Best Air Dry Clay Drying Tips
Air drying clay is such a wonderful craft material. Easy to work with, you don’t need a kiln or oven to cure. Perfect for beginners, experienced crafters, and also for kids. You can do at-home pottery, create cool home decor projects, jewelry, etc.
The most annoying thing about air hardening clay projects is cracking or curling while drying. So, I’ve decided to share my best tips on how to dry air modeling clay the proper way to avoid ‘clay disasters’, frustration, and distorted clay crafts.
At-home pottery and crafting with air hardening clay is not rocket science, if you follow these tips and recommendations you’ll love to use this amazing craft material!
Let’s dive in!
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How long does it take for air drying clay to harden?
Air drying clay projects take an average of 24-72h to dry. Some clay projects take as long as a week to harden. The one exception is epoxy air dry clay, which takes only a few hours to dry.
However, you need to take into consideration a couple of factors that determine the drying time.
1. How warm is your environment
Air modeling clay will dry faster in warm weather. However, if it dries too fast, it will make it more prone to cracking. So, if your home or climate is too hot, slow down the drying time by loosely covering the craft with a plastic sheet/wrap or a damp cloth.
2. How wet is your climate
If your climate or your home has a lot of moisture in the air, your air drying clay craft will dry slower. If your environment is really wet, you will have a hard time making air drying clay crafts. You may try drying your clay crafts in the oven.
3. The general aspect of your clay craft
Obviously, the thicker the clay, the slower it will dry. So, more solid sculptures take the longest to dry. However, you can create them in layers which will also help in minimizing cracking.
I wouldn’t recommend rolling out air dry clay too thin just for the sake of the slower drying time, because they are more prone to curling.
Sides that are in contact with a surface or covered with plastic wrap or put in a bowl (to take their shape) will dry slower. The moisture is ‘trapped’ and it will take longer. You can maximize airflow by occasionally rotating the piece or by putting your clay craft on a baking cooling rack.
Can you make air dry clay dry faster?
You can dry air hardening clay crafts faster, but it’s not recommended. In my experience, the best practice with air drying clay is patience, letting the project dry naturally. I do recommend helping to dry by rotating the clay craft from time to time.
I know the excitement of seeing the final form of your new creation (which may take several days to fully dry), and I understand why some try to speed up the process. I did it too, and then regret it because my project cracked and distorted.
I will list the most common way crafters try to speed up drying. Most of them are a big NO-NO, but I will talk a little in detail about why.
Can you dry air dry clay with a hairdryer?
You should never use a hairdryer to make your air drying clay crafts dry faster. Hairdryers blow a strong warm airflow on the clay craft, making the outer layer shrink and dry faster in spots. Even if you move the hairdryer continuously, you can make the clay dry evenly. The uneven drying will result in cracks or breakage.
Can you dry air dry clay in the oven?
Air dry clay, as the name indicates, it’s self-hardening, you don’t need an oven or kiln. Some crafters suggest, even recommend, putting air modeling clay crafts in the oven.
I personally never did it. Crayola, for example, states on its craft safety page that you shouldn’t put it in an oven, kiln, or microwave.
If I really need to speed up drying, this would be the only method I would try because it’s the safest method for drying clay crafts without issues.
The oven creates a warm environment making it dry evenly and not just drying the project from one side like other methods.
Follow these steps if you want to dry your air hardening clay craft in the oven.
- Place your craft on an aluminum foil-wrapped baking sheet.
- Insert the sheet in the cold oven, and turn it on to the lowest setting (170-175 degrees).
- Leave it on for approximately half an hour.
- Turn it off and leave it in until the oven gets cold.
- Check your craft, repeat if needed.
Drying air modeling clay crafts in the oven could be the one way to harden clay crafts for those who live in a very wet climate. Too much moisture in the air makes air drying crafts almost impossible to cure.
Never put clay crafts in a hot oven because it will crack almost instantly!
Can you put air-dry clay in the microwave?
Microwaves heat the items too quickly. Air dry clay can’t hold too much heat, so putting it in the microwave will make your piece break and fall apart.
Can you put air dry clay into the sunlight to speed up drying?
You should also never put your air-hardening clay into direct sunlight to make it dry faster. Just like the hairdryer, it will heat one side of your craft, and make the outer layer dry faster which results in cracks.
Why you shouldn’t speed up drying air dry clay?
The number one reason you shouldn’t try to make your air hardening clay projects dry faster is that they are more likely to crack and break. Nothing is more heartbreaking than a ruined craft after you invested all that time and effort.
I recommend not trying to speed up drying, rather slowing it down to minimize the chances of cracks, curling, and distortion. You can slow down drying by loosely covering your clay project with a piece of plastic wrap, or if you live in an extra hot environment use a light, damp cloth.
How do you know when air dry clay is dry?
There are three simple ways to tell if your air modeling clay project is dry.
1. The color test
As your craft dries, the color of the clay gets lighter. It is most visible in terracotta, grey, or black clays, but it’s observable in white air dry clay too.
When the clay craft gains a uniform color (lighter than the original) it indicates that your craft is dry.
2. Sound test
After moisture evaporates from the air drying clay, the item gets porous. If you carefully knock it with your fingers you will hear a hollow sound, like it’s empty.
3. Nail test
This is the final test I make before sanding, painting, and sealing my clay crafts. Sometimes the outer layer becomes light, there are no darker spots which indicate that it’s fully dry. However, sometimes on thicker crafts, the middle hasn’t fully hardened.
So, I lightly push my nail into the clay (where it’s not visible). If it leaves a strong mark, the clay project is not fully dry and I’ll leave it alone for another day.
NOTE! Since air dry clay is porous, the nail test will leave a very light mark after it’s completely hardened.
Best practices for drying air modeling clay
- Place your air dry clay craft in a warm, dry and well ventillated room.
- Slow down drying if needed (if you live in hot climate).
- Maximize airflow by rotating your clay craft to make it dry evenely. Putting it on a cooling rack also helps.
- Don’t paint your craft before it has fully dried (acrylic paint acts as a sealer, moisture would trap inside, and grow mold).
Conclusion about drying air hardening clay crafts properly
I hope some of my tips will help you avoid frustration caused by cracked, distorted, or broken air dry clay crafts. I know the feeling when you’ve worked for hours on a craft for yourself or to give as a gift, and they get ruined.
Do you like to craft with air dry clay? Have you ever tried to dry it faster? How did it turn out?
Leave a comment!
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