Plate of Homemade Playdough

The Definitive Guide to Homemade Playdough

Grade Levels: Pre-K - 5

Posted: September 16, 2020 | Updated: September 16, 2020
Created by: Schoolhouse by the Sea

Child and Teacher with Playdough

Did you know that playdough was originally invented as a substance to clean wallpaper? Since then, it's brought many hours of fun to young learners! So many great inventions are designed for one purpose, but find success in an unexpected use. Like Play-Doh, I'd imagine that you are full of yet-unknown usefulness and talents! Keep playing and discovering to find your best path.

Whatever its history and whatever philosophical lessons you take from it, playdough can be the source of hours of fun. Below, you’ll find our definitive guide to playdough, the result of extensive research and hands-on exploration. We playtested many different recipes, solved some common problems, tried some creative approaches… and are now ready to share them with you! We hope it’s a helpful launch pad for your own hands-on explorations in the magical world of playdough.

Why make playdough yourself?

Child Stretching Playdough

For this article, we decided to dive into the world of homemade playdough.
This can seem like a lot of extra effort… but in my mind, it’s well worth it! Here are a few reasons why:

It’s less expensive!

Though shopping for the ingredients all at once can seem more expensive, batch-for-batch it is much more affordable to make your own playdough.

It can last longer!

Depending on your recipe and how you store it, homemade playdough can last longer than store-bought. We’ll share with you long-lasting recipes and how to store them, but for our basic recipe, storage is simple: throw it in a ziplock bag, squeeze out the air, and you’re good to go!

It’s fun!

I play-tested all our playdough recipes with my four-year-old niece, Z, and she kept repeating, “Making playdough is fun!” It has her endorsement and mine, too. When we make something ourselves, we feel so much more proud of it… and I’m excited for you to be proud of your playdough.

It’s customized!

When you make your own playdough, you’re in charge of the color palate! If you’d like to experiment, you can try lots of different recipes for different textures, or you can go with our favorite recipes… but you’re the chef! The sky’s the limit when you make it yourself.

It’s a learning experience!

The process itself is a great introduction to scientific phenomena (especially the very cool, very surprising cooking process of the baking soda and cornstarch recipe) and is generally a blast! It also involves the math of measuring, the literacy skill of reading and comprehending a recipe, and the language skill of communication. When it’s done, depending on your recipe, you may need to use some problem solving skills. It’s great hands-on learning.

How do you make playdough?

Child and Teacher in the Kitchen

There are so many different approaches to making playdough! A simple Google search will find you over 4 million results-- some are amazing and many (we can tell you from recent experience) are a quick path to heartbreak. Today we’ll share with you the three recipes that we loved the most, after testing many, many methods. We offered four “finalists” to our four-year-old niece Z, and her input helped us make the final choice.

Here are our favorite playdough recipes!

Our Top Recipe with Flour: Nana’s Magic Playdough

Child with Playdough

This is the tried-and-true classic recipe. It’s basically the same recipe Z’s Nana, a phenomenal teacher herself, used to make for her students and children. It might be the one your Nana made, too!

As it turns out, some things are classic for a reason. This recipe lasts (and lasts and lasts) without refrigeration, takes color well, has a great texture, and holds its form. This was our winner!


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil (coconut is my preference)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup boiling water


  1. Prepare a clean surface for the playdough to cool. I like to use parchment paper on a counter, but cutting boards or plates work well.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar, and oil in a small saucepan.
  3. Turn on the stovetop to medium heat.
  4. Slowly add water into the dry ingredients, mixing constantly.
  5. Stir continuously until it becomes a sticky, combined dough.
  6. Allow it to cool down then take it out of the saucepan onto your prepared surface. Knead it for a few minutes until the ingredients are combined and are no longer sticky. If you do this well, it will have perfect consistency… and if you aren’t careful at this stage, your playdough might end up lumpy and sticky. Knead vigorously! Knead well!
  7. If it is still a little sticky after a few minutes, then add a pinch more flour until it’s just right.

An alternative version that some people swear by is to make this recipe without the stovetop, and instead to mix the ingredients in a bowl. The water will need to be boiled and added while boiling, then stirred continuously as the stovetop directions state. Everything else is the same! Personally, I prefer the consistency of the stovetop version… but it’s good to have a backup plan in case you don’t have a stove available.

If you are using food coloring to add color to your playdough, you can make a single-color batch that’s evenly mixed by adding the food coloring to the boiling water. I prefer making my playdough first, then adding color by folding drops of the food coloring into the dough, so that I cook only one batch and have smaller amounts of each color. For me, it lets me be more creative with color combinations without feeling wasteful, but if you’re creating playdough for a large horde of children, that method may not be for you. If you’d like to skip food coloring and find a different way of adding color to your playdough, read our suggestions under “How do I dye my playdough the colors I want?”

