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5 Polymer Clay Questions and Answers for Beginners

Learning curves can be steep. Beginners can certainly appreciate all kinds of tips and tricks so they do not have to learn the hard way what they need to know about a technique. Here are 5 top polymer clay questions and answers beginners might have about working with polymer clay especially those pertaining to health and safety.

How to Store Clay?
Polymer clay has to be correctly stored for it to last for years. Plus keep it dust free.  This article from Polymer Clay Web covers the types of containers and wraps that are best for storing the clay so it doesn't react with the container itself.  I like the idea of wrapping smaller pieces of clay in wax paper and placing those in a divided plastic storage box. Or lining the box with wax paper.

How to Bake Clay?
Polymerclayer's excellent article says there are just 3 things you need to control properly - temperature, time and baking surfaces - to ensure adequate baking without brittleness or scorching. Great chart on the different temperatures and times needed for different brands of polymer clay.  Also useful tips on when you should adjust temperature for e.g. with lighter colored clay. And for high elevation baking.

Underbaked clay easily crumbles. Many polymer clay artists do bake longer to make the finished product stronger. Good to know if you cannot be bothered with timing!! Check out Ginger Davis Allman of The Blue Bottle Tree's How Long to Bake Polymer Clay for more information.

Can I Use My Home Oven?
Sometimes conventional wisdom is not true.  Many people say a home oven should not be used for baking polymer clay because they believe a residue forms which might then contaminate food cooked afterwards. Ginger has another excellent article where she dispels this belief. It is fine so long as you bake the clay at the recommended temperature.  (Note : My old toaster oven is no longer needed so I do dedicate it for shrink plastic and polymer clay use! )

I like her tip for covering baking clay to reduce any odor that can irritate people who are sensitive to smells.  And her practical tip if you accidentally set the oven at 350°F (177°C) or higher when the clay will indeed burn and emit fumes.

What is the Best Sealer for Polymer Clay?
It is not necessary to seal polymer clay but you do have to if you have surface embellishments like mica powder or paint which might be rubbed off.  Water-based polyurethane seems to be a popular choice. No chemicals needed for clean-up, just soap and water.

Again, Ginger shares a good laboratory rule I know well. Never dip your project into the main container. Always pour a small amount in small container for use. This prevents your main stock from being accidentally contaminated with perhaps bits of mica powder etc.

Is Polymer Clay Safe?
Yes, it is safe to use. Ginger was once a scientist (microbiologist) so she covers this topic very well. Find out why polymer clay, if not toxic, is still not suited for making food contact items.  Many people (as do I) dedicate tools for clay work and never use them for food preparation.  It is good practice but as Ginger points out, it is not an absolute rule.

Polymer clay is a plastic. You can rest easy that today's polymer clay no longer contain the kind of plasticizers (needed to make plastic soft, flexible and durable) called phthalates which are known endocrine disruptors. She says, "Many major brands of polymer clay now use a citrate based plasticizer. It is non-toxic, biodegradable, and safe to use in children’s toys, medical products, and any sort of PVC." Good to know polymer clay is considered a toy!!  

There is a lot of outdated, unproven or even fraudulent health and medical claims on the internet so beware! Always check reputable sources before sharing.

Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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  1. I started out with a small toaster oven when I first got into polymer clay.

    After burning some precious pieces to a crisp - I soon learned that protecting an item from the top and the bottom was crucial to success.

    I have gone through a number of sizes in toaster ovens and am now quite happy with the largest I could find.

    I now embed my pieces in deep corn starch and tent them, as well as add layers of ceramic tile on the bottom of the oven. I'm one of those people who bakes polymer clay for an hour. I've had 99.9% luck ever since (fingers crossed)

    1. Admittedly I haven't done as much polymer clay work as you but I've never had my pieces burn. Did you check the temperature inside?

      But I will certainly use your tips if I should encounter burning.

  2. This post was incredibly helpful - I just made two polymer clay pendants and wasn't sure about the result. They didn't break when I bent them but the base was still flexible. Now I know it's OK.

    1. Some polymer clay artists like the Kato brand because it is hard and durable. So if you don't like that slight bending, it would be the brand to try.

  3. You say she says alot. You also state that she states, "many polymer clay brands have switched to citrate based." OK the are only like 6. Cernit, fimo, sculpey, pardon, Kato. We know pardon is a beeswaxed based. The others we do not know!!! You need to be specific because this is bullshit lol I say this as sweetly as I can because I use polymer clay but I'm having huge doubts. That 2002 data was huge and not widely noticed. It broke down every plasticer. I have seen no data backed up by any polymer clay company saying they use citrate or the data on anything. Words are words but scientific data is everything. I want to keep using it so please no more bs. Data, info and basic information to back up your claims. Especially by ginger the scientist. Be specific. Who's using what?

    1. Hi Nicole,

      I use "she says" a lot because I am summarizing what are quotes. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you will realize that I curate and review a lot of what I consider worthy information and tutorials that I find.

      There are indeed many other brands of polymer clay include Premo, Bake Shop, Cernit, PVClay (from Brazil), Pluffy, and other generic brands like Hobbycraft (Shapeit) and Craft Smart (Michaels). With each of the top manufacturers, there are also different formulations like Sculpey Souffle, Sculpey III etc. So in total, we are talking about many different formulations.

      Actually that 2002 data is pretty outdated.

      If you have been working with clay for a long time, you will know that the removal of phthalates from polymer clay caused a stir back around 2008 (mainly because the clay became softer to work with):

      Pregnant women and children are the most affected with phthalates. So since clay is a toy which can be put into mouths and potentially eaten by a child, it has to be free of phthalates. Otherwise they would not be allowed for sale.The hazards are well known today and we depend on regulations to keep us safe :

      There have been effects to regulate industry (pretty slow in the US and maybe slower if EPA funding is cut).
      But phthalates are so widely used that they are pretty much everywhere.

      You have to realize that different materials enter our bodies in different ways. For example, holding a cigarette is pretty safe. But if you inhaled the smoke from a burning cigarette, you introduce all sorts of carcinogens into your body.

      So that is why polymer clay had to be made safe as a toy because it could be ingested (by children).

      Handling today's clay is fine although there will always be those who might be allergic to it (as with many things).

      PS.I am a retired analytical toxicologist.

    2. And if you are interested in knowing more about citrate esters as plasticizers, check this chemistry site :

      Citrate plasticizers are used with cellulosics, PVC, polyvinyl acetate, and other polymers used in medical plastics and food contact packaging. Some citrate esters find specialty use in blood bags and food wraps. Citrates are also used in toys produced by the plastisol process.

    3. Staedtler, the makers of Fimo says they stopped using phthlates since 2006!

      and you might want to read this one from Sculpey :


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