Making pottery is much safer in the 21st century. From making kilns safer and easier to operate, to having better ventilation through technology, and even taking the lead out of paints. Clay is non-toxic,
but you still have to be aware of the organic elements in it. Clay is safe to play with when wet, but not so much after it dries. Knowing you can’t eliminate clay dust completely, minimizing the amount of dust is the best way to play with clay.
Wedging Board and Clay Board
If your wedging board is plaster covered with canvas or wood covered with canvas, dry clay gets trapped in between the canvas and the board. Be aware that slapping or slamming the clay down on your board will kick up clay dust.
If you are handbuilding on a canvas clay board, you may also kick up dust while working.
Have a spray bottle or wet rag handy.
When you see dry clay on your board, it’s wise to spray it with your water bottle or wipe with your wet rag instead of brushing it off.
Washing the canvas board down with water afterward if possible would be best. If your canvas board is portable, taking it outside and hosing it down is ideal.
Sanding your Pottery
It’s best not to sand your pottery indoors because sanding creates too much dust. The particles are very fine when you sand. Therefore the dust will hang in the air longer.
If you have to sand, your pottery go outside. If you can’t go outside because of rain, sleet, or snow, use a mask or wet a sponge and rub the areas that need sanding. This technique works rather well.
Mixing Dry Clay with Water
When you’re new at pottery, you go through a lot of practice clay. You will most likely want to recycle your clay. When you recycle the clay, you will be drying it out completely before you rehydrate it.
As you get more into pottery, you may want to buy powdered clay. Bags of dry clay have their own benefits. They store good, you can mix the amount you want when you need it, and you can also add the right amount of water that works best for you.
If you are recycling clay or buying clay powder, you want to exercise caution when you’re handling the dry clay and mixing it with water. That’s when the dust gets stirred up the most.
Don’t pour the powdered clay into your container. That would be like opening a bag of popcorn right out of the microwave, sticking your face in it, and taking a deep breath.
Place the bag in the container first, cut the bag open and slowly put in the amount you want to use, then lift the bag out. This way you create far less dust.
When pouring the water onto the clay power, it’s best to get as close to the power as you can and pour the water slowly on to the clay. When mixing the clay body start out slowly until all the clay becomes moist.
Wearing a dust mask through this process is recommended since your face is close to the dry clay.
Mixing in a separate well-ventilated room is even better. Mixing outside is best.
Choosing Your Clay
Not all clays are the same. High-temperature clay bodies can have up to 30% silica, while low fire clay bodies have much less and some even none.
If you are concerned about the amount silica in the higher temperature clay bodies, you may want to go with a lower firing clay body.
Higher clay bodies are the cone 10 to 8 such as porcelain and stoneware.
Lower clay bodies are cone 06 to 04 such as earthenware.
Don’t forget about your glazes. Alumina is found in most glazes and can go airborne. Wearing a mask when mixing Powdered Glazes is a good habit to get into.
Masks vs. Respirators
Using a mask is not necessary most of the time if you are taking proper precautions and keeping your clay moist and your area clean.
If you are kicking up a lot of dust, you should use a Dust Mask and not a cheap one. It’s worth getting a good quality mask. You want to make sure your mask has a snug fit. If not, tiny particles will just stream in through the sides of your mask, and you might as well not wear one at all.
If you have allergies or you’re highly sensitive to dust, a Respirator should be used.
If you love the art of crafting pottery, wearing a respirator or mask when necessary is well worth keeping your lungs healthy. You may not look cool, but who cares. Playing with clay is tons better than looking good.
Keeping Clothes Separate
Keeping your pottery clothes separate from the rest and washing them separate is a good habit to get into.
Having shoes just for pottery is very important. You don’t want to track clay all over your house or car. The dried clay will kick up when it gets walked on; then tiny dust partials will start floating around your home and car over time.
Cleaning up With Water
Sweeping up and brushing off dry clay is one of the worst things you can do. It actually stirs up the dust, even if you use a vacuum cleaner tiny particles can go right through the vacuum and hang in the air.
Silica is one of the ingredients in clay that could cause problems if inhaled over an extended period of time. Silica is a naturally occurring element found in sand and quartz. Silica dust particles are one-millionth of a meter in diameter. Therefore they have the ability to hang in the air for a long time.
Cleaning up with water prevents the clay dust from becoming air born. It’s best to wash your table, tools, and floor whenever you’re finished for the day.
Have a mop, rags, and sponges just for your studio. It prevents the dust from spreading to other areas of the house.
Many potters I have talked with have been crafting for a long time, some for over 30 years.
I don’t know anyone personally that has a lung disease such as silicosis from working around clay dust.
It’s all about being aware of your environment and implementing these simple rules.
POTTERY CRAFTERS THOUGHTS… Making pottery is fun and rewarding. Going to a local pottery class is a good idea. I almost guarantee you are going to have fun and enjoy the face to face social activity, which a lot of us are missing in today’s electronic world.