make your own: playdough.

January 13, 2016

make your own five-minute playdough | reading my tea leavesLast week, I was a having a distracted morning. Instead of doing my usual pre-work routine of reheating my cup of coffee while Faye and I built block towers, and made messes pouring water, and ate our weight in clementines, I was finding myself chomping at the bit to get to work on other things: deadlines to meet and emails to send and a blog post to finish, for heaven’s sake.

I finally decided that I needed a project to focus on instead; something novel for me and for Faye and that would offer a bit of relief from the urge to answer emails while nodding absent-mindedly in the direction of wooden blocks.

Playdough.make your own five-minute playdough | reading my tea leavesI realize that a post about making your own play dough might sound like an overly sugar-coated attempt at “doing it all.” Screw it. Sometimes you have the opportunity to take five minutes to make your kid play dough. Sometimes you don’t. 

For when you do have the chance, here’s a super easy recipe. It took me literally five minutes to make. I dirtied one pot that I stuck directly into the dishwasher to clean. Faye had nearly as much fun adding a cupful of flour to the pot as she did playing with the finished product. I got personal satisfaction from presenting her with a new project that didn’t require buying anything new, finding a permanent space to keep anything, or adding much of anything to the landfill. Ding, ding, ding!make your own five-minute playdough | reading my tea leavesSince Cream of Tartar (a popular ingredient in most homemade playdough recipes) isn’t a thing that I keep in my spice cabinet, I borrowed from recipes that use only things you’re more likely to keep regularly on hand. I didn’t add food coloring because that’s another thing I don’t keep around the house (but if you do, feel free!). The result is playdough that looks like real dough. Faye has not been tempted to eat it—but to be clear, I’m fairly certain that bright blue playdough would only entice her more. (Girl is still nibbling on her colored pencil tips.)make your own: five-minute playdough

Five-Minute Playdough

1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of salt
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 teaspoons lemon juice (or vinegar!)

Mix the ingredients together into a saucepan over low heat and stir until combined into a dough. (Note: I was convinced this wouldn’t work half way through. It got kind of grainy and weird looking and I was sure I’d botched it. Thirty-seconds or so later, I was pleasantly surprised that it turned to dough. Moral of the story: Don’t despair.)

We’ve been storing this batch of dough in a mason jar for the last week and it’s made a daily appearance in the early morning hours. We’ve been using Faye’s mini rolling pin (similar to this one), a few tiny cookie cutters, and her crinkle knife to make shapes. Bonus: I’m fully into the therapeutic benefits of rolling playdough balls for stress relief. So…not for kids only!

If any of you guys have kids, I’d love to know what kinds of things you’ve been up to lately!

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  • Reply Melanie@Toots + Dill January 13, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Aww what a great idea! I love the mini rolling pin and the cookie cutters! I remember when I was little my mom made me play dough because I just hated the smell of the Play-doh brand in all the multi colors. 20 some odd years later I still remember it!

    • Reply Emily January 13, 2016 at 9:51 am

      It smells so gross! I love homemade play dough for that reason, and my kids usually prefer the natural color, but sometimes they like to make landscapes or whatnot so we keep food coloring around for that purpose.

  • Reply Amy January 13, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Even better, make a cup of herby tea and use that as your water. We tried peppermint last time, smelt gorgeous. We also like to put things in it like dried lavender

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 8:31 am


  • Reply Sarah Z January 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Erin, it looks as though you have some really beautiful (and minimalistic!) toys for Faye. How do you stop doting relatives from overloading her with bright, loud, plastic toys at every chance they get? Or, is it just my family?

    The play dough looks so fun! My mom used to do this with my sister and me : ) We also used to make homemade cornstarch goop, which was SO FUN, but its more messy and we were probably a bit older than Faye.

    • Reply Jessica January 13, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Sarah, it’s definitely NOT just your family. My two are 8.5 months, and we are so overwhelmed with toys. We’ve bought them one set of wooden cars. That’s it. I have NO idea how to stop the well-intentioned-but-overwhelming gifts, but I wish I did! (Seriously, I’m considering putting a “no gifts, please” note on their first birthday party invitations!)

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 11:02 am

        Jessica! I’d say the note on the invite is precisely what you need to do! I’m going to write a longer piece on this, but I just wanted to chime in to say you can do it!

