One of the most frustrating aspects of working with polymer clay is dealing with lint, dust, hair, and various particles that seem to be drawn to your work like there’s some sort of magnetic force. No matter what you do, no matter how well you clean, it seems that you find lots of little specks of fibers or debris stuck in and on your clay. This is a universal problem and there is no single easy solution. But here are some ways to identify the source, prevent contamination, and deal with lint and dust on polymer clay.
Sources of Lint and Dust
In order to deal with reducing dust and lint in your home and your studio, it helps to do a little check to see where it is coming from. All houses produce lint and dust, but it’s not from the same source in every home. Here are some common sources of particles that get onto and into your polymer clay.
Oh yes, this is the obvious one to blame. Dogs and cats, love them though we do, are big creators of fur, dust, and yes, even flaky skin. They shed, they shake, they bring in dirt from outdoors. We don’t want to admit it, but our loyal best friends are a large contributor to the problem. By the way, the largest animals in your home also shed. That would be you and your family. We humans don’t want to think about it, but we shed hair and skin at an alarming rate, especially in winter!
Dust from Outdoors
Do you live next to a dirt road? Is there a construction site in your neighborhood? Are the trees blooming, shedding pollen like a big yellow snowstorm? Do any of your neighbors have wood heat or use their fireplace often? Do you live in a city with pollution or even in a small town but near a busy street? When you think of how dirty your outdoor furniture gets, that gives an idea of how much “stuff” is flying around in the air out there. And yes, some of it gets inside!
Dust from Indoors
Do you have wood heat or use your fireplace? I love the glow of a wood fire but gosh they’re filthy! The smoke, which is actually composed of particles, gets everywhere. Not to mention the wood itself. Does anyone in your home smoke? That’s another source of particles in your home. Have a look at the ceiling over your work space. Is the ceiling crumbling or the paint flaking? Do you have another story overhead and could the flexing of the boards as people walk cause dust to fall?
Lint from Furnishings and Carpet
Do you have carpet in your studio? If so, every time you walk through the room, you stir up lint. The same goes for soft furnishings like a sofa or comfy chair. Even curtains rustling in the breeze will shed fibers and dust.
Lint from Your Clothing
Have you ever had a new red shirt and then found tons of red lint in your polymer clay? Fuzzy clothing like sweaters can shed, of course, but what about your jeans or a t-shirt? All cloth sheds fibers, even seemingly smooth cloth. And if you sew in the same room where you do your claying, you really shouldn’t be surprised that all those cut fibers will find their way onto your clay. Also, is the laundry room near? The tumble dryer creates a lot of lint!
Preventing Contamination from Dust and Lint
Wow, there are lots of sources of dust and lint in your home! Luckily, you can eliminate or address some of them. Here are some ways to deal with the problem.
Eliminate Air Circulation
If dust or lint is a problem, the first thing to do is close the window. Not only does an open window bring dust indoors, the air currents also stir up dust in the studio, allowing it to settle back down onto your polymer clay. Forced air heat, like most Americans have in our homes, is a particular problem. When my clay table was in the main part of the house I had terrible trouble with lint. But after I moved to a closed room that is not connected to the rest of the house, I found that the lint decreased dramatically. Without air currents swirling around, stirring up the dust and redistributing the household particles, I find that the room stays a lot cleaner.
Wear Old Clothes
New clothes shed fibers profusely. When working with clay, wear an old t-shirt that has been washed so many times that all the lint’s been beaten out of it. Don’t wear long sleeves. They tend to slide down and flop around, then you push them back up again, creating lint as you go. Also, tie back your hair. Even if your hair isn’t the problem, reaching up to push your hair out of your eyes means that you are waving your arms around over your clay.
Damon Chatterton suggests that polyester or microfiber clothes are great for this. They don’t leave lint at all. I realized that my husband’s fishing shirts are microfiber. I’ll bet they’d made a great ‘work shirt’.
Clean your Work Space
Aside from keeping a very clean work environment, having a clean work space is imperative. it’s best if you can completely clean the top, including any boxes or containers that you might be digging through while you work. I like to use a damp lint-free cloth to clean the area. Microfiber cloths are perfect and Kater’s Acres recommends a set of these cotton cloths. And then after that, I blow on my workspace. Yes, just give it a good puff and you’d be amazed how that clears off the remaining fibers on the surface.
