If you are a preschool teacher, you probably go through a lot of play dough. If you are a preschool parent, you probably go through a lot of play dough, too. It can get pricey, which is why you need this absolutely perfect no-cook playdough recipe without cream of tartar, and it really is…well…absolutely perfect.
I love this play dough recipe because, not only is it quick and easy to make and smells delicious, but it’s also the perfect consistency for hand strengthening. Preschoolers need hand strengthening activities to prepare them for life skills. It also prepares them for learning the correct and mature pencil grasp. Playdough is also a great accompaniment to a variety of preschool themes and math activities.
And, did I mention it’s cheap? I don’t know about you, but with the quantities of play dough made around here, cream of tartar can get pricey. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve used the last of it in your mom’s best snickerdoodle recipe and now you have none left for play dough.
So, a play dough recipe without cream of tartar is a really valuable thing!
This recipe does not call for cream of tartar to stabilize it, and the recipe doesn’t call for expensive extracts or essential oils for fragrance.
Aside from this play dough recipe being so extremely affordable, the play dough itself really is just perfect. It is malleable, but not sticky, holds its shape beautifully, but without being crumbly.
Other perks include the fact that this is a no cook play dough recipe, which makes it super fast and easy to make. This is easily our favorite recipe.
Disclaimer: I have had my fair share of play dough fails. Remember this Facebook post of my failed red play dough that brought my sweet daughter to tears? Well, tears no more, because I’m also sharing some tips and tricks to making play dough perfect the first time!
Now Play with that Scented Play Dough!
My daughter took a giant whiff of blue raspberry lemonade scented play dough. As far as a scented play dough recipe goes, the possibilities are endless! Literally. We made grape scented play dough. Apple scented playdough. Peach mango scented playdough. It’ll make your kitchen smell like a fruit orchard! (Or a Bath and Body Works shop).
Do you have a favorite no-cook playdough recipe without cream of tartar?
Try Some of My Favorite Playdough Accessories
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I am Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home mama of five! I am the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught range of levels, including preschool and college, and a little bit of just about everything in between. Right now, my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction
Why this is the best playdough recipe
- It’s easy to make (see our no-cook version of the recipe below)
- It will last for months if stored in a sealed container or bag
- It’s inexpensive. Compare it to store bought dough and you are saving loads of cash.
- The texture is divine. It’s soft, pliable, and fun to work with.
- Mix everything but the food coloring together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
- Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
- Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board that can withstand a little food coloring.
- Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. I divided mine into four balls, flattened each of them, added a little bit of food coloring or liquid watercolors, and then kneaded it in. I added more food coloring to get the desired shades of yellow, pink, teal, and lavender.
- Play with the dough right away or store it in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months. For play dough tool ideas, you can read this post.
There you have it, rainbow play dough (aka the best playdough recipe ever).
No-cook Best Playdough Recipe:
I’ve been making this dough for a few years now without too many changes. After investing in this amazing BPA-free electric kettle, I was wondering if I could make this playdough off the stove top. So I did some experimenting, and low and behold — this recipe can be even easier and still the amazing dough that we all love. Here you go: No-Cook Playdough recipe.
How to make playdough without cooking
You might ask how to make playdough without cooking. Yes, it is possible! Try:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 3/4 cup salt
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- food coloring
Mix the wet ingredients together and mix the dry ingredients together. Slowing add the wet ingredients to the dry until you have the correct consistency. This is a super quick and easy playdough recipe! Notice this recipe has no cream of tartar. Yes, you can make playdough without cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is an acid and is used in cooking as a stabilizing agent for items like meringues and whipped cream. While it does help with the consistency…. I bet you won’t miss it.
Alum versus Cream of Tartar in Playdough
While they aren’t the same thing they can be interchanged in your playdough recipe since they both help with texture and consistency.
Now that you know how to make playdough give these other squishy recipes a try? Try these fun ideas
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- 2 cups white flour
- 1/4 cup cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups water
- food coloring (or other coloring agent – see below)
You can use a variety of items to color your dough:
- food coloring – look for neon or other fun colors at seasonal times
- gel food coloring for deeper colors – check the craft section of discount store or craft stores
- Kool-Aid (grape is my favorite)
- liquid watercolor
- flavored gelatin
You could also add scented extracts (peppermint, lavender) to give the dough a scent.
