Can I Bring Polymer Clay On A Plane?

Polymer clay is an extremely popular modeling and sculpting material used by artists and crafters of all ages. It’s appreciated for its wide range of colors, ability to mimic various materials like stone and metal, and how it hardens into a strong, durable solid at low baking temperatures. However, those unique properties can also make travel with polymer clay difficult. The material’s moldability raises security concerns, while the need to bake projects could be problematic in unfamiliar environments. With some preparation and understanding of regulations, though, you can successfully bring this fun, creative material along on your journeys.

What is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay is a type of modeling clay that is made from PVC resin mixed with plasticizers and coloring pigments. Unlike natural clays like pottery clay, polymer clay remains soft and pliable until it is baked or cured in an oven. Once baked, polymer clay hardens permanently into a hard plastic material. Some of the most popular brands of polymer clay include Sculpey, Fimo, and Premo.

Polymer clay is made from PVC resin, which allows it to be flexible and molded into different shapes. Plasticizers are added to keep the clay soft and workable. Common plasticizers used include dioctyl phthalate (DOP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Coloring pigments are also mixed in to produce clay in a variety of vibrant colors.

Polymer clay remains soft and pliable at room temperature. This allows it to be shaped and molded without drying out. The hands-on process of shaping polymer clay is often described as very soothing and therapeutic. Once shaped into the desired form, polymer clay sculptures and creations are baked or cured in a standard oven to harden the clay permanently. Typical baking temperatures range from 130°C to 150°C.

When cured, polymer clay becomes a strong, durable plastic that will not revert back to a soft, pliable state. The clay holds fine detail well, making it a popular choice for detailed figurines, jewelry, and decorative objects. The versatility and forgiving nature of polymer clay makes it accessible for hobbyists and clay artists of all skill levels.

TSA Rules on Polymer Clay

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows polymer clay in both carry-on and checked bags. Polymer clay is not considered a liquid or gel, so it is not subject to the 3-1-1 liquids rule. There are no restrictions or bans on bringing polymer clay on domestic flights within the United States.

Polymer clay is also allowed on international flights. However, some countries may have import restrictions on art supplies like clay. Be sure to check regulations for any country you are traveling to outside of the US.

In general, the TSA recommends keeping clay in your carry-on rather than checked luggage. This helps prevent damage or loss of your clay. As long as you follow the proper procedures at airport security, polymer clay is perfectly fine to bring on any flight.

Preparing Polymer Clay for Travel

When preparing polymer clay for air travel, the key is making sure it is properly packaged so it does not get damaged or contaminate other items in your luggage. Here are some tips for keeping your clay secure:

For carry-on:

  • Wrap blocks of clay thoroughly in plastic wrap or zipper bags to prevent drying out or leaking.
  • Place the wrapped clay in a sealable rigid plastic container or zippered pouch.
  • Surround clay with paper towels or soft fabric to cushion it and absorb any condensation.
  • Pack clay at the top of your bag so it does not get crushed.

For checked baggage:

  • Follow same steps as carry-on, but use multiple layers of plastic wrap and protective barriers.
  • Place the clay package in the center of your luggage, surrounded by clothing for cushioning.
  • Avoid packing clay in soft-sided luggage that can be squeezed in transit.

Properly packing your polymer clay will prevent messes, damage, and confiscation when going through airport security and traveling. With the right preparation, you can safely transport clay anywhere you fly.

Going Through Security

When going through airport security screening with polymer clay, be prepared for additional inspection or questioning about the material. Here’s what to expect:

Polymer clay may show up on x-ray machines as an unidentified dense item. TSA agents are trained to thoroughly inspect all unidentifiable items to ensure no prohibited materials are being brought onto planes.

Be ready to inform agents that you are carrying polymer clay. Have your clay sealed in a labeled container so agents can easily identify the material without having to open your bag.

You may be asked to open your container of clay so agents can visually inspect it. This allows them to confirm it is an allowed material. Be cooperative if they need to take a small sample to test.

The clay itself won’t set off metal detectors or millimeter wave scanners. However, tools like clay cutters or sculpting knives could trigger alarms and require additional screening.

In most cases, being upfront that you are traveling with polymer clay will ease the process. But be prepared for extra time at security checkpoints as agents ensure it is safe to fly.

In Your Carry-On vs Checked Bag

When traveling with polymer clay, you’ll need to decide whether to pack it in your carry-on bag or checked luggage. There are pros and cons to each option that are worth considering.

