When Will My Paper Mache Sculpture Be Dry?

This video answers one of the most common questions I’ve  received in the ten years this blog has been online – how long does it take paper mache to dry?

This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are a lot of variable factors that need to be considered. However, speeding up the drying time of your paper mache sculpture is the most important thing we can do to make sure our paper projects are a success. I’ll give you some tips on how to do that in the video.

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Do you have a paper mache project that needs to be done by a certain time?

Or are you concerned about drying your paper mache quickly so your sculpture won’t be destroyed by mold? Either way, drying paper mache quickly is one of the most important keys to creating a successful sculpture. This isn’t an instant art medium. Both paper strips and paste and paper mache clay will take time to dry. Fortunately, if we keep air moving around our projects we can speed things up.

1. Use thin layers of paper mache.

If you use a firm armature, (made with either crumpled paper and masking tape or crumpled foil and hot glue), your sculpture only needs a few layers of paper strips and paste. Those few layers should be ready to paint in just a few days. If you’re using my paper mache clay recipe instead of traditional paper strips and paste, you can apply it in a very thin layer that will dry in a day or two. The mixture dries very hard, so there’s no need to add more than 1/8″ layer. I often use a paper-thin layer of the paper mache clay, and that’s strong enough for almost any project. Almost all of the projects on our paper mache blog use a firm armature made over a pattern. The armature makes the sculpture strong, and the paper mache gives us a nice surface for our paint.

2. Put your wet sculpture in front of a fan.

To keep the air moving. put your sculpture in front of a small fan. Then turn the sculpture once in a while so it dries evenly all the way around. Remember to turn it so the bottom can dry, too.

3. Special problems for really big paper mache sculptures.

Is your sculpture really huge? For a parade float, perhaps? Then you have the additional problem of gravity moving water down towards the bottom of your sculpture. You still want to use as little paper mache as you can possibly get away with, and you still want to put the sculpture in front of a fan. If you’re making it in your garage, open all the doors and windows so you don’t trap a cloud of wet air inside. Give it at least a week to dry, because the bottom of the sculpture will stay wet much longer than the top.

4. Check for dampness before painting.

Before you paint your sculpture, check it near the bottom with your thumb. If you feel any ‘give’ to the paper mache layers, that indicates that water is still trapped inside, even if the top layer of paper mache feels dry. If it’s at all soft, let it dry for a few more days.

5. Seal your artwork.

Always remember to seal your paper mache after you finish painting it. You don’t want your sculpture to absorb water from the air around it. If you live in a very humid area where getting anything dry fast enough is almost impossible, don’t use the traditional flour and water paste. Use Elmer’s Art Paste instead, because it doesn’t attract mold. It isn’t expensive – a small 2 oz. package can be mixed with a gallon of water, and that’s a lot of paper mache paste! [Edit] Our friend Henk-Jan Bakker dries paper mache in a DIY drying box, and made a special video to show us how. You can see it here. And if you scroll down to the comments, Christine gave us an even easier idea.  ]

What questions do you have about paper mache?

Be sure to ask them in the comment section below. Have fun sculpting!

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5 tips to make paper mache dry faster

27 thoughts on “How Fast Does Paper Mache Dry?”

  1. Hi Jonni! I have been reading your website and watching your videos as I prepare for my first paper mache project! My son wants to be BB8 from Star Wars. I plan to paper mache over a yoga ball. Any suggestions on methods or materials? I need it to be lightweight but very hard….very smooth would be a bonus! Thank you for your help!!

    • Hi Susan. When a lot of kids wanted to make Pokemon costumes, I sent them to my Humpty Dumpty video. It shows you how I made an egg shape over a balloon using an underlayer of plaster cloth. Then a layer of paper mache was added on top of it so there would be a smooth surface to paint. Yoga balls have some of the same challenges that balloons do – they move around and change shape, especially when the air inside expands or contracts with changes in temperature. The plaster cloth eliminates the problems with paper mache cracking or wrinkling, and makes the empty ball nice and strong. To make it really smooth, watch this video.
      and have fun!

      • I want to make a basic box shape but be able to remove the box structure from the papier mache once it’s set. This is to form a part of a pinata that can be broken with a stick. What’s the best way to ensure I can remove the cardboard box shape after its set? I will of course make it so one side is completely open.

        • Hi Luke. The easiest way would be to put the box inside a plastic bag. You’ll need to use some masking tape to get the bag to flatten against the box. When the paper mache is completely dry you can pull the box and bag out. Have fun! 🙂

  2. Can paper mache clay be rolled like long snake shapes, I guess a better question is can it be used on coil building ?

  3. What happens if you use too thick of layers? I’m not impatient— i’ll Wait. I am wanting to do something that is going to require THICK layers of pulp.

    • It will be very difficult to dry the paper mache all the way through if you put it on really thick. If you really need a material that will get hard without needing to worry about getting it dry, you might want to try Apoxie Sculpt or another epoxy clay, instead.

