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TheUnsureGuy

Just how paranoid should I be about clay dust?

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Hello.

I'm very new to clay and even sculpting in general, but I have recently taken an interest to it, and so three days ago I decided to buy a block of wet clay (pure clay, not polymer), to try it out. I've been doing some small pieces, and letting them dry to test consistencies and such of the material, and so far, I'm really loving it, and it's really cool to be able to realize something in actual 3d with your hands and physical tools, and I love how it soft the clay feels, and it's generally great fun.

Now, the first think I usually do before trying out a new medium, is read up on how to handle it safely - oil paints, for instance, might just burn your house if you aren't careful - but it never occurred to me to read up on clay handling safety beforehand (and I do feel stupid about that, don't worry); well, today I did, and found about clay dust. I saw some things that are simple enough to do, like not leaving clay on the ground, and using mops instead of brooms, but the whole thing just seems like nightmare fuel, because it looks nearly impossible to avoid, and from my point of view it just seems inevitable that your lungs will get filled with this thing. Now I'm wondering if even just brushing dry clay with my finger couldn't release that dust, or if rubbing my hands together when they are covered in drying clay could be a problem.

I guess it would be relevant to tell you how I hope to use clay in the future: I got interested in clay for mold making, and the idea is to - once in a while - make masters out of clay, and while so far I've only worked small, I do hope to mold and cast bigger stuff in the future (think full scale props like swords and the like), and since I'm more interested in organic looking pieces, clay seems like the perfect medium for my needs. So I'm not expecting to work with clay a ton - though it looks quite addicting - outside of those cases where I need masters. I don't plan on ever heating clay, since dry clay seems to be consistent enough and strong enough for what I want to do, especially with adequate supports. Clay looked even better because I thought I could recycle it (and already did, by breaking pieces and letting them soak; works great), but apparently it's too dangerous.

At this point, I would've dropped anything else, since I'm very paranoid about things like these, especially because I have allergy induced asthma, which might make it many times worst, and because I don't have any special kind of facility to work in; but I enjoyed my experience so much that instead of dropping and running, I decided to come here to ask you guys this question: how worried should I be about it? Is it dangerous enough to just find something else to do if I'm not ready to drop a ton of money on safety measures? How much dust is too much dust?

For those wondering, I do know about polymer clays, and I've tried them before, but they're simply too expensive to use in the kinds of projects I'm hoping to do in the future, but I'll be grateful for any clay alternatives you guys may have, especially since I'm so new to the world of 3d art.

In any case, thank you in advance.

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Hi Unsure!

How paranoid? ...somewhere between staying away from all/any clay and "meh" - shade to the former? There are several threads on the subject in this forum, try "clay dust" and/or "clay and dust" search strings... see Mark C's post on his measures.

Awareness would be a logical first step, looks like you're there. Agitation of dry clay makes dust, hence, don't do that, which ain' reasonable, therefore limit/control.  imo, it breaks down to work and cleanup.

Work: dry clay can be carefully handled ok, e.g. placing same into the reclaim bucket to re-slake, handling to decorate/glaze before final fire, etc. When I'm sanding bisque ware, it's outside with the wind at my back; if there's no wind, outside with p100 on. Somewhat dry clay is a question - does cheese hard clay generate dust?

Clean up: clean it up before it's dry, else put the p100 on. Clean with water - mop, sponge, rag, etc. - as possible, an' don't forget alla shelves, etc. Related may include studio dedicated clothing, shoes, air handling, heat/cooling - keep the dust out of the house/car.

 From there, monitor? Horizontal surfaces in your work area should tell a tale; wipe clean slick/smooth surfaces that aren't subject to breezes, periodically check how much dust has been deposited.

Have fun!

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It sounds like you may be a bit paranoid, it's not going to harm you to make master molds, the threat of silicosis is long term constant exposure.  In other words if you are working with silica as part of your job.  It's always good to be a little paranoid about safety, but just a little bit of safety measures can remove this risk.  Clean up your messes with water and if you need to sand something wear a cheap 15 dollar p100 respirator.

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I'm totally a mom, but if you have allergy-induced asthma, or any respiratory issues, it is always best to check with a health professional. What works for others might not work as well for you.

That said, having dry, unfired clay sitting around or handling it is one place where the issues arise. The fact that it isn't fired doesn't solve any problems. 

I don't think safety precautions need to be expensive for a hobbyist doing things now and then. When you handle dry clay, for a short time,  either don't breathe it in or wear a mask.   Don't let your hands dry with clay on them and if you do, don't rub them together. I wash my hands a lot, just as I do when I am, say, cooking. Some people wipe hands a lot on a wet rag.

Wash your surfaces and tools right after use.  Why not? Then you won't be dealing with dry.

If there is dry clay sitting around, put a plastic bag or something over it. For example, I have two things drying in my basement now that won't be dry for days and then won't get to a kiln for days later. I will put a bag or a towel over them once they are dry.

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I want to thank you all for your input.

I realize I was being a bit too overly paranoid about clay dust, but at least for now, I've decided to try something different, especially due to the conditions I work in. I've found this type of composite which I think is simply called modeling clay (I'll be trying the nsp by chavant), and which seems great for the kind of stuff I want to do, and is afordable enough to use in potential bigger projects. However, i know that this kind of clay, unlike polymer clay, does actually contain clay, and even though I understand this is not the kind of clay people deal with around here, I was wondering if there were any safety concerns regarding it, since I can't seem to find anything about it on the internet.

As for the regular, water based clay, I might come back to it once in a while, just because it's such a wonderful material (and useful for casting as well).

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If you expect to be making plaster molds from your clay masters, you will need to take similar measures with dry plaster that you do with dry clay. 

All can be done safely with some forethought and plenty of water. 

Note: Do not rinse or wash clay or plaster particles into your water system, drains or sewer. 

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Water based clay isn’t the right material for the work you’re describing anyways, because it shrinks and cracks, is fussy about timimg, and has limitations for the forms it can hold. 

Modeling clay (or oil-based clay) is a much better choice for you. It’s pricey per pound compared to water-based clay, but a small amount goes a long way. When you have successfully molded a master, you can smush it down and use it again and again. 

Chavant looks like a good choice, but you can also look into Protolina which is a little cheaper. 

I don’t know of any safety precautions when it comes to oil-based clays. Decades ago it used to contain some toxic materials, but modern versions have eliminated all of that. 

Polymer clays (plastic-based clay) would also work for you, but as you noted it is quite a bit more expensive than oil-based. 

Edited by GEP

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