How to Cook Play Dough

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Play dough strengthens the fine muscles of the hands and fingers.
Play dough strengthens the fine muscles of the hands and fingers. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Making play dough for home or the classroom is a simple, inexpensive craft that saves money when compared with its commercial counterpart. Playing with play dough encourages the imagination and strengthens fine motor skills. Homemade play dough recipes vary between cooked and non-cooked dough and provide you with the opportunity to make additions to the recipe to add fragrance, color or texture. The process of cooking play dough is simple and short, requiring only enough time to cool the play dough before it can be used.

Things You'll Need

  • Cooking pot
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • 1 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 5 to 10 drops food coloring
  • Spoon
  • 1 cup flour
  • Plastic zip bag
  • 10 drops essential oil (optional)

Pour 1 cup of water into the pot. Add 1 tbsp. of oil, 1/2 cup of table salt and 1 tbsp. cream of tartar. The cream of tartar acts as a preservative and helps the play dough to last for about six months.

Add five to 10 drops of food coloring to the play dough ingredients. Use less for a lighter color and more for a more intense color. Stir the ingredients together and heat on the stove top until the mixture is warm.

Remove the play dough mixture from the heat. Add 10 drops of essential oil for scented play dough (optional). Choose from scents such as peppermint, cinnamon or citrus.

Fragrant essential oils add an additional sensory experience to play dough.
Fragrant essential oils add an additional sensory experience to play dough. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Place 1 cup of flour in the cooling play dough mixture and stir with a spoon until the flour is moist but not completely mixed in. Scoop the play dough mixture onto a floured surface and knead the dough until all the ingredients are mixed well.

Store the play dough in a plastic container or zip bag to keep it from drying out.

Tips & Warnings

  • Replace 1/4 cup of flour with the same amount of dried oats or coffee grounds for textured play dough.
  • Substitute dried spices, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, for the essential oil.
  • Use tempera paint instead of food coloring to add subtle color to your homemade play dough.

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