Safety precautions for working with clay or crafting with children.
Safety of Polymer Clay
All of the widely available Polymer Clays have been tested by the Arts & Crafts Materials Institute (ACMI). This Boston-
based organization does not take this testing lightly nor do they balk at rejecting materials that don't make muster.
Polymer Clay has been found, by ACMI, to have the status of non-toxic, and as such, bears the ACMI seal of approval.
If you look on your packet of clay you will see a notification that the Polymer Clay conforms to the ASTM D-4236
standard. Any product with this label is certified to be "properly labeled in a program of toxicological evaluation by a
medical expert." A toxicological review board then reviews the findings of the medical expert. After all this is done, only
then can a material bear the label that it conforms to this standard. This means that a medical expert who specializes in
the bioavailability of toxins has evaluated the clay for health dangers, then that testing is further tested by a group of
professionals who specialize in toxicology. So each product that passes has been effectively double evaluated.
If there is a limit on how much contact one can have with a material, it must be stated in a warning label. Polymer Clay
would be required by federal law to carry such a warning if it was toxic in any of these ways. In fact, Polymer Clay is
forced to bear no warnings of any kind!
Who else has good things to say about Polymer Clay? Ever hear of Consumer Reports Magazine? In their research,
they found no adverse effects due to Polymer Clay even in reports of people and pets that had eaten it. Almost all
Polymer Clay artists can point to a time that they, their children, or their pets ingested some amount of Polymer Clay
with no ill effects.
While working with raw polymer clay, take care not to rub your eyes. Wash your hands frequently and especially before
Safety of Polymer Clay Fumes
Now let me move on to some specific concerns. Many people are concerned about the "fumes" from baking clay. The
normal baking of clay may produce some smell, I find that smell pleasant but others do not. The only fumes that are
produced come from burning the clay. Even these fumes, while quite nasty to smell, have no chronic effect.
The people at Fimo tell us that burning clay releases hydrochloride gas. This gas can irritate the mucus membranes
and cause stinging of the eyes, nose, and throat. The response to burning clay they recommend, and what a prudent
person would do, is to turn off the oven and vacate the area until the gas dissipates. You stand more risk from your
Teflon cooking pans than from burning Polymer Clay.
Safety of Curing Clay in your Oven
Many are concerned about baking in their home ovens. One of the beautiful things about Polymer Clay is that it is a
material that can be brought to permanence without the expense of a kiln or other additional firing device. This is a
drawing point for many people. The only reason you would need a separate oven, is if you don't like the smell of the
baking Polymer Clay. If you clean your oven on a routine basis, you have no worries from cooking your dinner in the
same oven that you baked your clay in earlier that day.
Just be sure no crumbs or small clay pieces are left behind; because at higher cooking temperatures, the clay crumbs
will burn releasing that irritating hydrochloride gas.
Attention bird-lovers: Birds are reportedly extra-sensitive to fumes, so if you have a bird, it may be safer to put either
bird or oven outside while you're firing.
Always, without exception, use eye protection when using any power tool with the clay, whether for drilling, buffing,
or sanding. It's very easy for a bead you're buffing to get loose and go flying, possibly into your face. Even the tiny clay
particles can get into your eye and cause injury. You can buy plastic safety goggles at any hardware store.
Don't let your clay burn (obviously)
As long as clay is baked at the correct temperature, there are no unusual "fumes" to worry about. You may notice a
slight smell, but this is normal. If it bothers you, or if you do a lot of curing, you may want to cure out of doors or use a
vented oven. If nothing else, you can open windows while you bake.
It is when clay is cured at excessive temperatures that it burns and releases those "toxic fumes" you've probably heard
of. These fumes are hydrochloride gas (or "hydrochloric acid gas"), and while that sounds scary-and they're certainly
not something you want to produce when curing clay-the fact is that it has no chronic effect. The gas can irritate mucus
membranes, causing stinging eyes, nose, and throat, but once you've turned off the oven and left the area (until the
gases have dissipated), you should begin to feel better and have no lasting ill-effects.
And if you are careful, you should never have to worry about "toxic fumes" at all.
To avoid burning clay, it is crucial that you get an oven thermometer. The thermostats of most home ovens and toaster
ovens are "off"-some by fifty degrees (Fahrenheit) or more. As anyone who bakes can tell you, no two ovens are
exactly the same, so it is important that you know how your own oven(s) work. Carefully gauge the temperature to avoid
If your oven has an exposed heating element, try to keep your clay away from it. When the heating element comes on,
the temperature inside the oven can spike-especially right next to the element.
Be sure to notice if any cured clay has been left in the oven or fallen to the bottom of the oven. If it has, remove it
immediately, before you forget that it's there. This is especially important if you use your oven for other things and will
be baking at higher temperatures, later on.
Will the clay hurt my furniture?
The plasticizer in unfired clay can be harmful to wood finishes, and it eats into some kinds of plastic. If you need to set
clay down on a table or a surface other than your work surface, wrap it in waxed paper first to keep it away from the
finish. Fired clay is neutral and can be put anywhere. Always work on a clay-dedicated surface. (A ceramic tile is the
The rule of thumb with polymer clay is that once anything (knife, cheese grater, pasta machine, cutting board, food
processor, container, etc.) has come into contact with the RAW clay, it should be "clay-dedicated". This means that you
shouldn't use it again with food.
Using clay around babies
Be sure to wash clay off your hands before handling the baby. You may also want to look at ways to make the baking
process safer. You may feel fine with using a toaster oven in your craft room when it’s just you, but consider moving it to
a separate part of the house if you are pregnant.
Is polymer clay safe for kids to use?
Sure, as long as the kids are old enough not to try eating the clay. Children too young to use an oven safely will require
supervision during firing. Soft clays such as Sculpey are easier to handle and may be more satisfying for younger kids
than the stiffer clays; try making marbled beads or simple canes.
10 Tips For Safe & Peaceful Crafting With Kids
Are you looking for ways to keep craft time with your children simple and fun? If so, I hope you will put some of the
following suggestions to use.
Find the craft the kids want to make and then make a list of all the supplies you will need to make the craft.
If you do not have everything on hand add the supplies you need to your shopping list so you will not forget
Put a plastic table cloth down where you will be crafting.
Have all supplies laid out before you announce craft time to your kids.
Use non-toxic paints, glues, etc.
Have wet wipes and paper towels handy for spills.
Always try to have extra supplies in case something is lost or torn, etc.
Let them wear old clothes so you will not be stressed out over ruining what they are wearing.
Show the kids how to do the craft but let them do it in their own way. If you insist on it being perfect then you
might as well do the craft yourself and forget about having craft time with the kids. It also makes the children
think that everything has to be perfect and that their best is not good enough. Sometimes little hands need help
but you know you have gone too far when you are the only one left at the craft table.
Have fun! Don't worry about a little paint on their hands & faces, take pictures instead.
I hope you will try these suggestions for a stress free craft time with your children. Show them how to have fun, they will
learn how to be stressed out way too soon anyway.
Use your common sense when you work with clay. Don't make a meal of it, but don't freak if your miniature poodle
happens to chomp on some. And if you screw up and use a knife that you cut clay with to butter your toast one morning,
you don't have to call poison control.