        • Reply Sarah Z January 13, 2016 at 11:29 am

          I’m excited to read this piece! My little one’s first birthday is in 2 weeks, and I’ve been not so subtly hinting at non-loud-plastic gifts (Lovely crib sheets! Swimming lessons!), but I just know the “he needs something to open” gifts are being purchased alongside. I so wish I had thought to put “no gifts please” on the invites! Such a brilliant idea! All I really want is to have family around to watch the little guy dig into his first piece of cake anyways..

          • Gaia January 13, 2016 at 2:54 pm

            Agh this! So we DID THE NOTE on the invite and literally everyone brought a gift! And it was very sweet of course, but totally not necessary. I think next time I might say something like, “no gifts please, though if you must, we’d love a book to add to our library.” Or something. People I talked to about it, said they felt uncomfortable not bringing anything… Or maybe if it was a potluck people could bring food? I feel like such a jerk complaining about this, but it is a little crazy. (Glad to be in good company…)

          • Susana Galli January 13, 2016 at 3:29 pm

            I have been battling this for eight years, people are finally getting the idea, mostly… I have said it clearly and the answer I got was that it was their gran children and they buy it if they want to. I understand that things about showing love throw material things, it doesn’t mean I accept it! Now my policy is, ok if you have the need to buy, that’s fine; but this is my house and I won’t feel uncomfortable about it, so I just take whatever I don’t want to the charity; if they ask and say they weren’t using it, but mostly people forget!

        • Reply Amanda K. January 13, 2016 at 8:42 pm

          Just want offer my perspective as the well-intentioned relative. My sister had her daughter 8 years before I had children, and she was the only grandchild in our family. They also lived overseas, so we didn’t get to see them much. My sister also lived with her husband in a 400-sq foot apartment.
          We (my family and I) mailed them so much nonsense for every holiday. I remember putting together Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day packages bursting with doo-dads and plastic nonsense. It was STUFF, but it was also one of our only ways of showing affection to our faraway family.
          Just wanted to share; there’s joy in giving. If my sister had told me to stop, it would have really hurt me. I’m sure she tossed and re-gifted or re-purposed much of what we sent, but she always said thank you and she was never ever ungrateful. Instead of trying to manage or control those who truly want to share love, remember that there is joy in giving.
          Now that I have kids (three kids in a 1200-sq ft home) plenty of plastic makes its way into our home. And I simply say thank you, and move on. We play, return, re-gift, and donate.

          (PS — we do put “no gifts!” notes on invitations, but you will still get gifts! especially from doting relatives!)

          • Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm

            I totally agree. There is definitely joy in giving—and there’s only so much you can ultimately control. Graciousness always wins, of course.

          • Sarah Z January 14, 2016 at 9:10 am

            Thanks for this! I myself was the youngest of the grandchildren (approx. 15 years between myself and the next youngest cousin), and my aunts ALWAYS sent me gifts in the mail (faraway family) and it was WONDERFUL. I still remember seeing the mailman pull up with a package on my birthday and feeling like the most special girl in the world (no Amazon Prime back then!). I’m so thankful for my own aunts and uncles and my son’s generous grandparents and extended family.

            I’ve been trying to steer the gift given in the direction of stuff we actually need vs. more toys. But, I’m starting to think that a pre-Christmas and pre-birthday donation tradition is in order, to both clear out the unused stuff before new gifts are received and to start instilling in my son the importance of giving and helping those who are less fortunate.

          • Susana Galli January 15, 2016 at 4:31 pm

            I may have sounded more harsh than I intended!
            Of course I say thank you! And I’m not advocating for close family not to give presents either!What I have tried to acknowledge is that they (three children, in a two bedroom flat) don’t need to be gifted three or four presents (I’m not exaggerating, it’s usually a “main present”, a dvd or something else, like a set of nail polish, say) each plus chocolate on Christmas and Birthdays and sometimes when we go in holiday, from each member of our close family. And we all live in the same city. When i got that answer, I said above, their grandmother had bought 2 or 3 outfits, each, just because we were going in holiday and “it would be nice to have something new to wear”, that’s was when I said, but they don’t really need it!
            I used to feel guilty about those things, I kept them because they were presents from people that love them and they love. But the true is, I’m easily overwhelmed by too much stuff! We live on the third floor, so I can’t just open the door and go breath some fresh air, I either get 3 children ready and go to the park, or open a window! So I decided that I was not going to be uncomfortable in my own house by having too many toys, things, clothes etc, just because they were given. Parenthood is a juggling act of balance, so I try to balance their needs for toys at the same time being mindful of how many things we have, be it presents or bought.

