How to Clean Your Polymer Clay Tools

Posted on May 6, 2014 in Hints, Tips, & Tricks, Tutorials by Katie

How to Clean Your Polymer Clay Tools

How to Clean Your Polymer Clay Tools by KatersAcres

It’s Tutorial Tuesday … and today I do have a polymer clay tutorial, but likely not the kind you were expecting.

We all have them, those grimy gross tools that have that “clay muck” residue from years worth of claying on them … or is that just me?! Well seeing as how I’m taking my tools to a weekend clay-athon with Christi Friesen (yes, you read that right, click here to read more about it) as I looked at them today in my studio, I thought, “ugh, these are disgusting.”  And yes … they were. So … I guess it’s time to clean them. For those of you who have ever tried soap and water to clean your tools, you know that this just doesn’t work.  Today I will share with you the best, quickest, and easiest way to remove that clay residue.

Supplies Needed to Remove “Clay Muck” from Your Polymer Clay Tools

  • Tools covered in “clay muck” – duh, right?!
  • Rubbing Alcohol – You can use any kind, it does NOT have to be the 90%+ variety
  • Bird’s Eye Cleaning Cloths OR an Old Towel
  • Old Toothbrush
  • Old Bowl
  • Patience … lots of it

Disclaimers:

First let me emphasize contrary to what many people tell you, you DO NOT need to have the 90%+ variety of rubbing alcohol. Most of you have 70% in your medicine cupboards at home right now. This will work. You do NOT need to go to the store to buy a particular kind. If you want to know more about rubbing alcohol to remove clay pigments, you can refer to this post here. Know that rubbing alcohol breaks down the polymer and can be used in many ways: cleaning your hands, removing “dirt” and grime from a finished (unbaked piece), removing excess mica powders or chalks, and much more. Ginger from The Blue Bottle Tree also has some additional information on rubbing alcohol, go here to read it.

Secondly, you do need patience for this. Now, this could honestly be because I have used both the handle to my pasta machine & this dotting tool for about 6 years … and never ONCE cleaned the “clay muck” off. Ouch. Shame on me. If you have newer tools or tools that don’t have 6 years worth of “clay muck” on them, you won’t have to be as patient as I was.

How to Clean Your Polymer Clay Tools

Cleaning Your Pasta Machine Handle by KatersAcresThe first thing that I needed to clean was my pasta machine handle. I mean, look at it … that’s just gross. I knew that rubbing alcohol worked to clean up clay residue, but I didn’t know if it would work to take off large amounts of “clay muck.”

Soak your tool in a rubbing alcohol bath for about 5 minutes. I just sat and rotated the handle every 20 seconds or so … very tedious. I told you that patience was required.

After the first five minutes I took my cleaning cloth and soaked it lightly on the corner with clean rubbing alcohol. Then I began to rub … and rub … and rub … and scrub. Well, while that worked, the “clay muck” was honestly just to thick. So … I went and got an old toothbrush that sits by my polymer sink.  I let it sit in the rubbing alcohol for about 30 seconds and then began to scrub … and scrub … and scrub.

Cleaning Your Pasta Machine Handle by KatersAcres | Before & After Results

So after 35 minutes of using a cloth, then a toothbrush, then a cloth, and then a toothbrush, this is what I ended up with. Honestly, I could have kept going, but I was so tired of scrubbing that handle, I just gave up.  Here’s the point though, even 6 years worth of “clay muck” on your handle can come off. You don’t have to throw it away or resign it as “dead.” Just spend some time cleaning it.

Cleaning My First Polymer Clay Tool

Cured Polymer Cleaning of Uncured Polymer

Cleaning Your Polymer Clay Covered Tools by KatersAcres | Before & After ResultsThis tool is so very special to me … and yes, it’s gross too with those 6 years of “clay muck” clinging to all it’s nice parts. Seven years ago, my very first book I bought to learn polymer clay was Lisa Pavelka’s book, “The Complete Guide to Polymer Clay” (read my review here). One of the things Lisa mentions in her book (and I’ve seen her say it in videos too) is that ‘most people make art better with art in their hands.’ I’m paraphrasing here, but I think you get the idea.

