Play-Doh DIY: make it yourself

Play-Doh n. a soft modeling compound principally used by children and composed mainly of flour, water, and salt.

Playdough n. the cheap home-made substitute – recipe below.

Oh the places the letter P can take you!  Like back to Play-Doh.

My kids loved Play-Doh. And truth be told, it was one of the two “toys” I enjoyed playing with alongside them. (Legos was the other). Now my grandkids are into it, and I’m glad I saved both the Legos and our Play-Doh Fun Factory for three decades.  (The Fun Factory is an extrusion device where you press the dough in one end through one of several screens and spaghetti-like streams ooze out the other, like magic.


According to Wikipedia – and now I’m sorry I looked it up – the stuff was initially a wallpaper cleaner (!). The inventor’s nephew,  Joseph McVicker, reworked the compound  in the mid-1950s, named it ‘Play-Doh’ and sold to Cincinnati-area schools as a modeling compound.

When Play-Doh television ads appeared on influential children’s shows in 1957, the product became a hit in the United States.

Since its introduction, Play-Doh has been manufactured in 50 different colors and has generated ancillary merchandise such as The Fun Factory and The Play-Doh Creativity Table. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Play-Doh to its Century of Toys List, and, in 2006, a perfumery released a fragrance inspired by Play-Doh’s distinctive odor. Play-Doh is currently manufactured by Hasbro and is sold around the world.

The “fragrance” of Play-Doh – or “diSTINKtive odor” as I prefer to call it, was one reason I started making the stuff myself.  The other reason was that the kids kept leaving the tops off the cans, which would be discovered under the bed a week after the contents had shriveled into a hard little mass at the bottom of the can.

Playdough is fast, easy and fun to make – and you already own the ingredients in your cupboard:

2 cups flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup salt (keeps bacteria or mold from developing)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons cream of tartar (for improved elasticity)

food coloring

Dump all but the food coloring into a saucepan, and stir over low heat. The dough will begin to thicken until it resembles mashed potatoes.  After about 3 minutes the dough will pull away from the sides of the pan and clump in the center (but cook it a little longer if it feels at all sticky).  It should feel like Play-Doh.

Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can handle it.  Turn the dough out onto a clean counter or silicone mat, and knead vigorously until it becomes silky-smooth. Divide the dough into balls for coloring (I make four, because my food coloring kit has four colors – available on the grocery store aisle with cake frostings).

Make a divot in the center of the ball, and several drops of food coloring in. Fold the dough over, working the food color through the body of the playdough, trying to keep the raw dye away from your hands and the counter because in concentrated form it can dye them too. (You could use gloves or plastic wrap at this stage to keep your hands clean- once it’s worked in bare hands are fine.) Work the dye through, adding more as necessary to achieve your chosen color.

I like mine stink free, but some folks add vanilla or mint flavoring. Now all you need is a kid, a Fun Factory, a rolling pin and some cookie cutters.

Store in airtight freezer bags.

One final note:

Two billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold since 1955 and, today, 95 million cans are produced annually with the product being sold in more than 6,000 American stores and in more than 75 countries.

And that’s not counting all the DIY playdough made at home by clever folks like you and me.

One response to “Play-Doh DIY: make it yourself

  1. Thanks for taking me down memory lane with this. I also made my own from time to time and probably played with it more than my son did.

    We still play with his Lego and have added to it recently.