Air Dry Clay: Everything you need to know

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As you know, we LOVE working with all kinds of mediums here on Red Ted Art. Air Dry Clay is one of them. If you avoid commercial brands, and go for natural Air Dry Clay (it usually comes in grey or in terracotta), it is super inexpensive and also very environmentally friendly. There are so many great ways to use Air Dry Clay and it is wonderful for children and students to give it a go as part of any art class, be it in the classroom or as part of homeschool!

how to use air dry clay

Today, we will aim to answer the most common air-dry clay questions! This article is about traditional clay or “natural” clay and not polymer clay (which is quite different and a plastic, which requires baking in the oven!).

Air-dry clay: The ultimate guide!

So, today, I will share everything you need to know to get started with air dry clay and really enjoy working with it! I hope you find this in-depth guide informative and of course very very useful! In this guide, we will cover the following topics, you can jump right to them if you wish!

You can jump straight to these FAQs:

  • Do I need a kiln for air dry clay? #airclaykiln
  • What air dry clay should I buy? #airdryclaybrand
  • Can I make my own air dry clay? #makeairdryclay
  • What tools do I need to work with air dry clay? #toolsairdryclay
  • How do I store air dry clay? #storeairdryclay
  • How to I soften air dry clay that has gone hard? #softenairdryclay
  • What are the downsides of air dry clay? #downsideairdryclay
  • How long does it take for air dry clay to dry? How hard does air dry clay get? #howlongtodry
  • How to paint air dry clay? #paintairdryclay
  • Air Dry Clay Ideas #airdryclayideas
  • Air Dry Clay ideas for kids #airdryclayideas

Do I need a kiln for air dry clay?

No! The best bit about using air drying clay, is that you don’t need a kiln and does not require baking (in fact, baking it in an oven will damage it)! This is the simply the best reasons for giving it ago. Also, as you aren’t going to fire it in a kiln, it isn’t as senstive to air pockets in your clay projects (these have been known to explode in a kiln!!).

Working with air dry clay, is a great precursor for anyone wanting to give kiln pottery projects a go later on.

In the summer months, air dry clay can be dry out and be ready for painting with in a few short hours!

What is the best brand of air-dry clay to get? Where can I buy air dry clay?

As mentioned, there are MANY commercial clay brands out there. Personally, I go to retailers that sell clay in “bulk” (10kg plus) and always look for the “natural clay”. This natural clay comes in two (natural) colours – grey and terracotta!

Many moons ago, we were at the beach (near Folkstone in the UK) and actually found natural clay on the beach! We made lots of things that afternoon and brought them home. Obviously, the clay had some imperfections, so wasn’t as strong.. but 5yrs later, I still have a little fish pinch pot we made on the day! Very cool.

As mentioned most art retailers will stock air dry clay, as of course, does Amazon (but I am trying to avoid linking to Amazon, as they dominate the internet in such a major way – simplye google “Buy Natural Air Dry Clay” and you will find something!

Can I make my own air dry clay?

The most common DIY clay is made the very pretty white clay. I have a full tutorial for you here. It makes a beautiful white dough to work with.

If you want to “make” your own natural clay, you need to find some out in nature – beaches or clay rich soils. You then have to go through a laborious sifting process… we got lucky once and found some great natural clay at the beach near Folkestone. It was such good quality, we actually got creative ON the beach and took our work home. As it we hadn’t “cleaned it”, there were a lot of imperfections, so it was a bit more brittle. We still have one of the projects a few years later..

What tools do I need to work with air dry clay?

kids working with air dry clay

As with any type of clay, you can get some basic clay tools. They look like plastic knives, some with ridges cut into them, others pointy. There are also some, that are made from wood, with metal extensions. Again, any good art shop will have these. But strictly speaking, I don’t think you NEED these. You can work with regular (butter) knives, craft sticks, chop sticks and toothpicks instead!

A rolling pin is also very helpful!

Regardless of what tools you have, air dry clay is super versatile and you can make many gorgeous pieces from it! From pinch pots, to Christmas ornaments to decorative homeware.

Are there any downsides to working with air dry clay?

The main downside to air dry clay, is that it is more fragile that kiln fired clay – so you are likely to make your items thicker and can’t work as delicately.

