How to Soften Polymer Clay

By Abigail May
Use your hands or a pasta maker to soften polymer clay.

Softening hard polymer clay is an effective way to use it up before buying more. By softening and conditioning, the clay's plasticizers and pigmentation mix evenly throughout. Kneading the clay by hand can take awhile, if you're in a hurry, and eventually tires your hands. There are, however, techniques and supplies you can use to make softening the clay a breeze.

Plasticizers in Polymer Clay

Understanding why polymer clay hardens can help you know exactly how to soften it. A plasticizer is a substance that increases the fluidity of a material. Plasticizers determine polymer clay's solidity or malleability. The clay loses its plasticizers over time or by baking. Generally, as long as it has not been cured completely, polymer clay can be salvaged enough to use for sculpting.

Using Oils

There are many kinds of oils that can be used for softening clay, ranging from baby oil to food extracts. Soak the clay in oil to soften it. Add oil by:

  • dipping a cotton bud in oil and smearing it on the clay.
  • using an eye dropper to drip the oil.

Break up the clay into small chunks, which makes it easier to work with. Next, roll out the clay and apply the oil. Then, knead the clay in your hands until the oil is well mixed. Continue kneading until the clay reaches the desired consistency for your project.

This method can get a tad messy, so keep wipes around to clean your hands and work space.

Applying Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly can also be used to soften polymer clay. It works the same as oil, because it adds plasticizers into the clay. Apply petroleum jelly as follows: Break up the clay into small pieces. Use your fingers to rub petroleum jelly on the clay. Then, work the petroleum jelly into the clay. Repeat as necessary.

Using a Pasta Machine

Another, and tad more costly approach, is to use a pasta machine. Take your clay and feed it through the machine. Crumple the resulting polymer clay sheet, and pass it through the machine again. Repeat the process until the clay has been softened. This process also doubles as an excellent way to condition the clay, making it more durable after baking.

About the Author

Abigail May has attained several scholastic awards in contests for her writing skills. She maintains a blog that provides expert techniques for those new to sculpting and other crafts. She is currently working towards her journalism and art degree at Weatherford College.