it!

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