Learn how to soften polymer clay when you find your brick or slab has gotten overly hard, brittle or difficult to get started pinching it off and working it! I’ve worked with overly-tough clay in the past and it’s not fun. The good news is there are some easy fixes out there, and most of them could be right there in your kitchen pantry.
What causes clay pieces to be overly hard or crumble? Sometimes it’s age. I know because I’ve stored up clay for periods of time – I don’t think I would ever recommend stockpiling a lot of this clay – it can last for months in a cool, dry spot ( but not ages and ages.)
Or sometimes, it’s just a tough batch. This happens sometimes – but these tricks I am about to show you can fix that – and and help you avoid frustration!
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How Well Do Clay Softeners Work?
The Sculpey brand does carry a proprietary brand of liquid softener. It comes in a 1.6 oz bottle and while I couldn’t find out what the ingredients in it are (nor were they indicated anywhere) it’s a good option to think about. You want to use it sparingly; you’ll only need a few drops of it for every 2 oz of clay (like the small individual brick sizes.)
Some people said it left a little oil residue on their hands. And if they had any colored clay the color may have bled a bit. But they were able to successfully salvage a lifeless lump that might have otherwise ended up in the trash heap which is what counts, right?
So you know they are well aware that clay needs some assistance every now and then. However the part about it having a little oily residue gave me an idea…keep reading.
Since one of the ingredients in polymer clay is oil based, it makes sense that an oily substance could be used to help make it more pliable.For this I am going to start with one of my favorite products, olive oil – which is a great moisturizer and highly sought after for cooking, and as a soap ingredient.
Good idea to just start with a few pieces of clay at a time; it will be easier; don’t try to treat the whole brick at once. Put them in a closeable zip lock bag.
Place a few drops of oil into the clay and then close the bag, or at least gather it near the top , and distribute it around. Like so…. Just knead the bag with the clay in it the way you would if it wasn’t in it. Doing this will keep that stuff off your hands too.
Keep working it. When it starts getting easier to knead take it out of the bag and continue rolling and kneading it prior to proceeding with your project.
Oils to Use to Soften Clay
All of these may prove to be effective, check to see which of these you’ve got in your pantry kitchen or cabinet!
- Cooking oil
- Olive oil
- Mineral oil, baby oil
- Petroleum jelly
The biggest problem as I see it, despite the fact that it works well, is that cooking oils are perishable – their application could lead to the clay not being “fresh” at some point. Something to think about. I also wanted to try another familiar substance – glycerin.
Since it’s a humectant that gives homemade soap its moisturizing qualities, I thought a little bit of glycerin could help? I have never heard of anyone using it to soften clay but thought I’d give it a shot anyway. I repeated the above procedure this time with a few drops of glycerin to see how it would work.
The ball in the back I used olive oil, the one in the foreground had the glycerin. I don’t think it worked as well as the oil, but I did like the way it left my hands feeling! This whole activity was kind of fun; I know that’s besides the point, it was like squeezing a stress ball. My hands got a much needed workout😄 .
Now we come to the last method …Have you ever used a hair dryer? On low setting and just move it around as you squeeze the clay.
I think it worked a little (it sure made my hands warm – naturally), but I think the best way was a dab of oil.
Do All Polymer Clays Work Better With This Method?
Well, almost. One particular brand – Fimo. Fimo is mineral based – (why am I just now finding this out?) which is similar to the air dry kind, and to get it moving again, you only need some (wait for it) water.
Just follow the method above this time, just add water to the bag. I had a tough time with Fimo back in the day. I had a bad experience that soured me on the brand overall, but now I’m willing to give it another go!
I know that if I’d had access to the internet back then, I might have figured out a better way to salvage the crumbled bricks of Fimo I had.
UPDATE: I Did Try a Proprietary Softener…
I thought I would add a little update to this post and mention another softener I used. This is actually the proprietary brand…but it’s not a liquid formula. I have no idea what it’s made from (everything on the back seems to be written in French…) I was out shopping at Joann’s one evening, saw it, and it looked like it was on sale, so I thought what the hey.
You just pinch off a little and work it into your ball of clay. It feels like some kind of emollient; it’s not greasy or anything. I think it did work, but it did look to leave a swirl of white throughout the ball as you can see. As I used it for another project, it appeared to dissipate, but at first I wondered if it would change the color or mess up the texture overall.
Out of all these, I think I preferred olive oil the best. (Who doesn’t love olive oil – it’s good for you, and good for your clay!) I also heard another clay user mention Vaseline as being a good softener too, so give that a try if you’ve got some around; I don’t think I put it on the list? I think I did.
So if you are ever stuck with crumbling or overly hard to work batch, now you know how to soften polymer clay. Yay, you! Try these suggestions and let me know what you think!