Clean your Hands
Even hands that have been washed thoroughly can still present a problem, especially for crafters who often have stains that resemble those of a mechanic. You see, some of the stains and inks and paints that stain our hands are quite soluble in polymer clay. So the minute we start shaping the clay with our hands, the stains get transferred. So use a scrub brush, including under the fingernails, before you work with a sensitive project. And if you still have trouble, consider using rubber gloves.
Also, keep a ball of scrap clay the same color as what you’re working with (trans works well, too). Roll that around in your hands to pick up any loose fibers or stains.
Cover your Work
What happens to your work when you step away for a few hours? Do you leave it on the desktop? Make sure that you cover your work. Invert a plastic storage box over your work surface. The shoebox sized ones are perfect. I like to keep my foil baking pans near so that finished, but unbaked, items are stored inside, dust free.
Condition with a Pasta Machine
When I condition by hand, I tend to incorporate a lot more debris into my clay than when I condition with a pasta machine. In fact, I seldom do very much shaping and mushing with my hands. This keeps my clay cleaner.
Revisit Your Work Habits
Especially when working with white, evey tiny speck shows. So you really need to be diligent with your work habits and develop a habit of keeping the dirt from contaminating your project as you work on it. I can’t say it better than Karolina Söderberg from the Swedish online clay shop Hobbyrian in this truly excellent video.
How to Remove Lint and Dust on Polymer Clay
So now you know where the dust is coming from and what to do about it. But how do you fix items which have been marred by fibers, particles, dust, and lint?
Lint and Dust IN Polymer Clay
Unfortunately, once fibers and lint debris have been mixed into your polymer clay, it can’t really be removed. Sometimes you can find and remove large hairs and fur, but the little specks are in there for good. The best thing to do at this point is to disguise the specks. Try texturing the surface of your piece with a metal brush, sandpaper, toothbrush, or sponge.
After baking, you can sometimes remove some of the marks by lightly sanding with 400 grit sandpaper. Of course you always run the risk of uncovering new marks as you sand. But often you can remove many of them. If all else fails, use some acrylic paint to create an antiqued effect, disguising any marks in the clay.
Lint and Dust on the Polymer Clay Surface
Before you bake any polymer clay piece, always check it out under good light and remove any dust or hairs that you can see on the surface. A needle tool made from a sewing needle will help you lift off a piece of lint, then tweezers can remove it.
Depending on the amount and type of specks on the surface of your polymer clay, you can often remove them using a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. This works on raw clay to smooth fingerprints, too! You can also use acetone (nail polish remover) for this, but make sure that you don’t use colored acetone! You can use acetone on baked clay or raw clay.
A reader, Diane Smith, recommends, “Another thing I have found – if you have a piece of lint or hair that has not been embedded deeply, a small piece of scotch tape will often lift it from the clay. It works very well and leaves no indentations.” What a great idea!
And of course, the solutions, above, for sanding and using paint to disguise the marks will also work.
Dust and Specks in Sealer
When coating your polymer clay in sealer such as Varathane, it’s always super frustrating to get specks of dust in the finish. In addition to all the tips above to prevent dust, one thing to look at is dust in your brush. Old sealer remaining the brush can flake out, creating specks.
I always blow on my piece before sealing, and I fan and blow on my brush before dipping it into the sealer.
Choosing Projects Wisely
If you’ve tried everything to remove sources of particles and fibers and dust in your environment and you’re still going crazy trying to deal with lint and dust on polymer clay, then you might have to choose different projects, for your own sanity! Any project with a large expanse of light-colored clay is going to show every speck of dust. Projects with texture or varied colors will give you much more satisfaction. Or try projects, like my Rustic Beads Tutorial or Mica Leaf Tutorial where there is texturing and a surface treatment that will not show lint or dust.
White or light-colored polymer clay can be nearly impossible to make without getting contamination from particles in the environment. You just might have to bite the bullet and use darker clay.
And remember that sticky clay is going to be worse. Sculpey and Sculpey III are quite sticky clays that tend to grab onto fibers and not let go. Try a firmer clay like Kato polyclay if dust is a problem for you. Kato has a surface that is quite plasticky and doesn’t seem to attract fibers and those that do fall onto it don’t seem to stick quite as tightly. You can almost brush the dust off of raw Kato.
Whew! There was more to say on this than I had expected. I know that a lot of this is common sense, but sometimes the obvious escapes us and it takes a blog post such as this one to make the light bulb go on over our heads and we realize the solution. I hope this gave you some insight on how to fix the problem and you’ll have beautiful new lint-free polymer clay creations from here on out. Happy Claying!