Homemade Playdough Recipe:
- 2 Cups of Flour
- 2 Tbsp of Oil (any oil will do, coconut oil, vegetable oil, even olive oil)
- 1/2 Cup of Salt
- 2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar
- 1 1/2 Cup Boiling Water
The secret to brilliant colors in your playdough is using gel food coloring – we find ours in the cake decorating sections of craft/hobby stores, or on the baking aisle in the grocery store. Gel food coloring is definitely the best dye for homemade playdough.
How To Make Playdough:
- Pour 2 cups of flour into a bowl.
- Add 1/2 cup of salt.
- Mix in 2 tbsp Cream of Tartar. (You can find this in the spice section of just about any grocery store.)
- Add 2 tbsp of oil. For this recipe I used vegetable oil, but you can use any oil, and as long as it’s a kitchen oil, your playdough will be non-toxic and safe if a little one takes a tiny taste. The sodium level is very high, so we don’t encourage this to double as a snack.
- Pour in the boiling water. Be VERY careful because this makes the dough HOT!
- Mix all the ingredients together until they form the dough. At this point, if you don’t want to add any food dye to your playdough, you’re finished!
- After it’s cooled, to make several different colors of playdough, separate the dough into equal parts and roll it up into balls.
- Now, punch out the middle of the ball to leave a little bowl for you to pour your gel food dye into.
- Drip your gel dye into the bowls. This is a great time to mix dye colors if you want to make another color.
- Knead the dough until the dye is thoroughly mixed. This is VERY messy! If you don’t want to stain your hands, use gloves, and make sure to put something down so you don’t stain your counter (like I did).
Note: We noticed that our dough began to smell a bit sour after a month or two. Our solution: using koolaid coloring (the flavor would mask the smell – but the colors weren’t as brilliant), or adding a few drops of candy extracts/oils. My kids have enjoyed making peppermint or orange or cinnamon scented doughs! Have fun coming up with your own scent/color creations.
How to Make Homemade, Gluten-Free Playdough
Now that you have an understanding of the ingredients in conventional playdough, let’s take it further and make our own! It is safer and if your child has allergies, homemade playdough is definitely a better choice.
In a sauce pan, stir the flour, sea salt, and cream of tartar. There are numerous choices for gluten-free flours available. I suggest you experiment with which ones work best for the consistency of playdough that you want. Brown rice flour may be a better option since it tends to be the least allergenic. Regardless of which gluten-free flour you choose, the goal is to achieve a moist, pliable, springy and smooth texture.
Salt is important to help bind everything together and to reduce water content in your mixture. Table salt can be okay to use but sea salt is better, just make sure it is fine ground to achieve the right texture. Cream of tartar is actually a byproduct of winemaking, but it isn’t alcoholic. It’s commonly used as a stabilizer in food products such as whipped cream and meringues, and this stabilization is the purpose for our homemade playdough because it affects the elasticity. Without it, you may have very crumbly, dry playdough and that will not keep the attention of your kids for long. It can also make a mess. (7)
Add the water, olive oil and blend until smooth. For white, do not add food-colored water, but if you want consistency with colors, you will want to use food-colored water when mixing these ingredients. If you try to mix in food color after, your homemade playdough will be splotchy. Regardless, water is needed to provide moisture, helping to blend the ingredients as is olive oil. The oil also helps prevent drying out of the playdough.
Now that all ingredients have been blended in the pan, turn on the heat to just above low, and stir until you have formed a ball. Once the playdough has reached the consistency you want, remove it from the heat. Let it to cool for about 5 minutes. Now, press a small indention into one side and add the 100 percent pure lavender essential oil, then thoroughly knead it into the ball. Lavender is my oil of choice for this recipe because it can have a calming affect on children. It is also less sensitive to the eyes.
Tips for your homemade playdough:
- To make more, double the recipe.
- To make it less sticky, add more flour.
- If it is too dry, add a little more water or oil.
- Store in a sealed bag or air-tight container to prevent it from drying out. Keeping it in the refrigerator will make it last longer.
- Natural colors can be easily made right at home. Mommypotamus has provided some great food coloring recipes.
Not interested in making homemade playdough? You can purchase gluten-free playdough as reported by CeliacFamily.org. The brand they suggest is Colorations® Wheat & Gluten-Free Dough. (8)
Choking can occur and any form of playdough should not be given to children under 18 months of age. Always makes sure children are under supervision.