  4. Once dry, if placed in water will flour paper mache break down? I want to make a water urn, and need it to break down.

    • Paper strips and paste made with flour and water will soften and then turn to mush. The amount of time it takes may depend on how thick the paper mache is. Do an experiment to see if it does what you need it to do.

  5. Hi Joni,
    I am making Peanut characters for our Trunk or Treat. Is they anything I can spray or paint inside the mask to avoid skin irritation from the paste?


  6. Let’s say you need to do the project with a group, and you’re bringing the paper mache to the friends house, how do you store the wet paper mache in time to make it the next day before it dries?

    • I’m not sure I understand your question. Do you mean you want to make some flour and water paste the day ahead? You can do that, but it won’t be quite as sticky as it would be if you made it just before you start using it.

      • Hi.
        Thank you for your advice. I used paper mache strips to make a mannequin head but didnt really allow thorough drying time between layers as I needed it wet to sculp the facial features. Now that im almost done I need it to dry for me to finish the rest of the eyes, cheeckbones and ears etc. Anyway. I want to know if it will end up moulding due to the many layers or should it be okay. I did not use a balloon for the inside but rather plastic bags with off cuts cloth again wrapped with newspaper until the desired shape was achieved. Let me know if you have any advice please before I carry on as im scared my masterpiece is a disaster to mould.

        • Hi Jeanri. Your mannequin head looks great. I hope we get to see it after it’s finished. As for drying, it should be OK. Put it in front of a fan, if you can, because that will help draw the moisture out of the paper mache. How many layers did you use?

          • Hi.
            I have no idea but I think it may be about 6 to ten layers as it is not all consistantly spread. It is winter here so getting it dry is difficult. So lets hope for the best.

  7. Hi!
    I have a really strange project, and I would need some tips. I am working on a costume and I want a big skirt (the type that we see on princess style dresses) that looks like rock. I tought about making it in papier mache, because I want it to move as less as possible when I walk. What do you suggest I should use for the base, under the paper mache, and what type of glue should I use? I thought maybe using strips, but I want to make the skirt in two parts so I can put it on without problem.

    • Hi Mariann. That is a strange project. Someone else asked about a similar idea, and I think she put the paper mache over an exercise ball and then removed it after the paper mache got dry. Someone in the past asked me if chicken wire would be good, with the intention of leaving the wire to support the paper skirt while it was worn, but this would be really dangerous IMHO. (All those cut ends of chicken wire are deadly sharp…)

      I wonder if Monster Mud would work better for your skirt? It’s a mixture of five parts pre-mixed drywall joint compound and one part latex paint. It’s used a lot for theater props and Halloween decorations (that’s where the name comes from). To use the goo, you dip some fabric, like old sheets or burlap, into the mix and then drape it over a form. It dries hard, and the fabric should help it keep its shape – although I haven’t actually tried this so I don’t know if it would work or not. It would be easier than building up enough layers of paper mache strips and paste to make the skirt strong enough to hold up on its own.

      Good luck with it. I hope we get to see it when it’s done.

  8. Jonni, I am trying to make a big paper mache teacup skirt that I can paint a design on for wearable arts. I used a 100 cm balloon and got 3 layers on yesterday…came back 6 hours later and it burst…I was thinking it was that change on in air temperature. It was very cold and then we put the heater on?
    So, was thinking do it again but use the quick drying player of Paris and glue with blue shop towels or Chux wash cloths?

    • Hi Jo. Balloons are really hard to use with paper mache, as you already discovered. I did switch to plaster of Paris bandages for the first few layers, and put plain paper strips and paste over that – just a layer or two to cover the texture of the fabric. If you’d like the paper mache itself to add strength to your wearable art, the shop-towel mache would help. Make sure to completely saturate the shop towels with the drywall joint compound/Elmer’s glue mixture. They won’t get stiff without lots of paste.

      By the way, we would all love to see your teacup skirt when it’s done. Please post a photo on the Daily Sculptors page and show it off. 🙂

  9. I live in Western Washington and it is nice and dry in the summer, but really rainy in the winter. Small scu;ptures I used to put in the oven or over the vents. In the summer, I used to put my sculptures in the hot car or in the hot day of the noon hour on top of the hot glass windshield. The hot glass dried the bottom of the sculpture and the sun the top. I used to put vinegar in my cooked flour paste to reduce mold and bugs and mice do not like the vinegar. I live in the boonies and have many rodent residents.

  10. I like this “it depends” video very much. I struggled for a few years with drying, and this video answered those questions. I did not think of water running down through a sculpture, but of course it does. As I think back on all the projects I have made, the last spot to dry was the bottom of the neck/chest area.

    I began making the projects in the “Making Paper Mache Animals” book seven years ago. Every project was exciting. I lived in California at the time, in summers that would reach 120 degrees, so the paper mache would dry quickly but I did have mold problems with the clay (not the sculptures, however). The clay would stay “good” for about a week. When I moved to Utah, a much dryer climate, I just have to make sure the sculpture is dry. No mold issues. Thanks so much.


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