Traveling with Polymer Clay

Whether you’re flying to a polymer clay retreat or just going to visit relatives and want to bring your clay, it’s easy to wonder what you need to know about traveling with polymer clay. Can you take your polymer clay on a plane? Will it pass through security? Will your polymer clay be confiscated? I’ve traveled both domestically and internationally to polymer clay events many times. Here’s what you need to know.

Wing of an airplane flying over land on a cloud-sprinkled day.

Flying with Polymer Clay

Because polymer clay is a putty wrapped in plastic, just like C-4 plastic explosives we’ve seen in the movies, it’s easy to think that your polymer clay is going to be confiscated. Not so fast. Polymer clay is not a prohibited substance. There are no restrictions on taking polymer clay in your carry-on luggage. No security personnel will mistake it for explosives.

However, remember that your carry-on luggage is scanned by X-ray, and polymer clay will show up as an unidentifiable opaque block. (So will your chocolate bars and some protein bars, for that matter.) This can easily cause delays because your hand luggage will need to be searched by hand when an officer has the time to do it. Once they see what it is (and especially if you can explain it when they ask), there shouldn’t be a problem. Keeping your clay in its original wrapper makes it faster for personnel to recognize what they’re seeing. But not everyone knows what polymer clay is, and you might be asked about it.

security at SeaTac airport in Seattle

I can’t guarantee that your unbaked clay won’t be confiscated, however. Security personnel are overworked, under pressure, and have to make split-second decisions. It might be easier for them to just toss it into the trash. But there’s no real reason why they would need to do that.

Just to make things easier, you may want to pack your unbaked polymer clay in your checked luggage. (I always crack up that my British husband calls this the “hold luggage”. No, I don’t hold it anymore…that’s the point. Oh English language, you’re so funny.)

Will Polymer Clay Cause a Positive Swab Test?

While polymer clay does contain some of the same components as plastic explosives (namely plasticizer), it doesn’t contain any explosive residue or taggant (such as DMNB) that swab tests are looking for. Yes, I’ve been swabbed several times in international airports and just given a smile and a wave. And I assure you, there is polymer clay residue everywhere on my luggage!

Traveling with Polymer Clay Tools

Okay, that covers the polymer clay blocks. But what about your needle tools, blades, scissors, and pasta machine? Can you take them onto the plane in your backpack, purse, or carry-on suitcase? Oh heck no. Don’t even try. You will most certainly be pulled aside to be searched by hand. And even if your tools are shorter than the allowed lengths for sharp things, nobody wants to go through this. Just pack them in your checked luggage. Blades are a massive no-no for carrying on to flights!

no sharp object sign for airport security

Flying with Liquid Clay, Liquid Varnishes, and Alcohol

Remember that liquids are monitored and must be visually searched when carried onto a plane. This is why we put everything into the silly clear Ziploc bag in small bottles. Yes, you can carry small amounts of these things onto a plane, but they will need to be put in with your toiletries. Depending on the mood of the security personnel (Norwich, I’m looking at you), this might be an issue no matter what strategy you take. Just check them with the rest of your stuff.

And you probably shouldn’t travel with alcohol at all. It’s flammable. While you might get through with small amounts if they don’t notice it, it’s probably best to skip it. I usually pack my alcohol spray bottle, but empty. Then I buy alcohol at my destination. (I usually buy paper towels and baby wipes there, too. Why bother packing them?)

Checked Luggage Will Be Searched, Too!

Even when you check your polymer clay and tools in your checked luggage, it will likely be searched by security personnel while you’re waiting to board your flight. After all, our tools and materials sometimes look confusing on an x-ray scanner! I nearly always find the Homeland Security calling card in my luggage when I unpack. Sometimes they’re very neat when they do it. Other times they toss everything out and make a mess. Because of this, I do have a few tips.

When you are traveling with polymer clay, your bags will often be searched by security officials. Make it easy for them by organizing your luggage well.
When you are traveling with polymer clay, it’s common for your luggage to be searched, even if it’s checked. I often find a card from TSA, notifying me that they’ve been there. It’s best to pack your bags with this in mind, making it easier for the workers to search with minimal disruption.

Package everything in clear plastic boxes, clear Ziploc bags, or packing cubes. Make it easy on them! That way they can take everything out, see what’s inside, and pack it back together easily. Don’t include loose tools, either. (I lost my favorite tweezers this way…they must have fallen out during a search.) And this is a good time to label each little bag. This helps workers know what to expect will be inside. And the box that holds my pokey tools and blades? I always label it “SHARP TOOLS” so they will know to be careful. Nobody needs a sliced finger to screw up their day.

Ship It When you Can

Far easier than carrying your polymer clay tools and unbaked blocks of clay on a plane is to ship them. You can put a lot of stuff in flat rate boxes that you then mail to your destination ahead of you. I usually also print out a return label and put it in the box so returning them home is a matter of just affixing the label and dropping the box off with the hotel desk. Or asking my host to drop the box off at a package drop-off.

passengers outside prague havel airport
Vaclav Havel airport in Prague is just one of the places that I’ve traveled with polymer clay.

Every Airport and Country is Different

Be aware that some countries are far more strict than the US when it comes to their flight security rules. Others are far more relaxed about it. You might encounter trouble when you’re traveling with polymer clay, or you may not. These officers will most certainly have no specific guidelines on whether polymer clay is allowed on flights, so you will be at the mercy of the mood of the individual officers that you’re be encountering. Polymer clay is not prohibited anywhere. But since we’ve all had stories of really friendly staff and really cranky staff, it’s best to make it easier on them by planning ahead and helping them do their job as quickly as possible.

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