Whether you’re an expert clayer or new to the craft, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of dust, dirt and hair embedding themselves in your hard work. You’ll see the specks and hairs stick out like a sore thumb on light colors, and if you have pets, it’s almost impossible to keep their shedding at bay. Fortunately, it’s not impossible.
With the right strategies, you can keep that polymer clay bright and spotless. Here are our tips for keeping polymer clay clean and cleaning it if it happens to get dirty anyway.
How to Keep Your Polymer Clay Clean
The best way to clean your clay of hair and dust is to keep those pesky particles away in the first place. There are two main areas to focus on when it comes to preventing debris in your clay.
The first consideration is the makeup of your work environment. Are your furry friends making things difficult? Do you have an open window bringing in pollen, dirt or leaves from the outdoors? Maybe peeling paint on the ceiling or fuzzy pieces of furniture are stirring up trouble. Address any of these issues and try to keep your work area clean. Work surfaces like laminate countertops and silicone mats are great places to clay that are also easy to clean, but there are many options for easy-to-use workspaces, such as our Sculpey Tools™ Oven-Safe Work Mat. Always use a lint-free cloth when cleaning up.
Another major part of your work environment that can help reduce debris is ventilation. Try to eliminate any sources of air circulation, such as an open window, fans or forced-air vents. All of these can push lint around and stir up dust, sending it into the air. And what goes up must come down — don’t let that be on your project. Cover it up when you’re finished working. A simple cardboard or plastic box, free of dust, will do the trick. If you’re sealing or painting your work, this step is especially important. It is much harder to remove dust or dirt from a dried surface coating.
2. Your Attire
The second aspect of keeping your polymer clay clean is in your personal cleanliness. Wearing a new fuzzy sweater is a great way to get fibers all over your project. Try to wear older clothes that are less likely to lose fibers. You can also wear your hair up to minimize movement, like pushing hair out of your face, and your own shedding.
The cleanliness of your hands plays a big part, too. Make sure you wash them well and use something lint-free to dry them off. One trick to keeping your hands free of dirt, dust and hair is to keep a scrap piece of clay on the side and roll it around before working on your project. The idea is to get all the gunk off your hands and into that clay, not your main piece. Make sure you use a light color for this, otherwise you might risk staining your hands and transferring that color to your project.
How to Clean Dirty Polymer Clay
If your clay has already gotten dirty, you may have to take more drastic measures to clean it.
Dirt and hair on the surface of your clay are one of the easier things to clean. Here’s how to remove lint and dust on polymer clay.
- Use tweezers or a knife: If you can, simply grab onto the hair or dust with a tool. The downside here is that you risk damaging your clay. Still, if you’re in the early stages of your project, you can usually fix it and avoid embedding the piece further into the clay. You may also be able to smooth out the clay without much trouble.
- Try alcohol or acetone: One cool trick is to dip a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol or acetone. You can use nail polish remover, but make sure it isn’t colored. Just swipe your dipped Q-tip or a soaked tissue across the surface you want to clean and it will pull the debris off the clay. You can use this method for raw or baked clay. It even smooths out fingerprints!
- Use tape: Take a piece of tape and lightly press it over the area of clay with the hair or dirt. Peel it up and it should take the debris with it.
On the other hand, if the dirt and hair are inside the clay itself, it can be nearly impossible to remove, but we do have a few tips for cleaning dirty polymer clay. The best approach here is to try to disguise it. You can cover up the clay’s surface with things like acrylic paint, metal trinkets, chalks, mica powders and inks. These all work well with Sculpey clay, but you can often improve adhesion by sanding the surface first. Another option is to make flaw-hiding textures with just about anything, including kitchen scrubbers, stamps, toothbrushes and sandpaper. Outside of covering up the surface, you can try sanding your clay, but you may run the risk of revealing more specks with this method.
One other place you might find hair or dirt is in your sealer. To prevent particles from getting in the sealer, make sure your brush is clean and free of hairs, dried paint or old sealer. These materials can all flake out of the brush and onto your project. Shake out the brush and try lightly fanning out the bristles before you use it.
Finally, if it looks like dust, dirt and hair are always going to join you in your claying, you might benefit from projects that are better at hiding them. For instance, light-colored clay shows specks much more clearly. Dark color choices can help hide them. Choosing projects with textured surfaces can also help you get by with a few speckles without ruining your piece.
Keep Your Sculpey® Clay Clean
Follow these tips and you should be well on your way to spotless clay. Whether hair always seems to float down onto the surface or work its way into the clay, preventing it from ever getting to your project is always the best way to avoid problems. Watch your workspace and dress appropriately to keep debris at bay. But sometimes dirt and hair are unavoidable, and now you know that not all is lost if that happens.
One factor that can make your project more likely to collect hair and dirt is the stickiness of your clay. Different brands can be stickier than others. Sculpey products are stretchy and soft but not overly sticky. Try our line of Sculpey III for easy-to-work-with polymer clay.