When Will My Paper Mache Sculpture Be Dry?

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

You might like these posts, too:

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

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

  1. Hi!
    So I have been working with your standard paper mache clay for a while to make headdresses. However, I wanted to be able to make them without having to resculpt the same piece over and over. I’ve made a silicone press mold at this point and realizing I’m waiting days for it to dry. I know I probably should have gone thinner, but the paper mache clay – well, my first go I was trying to thicken a spot on top and it would re-moisten the clay beneath and deformed the inside surface instead of gaining height. wah waaah. So Yeah.
    ANYWAYS…
    I realize the problem is that the silicone mold does not breathe at all.
    I’m considering, at this point, throwing the whole thing in a warm oven (plaster mother mold, silicone mold, and paper mache clay). Do you feel this may be a terrible idea?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Jess. I’m pretty sure the silicone mold would not be damaged by the heat of a warm oven, and it will help your paper mache clay dry faster. Watch it carefully, though – if it dries too quickly it could start to shrink enough to cause the shape to get distorted.

      I have not had good luck using paper mache clay in a mold, although some people say that the air dry clay works well in much smaller candy-type molds. Is your mold highly detailed? If you can add the finer details later, you might want to consider using paper strips and paste in your molds, instead of the paper mache clay. I have tried it with wood glue and brown paper in a face-sized mold. I didn’t get any noticeable shrinkage, and it’s a good base for paper mache clay after it dries. I made a video of the process, which you can see here. The paper strips and paste start around 15:50. The wood glue is designed to dry fast. I have not tried to add a thick layer of wet paper mache clay over paper mache made with wood glue, so you’d need to do some experiments to make sure it doesn’t get soggy when the clay is applied, and that it’s strong enough to not collapse under the weight. Good luck with it!

      Reply
    • Hi Jess,

      You can do a Google search for “homemade silicone molds”. You should get info on using caulk and cornstarch. I’ve done it and it works great. I gave my buddy a six pack to keep him busy while I made a mold of his hand. I had the mold done and removed before he had his second beer gone. The cornstarch brings air moisture into the silicone and that moisture acts as a catalyst speeding up the process. Cheers.

      Reply
  2. Hi I’ve made a large batch of ultimate clay for the first time and I didn’t squish out enough water. I don’t want to throw away this big amount. How do I fix it? Or will it just take longer to dry or should I just add more toilet paper. Uggg I’m on a deadline so I’m reaching out for help before I attempt my own ideas and ruin i ::( well worse case I’ll have to start over. But that’s an added expense for me to an already free project for work?

    Reply
    • Hi Anna-Marie. All is not lost – start by adding more flour to the mix. If it seems so gooshy that the flour can’t absorb enough water, try adding some of the other ingredients, including the glue, drywall joint compound, and well-squeezed tp. Then mix long enough for the paper fibers to come apart and make a smooth mixture.

      Good luck with it!

      Reply
  3. 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!!

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
        • 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! 🙂

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

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • I have started making a mask out of White craft glue and toilet paper
      I was rushing and before I knew it, I had finished the project without letting any layers dry

      Is there saving it?
      The thickest part of the mask is about 3-4cm
      Thanks a lot, have a lovely day

      Reply
      • I have never used that combination, so I don’t know if it will dry all the way through or not. Can air reach all sides of the paper mache? That’s a really thick layer of wet paper, and the drying outside surface might not allow the moisture from the inside to evaporate. It’s possible that one of my readers could answer your question better than I can, if you post your comment on the Daily Sculptors page.

        Reply
  7. 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?

    Thanks

    Reply
  8. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
        • 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?

          Reply
          • 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.

            Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  10. 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?

    Reply
    • 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. 🙂

      Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply

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