The tool shown at the left is the very first thing I ever made with polymer clay. I had zero experience and zero expectations. Honestly, I think it turned out pretty darn good for the first time I ever did anything with polymer (see top photo). Now granted, this looks pretty bad in this photo … why? Because it’s covered in gross “clay muck.”

Repeating the same process that I used above (except I did NOT soak this tool), I began the process of scrubbing this tool with rubbing alcohol & my bird’s eye cloth.  After about just 10 short minutes, my tool looked as good as it did the day I made it.  I am so happy I took the time to clean my tools. Now, when I go to my weekend with Christi Friesen, I won’t be embarrassed by the state of my tools.

Thanks for joining me today,

Happy Claying,

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8 Comments for this entry
Pam
January 20, 2016
00:16

And all these years here I’ve been using hand sanitizer to clean my hands, well except for reds those seem to require a brush and dish detergent… But I swear hand sanitizer and a rag. I am FREAKY about keeping all tools cleaned and oiled before putting them away after each use! My father was an auto mechanic and he trained me well. Coconut oil dissolves light rust and doesn’t leave a greasy feel I just have it in an old jar with a piece of old sweatshirt in it like shoe polish, LOL and I rub it on and then off with a clean rag, it works, I have tools that are decades old that look new!

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Deni
August 8, 2015
09:18

Just saw your post and thought I’d try leaving a comment 🙂
I just wrapped a thin sheet of clay around it and baked it.
I didn’t go fancy, but I suppose you could.

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MagicByLeah
May 6, 2014
11:25

Katie this tutorial is BRILLIANT!! Thank you so much for sharing. I agree about doing art with ‘art’ in hand. I love my handmade tools (some I made, and the one you gave me) In the past I’d ‘give up’. For one special tool I actually sanded the knife handle with sandpaper to uncover the underlying canework. But I feared that too much sanding will sand away the design. I can’t wait to try this.

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Katie
May 6, 2014
12:30

Thanks Leah! I’m glad you like it. UGH! I would never try to sand mine, I would be afraid of the same thing. Remember to be patient, especially if you have YEARS of muck on your tools like I did.

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Ginger Davis Allman
May 6, 2014
09:26

Oh wow, that is one grungy pasta machine handle. I am impressed. I’ve got a motor for mine and the housing is a fake chrome plastic. It gets grimy, too, but it doesn’t come off. I think it’s because the clay from my hands actually eats into the plastic a bit and mars the surface. But yes, I use alcohol for everything when it comes to cleaning my studio. I clean my tiles, my work surface, and especially my blade. Thanks so much for the shout-out Katie!

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Katie
May 6, 2014
09:53

You’re not kidding Ginger. And sadly, the ONLY reason it got cleaned was because I was embarrassed to take it with me to the retreat. I would LOVE to have a motor for my pasta machine, but they are pricey and I am prone to headaches. I’ve always thought the constant noise would make that aspect worse for me. Do you like your motor?

I also use alcohol for everything in my studio too, from cleaning to those “oopsies” I make with chalks & micas. I go through a lot of it because I clean my entire studio with it. My husband always says that my studio is cleaner than the house … he’s probably right.

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Ginger Davis Allman
October 2, 2014
10:59

A little late in responding, aren’t I? Ooops! Yes, I do love my pasta machine motor. The noise is irritating, for sure. But I only turn it on when I’m actually using it. It is really nice having both hands and the clay is folded and put back in immediately (rather than having to move my hand back and forth to the handle) so conditioning is faster. Then I turn it OFF. It’s very loud, really. I can’t condition and watch a movie, for instance.

I’m the same as you with the alcohol. It’s what I use to clean everything. I have it in a spray bottle and I use it like others use windex. My surfaces are germ free!

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Katie
October 2, 2014
13:03

Hahaha! It’s okay Ginger. That’s what I’m afraid of, the NOISE would just … well … ARG! It’s hard enough for me to have a fan on. Constant noise just isn’t my “thing.”

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