Have you ever tried to sculpt with clay and found it was too hard?
Clay is a great medium for creating anything from small figurines to large pieces. But if your clay is too hard, it can be difficult to work with. And it’s frustrating when you want to make something, and the clay is too stiff or brittle.
There are many reasons why your clay might have hardened – the most common being that it has been exposed to air or water. Luckily there are ways of softening the clay again!
Follow this guide on how to soften hard clay so you can get back into sculpting in no time!
Read our beginner’s guide on how to soften the hard clay now!
What is Clay, And Why Do I Need It to Be Soft?
Clay is made up of tiny particles that stick together to form a solid material. Many different types of clay exist, with each being useful for different purposes.
If you are brand new to working with clay, it’s worth experimenting with a few kinds before settling on the best one for your projects. The most commonly used kind is “modeling clay” or “plasticine.”
You want your clay to be soft so that it is easier to work with. If you try and sculpt something and the clay is too firm, it will break and crumble when you apply any pressure.
For this reason, modeling clay tends to be firmer than other kinds of clay. For example, air-dry clays are softer than plasticine due to the drying process before you can use them.
What will Happen If My Clay is Too Hard?
If your clay is too hard, it won’t stick together very well-meaning anything you make with it will be fragile and likely to break.
In some cases, you might find that your clay won’t stick together at all. It’s also more challenging to change the shape of a firm piece of clay than a softer one.
If you’re trying to reuse a ball of clay for a different project, but it is too hard to roll out, this can be very frustrating!
In this case, you will need to know how to soften hard clay. In this section, we will discuss the methods for softening clay.
How to Soften Hard Clay for Beginners?
Many novice potters ask this question while working with clay. The truth is that any clay can be softened to make it easier to work with, but some things must be considered when you soften or condition clay.
There are many ways to do this, but here are the five most commonly used methods.
Soften Clay by Soaking It in Water
One of the best ways to soften hard clays is by soaking them in water for several hours or overnight. If you are working with an entire brick of clay, you can still soften it by soaking the whole thing in water.
First, remove the plastic wrapper and put the wet brick into a clean pail or bucket that has been filled with water. The amount of water should be enough to cover all sides of the clay block. Leave the clay in the water for several hours or overnight.
After the clay has been soaked, you can remove it from the water and knead it until it becomes soft and smooth. You can also use a clay mixer – a tool usually used to mix two halves of a large brick of clay together.
Using this method will save you from having to knead the clay for several hours. Some types of clay will need to be soaked in water for up to 24 hours before becoming soft enough to use.
Soften Clay by Heating It
You should remove the softened clay from the water after two or three days and allow any excess water to dry on the surface of the clay. You can place it on a cooking sheet and allow the water to evaporate, but you will need to turn it over from time to time so that all sides of the brick dry out evenly.
Once the clay is completely dry, put it into a very clean oven or kiln and bake it for one hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius).
After the time has passed, take the clay out of the oven and allow it to cool down before you open up the door.
Once you open it, check inside briefly with your thermometer and ensure no heat escapes from within. If there is still heat coming within, close the door and wait for the oven to reach room temperature before removing the clay.
You can also use a microwave, but you need to be very careful when transferring the clay brick from your cooking dish into a microwave-safe bowl.
If you spill water on any electrical parts inside the microwave and short it out, you will have to call in a professional to fix it.
Soften Clay by Kneading It
If you cannot wait more than 24 hours for your clay to dry, you can try using the old-fashioned method of kneading the block until it becomes soft enough to use.
This is also a good way to break down lumps to become part of the softened clay.
To soften the hard clay, place it on a smooth surface and knead it with your hands until its temperature becomes even and its texture is uniform throughout. All parts of the clay should be soft and pliable.
Once you’ve achieved this level of softness, you can use the clay for any purpose that requires it to be malleable.
If the clay still feels stiff, even after you’ve kneaded it, you can place it on a piece of wax paper and flatten it using the smooth bottom of an overturned glass or cup.
Once the clay is flat, fold it in half and flatten it again to increase its pliability. Remember not to use anything sharp or jagged on the clay because you will cut it.
Soften Clay by Adding Plasticizers
If you are working with pure white clay that becomes too stiff when dry, add some liquid plasticizer into the mixture to make it easier to work with when shaping and decorating it.
This is especially helpful for creating intricate embellishments on the surface of your clay.