Carrying clay on the plane with you allows you to keep a close eye on your materials and ensure they don’t get lost or damaged. However, there is a greater risk of scrutiny and questioning from TSA agents during security screening. You’ll want to clearly label clay and clay tools to avoid any confusion. Having clay in your carry-on also takes up valuable space that could be used for other items.

Packing polymer clay in checked baggage means you don’t have to worry about getting stopped at airport security. However, you run the risk of your clay getting damaged, stolen, or lost if bags are mishandled. Temperature fluctuations in cargo holds can also affect clay consistency and usability.

Most experienced clay travelers recommend keeping a small amount of clay and basic tools in your carry-on, and packing the bulk of supplies in checked luggage. This allows you to work on projects in-flight or during layovers without attracting too much suspicion. Then the rest of your clay stash arrives safely at your destination.

When in doubt, call ahead to check with your airline and the TSA for the most up-to-date regulations on traveling with art supplies like polymer clay.

International Travel

When traveling internationally with polymer clay, there are some additional restrictions and guidelines to keep in mind.

Many countries have stricter regulations than the TSA on what can be brought on flights. Some countries may restrict modeling clay or require special permits. Check the latest rules of the specific country you are traveling to.

In general, if traveling overseas here are some tips:

  • Keep clay in original labeled packaging so it can be easily identified.
  • Make sure no clay projects resemble weapons or contraband.
  • Have any required documents or permits ready in case they are requested.
  • Expect additional screening and inspection of clay at customs checkpoints.
  • Research if certain colors like metallic clays are prohibited.
  • Limit the amount of clay you bring to what is reasonable for personal use.

When in doubt, check with the embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting. Rules can vary so it’s best to confirm ahead of time. With proper precautions, you can successfully travel internationally with polymer clay!

What to Do If Questioned

If security or an airline agent questions you about bringing polymer clay onboard, remain calm and be prepared to explain what it is. Let them know that polymer clay is an art material made from PVC, a non-hazardous plastic, so it does not pose any risks. You can even show them the ingredients list on the packaging. Reassure them that the clay is solid and cannot be molded into anything dangerous.

If they still will not allow it, ask if you can check the clay instead of having it confiscated. You may also see if a supervisor can approve it. As a last resort, you can ship items containing clay to your destination if you need them for a trip. Just make sure to wrap them very securely. Alternatively, some travelers recommend mailing clay materials to the hotel ahead of time.

Try to stay calm and understanding during any questioning. Arguing or getting upset is unlikely to change their minds. And be aware that policies may vary between different airports and agents.

Traveling with Clay Projects

When traveling with finished polymer clay creations, special care must be taken to prevent damage. Here are some tips for safely transporting your items:

Pack in Rigid Containers

Wrapping polymer clay pieces in tissue paper and placing in a box surrounded by packing peanuts is ideal. Hard-sided plastic bins or even sturdy cardboard boxes also work well to prevent crushing.

Use Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap provides cushioning and support. Wrap individual pieces in a layer or two of bubbles and make sure fragile parts like handles and thin areas have extra padding.

Fill Empty Space

Avoid empty space around your creations where items can shift and bump into each other. Pack tightly or use balled up tissue paper to completely fill your container.

Separate Pieces

When possible, give every piece its own compartment or pouch inside the rigid container. This prevents rubbing and scraping during transport.

Affix Cautionary Labels

Mark your box with “Fragile” stickers and identify the contents so TSA knows to take care when inspecting.

By taking the proper packing precautions, you can safely travel with your prized polymer clay artworks. With planning and preparation, you can transport your delicate pieces without damage.


Polymer clay is perfectly safe to transport by air, as long as you take a few simple precautions. The most important things to remember are:

  • Check with your airline and the TSA for the latest rules on traveling with clay
  • Keep clay in your carry-on bag rather than checked luggage
  • Wrap clay tightly in plastic wrap or sealable bags so it doesn’t dry out or leak
  • Make sure clay projects don’t resemble prohibited items like explosives
  • Be ready to briefly explain what polymer clay is if asked by security

Following these tips will ensure your polymer clay arrives safely at your destination. With some advance preparation, traveling with polymer clay can be straightforward. Don’t let worries about airport security prevent you from transporting your clay projects and materials – with common sense precautions, you can confidently take your clay creations wherever you go.

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