How to Make Your Own Play Dough

Play Dough ButterflyWhen we were children growing up in a farming community, our parents were pretty self-sufficient. I don’t know whether children’s commercial play dough was available but we never saw any.  Instead, my mother made homemade play dough with flour and salt.

She had the four primary colors, food colors, in her cupboard.  They were pretty diluted and no matter how much color you added, the play dough was pastel.  Now you can buy brilliant colors — nine times more concentrated than those in the store and in 41 colors, even neon (electric).

When you make your own, your child has a sense of self-sufficiency. Besides, you know what is in this play dough and when it ends up in a child’s mouth, there’s no reason to be concerned — everything is edible.

“This is the best!!! My lil girl loves it and plays with it every day. We use cookie cutters and my stamping up stamps to add to the fun.”—Peggy F

Two Recipes: Cooked or Not

We have two recipes—one that calls for cooking and one that only requires mixing.  For years, we have used the mixing only recipe and it makes a nice play dough.  But we like the play dough from the cooking recipe.  It’s easy and we recommend that.

Making Play Dough the Cooking Method

With this recipe, you cook the dough on the stovetop for three or four minutes.

Since the ingredients are all mixed together at once, you will have one color of play dough.  If you wish to divide the batch into multiple colors, reserve the color until after the play dough is cooked.  Divide the play dough into portions and knead in the color with the paddle attachment and your stand-type mixer.  You may knead the color in with your hands but you may wish to wear latex gloves to avoid staining your hands.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
food coloring

  1. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk until completely combined.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for three or four minutes or until the mixture changes consistency, becomes thick, and loses its stickiness.  Dump onto waxed paper.
  3. Knead the play dough for a few  minutes or until smooth.

Store in a covered container.  This product does not require refrigeration.  It is non-toxic.

Play Dough without Cooking

The following recipe is a big batch recipe.  It makes about 3 1/2 pounds of play dough – ten of the five ounce commercial tubs.  If you are having a party and want even more play dough, make two batches — about all that can be made in a stand-type mixer at one time. You can also make this play dough by hand.

If you want multiple colors, divide the dough and knead in the food coloring after the dough is made. If one color is sufficient, add the food coloring with the water and save the step of kneading in the coloring.  To keep the food coloring from staining your hands, you may wish to wear gloves for the kneading.

3-4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cups hot water
Food coloring (We recommend Americolor professional food color gels–41 colors available.)

Store the dough in a sealed container to keep it from becoming dry. If it becomes too dry, place it back in the mixer bowl and knead in a dribble of water.Mix three cups of flour together with the salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the oil and water and knead with a dough hook in your electric stand-type mixer for five to six minutes. (If you are kneading by hand, knead for eight to ten minutes.) Add more flour to get a soft, workable dough.

Baking and Painting Your Play Dough Figures
When your child makes some particularly memorable figures, sculptures that he or she would like to keep, bake them in a 250 degree oven until they harden.  (Baking times will vary depending on the size of the objects baked, from 20 to 30 minutes.  They won’t bake through but the heat of the oven will put a hard case on them and preserve them.  In time they will dry completely and be as hard as a rock.

If your child likes, he or she can paint the figures after they are baked.  Acrylic paints cover better than water colors and are water soluble so that spills and brushes can be cleaned with water.

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