Our Top Gluten Free Recipe: Inspired by Living Well Mom’s Recipe

Elf Made of Playdough

After some creative experimenting and scouring the internet for recipes, we landed on Living Well Mom’s Easy Gluten Free Playdough Recipe, which has a great texture (though it can be crumbly) and is VERY fun to make. We recommend folding coconut oil into the playdough as it cools, so the final result is less crusty/crumbly and stays flexible for longer. If it gets crusty, add a little more coconut oil slowly until it is back to your desired consistency.


  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or other vegetable oil)


  1. Prepare a clean surface for the playdough to cool. I like to use parchment paper on a counter, but cutting boards or plates work well.
  2. Combine baking soda and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Mix them together.
  3. Turn the heat to medium.
  4. Add water slowly, stirring constantly. The playdough will have the consistency of milk, but keep watching! After a few minutes of constant stirring, it suddenly congeals, becoming more solid. It’s AMAZING to watch and takes less than 5 minutes.
  5. When all the playdough looks solid, remove it from the heat of the saucepan to the surface you prepared in step 1.
  6. Let it cool enough the handle (about 1 minute, but it depends on your heat tolerance), then knead the playdough. As you knead, gradually fold in the coconut oil.
  7. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth. You’re ready to play!

For colors, follow the instructions below -- but be aware of something we found AMAZING. Because it has a lot of baking soda and because baking soda is high on the pH scale (meaning it’s basic, not acidic), natural dyes will cause a chemical reaction in the form of color change. This is a great exploration with kids. Look at the color of bright yellow turmeric, for example, and predict what color the turmeric will cause the playdough to turn. A logical prediction would be yellow… but the chemical reaction means something different might come out of it. Which substances cause a chemical reaction? How do you know? Why do you think they do that? This recipe was so much fun to explore and would be a great science experiment, adaptable for elementary through high school chemistry, based on the questions asked. Playdough’s pretty amazing, right?

Z’s Specialty: Super Sticky Autumn Rice Flour Playdough

Close Up of Sticky Playdough

When we asked Z to come playtest different recipes, I never dreamed she would love this one so much. The original recipe was insanely sticky, but we made it workable by adding the baking soda. She loved the smell, loved that it was a little bit messy, and loved that the creations she made with it held their form so well. Because she was so excited about it, I’m including this playdough as an option for you to try (while trying to make it very clear that this happened to be my least favorite of the finalists).


  • 1 cup of cornstarch
  • 1 cup of baby rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup baking soda


  1. Prepare a clean surface for the playdough to cool. I like to use parchment paper on a counter, but cutting boards or plates work well. Sprinkle a pinch of the baking soda over it.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of cornstarch and 1 cup of baby rice cereal.
  3. Add the apple sauce and the canola oil. Mix well (1 to 2 minutes) until it begins to make a sticky, sticky playdough ball that is well mixed and firm.
  4. It will be sticky! Turn the dough out onto your clean surface with baking soda sprinkled on. Slowly add baking soda, a generous sprinkle at a time, and fold it into the dough. Add more baking soda as needed if one cup was not enough to make your dough the desired consistency.

Troubleshooting Homemade Playdough

Help! My playdough is clumping on my hand. How can I make my playdough less sticky?

Child Stretching Sticky Playdough

We found a solution for this exact problem! Any recipe that uses rice flour (which is also in the excellent Bob Redmill’s 1:1 Gluten Free flour, in case you try that) is probably going to turn out stickier than you expect. We were shocked by just how sticky it got -- especially when the rice flour playdough recipes were recommended from very trustworthy sources. When we hit this problem, we got into problem solving mode and after many failures (don’t use vegetable glycerin!!!!), we found it: baking soda. Just as you would add flour to sticky dough, add baking soda to sticky playdough by sprinkling it on the surface and folding it in. Repeat until your playdough is firm enough to handle.

Help! My playdough is constantly breaking apart. How can I make my playdough less crumbly?

We were blown away by the cornstarch and baking soda playdough the first time we used it. It’s so fun to watch it heat in the pan! It does crazy things with natural dyes! It’s so incredibly smooth! Quickly, though, we realized that it had a fatal flaw: crumbliness. After researching and experimenting with different fixes, we found that coconut oil (or other vegetable oils) were a great way to make crumbly playdough more smooth and cohesive.

Tips and Hints

How can I dye my playdough the colors I want?