The other downside, is that your projects won’t be waterproof. Though there are some varnishes out there that claim to make your work waterproof. You need to apply these varnishes or PVA glue seals BEFORE painting. I am not yet convinced! But watch this space!

Is air dry clay food safe?

Though air dry clay is a natural material, it won’t poison you (aka, yes it is “safe”). However, as it absorbs water and softens, adding anything wet to clay, will damage your project/ you can’t really wash it properly without damaging the project. It won’t work well for vases for this reason either.

How to store air-dry clay

The key thing to storing air-dry clay, is to keep it air tight. You want to avoid any moisture escaping whilst you store. We have found wrapping it inside the plastic bag it comes in, then wrapping in two more bags, is usually enough.

Some people prefer to wrap it in clingfilm/ plastic wrap and pop it into an airtight container.

When working with the clay, take out a chunk you wish to work with and put the rest back! If it is a hot day, you may want to put your clay under a damp rag to keep it moist and to prevent it prematurely drying ouT!

Help my clay is rock solid! How do I soften air dry clay?

It is easy to soften air dry clay again if has dried out!

If your clay has accidentally dried out, you can still use it and soften your air dry clay!! It is very simple, break it the lump down as much as you can, place in a plastic bag (with no holes, like a zip log bag) and add water. Let it rest for 2-3 days. It may come out a little TOO wet.. in which case, let it dry off a little before you start using it.

If you have a project that has fully dried and you decide that you no longer want it, you can also reuse it in the same way – break it up a bit, place in a bag with water and wait! If you need more info on how to soften hardened air dry clay, I have a whole blog post on it! Or watch the following video!

How long does it take for air dry clay to dry? How hard does air dry clay get?

Drying time, really depends on where you live and what time of year it is! As well as how big your project is! On a hot summer’s day, a regular pinch pot, out in the sun, will dry in an afternoon. Simple flat Christmas ornaments will dry even quicker. We like to rotate our work a little to help it dry more evenly and quickly.

In winter it will take longer. Place near a warm radiator.

If you live in a humid country, try and find a dry area with good ventilation, that it can dry out in.

If you want to work on your project over time, put a damp cloth over it and some plastic to stop if from drying out. You don’t have to finish your project in one go!

When fully dried, it is pretty hard! Though it can get brittle with age.

Can I put air dry clay in the oven?

The short answer is no – it can make your project crack or even melt. You will simply have to be patient.

How do I paint air dry clay? What are the best paints?

painting pinch pots

We like using acrylic paints, as well as gloss enamels. The gloss enamels give it a lovely finish. Both of these are great options as they dry quickly. But you can also use oil paints – they give you a lovely finish, but take a long time to dry. Avoid using (too much) water when painting your dried out clay, as it will make it soggy again!

As mentioned previously, some say, you can seal your air dry clay projects so you can take them outside – they say that using a PVA/ water solution or special varnish on the clay FIRST gives it enough protection. Then add TWO layers of acrylic paint. We are still experimenting with this!

My project has cracks in it? How do I stop cracking from happening and how do I fix cracks in my air-dry clay project?

The cracks often happen as the drying process was too fast. So if your work is prone to cracking – then don’t use the “hot sunny day” to dry, but bring it indoors to let it dry slowly (again – why you can’t dry air dry clay in an oven).

You can also simply add some wet clay to your work, as it dries – to fill in any cracks that appear as it goes! Then let it dry again!

Finishing air dry clay

The acrylic paint, can act as a protective sealing layer already. However, many people like to add an additional protection, by using something like Mod Podge, a varnish or other clay specific sealer. This will help prevent moister absorbtion and weakening your clay!

Air Dry Clay Ideas & Air Dry Clay for Kids

There are MANY wonderful air dry clay projects you can make – both for kids and adults alike. Popular items include:

  • Christmas decorations (free hand or using cookie cutters)
  • Pinch Pot Ideas
  • Jewelry holders such as ring holders, ring trees or plates
  • Small vases (for dried flowers)
  • Candle holders (ideal for electric tealights)
  • Fridge magnets in all shapes and sizes
  • Combine clay with print making – either nature prints or lace or rubber stamps!
  • It is also great for sculptures and similar decorative ornaments

Air dry clay, really is super versatile. If you want to see all the projects in more detail, DO take a look at this collection of Air Dry Clay projects we have for you: