Lint and Dust on Polymer Clay

Lint and dust on polymer clay, learn how to prevent it and how to remove it.
It’s hard to make the fibers show up in a picture, but this clay was full of lint and dust! Thanks to Getzger Cat for his kind and generous contributions.

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.

Animals

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!

25 thoughts on “Lint and Dust on Polymer Clay”

  1. I am also doing my first sculpture and using white FIMO Professional.
    As I saw today a lot of dust gathered on the surface and in the clay also probably.
    I am going to paint the whole sculpture but some parts should be bones and therefore will be painted with some bonelike color.

    Do you think the dust is visible through the painting anyway?

  2. I am so clueless in clay and all that surrounds it. Thank you Ginger for all this information! This is about the 4th article I’ve read of yours and really getting educated!

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  4. I’ve also found working with flour helps get rid of any fingerprints and debris from my hands! Once I’m done with my sculpture I just take a very soft brush (ex: makeup powdering brush, unused) and gently brush off the excess flour 🙂

  5. Great compilation of tips, Ginger! Two more. Keep a can of air duster, like Ultra Duster, nearby. A quick spritz of canned air clears the work surface. Also, if dust has just settled on the surface, sometimes you can use the very fine grit side of those square multi gritted nail buffers to gently remove debris.

  6. Thanks for this timely article. Lint and dust are my enemies. And yes I have a cat who I don’t shut out (I don’t have the heart) , but cat hair is actually not what I find on my clay. The worst is really white clay or Fimo’s new effect range – like lint magnets. Unfortunately I do use white a lot since I have taken up sculpting and use the coloured clay (so no painting on these) and while it’s hardly noticeable on the dark colours it’s glaringly obvious in the white. I shall print out this article so I know how to minimise the lint risk and find ways to rescue things. One thing I can’t do with sculptures is sanding the lint away, so I have to pick it out with a needle tool. Less a problem when you paint over the whole thing.I wish my work room was a dust/lint-free environment, but it’s not a lab. Time to clean up my workspace for my ongoing projects!

    1. I’m going to put on my scientist hat for a moment. Allergies are caused by allergens, which are proteins that our bodies have developed antibodies to, and that triggers an allergic reaction. You can only have an allergic reaction to a protein that can come in contact with the body. If, let’s say, you emptied the vacuum bag and used the dust as an inclusion in polymer clay and then baked it, would that trigger an allergy? Well, in order to do so, the proteins would have to withstand the baking process without being denatured. And they would have to be free enough to detach from the polymer mass and then come in contact with a person’s skin, lungs, or eyes. If there was a LOT of allergen, then perhaps…maybe…there might be a little bit on the surface of the piece that might cause a problem. That being said, however, it’s not terribly likely. And if all we’re talking about is a stray hair here and there (my creations often include bonus inclusions..that stuff gets everywhere), then I don’t think there’s enough protein there to cause an issue. As an aside, pet allergies aren’t actually caused by the hair. They’re caused by the saliva on the hair and the skin particles that they shed. I know that’s not an answer, but it’s a fairly educated guess to say that I don’t think it would ever cause a problem.

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  9. This was a great article! I also find that doing a good sanding job post-curing will remove specs and small pieces of lint.

  10. I like and share many of the ideas listed here. 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.

  11. Like Tammy, I find that having a lint roller handy is invaluable, I use it to keep my surfaces free of dust when I’m photographing work too (macro is so unforgiving). I ban my cats from my studio space as much as possible but they just love a challenge! Baby wipes are another super handy thing to have around for hands , surfaces, tools and pasta machines!

    1. The lint rollers disappear around here because the 14yo is embarrassed if a single cat hair shows up on her clothing! Like my own eyes, my camera doesn’t see lint too much. I need a macro lens (with as much jewelry photography as I do? Pfft.) Yeah, banning cats doesn’t work. They fail to see the point. And yes, baby wipes are awesome!

    1. I’m glad. When I write posts I’m always afraid that everyone already knows these things. But then invariably I find that not only do readers learn new things, but I learn new things from readers. It’s great!

  12. One of the greatest tips I picked up concerning this was from Wendy Froud’s Fairy Doll-Making tutorial dvd. She suggested wearing synthetic fabrics, such as polyester or rayon. With all of the new Micro-Fiber clothing in our stores today, they’re very easy to find and inexpensive too. I have a handful of ‘polyclay work shirts’ specifically for this purpose. I still manage to find pet hair stuck to me sometimes, and when I don’t have a lint roller, I simply wrap some tape, sticky side out, around my fingers (I suggest masking or duct tape, lol). I do follow nearly all of your hints here; this is an extensive and great list of tips, thank you!

    1. I have so many microfiber clothes, I never thought of that. My husband’s fishing shirts would be perfect. Hmmm….I think I’ll add that to the article. What a great idea, Damon. Thank you!

  13. I keep my dogs out of my crafting room. I have a blush makeup brush to brush off the surface of my clay are which is a ceramic tile, Once or twice a week I wipe it down with a spritz of rubbing alcohol, before and after I’ve been tinkering with clay I wipe the surface with a baby wipe, as for crumbs like loose glitter, sand, micro beads. I have this really cute miniature pig vacuum *Here’s a link to buy one : http://www.amazon.com/Wrapables-Animal-Mini-Tabletop-Vacuum/dp/B000JKERWI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393368006&sr=8-1&keywords=pig+vacuum* The suction power on this little piggy will surprise you but it’s help clean up eraser dust after I’ve been drawing and kept my craft area lint and dust-free. But sometimes you just can’t avoid it. You just gotta scrap or pluck those suckers off. I find sprinkling your clay with baby powder helps keep it slippery and prevents fingerprints and dirt from sticking too much.

    1. Okay, now that’s just plain cute. Now I waaaant one! I tend to use corn starch instead, but yes, it’s fantastic for removing fingerprints. Though, I very seldom have trouble with those. But that’s another post 😉 .

  14. Great tips, as always. I also keep a lint roller – the kind with tape that peels off – at my work station. I roll it over any flat surface, including the base under the rollers of my pasta machine, before I get started and when switching projects. It picks up cat (and people) hair, dust, lint, stray glitter and pigment powders, and those bits of clay that crumbled off from here and there.

    1. Perfect idea! I often forget about the area under the pasta machine and then..drop my clay. Ew, then I have to pick bits out of my sheet. I’m sure we’ve all been there.

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