Polymer Clay Perfection: How to Remove Fingerprints in Minutes

finger prints on polymer clay

If you work with polymer clay, you know the pain of creating a lovely little creation only to have it marred by fingerprints. Thankfully, removing these smudges is very easy.

Of all the materials I work with, polymer clay is the worst for attracting and showing fingerprints, its soft pliable nature makes it very suspectable with even the slightest touch imprinting and smudging the surface.

These marks detract from the overall appearance of your creation and make it look unprofessional.

Worse, once the clay has been baked, the fingerprints on a model or jewellery are permanent* making it even more important to remove them early.

Thankfully, removing them is quick, easy and simple.

All it needs is a q-tip and some isopropyl alcohol.

Before and after, finger prints removed from polymer clay

Before and after, fingerprints removed from polymer clay

Isopropyl alcohol?

If you haven’t come across Isopropyl alcohol, or IPA, let me introduce you to one of my most used materials.

IPA, also known as rubbing alcohol, is a colourless, flammable chemical compound that has a triple duty. It’s a disinfectant for skin and surfaces in the medical field, as general-purpose hand sanitiser and — most usefully for us —  a cleaning agent for removing dirt, grease, and grime. It’s my go-to for cleaning scalpels, tools, and electronics before soldering, removing dirt from my model train tracks, and for cleaning polymer clay and associated tools, my rolling pin in particular.

It’s widely available and I buy it in five-litre and ten-litre bottles (I use a lot of it) but it’s also available in smaller capacity bottles, such as these 1Ltr containers. Get the highest concentration, you can. The bottles here are 99.9 per cent.

How to Remove Fingerprints from Polymer Clay

When applied to the surface of polymer clay, Isopropyl alcohol dissolves the surface, it breaks down the plasticizers in the clay, so by applying a small amount and rubbing it, any imperfections such as fingerprints are erased.

After a few minutes, the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind a smooth and fingerprint-free surface.

For application, the most common technique is to dip a q-tip into some IPA, tap a few times to shake off excess and then gently rub this over the fingerprint point until it disappears.

For tight spaces, crevices etc, where a q-tip doesn’t fit, silicone sculpting tools can be used to rub marks away but clean and dry them after use.

Finally, cover the work — to prevent dust in the atmosphere from settling on it — and let it dry for a few minutes.

You can see the before and after results of this above on a polymer clay dice I was making. In a momentary lapse in concentration, I picked up the clay without gloves and left a horrid fingerprint on one side. But with a couple of minutes of work with a q-tip and Isopropyl, and it was gone, leaving a lovely smooth surface to which I could attach the numbers, but this time wearing gloves.

Final thoughts

You can do this as many times as needed during a project, although let the clay dry between applications and don’t apply too much of the alcohol in any one go. As mentioned above, it dissolves the clay — or rather than plasticisers in the clay — so sloshing lots on will cause more problems than the fingerprint you’re trying to remove.

And also consider that the IPA and rubbing action reforms the surface of the clay, so it shouldn’t be applied where you have different colours of clay next to each other or where there are fine details; the colours will blend and details will disappear.

That’s it! No need to stress over small smudges ruining your creations. Give it a try and see the difference for yourself. I’d love to hear how you get on.

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* Fingerprints on baked clay can be removed but it’s a lot harder, I’ll cover this another time.

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