Air-dry clay is popular among home crafters and art students. It mimics regular clay in nearly every aspect, making it excellent for learning sculpting, coiling, slabbing, stamping, and other traditional ceramic techniques.
Its affordability makes it attractive and economical for young sculptors and beginners still trying to sharpen their skills. It is a fine choice for some family fun too, especially for older children who are past the Play-Doh and plasticine days.
Unlike other clays, it doesn’t require any special treatment to dry. You simply mold whatever you like and let it sit somewhere and dry. These minimal requirements make it perfect for anyone who doesn’t have a kiln or is not conversant with baking or firing clay safely and effectively.
If you are new to air-dry clay, or just made a switch from oven-bake clay, you might be wondering:
Can you bake air-dry clay? No, you can’t bake air dry clay because it is paper-based and designed to dry by slowly airing out and losing its wetness. However, putting it in the oven at a low 200°F for around 20 minutes can help the moisture evaporate faster.
Some sculptors swear by the oven on the lowest heat setting to accelerate the drying process, but you risk scorching and breaking your crafts if you’re not careful.
If you’d like to learn more about air-dry clay, then continue reading this post. It is the ultimate guide jam-packed with all the answers to questions about drying of air-dry clay.
How Do You Harden Air Dry Clay?
Most people associate the kiln with the hardening of clay. However, not all clay types can stand up to the heat of a kin or require a kiln to harden.
Oven-bake clay, on the other hand, is hardened by baking in an oven. It contains polymers that require heat to start the chemical reaction that will cause hardening.
If you are new to working with air dry clay, also known as self-hardening or no-bake clay, you do not need a kiln or an oven to harden it. This type of clay has a different composition, and heat is not required to make it set.
So, how do you harden air-dry clay? Air-dry clay is self-hardening, which means it hardens without any intervention or heat.
Once you complete your sculpture, just let it sit in the open air in a dry, well-ventilated place, undisturbed, and turn it regularly. The moisture slowly dissipates as the pores close, hardening the craft.
How Long Does It Take Air Dry Clay to Dry?
Air-dry clay will take an average of 48 hours to fully dry though it could be more or less depending on the weather, season, and environmental conditions.
You have to wait more days in wet, cold, and humid environments before you can paint, embellish and add any finish to your creations. The lengthy drying time needed to harden air dry clay can be such a buzz kill. It requires patience, a virtue that sometimes eludes crafters.
You might be on a time crunch and need to finish your air-dry clay crafts the same day. Perhaps you have a handful of impatient kids or teens for students, and they just can’t wait to finish their crafts.
Unfortunately, you cannot bake air dry clay. It is made with specific base ingredients that harden with this gradual loss of moisture.
Cornstarch is one such ingredient. Other air dry clays are paper-based but work in the same way. When these additives are exposed to extremely high temperatures and open flames such as in a kiln or oven, they are flammable and will burn.
Also, the high temperature will cause quicker moisture loss from the exterior surface than the object’s inner parts. Consequently, the uneven drying between the clay leads to severe cracking or breakage.
How Do You Make Air Dry Clay Dry Faster?
Doing nothing to your air dry clay is your best bet to keep it in one piece. Air drying is the safest way to dry and harden it. However, you might want to speed up the process. Wondering what you can do to make air dry clay dry faster?
Lower the Humidity – Do you have a dehumidifier? It draws away moisture from its surroundings, creating safe drying conditions for air dry clay to dry more rapidly. When humidity is lower, air dry clay dries faster.
For maximum effectiveness, palace your crafts and the dehumidifier in an enclosed space. It could be inside an empty closet or a tiny room. You can also create a makeshift room using curtains, sheets of cloth with a line, and pegs or even big boxes.
With this method, you don’t have to keep checking. The absence of heat eliminates any chances of burning.
Introduce a Safe Source of Heat – Heat causes moisture to evaporate, and its sources can be used to cure air dry clay quicker. Nonetheless, the heat should be moderated, and the clay work monitored at all times to avoid burning and cracking.
The energy from the sun is an excellent drying agent for air dry clay. You only need to turn your pieces as frequently as 10 minutes to ensure no side gets too hot and there’s even drying.
During winter, you can use a heat lamp or heater fan instead. Ensure it is kept at a reasonable distance from the clay, ideally not less than half a foot closer.
Can You Use a Hairdryer to Dry Air Dry Clay?
Yes, a hairdryer can also be used to dry air dry clay the same way as a heat lamp or heater can. However, it is a labor-intensive alternative because you will be holding it up the entire drying time, which could be over an hour. Be ready for sore arms.
Can the Oven Make Air Dry Clay Dry Faster?
Although you cannot bake air dry clay as you would oven-bake clay, an oven can help evaporate moisture faster. Just beware that sudden temperature changes will make it crack, so you have to be extra careful.
How to use an oven to make air dry clay dry faster:
- Put your air-dry sculpture on parchment paper, lined inside the baking tin. You don’t want it sticking at the bottom.
- Don’t let your oven preheat. Instead, as soon as you set the temperature, place the tin inside the cool oven on the middle rack. The sculptures should warm up gradually and evenly, helping to avoid cracks.
- Switch on the oven and set it at the lowest temperature setting, around 200℉.
- Let the item(s) warm, check every 5 minutes to release the steam, prevent overheating inside the oven, and turn over the clay pieces. You can flip them upside-down and lay them sideways too.
- Turn the oven off after 20 minutes or so and let the clay cool while still inside.
- Once cool, check to see if it is dry. If not, repeat the process from step 3. Thicker clay items will take several rounds to dry than thinner items.
- When fully dry (test that it doesn’t feel cold against the cheek), remove and air for 30 minutes before painting, sealing, or adding any other finish.
Can You Put Air-Dry Clay in a Microwave?
Unfortunately, you cannot use the microwave to hasten the drying speed of air-dry clay. The microwave produces intense heat, which is not suitable for air-dry clay, or any other clay. It will automatically burn and leave you devastated after so much hard work.
Can You Bake Sculpey Air-Dry Clay?
No, you can’t bake Sculpey air-dry clay. Generally, you cannot bake any clay labeled as air-dry clay. You only need to set it out somewhere with good air circulation to dry.
You can attempt to use the oven to speed up the process, though it is not recommended. Alternatively, go for Sculpey polymer clay, which is specifically made to be baked.
Can You Fire Air-Dry Clay?
No, you cannot fire air-dry clay. Air-dry clay may look, feel, and even work like ceramic clay, but is far from it in composition. It is usually made from cornstarch, resins, glues, and other flammable synthesizers. Therefore, it cannot go in a kiln and does not need fire to harden.
Is Air Dry Clay Better Than Oven-Bake Clay?
Well, you can’t really say which clay is better than the other between air-dry and oven-bake clays. Each has its own unique features. It is up to you to decide what qualities matter the most to you.
Is safety your biggest priority or a fast drying time? Who is the clay for, and what is their level of experience? These are some of the questions to ask yourself to find the better clay between the two.
Here are the pros and cons for both air-dry clay and oven-bake clay.
Advantages of Air-Dry Clay:
- It is self-hardening. You do not need heat, special equipment, or even your time for supervision for it to dry. Just mold and let it be. Oven-bake clay requires an oven to harden it and also the skills to set the temperature right.
- This clay generally more affordable than oven-bake clay. For the same price range, you get a lot more quantity making it perfect for trials and practicing.
- Air-dry is easy to use. It molds nicely and needs no conditioning to soften. Adding water improves its workability quickly. Oven-bake clay needs to be conditioned repeatedly to soften up.
- Non-toxicity is perhaps air dry clay’s best selling point. It is perfect for kids and anyone who doesn’t want to work with chemicals. Oven bake clay is usually synthesized from polymers, which give off toxic fumes when burnt.
- Air-dry clay is non-staining to the hands, surfaces, or clothes should it get on them, unlike oven-bake clay, which always leaves the dye’s residue.
Advantages of Oven-Bake Clay:
- Oven-bake clay sculptures can fully cure in an hour or less. The longer drying time of air dry clay (12-48 hours) dissuades many from choosing it.
- Oven-bake clay stays soft and malleable until baked. You’ll have plenty of time to shape your project and even rest in between. It doesn’t dry even when left open for days. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for air-dry clay. Because it is self-hardening when exposed to air, a simple mistake like not tightly sealing the container with any leftover clay makes it harden. You also have less time to work on your design before it starts hardening. That is not a favorable feature for slow beginners.
- Ónce you cure oven-bake clay, it becomes waterproof. Without applying a sealant after drying, air-dry clay sculptures are not waterproof.
- Oven-bake clay is sturdier when hardened and less likely to crack than air-dry clay because it doesn’t shrink when baked. Air-dry clay is prone to cracking during shrinkage after the moisture evaporates. Small parts of a model break off easily too.
- The color options for oven-bake clay are overwhelming and eliminate the need to paint your sculptures. Air-dry clay comes in limited colors and needs to be painted after drying into the desired color. You can even color polymer clay yourself easily.
What can we pick up from these pros and cons? That air dry clay is better for the beginner or fairly experienced sculptor enthusiastic about acquiring various ceramic skills without the burden of a kiln.
It is wallet-friendly and perfect for making first mistakes. It is also ideal for family fun and creativity, especially with kids, because it is non-toxic and does not require an oven to dry.
Conversely, air-dry clay is more fragile than oven-bake clay and would work best for decorative crafts. If you are into making durable, usable crafts such as clay bead jewelry and want to finish your work fast, oven-bake clay is better. It is sturdier and waterproof after baking.
Air dry clay is excellent for a variety of clay construction techniques. Just like ceramic clay, you can coil, slab, and even mold it in a potter’s wheel with ease.
It does not need a kiln, nor is it baked in an oven to dry. The clay is made with additives that naturally dry and harden when exposed to air but crack and burn near a flame or high temperatures.
To dry air dry clay, you just have to let it air out on its own in a dry place with good airflow. It takes 24-48 hours for air dry clay to fully dry, and you have to flip it in between the time to ensure that happens uniformly.
Unconducive weather may extend this time by a couple of days. To speed up the process, you may utilize heat sources to help the moisture escape quickly. Unfortunately, you risk causing irreparable damage to your pieces because air dry clay is designed to dry slowly and any sudden temperature change is bad news.
You may utilize low to moderate heat from an oven, a hairdryer, heat lamp, or heat fan for that. But the sun is the best source of heat and is the least likely to cause severe cracks. Non-heat appliances such as a fan or a dehumidifier are better options for helping air dry clay to dry faster than heat sources.
If you can’t be bothered to wait for a 48-hour dry time, you are better off with oven-bake clay. It creates more robust, practical, and waterproof pieces and has a longer work window. Otherwise, air dry clay is cheaper and safer, as it doesn’t need an oven or kiln and is usually non-toxic.
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