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Blog header: Girl playing with play dough on the right, "Easy-to-make Play Dough Recipe" text on the left

Get Creative with This Easy-to-make Play Dough Recipe

Who doesn’t love play dough? It’s squishy, smooshy, squelchy fun that’s been a favorite activity for generations of kids, parents, and preschool teachers. The only thing better than having fun with play dough is making it using a foolproof homemade play dough recipe. Homemade play dough lasts longer than commercial brands when appropriately stored. If it does dry out, you can try to soften it (more on that in a bit) or quickly mix up a new batch. Plus, you can avoid squabbles by letting your kids personalize their dough using gel food coloring, so everyone knows whose batch is whose. 

Grab your measuring cups, a pot, and a mixing spoon. We’ve got a kid-friendly, super easy play dough recipe that takes very little prep time and uses ingredients you’re sure to have around the house. It cooks up in no time, with very little mess, so you and the kids will be ready to get creating before you know it.

Let’s Get Creative with Play Dough!

Soft Play Dough Recipe Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of table salt 
  • 4 teaspoons cream of tartar 
  • 2 cups lukewarm water 
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can substitute with canola or coconut oil if that’s what you have handy)
  • Gel food coloring (optional)

How to Make Play Dough:

  1. Help your children measure the flour, salt, and cream of tartar into a large saucepan. Let them stir the dry ingredients together.
  2. Next, measure out the water and oil for your kids to add to the pot. If you’re only making one color of play dough, add the food coloring now. If you want to craft a rainbow of play dough, hold off on the coloring until step 7. Have the kids stir everything together before you place the pot on the stove.
  3. Cook the mixture over medium heat and stir constantly until a dough ball begins to form in the pot.
  4. Take the pot off the stove and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  5. Once it’s cool enough to handle, remove the warm dough ball and knead it until the texture is nice and smooth.
  6. If you’re making different colored play dough, separate the mixture into equal portions —one for each color—and place them into individual quart-size ziplock bags to keep things tidy for the next step.
  7. Add 5–8 drops of food coloring in different colors to each bag. Seal the bags up, and encourage your kids to knead their play dough themselves. Add more food coloring as needed, one or two drops at a time, and knead until you get the vibrant color you’re looking for.
  8. Take the colored play dough out of the bag and start creating.
  9. Store your DIY play dough in an airtight container lined with wax paper.

Homemade Play Dough Variations:

  • No-cook play dough: If your little one wants to take charge and make homemade play dough all on their own, let them—with supervision, of course.
    • Mix together:
      • 2 cups flour
      • 1/2 cup salt
      • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
    • Then add: 
      • 1 cup hot water (make sure a grown-up handles this step)
      • 2 tablespoons cooking oil

Stir until you get the right consistency. If your dough is a little runny, let it sit to allow the flour to absorb more moisture. If your batch of play dough stays sticky, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time. Separate the dough and add food coloring as before.

  • Gluten-free play dough: Young kids sometimes put things in their mouths, especially if those things are fun and brightly colored like play dough. It usually isn’t an issue, but it can become a serious problem if your child has gluten sensitivity. Thankfully, a gluten-free recipe is as easy to make as our basic go-to. The cooking method is the same, only the ingredients differ.
    • Mix together:
      • 1 cup baking soda
      • 1/2 cup cornstarch
      • 3/4 cup water
      • Food coloring

Then follow the basic play dough cooking directions. 

  • Kool-Aid play dough: If you don’t have any food coloring, you can substitute Kool-Aid in your recipe. Follow the basic recipe, adding two Kool-Aid packets to the pot instead of the food coloring. The cooking and kneading methods are the same.

How Long Does Homemade Play Dough Last?

If you store your play dough in an airtight container, it should last two to three months. But even the best homemade play dough recipe won’t last long when exposed to moisture and air.

Can You Revive Dried-out Homemade Play Dough?

Yes! If the play dough isn’t rock hard, try working some vegetable or canola oil into it. Pour about a tablespoon of the oil on your hands and start kneading. Keep adding oil to your hands, a little at a time, until the dough is soft enough for play. The texture may not go back to what it was before, but your kids will still be able to use it.

Can You Make Play Dough without Cream of Tartar?

Sure, but there are benefits to using a play dough recipe with cream of tartar.

  1. It’s stretchier: Cream of tartar gives play dough its elasticity and stretch. The final product won’t be as moldable without it.
  2. It’s neater: Because it’s not as stretchy, play dough made without cream of tartar tends to crumble, so you need to spend time cleaning up after the kids.
  3. It lasts longer: Cream of tartar acts as a preservative, keeping your play dough fresh longer.

Creative Play Dough Activities:

There’s a lot of fun to be had when you give young children play dough. But even beloved activities can use a new twist now and then. Here are some engaging kids’ activities to get the creative juices flowing.

  1. Learn about colors: When adding food coloring to your homemade play dough, let your kids experiment with blending different colors and observing the results. 
  • Red + Blue = Purple
  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  1. Experiment with shapes and textures: Pull out the rolling pin, stamps, and cookie cutters and see what happens when kids incorporate shapes into their play.
  2. Use templates: Find some printable letter, number, or shape templates and encourage your kids to use them to create 3D versions of what’s on the page.
  3. Create fossils: Dig out your kid’s plastic dinosaurs and animals and let them see what happens when they press them into the play dough to create a mold. Try using salt dough to create permanent versions of their impressions.
  4. Make play dough portraits: Challenge your little ones to sculpt 3D replicas of your family members’ faces.

Homemade play dough offers your children a unique experience that they can’t get with commercial brands. It’s more personal, allowing your child to create works of art as individual as they are. The possibilities for play and imagination are endless. Even better, the time spent sharing the experience of making their own play dough with you is priceless.

Want to Try Something New?

Amp up the hands-on sensory fun by incorporating fluffy shaving cream slime into your child’s play dough artwork. Want your kids to move around outdoors? Make brightly colored powder and stage a spring festival-inspired color battle in your backyard.  

And if you’re hungry for new projects every month, ignite your child’s curiosity through play and crafts by introducing them to different people and customs from around the globe with our World Edition subscription box.