Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Basic Homemade Play Dough

We make a lot of play dough at our house. It's great stuff and I very much prefer it to store-bought play dough. My Little Man really loves homemade play dough, and he will spend an hour or more at a stretch playing with it. He also likes to help out in the kitchen, so this is a good activity that we can do together. Since his big sissy is sick and had to stay home from school today, I decided we should make a couple of batches of basic play dough for gift giving. He enjoyed helping me pour the ingredients, and once the play dough was packaged up, he got out our most recent batch of Kool-Aid* Play Dough and continued with the quiet play. (The quiet part was pretty important since Mia had fallen asleep on the sofa, and after getting sick several times during the night, I thought that she really needed some uninterrupted sleep.) But, I'm getting off topic.

The point is that play dough is super easy and quick to make at home with a few basic kitchen ingredients. The only item you may not necessarily have on hand is cream of tartar, which you can find in the spice aisle of your local grocery store for under $5. I recently decided to see how far one canister of cream of tartar will go, so I have been making tally marks on it each time we make a batch of play dough. I have used a few different recipes, each of which calls for varying amounts of cream of tartar, so it is hard to say how many total batches you could for sure get. I am up to 5 batches so far and there is about 1/3 of the canister remaining. I think that is pretty reasonable. I've lost track of where I originally found this recipe, but it's a good basic one.


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 Tbs. cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • food coloring
  • 1 Tbs. cooking oil

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a pan. Kids can help pour or measure and pour, depending on their age and ability.
  2. Mix the desired amount of food coloring in with a cup of water* and add to the pan along with the oil. Kids can also help with this step. (Note: Being hopeful that we will be having spring weather very soon, I used our bottles of left over snow paint for this, blue for the first batch, and green for the second. Then, I decided to add about 5 additional drops of food coloring per batch.)
  3. Cook the mixture on medium heat until a ball forms. Spoon the play dough out onto a counter top to cool. Tip: Waxed paper helps keep your counter from getting sticky or stained, so you may want to tear off a piece and place it on the counter first.
  4. Once the play dough has cooled, knead it until it is soft and pliable. *If you want, you can also choose to add the food coloring during this step instead of step 2 along with the water.* Both ways work, but the advantage of adding it along with the water is that it is less likely to stain your hands. The advantage of adding it later is that you can add just a small amount at first, and then add more until you get the color saturation you are looking for, which is a little harder to do when you are diluting it in water.
  5. Play dough will keep for several weeks in an airtight container. Tip: My current favorite storage containers are left over peanut butter jars. Cool Whip tubs also work, or you can use zippered baggies.

 A Few Notes on Homemade Play Dough:
  • Although play dough is non-toxic, you should watch kids to make sure they do not eat it. I don't think they would eat too much, however, as it is quite salty.
  • Keep this play dough away from pets. Trust me, our dog has eaten enough of it for me to tell you that the salt content will always make them sick. While this isn't harmful in the long run, it's no fun to be cleaning up vomit.
  • If you're worried about messes, you can have kids play with the play dough on wax paper, cutting boards, or vinyl place mats or tablecloths.
  • You do not need to buy any special play dough tools. Kitchen forks, spoons, and butter knives are all fun to play with. Rolling pins and cookie cutters are a perennial favorite at our house. My kids also like those little tracers/stencils that they get as party favors. We also use kitchen toys like pastry cutter, pizza cutter, and a little muffin tin. They also enjoy making impressions with things like bottle caps and toys (You only have to worry about play dough getting caught in things like Hot Wheels tires, but it's not really a big deal. It eventually dries and falls out or can be picked out.) We even have a few sandbox toys that have made it in with our play dough toys. So, really just about any thing you or your kids can think of could potentially be a play dough tool.
  • If you don't have cream of tartar, or you don't want to buy it, here is another recipe that we have used, which calls for powdered alum instead. (Again, you would find that in the spice aisle.)
  • If you want your play dough to have a little extra something, try making glitter play dough.
  • If you want play dough that smells fantastic or has has vibrant color without the addition of food coloring, try Kool-Aid* play dough.
  • Homemade play dough makes a terrific gift! I just package it up in one of my old peanut butter jars, print off the recipe (all of which I have saved in Microsoft Word, so that I can get three per page), trim it down with my paper trimmer, and adhere it to the jar using clear Con-tact paper. I make sure that the recipe covers up that last bit of sticky label residue that never wants to come off without more elbow grease than I am willing to employ. Then, for a little something extra, I tie on some inexpensive plastic cookie cutters. I recently found packages four spring-shaped cookie cutters for $1 in the impulse buy section of Target, so I bought several of them and set them aside for gifts. In the past, I have found 6-packs of plastic cookie cutters at Dollar Tree, so I also check for them whenever I am there.

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