Creating and choosing my colors was my favorite part of experimenting with playdough recipes. For reliable colors no matter the recipe, you can use synthetic food coloring. Whole Foods makes a great plant-based food coloring, if you’d like to avoid synthetic materials.

However, my favorite way to color playdough is through natural dyes and spices. There are two key strategies:

  1. Make a dye bath and replace any water in the recipe with your water and dye combination.

How do I make a dye bath? How can I make different colors?

Here are the natural materials I’ve had success with while dying playdough using the dye bath method:

  • Red: mashed strawberries, dandelion root
  • Pink: lavender
  • Orange: paprika powder
  • Yellow: turmeric root or powder (the classic!), sour grass (scientifically known as oxalis or yellow wood sorrel), chamomile, catnip, celery leaves, onion skins
  • Green: plantain leaf, nettle leaf, spinach
  • Blue: cornflowers (this will still not be quite blue), saffron petals (expensive and a little unpredictable, these vary between green and blue)
  • Purple: mashed blueberries, beet juice (messy, but worth it), mashed grapes, hibiscus flowers
  • Brown: black tea, coffee grounds, juniper berries

Remember, when using vegetables or fruit in the dye bath, you may be increasing the playdough’s natural beauty, but you are also slightly decreasing its lifespan. Store these in the refrigerator in a sealed container and they will do pretty well! I have a blueberry-dyed batch that’s lasted for more than a week of use so far… but it did mold overnight when I left a little ball of it on the counter. Store your perishable playdough well and it will keep well!

  1. Fold ground spices into your dough.

Which spices lead to which colors?

This strategy leads to a more subdued and earthy pallet, but I love the way they turn out!

  • Orange: paprika, cayenne pepper
  • Yellow: turmeric (for a very subtle and light yellow, try ground ginger)
  • Green: matcha tea, powdered sage
  • Brown: cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg

Let me know what other combinations you find to make your playdough colors. It’s quite the adventure!

Can I make my playdough smell good?

Child Smelling Playdough

Playdough can smell like playdough, or you can choose your scent! It can not only smell good -- it can smell amazing! This is a wonderful way to add a new sensory experience for little ones and a great way to make playdough an even better calming tool for older children (and adults).

I loved blending up lavender leaves (I had some in my garden, but you might be able to find some from a neighbor or inexpensively from a garden store like home depot). It’s so calming! You can add other herbs or try essential oils, such as orange (essential oil OR orange rind), eucalyptus (essential oil OR ground leaves) and more. I also found that using spices for color added a little bit of scent.

I should note that, even with the lavender-infused playdough as a contender, the rice flour playdough was Z’s favorite. She thought it smelled like cookie dough. Who can beat cookie dough?

How can I preserve and store my playdough?

Playdough in Jar

Sadly, if you’ve used perishables like plants or fruit to color your homemade playdough, it may not last as long as the commercial version, depending on your ingredients and how you store it. I find that refrigerating the playdough in an airtight container is the best way to extend your playdough’s life.

The good news is that using most spices or food coloring with Nana’s Magic Playdough can let it last longer than the commercial version. I’ve heard of batches that are staying supple and ready for play after more than a year!

What extra supplies should I have on-hand while my child plays with playdough?

Overhead View of Playdough Supplies

Playdough can be plenty of fun on its own, and I’d recommend taking some time to explore it without any tools. That said, preparing your space for playdough can minimize mess and stress, while maximizing play time. For cleanliness purposes, you might want to either use play dough on an art tray (whiteboards work REALLY well as art trays, then can be cleaned for use on the wall!) or, like we did with Z, tape parchment paper to the table. Having a broom or vacuum cleaner nearby is also a great idea.

Once you’ve spent time enjoying the playdough and its many possibilities on its own, you might want to add a few fun tools to the mix. Here are a few of my top suggestions.

  • The Classics: a rolling pin and cookie cutters can be a fun way to play with textures and pretend to bake. I love these woodland themed cookie cutters from IKEA, but I also love to find strange and beautiful ones at garage sales.
  • Pressings: Finding items with different textures to press into the playdough can provide long stretches of entertainment and can also be a great way to practice descriptive language. Pressing a shell, a toy, jewelry, a leaf, or a paper towel into the playdough all leave very different textures behind. Is it smooth? Rough? Bumpy? Do you see a pattern in the playdough? What kind of shapes are in it? Does it have veins like a leaf? What do those veins do? So much exploration can come from pressings.
  • Containers: Filling things and exploring what fits into what is a great adventure for young clearers and is also a first step toward cleaning up when it’s time to move on from the playdough.