Additionally, all playdough may be a hazard to dogs because of the salt toxicity. This may cause brain swelling, seizures and comas, and is usually fatal. Keep any form of playdough away from dogs at all times.
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Total Time: 10 minutes
- 1 cup of gluten-free flour or white rice flour
- 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar
- ½ cup of sea salt
- ½ cup of hot water (for colors, use food colored water or purchase natural decorating colors)
- 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5–8 drops lavender essential oil
- On medium-low heat combine all ingredients into a pan. Blend well until it forms a ball.
- Knead the lavender essential oil into the ball.
- Store in an airtight container.
Benefits of Playdough
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children spend an average of 7 hours a day using entertainment media. There has been extensive research done on what this does to the brain, including but not limited to degradation and shrinkage of the various lobes in the brain.
I know that personally I have seen what too much “screen time” does to my children. Even after a 2-hour movie I notice shorter tempers, an increase in whining, and a general lack of imagination. Kids generally have more active imaginations than adults, but like with anything else, you can lose the ability for imaginative play if you don’t use it.
Usually, the easiest remedy for this behavior is more play! Kids are extremely tactile. If you have ever taken little ones to the store and felt like a broken record with the constant stream of “don’t touch” and “put that back” then you know exactly what I am talking about, and playdough is irresistible!
It encourages the imagination in a way that is unique. Pots and pans encourage kitchen play and dolls prompt little ones to “play house”. But playdough is truly a blank slate. It’s squishy, moldable, flexible and can be formed into virtually anything they want it to be. It is marketed as a toy but there are many beneficial effects that can come from playing with it.
- Exercises the imagination – Making anything with playdough requires you to use your imagination. You may start with a ball which becomes a snowman which, in turn, morphs into a cow that finds it’s fate as a dragon. There are no rules, which allows each child to be free to create what they see in their mind’s eye.
- Improves fine motor skills – The muscles in your child’s hands will be strengthened as they squeeze and shape the playdough. This is beneficial for fine motor skills like cutting, writing, and manipulating small objects.
- Calming and soothing – If you simply watch a child play with playdough it becomes apparent how calming it can be. It can work in the same way as a stress relieving ball that is squeezed to relieve tension and pent-up energy.
- Encourages focused play – Another benefit of the soothing effect is that it satisfies the need many children have to fidget, allowing them to be still for a time and focus better on what they are doing. It directs their energy into manipulating the dough, thus limiting other behaviors that may cause a distraction.
- It’s interactive – “Look at what I made!” “Can you make a … ?” “Watch what I can do.” The ever changing aspect of playdough facilitates interaction between peers, siblings, and parents by fostering curiosity about what others are doing and encouraging collaborative play.
Playdough makes a great go-to activity for little ones in our homeschool room as well.
Natural Homemade Playdough Recipe
Making your own playdough is very simple and takes less than 10 minutes. Adding color is optional but I find that most of the time my kids don’t even request it.
- 1 cup gluten-free flour mix (or rice flour)
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 tablespoon cream of tarter
- 2 teaspoons liquid coconut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 cup warm water
- Combine dry ingredients in a small saucepan.
- Add oil and water.
- Stir together with a silicone spatula.
- Cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes until it forms a ball.
- Remove from heat and turn the ball out onto parchment paper.
- When it is cool enough to handle, knead ball for several minutes until it is smooth.
- Store in an airtight container.
Even though this playdough recipe is made from all natural ingredients it does have a very high salt content and should not be consumed.
How to Add Color
There are a couple ways to add color to your playdough. You can use a natural food dye and add a few drops until you achieve the color you want to the 1 cup of water before mixing it in with the other ingredients.
Another option is to make your own colored water. Simmer 2 cups of water with various fruits, vegetables, or herbs until the water takes on the color you want. Strain and use 1 cup of the colored water in your playdough recipe.
- Blue – shredded purple cabbage
- Green – spinach
- Red/pink – shredded beet
- Purple – grape juice
- Yellow/orange – turmeric
Ready for More Sensory Fun?
For older kids (or younger too if you’re feeling adventurous), try making my gooey natural slime recipe!
Have you ever made playdough? Will you try it?