Polymer Clay Toxic?


Ever since I was introduced to polymer clay, it’s been labeled as “non-toxic” and that’s been a major selling point for me. You can cure it in your home oven with no ill effects, your kids can use it, it’s appropriate for institutional use, it’s safe.

But is it?

Recently on one of my PC groups, one of the members – Jai – noticed that she was experiencing symptoms that included dizziness, skin irritation, and feelings of confusion or lethargy. You can read about it on her blog. Come to find out, polymer clay is really a form of Poly Vinyl Chloride, or PVC, and contains phthalates, which are present in many house hold items. But they are not considered risk-free.

The major concern with phthalates as been inhaling vapors, like during curing. However, there is some concern that you can also absorb phthalates through the skin. Yikes! Is my love affair with polymer clay over???

Well, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that not everyone is highly sensitive to phthalates, and few folks experience symptoms of toxicity like Jai. (She, by her own admission, has also had previous sensitivities.) And, lo and behold, many clay companies are voluntarily re-formulating their clays to remove phthalates entirely, and find new ways to soften their clays. (Kato clay has been reformulating, and the new version is due out soon.)

Bottom line: be mindful. Pay attention to what your body is telling you when you work with polymer clay. Read the label, and follow best practices to minimize your exposure to fumes.

For another look at the topic, read this down-to earth treatise on the subject Polymer Clay Central.

No fear, my friends, and happy claying!

About Jenny

Chief Craft Test Dummy, Craft Evangelist, Founder, Editor, bottle-washer, trouble-maker, and creative whirlwind.


  1. says

    There has been a fair amount of chit-chat on the topic of phthalates in the polymer clay industry. Personally I have not had any reactions to polymer clay but like anyone, want the product to be safe for everyone. I applaud Donna Kato for reformulating her Kato Clay so quickly in response to customer’s concerns. I am looking forward to trying her new clay when it comes out!

  2. Katie says

    Yeah I was in love with polymer clay but now that I know the risks that it has to both our health and the environment I’ve decided to stop using it. It just gives me a reason to find another substance to be creative with.

  3. says

    I’m not sure what environmental and health risks you are referring to…and far as what I’ve read, the jury is out on the fumes released while curing…so don’t be afraid to be creative with clay. It is certified non-toxic, remember.

  4. Matt says

    From all the research I have read, there has been many tests done with polymer clay and the majority of the safety concerns is heating clay to blackening or burning. Burning the clay at temperature higher than 350 degrees will release the fumes that irritate your eyes and mucus membranes. The concerns about using a home oven stem from this, but it is in cases where fragments/pieces of polymer clay from your projects may still be in your oven (if not cleaned regularly) when you bake foods at normal temperatures that are above 350 degrees.

  5. denise says

    I would be careful as the same plasticizers are also absorbed by the skin and can carry carcineogins and endocrine disrupters….there may be long term effects that are not recognizable until some other event enhances them….just because your not running to the hospital initially …doesn’t mean that it doen’t cause reactions that for some other folks who are chemically sensitive,have auto immune issues or known hereditary cancers …these chemicals may pose an issue

  6. Sara C says

    Bottom line, you’re an idiot who doesn’t deserve to live in modern times and enjoy marvels like polymer clay, if you believe internet hypochondriacs with vaguely defined “sensitivities” over the well-tested conclusions of Boston-based ACMI. It’s just sad that ignorant people are so easily and constantly scared by irrational health claims.

  7. says

    Well, Sara, thanks for your insightful comment and colorful vocabulary. I may be an idiot for questioning authority, but you are just mean.

    (For the record, I did not necessarily agree with the article, but it’s worth having a discussion in a country where it’s safe and we’re free to do so. So there.)

  8. Lily says

    I am very scared because my daughter loves polymer clay but I she likes to eat her grapes when she is at it! I dont know weather she should stop polymer clay or carry on, she washes her hands alot but her hands still feel like they have clay on them! Please please please help! Thanks SO MUCH!


  9. says

    Lily- I don’t recommend that she eat WHILE she creates. After claying, have her rub a few drops of baby oil into her hands, then wash with a hand cleanser that has a mild abrasive (or a facial “exfoliating” cleanser will work.) That should get most of the clay residue off of her hands. That’s what I do for my girl. : )

  10. Julianne says

    Beware of false promises with the overly general term “non-toxic”. What is that even supposed to mean? There’s all kinds of cautionary information on phthalates out there, check out Environmental Working Group’s site. Ever heard if nail polish being “three free”? Many prestige brands have that, phthalates are one of the omitted ingredients. Some if the comments throwing around the word “idiots” needs to take a step back. We’re exposed to thousands of chemicals in all kinds of everyday household items, and “sensitivities” are the least of my concerns. Before you rip on people, do some checking around, I was a 36 year old diagnosed with breast cancer, no family history, and learned that fewer than 10% are genetics. What does that leave….environmental exposures and our “sensitivities” to them.

  11. Martina says

    In 2009, the US passed a law outlawing specific phthalates in children’s items. And because polymer clay is considered a toy, the formulation was changed and those suspect phthalate esters were no longer the plasticizer used. Several companies, such as FIMO, switched to other plasticizers well before this date.
    It is a plastic, so don’t eat it, but it is safe to handle before and after baking. The old phthalates had a smaller molecular size, so they migrated out easier. This is what makes other old plastics become brittle over time. They now use phthalates with larger molecules, which are safer.

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