Working with clay is a fun activity for children and adults alike. Unfortunately, sometimes our clay gets dried out and hard, so you need to work to revive it or open a new package. You can also make clay from a few different materials at home.
So, how do you make soft clay? You can make your own soft (and kid-friendly) clay with flour and salt or by combining hair conditioner and corn starch. If your clay becomes hard, there are also some ways to salvage it, such as getting it slightly wet and allowing the moisture to soak into the clay.
Making clay and working with it is a great way to spend time with the family, and most kids tend to love it. (So do many adults, even if it’s just playing with modeling or kid-friendly clay!)
Making Soft Clay — Fun For Everyone!
There are a few different ways to make clay, and you should given them a whirl to see what your family likes best.
1. Making Salt Dough Clay
The most common clay to make at home is a salt dough, which utilizes a few common household ingredients. This is a great activity for kids to participate in because no cooking is involved!
Here’s how to make and use your simple home salt dough clay:
- Set up a workspace in your kitchen to mix the dough.
- Mix together 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of salt in a mixing bowl.
- Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the dough mixture and stir.
- Now it is time to add water. Slowly mix in 3/4 to 1 cup of water, mixing constantly until you get the desired consistency.
- Before you start working with your salt dough or soft clay, whichever you want to call it, you should consider adding some colors. Separate the dough into several different containers and add a few drops of food coloring to each one, kneading the dough.
Now it’s time to let your artistic side run wild! Build, cut out shapes, or make funny faces.
Preserve your clay constructions for posterity by following these instructions:
- Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Adults may need to do this or supervise carefully.
- Bake your clay masterpieces in the oven for approximately one hour, although you might need to give or take a little time to bake them until they are hard. Take them out of the oven before they burn.
2. Making Clay With Hair Conditioner
Another fun option for making soft clay is to make clay using hair conditioner (yes, you read that right) and corn starch.
Here’s how to make a cornstarch and hair conditioner clay:
- Mix together cornstarch and hair conditioner at a rate of roughly 2 parts corn starch to 1 part hair conditioner. This ratio is approximate, so feel free to adjust. To determine how much conditioner you need to mix into the corn starch, you should mix it well, adding a little conditioner at a time. Even though the mixture might seem dry at first, keep mixing and let it come together!
- Divide the mixture into bowls to color or add fun components like glitter. Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl and mix them well. (You can also add the food coloring to the conditioner before mixing it for a more even distribution.)
- Store mixture in a plastic bag to help keep it from drying out.
If you are working with clay and have discovered that your art material has dried out, there are a few ways to help revive the material and attempt to make it usable again, which we’ll get into below.
Remember to keep your clay sealed in an airtight container such as an airtight bag to help prevent it from drying out.
How to Make Clay Soft Again
If you don’t store your clay properly, or you found out the hard way your storage container wasn’t as air-tight as you thought, don’t despair.
Although results may not always be perfect, there are steps you can take to soften and revive clays to make them easier to use again.
Reviving Air Dry Clay
Air dry clay is tons of fun to work with, but as with any clay, sometimes it can dry up on you!
If you have air dry clay that has dried out, don’t despair. It’s quite easy to revive and soften up again. Just follow these steps to work with it:
- Start by working the clay in your hands. Knead it for a few minutes to warm it. It may begin to soften from the warmth of your hands. If that is all it takes, congratulations, your clay is ready to sculpt.
- If the clay is not usable after a few minutes of kneading, place it in a sealable plastic bag. You should divide large pieces up into smaller pieces for ease in working with it.
- Spritz the clay with a light misting of water (this must be very light or your clay may become too sticky). Seal the plastic bag and give the clay a little time to absorb the water.
- Give the clay about 10 minutes to absorb water. Try taking it out and see if it is workable. If not, repeat the previous step by misting with a little more water and allowing the clay to sit. You may need to try this a few times.
- While attempting to moisten the clay, keep it away from excessive heat or sunlight, all of which can contribute to drying out your clay.
- Try kneading the clay again. If it works this time, you are ready to use it, but you should remember to keep it sealed when not working with it. If it is not able to be revived at this point, you are likely not going to be able to salvage it.
Trying to Soften Ceramic Clay
It’s not just kids’ modeling dough and hobby clays that can start to harden and dry on you too soon. High quality artist’s clay sometimes needs a little softening, too.
But if your clay needs more than the occasional addition of moisture while you’re working it or if your attempts to let it rest under a damp towel didn’t work out, you may be able to salvage your material.
If you are working with ceramic clay that has tried out, you can try to revive and soften it like this:
- You will need a basin, bowl, or other container that is large enough to hold the clay you are trying to soften and allow it to completely submerge in water. Fill the container with filtered water high enough that your clay will be completely covered.
- Add the clay to the container. Ensure the clay is completely covered with water. Do not stir the clay and water mixture: instead allow the clay to soak in the water. If some pieces come loose, that is okay.
- Allow the clay to soak in the water for a few days, usually 2 to 3 days is sufficient. While the clay is soaking, cover the container with a cover or towel to keep out dust particles. Your resulting clay should be mushy after soaking in the water.
- After you have allowed the clay to soak, it is time to drain the clay. Slowly drain the water. You may consider using a tool to help you, such as an old ladle or turkey baster. Keep in mind that your tool will likely not safe for cooking any longer.
- Now it is time to firm up your clay. Remove the clay from the container you soaked it in and place it onto a clean surface to dry and firm up. Possible surfaces are a concrete slab, canvas, or even denim from an old pair of jeans. (The surface should be clean and free of dust particles.)
- Spread your soaked clay on the surface in a layer roughly 2 to 3 inches thick. You should smooth the surface once you have spread the clay to help prevent it from drying unevenly. Consider setting up a fan to help it dry faster.
- Once your clay has finished drying back to its normal state, you can work with it or put it away for future use. Typically you will want to store your clay in either an airtight container or a plastic bag that you can seal.
Softening Kid’s Clay or Dough
The bane of many parents’ existence is their children’s dough drying out. It seems like there might not be any way to salvage it, meaning you have to go to the store and buy even more.
Don’t despair though: many times you can try to soften the dough back to its previously workable state. Here’s how to do it:
- Get together all of the pieces of dough that have dried out into hard chunks. As much as you are able to, mold them into a ball in your hand, otherwise you will need to repeat this procedure for each piece.
- Making sure you have a trap in the drain to catch any loose pieces of clay or dough, rinse the material under running water for approximately 10 to 15 seconds.
- After you have rinsed the dough in water, you will need to knead the dough. On a clean surface that the dough will not stick to, begin to work the dough thoroughly with your hands, doing your best to keep all of the pieces of the dough together. (This will be easier as the dough softens.)
- Soak the dough under running water again, making sure to knead it in your hands as you allow the water to penetrate your ball of dough. Continuing to squeeze and manipulate the dough will allow water to penetrate the clay.
- Keep the dough under water for between 10 and 30 seconds, depending on how dried out it is.
- Knead the dough on your surface again for 1 minute to a minute and a half. The oils from your hands will help soften the dough, much as the water you were adding was doing.
- Continue this process until your clay or dough has reached the desired texture. Once you get it to that state, you should seal it in an airtight container to help prevent it from drying out again.
- If you repeat the process several times and the material does not revive, it may be a lost cause.
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