Once you’ve added the plasticizer, mix it with your fingers until all lumps are gone, and it becomes completely smooth.
Do not continue working with your clay if you have not yet added the liquid because the pure white color of the dry mixture will remain unchanged even after you have kneaded it properly.
When you have pure white color, add the plasticizer and give it some time to mix into the clay thoroughly. This will ensure that all parts of the clay mixture are evenly colored and easy to work with.
Soften Clay by Adding Oil
It’s also possible to add some mineral oil or baby oil to clay to make it softer and less likely to dry out. Once you add the oil, knead it properly to ensure that all parts of the clay are soft and pliable, so they do not crack while you’re using them.
While the finished creations made from softened clay are curing in the oven, it is a good idea to cover them with a thin sheet of plastic.
This will ensure that they do not dry out before you’ve had a chance to decorate them by painting, gluing on additional parts, or attaching things like feathers and ribbon.
The Benefits of Softened Clay Over Hardened Clay
Hardened clay is a bit harder to sculpt with because of its firmness. It’s not as moldable and tends to break more easily. On the other hand, softened clay is a lot easier to sculpt with!
When softening hardened clay, you don’t have to worry about accidentally ruining your sculpture by adding too much water.
In general, it is easier to fix mistakes on softened clay as opposed to hardened clay. If you make a mistake while sculpting with hard clay, chances are higher that the mistake will be permanent.
When you’re finished sculpting your creation and it dries out, the hardened clay will feel like fired pottery: smooth and sturdy. Your creation will be very durable.
Tips for Working with Softened Hard Clay
- Let it dry out a bit before sculpting. The clay will feel drier, which will help prevent your hands from becoming too slippery.
- Bag up your clay! Bagging the clay helps retain moisture while you’re not using it, allowing you to soften it again quickly. It works even better if you use an airtight storage container.
- Keep the clay in a warm area. Keeping it near or on top of a heating vent or in your car (if it’s not too hot out) will help speed up the softening process, but be careful! If the clay is exposed to heat for too long, you could accidentally dry it out completely. Always keep a bottle of water nearby for emergencies!
- To speed up the softening process, knead a bit of water into it. It doesn’t have to be much – just a few drops should do it. If you’ve already added too much water and don’t want to waste it, leave the clay out overnight so that excess moisture can evaporate.
- Try using a clay conditioner. This will help retain moisture and soften the clay faster!
- If you’re sculpting on a hot day, consider keeping your clay in the refrigerator for at least an hour before needing to soften it again. Keep it longer if you want, or wait until it’s cooled down completely before sculpting.
- If the clay is really hard to soften up, try wetting your hands first. This will prevent the clay from sticking as much and make it a lot easier to work with.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Soften Hard Clay in The Microwave?
Yes, a lot of people microwave their clay before conditioning because it makes the clay easier to work with. You can microwave your clay for as long as you want, depending on how soft you want it.
How Do You Soften Polymer Clay?
Polymer clay can be softened using Sculpey Clay Conditioner or a similar conditioning agent.
Is It Possible to Soften Hard Clay Without Water?
Yes, clay can be softened by massaging it with fingers. However, it takes longer and can become messy.
How Long Does It Take to Soften Clay?
This depends on the amount of clay used. Large amounts may require more patience to soften.
What Can You Do If The Clay is Too Dry?
Water will work but using a conditioning agent is the best solution.
What are Some DIY Projects for Kids With Soft Clay?
Clay can be used to make a variety of projects, including keychains, earrings, accessories, and home decor.
With a little practice and some helpful tips, you’ll be able to know how to soften hard clay like a pro!
Whether you’re looking to restyle your home decor, play with your kids or just be more creative in general, softened clay is always fun to work with! Keep the above advice in mind the next time you need to soften the hard clay, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an expert sculptor in no time!
2 thoughts on “How to Soften Hard Clay: A Beginner’s Guide”
Hi, I have about 6 pounds of air dry clay that was in a bucket with a sealed top. My granddaughter and I were having fun with it, but then the pandemic came…etc. the clay came in several rolls about 4” by 2”. Please help me with advice on how to soften this clay. It is as hard as chalk …..🥲🥲the cover had lifted during winter and stayed like that for many months!!! Help, please!
Thank you, Pat Ouellette
Please put all the clay in a plastic bag, and pour some water into it. ANd then tightly tie that bag and keep it for 2 day.
Hopefully, it will work.