Polymer clay hardens over time and becomes difficult, if not impossible to shape and use, especially if left exposed to air. Many people don't know that even the hardest dough is recoverable. You can use a variety of methods to soften it, whether by kneading it by hand or adding oil or other thinners. Using one or more of these methods, you can turn rock-hard polymer clay into soft, flexible clay ready to be modeled.
Method 1 of 3: Reheat and knead the dough
Step 1. Use your body heat
If it has only hardened slightly, you may be able to soften the dough just by warming it up and working it with your hands. Before you start kneading it, hold it in your hands to warm it up. You can also warm it up with your body by sitting on it.
- The heat helps to soften the polymer clay. If it has only hardened a little, you may be able to simply recover it with your body heat.
- Whichever method you choose, always reheat the dough first.
Step 2. Use a heat source
If the polymer clay is very hard, you may need to use another heat source to soften it. Place a hot water bottle on it for 20 minutes to warm and soften it.
- You can also use a heat lamp, but be careful not to heat the polymer clay to a temperature higher than your body, as it will start to cook and be unusable.
- You can also heat the dough in the microwave in 10 second bursts until it is hot enough.
Step 3. Work the dough
Once you have softened it, roll the polymer clay between your hands to make a long sausage then form a ball. The friction of these actions helps to soften the dough.
You can also cut it into small pieces before working it
Step 4. Use a roller
If the polymer clay is still too hard for you to work with your hands, apply more force. Lay the piece on a clean cutting board or table and press down to flatten it as much as possible. Roll it out with a rolling pin. After you roll it out, the dough should be soft enough that you can roll it between your hands.
Step 5. Hit the dough
If it is even too hard to roll it out with a roller, considerable force will have to be applied. Break the polymer clay into pieces as small as possible and put them in a plastic bag that you seal. Wrap the bag in a tea towel and place it on the floor inside or outside.
- Use a rubber mallet to knock the dough into the bag for several minutes. You will break it into even smaller pieces and the friction will heat it up.
- When you are finished, take the dough out of the bag and roll it into a ball with your hands.
Step 6. Knead the dough
After having rolled it into a ball, knead it with your hands on a table, as if you were kneading bread dough. Apply as much force as needed to crush and reform the polymer clay.
- Kneading ensures that you have touched the entire surface of the dough.
- If you don't want to do the job by hand, you can use a special machine to knead the dough.
Method 2 of 3: Add softeners
Step 1. Use a liquid thinner
This is a product used to soften unusable polymer clay. Many thinners are produced by polymer clay manufacturers and are formulated on purpose to recover old, hardened clay.
- If you can't soften polymer clay by heating and kneading it, use one of these products.
- Add the diluent drop by drop while kneading the dough. If you add too much, the polymer clay will become too soft.
- Thinners can also be used as a glue and can therefore make the paste sticky. If it gets too sticky, wrap it in paper towel to remove some of the thinner.
Step 2. Use a strong softener
There are also softeners in the form of bars. Rather than being liquid, these products are neutral pastes that you can mix with the polymer clay to make it more flexible.
- Use one part of solid softener to five parts of polymer clay. Reheat the latter, add the softener and knead the two pasta together until well combined.
- The solid softener has a whitish color and it is recommended to use it for polymer clay with a high pigment content. If you add too much softener, you can dilute the color of the polymer clay.
Step 3. Add liquid polymer clay
This is another product that can be used to soften polymer clay that has hardened. Use it in the same way as a thinner, adding it drop by drop while kneading the dough until it is the right consistency.
- Try to use transparent liquid polymer clay to avoid changing the color.
- You can also use lightly colored liquid paste, but it will change the original color a bit.
Step 4. Add mineral oil
While not formulated on purpose to soften polymer clay, it is very effective in softening it and giving it a better consistency. Add the oil drop by drop while kneading the dough until it is soft.
Step 5. Apply petroleum jelly
This is a common household product that you can use if you don't have a store-bought softener. Take a small amount of petroleum jelly with your fingers and work it into the dough. Mix the two substances to mix them well. Keep adding petroleum jelly until you get the perfect consistency.
Step 6. Mix hard and soft dough
You can simply add fresh polymer clay to the hardened one and knead the two together. The more fresh dough you add, the more the other should soften. Be sure to add paste of the same color unless you don't mind mixing two colors.
Knead the polymer clay with your hands until it has a smooth consistency
Method 3 of 3: Grind the dough
Step 1. Cut the dough
Use a utility knife to cut the polymer clay. If it is very hard, you may need a blender to properly grind and reheat it. Before putting it in the blender, use a sharp knife or cleaver to cut it into pieces as small as possible.
Step 2. Put the dough in the blender
Once you've cut it into as small pieces as possible, put it in a blender. If you want, add a few drops of thinner or liquid polymer clay to help soften the clay even more. Put the lid on the blender.
- You can also use a coffee grinder, but you may need to grind the dough in several batches.
- Try to get a container and blades reserved for polymer clay. Unless you clean them extremely carefully, it is not recommended to use the elements that were used to grind the polymer clay to mix food.
Step 3. Grind the polymer clay
Select the maximum power of the mixer to mix the dough. It will be cut into smaller pieces and soften, making it easier to knead. Grind the dough in 10 second strokes for 1 to 3 minutes until soft.
Step 4. Take out the dough
Collect the crushed pieces and mix them. Once the dough is soft, take it out of the blender. You may need a spoon to scrape the sides and collect the dough in all the corners of the container. Put all the small pieces together, crushing them to form a single mass.
Step 5. Knead the dough
After going through the blender, it should be pliable and soft. Mix the polymer clay with your hands to obtain a single homogeneous ball. The dough should now be soft and ready to sculpt.
- Always remember to wrap polymer clay in plastic wrap when not in use to prevent it from drying out.
- Always try to reheat and knead the dough before using other methods to soften it.