  • Reply Heather January 13, 2016 at 9:39 am

    My mom made us playdough when we were growing up. Loved it! Plus, she would let us add food coloring or other things and I remember the big brown paper bag of cookie cutters and rolling pins that would keep us busy for ages. When my kids run out of their store bought playdough, I’m definitely going back to homemade.

    • Reply Amanda K. January 17, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      i hope i didn’t sound harsh either! we live in close quarters and i have the same problem with stuff!
      my borther-in-law constantly complains to grandparents about their generous gifts, and i suppose i was partially reacting to seeing that — it can be so hurtful!
      my mother is visiting this weekend and brought a giant box of clothes for the kids. nice clothes! it just means another round of sorting for me. which, i suppose, isn’t all bad.

  • Reply Beth January 13, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Yesterday afternoon we melted crayons a la . My 3 yr old declared it “The super super cool best thing!” She helped out with removing the papers, breaking up the (already mostly broken) crayons, and coordinating colours, then eagerly awaited the final product. A great way to use up the ratty old bits of crayons that I know we all have lying around. Perhaps your gal is still a little young for this activity, but I’m sure she won’t be far off 🙂

  • Reply Archana January 13, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Can you compost the play dough ? I see that you wanted to go zero-waste. Or do you use it somehow after the playing is done ?

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Depending on your compost system you could definitely compost this! Some composting facilities/piles (!) can’t handle greasy food scraps and so this wouldn’t be possible there. We’re very much mindful of the waste we produce, but I think one must also find moments of learning and joy. A cupful of flour and a bit of salt in exchange for hours (weeks!) of enjoyment seems like a fair tradeoff—especially considering the alternatives!

    • Reply jpb January 13, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      You can also make little things out of it and bake it. When I was little we used to make little pears and apples and stuff (putting in a pieces of clove for the stem and that bottom part which I do not know the word for in English). In Germany we call it salt-dough (and even adults make weird decorative stuff with it) at its actually more common to have it baked than use it as play dough. Our play shop was filled with those things, they are much cheaper than the crazy expensive wooden vegetables you can buy for kids to play with. You can even paint the dough when it’s baked, the food colouring fades a little bit in the oven. We just kept them plain. You can still recycle when you don’t need them anymore. Also they become really really hard, I don’t remember us ever breaking one.

  • Reply Mary Kate January 13, 2016 at 11:16 am

    But it wouldn’t even be a big deal if she did eat it, right, since it’s all natural? Oh, but I guess rolling it around on the ground may add extra ingredients you wouldn’t want her to ingest … ha!

    Love this idea! I’m so doing a total reread of your blog once I have kids!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Ha! Right: just salty!

  • Reply Tamara January 13, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Ah yes! The first time making play dough with your little one is such magic. And the times after that too! My mom made salt dough for us and I’ve made it for my kids many times. One year, we made several batches of this natural dye play dough from mini eco ( and gave it as christmas presents to the nieces and nephews (and kept a bit for ourselves) which was very fun and so easy. Even last week, my 7 year old asked me to make a batch even though it’s been ages since I’ve done it, and he had a blast with it. It was a bit of a moment for me, watching my school age kid play with it and remembering what it was like when he played with it as a toddler. Thank you so much for this lovely simple post and for the memories!

    • Reply Olivia January 14, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      I can’t wait for my little one to get a bit older sometimes. She is almost 6 months , so we have ways to go before we can make play dough. I found your blog when I was pregnant last spring and I fell in love. On pure green magazine there is another good recipe for play dough. They add beet juice to make it pink. They also mentioned adding termeric for another fun color.

      • Reply Erin Boyle January 15, 2016 at 7:26 am

        Ha, I know what you mean! Each new stage is so fun!

  • Reply Anna January 13, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    This may be really bad but I sort of just want to make some for myself… I love the idea and I used to love playing with playdough. Maybe I will find the old Cranium board and use this as an excuse and instead of the rock hard blue dough that came with the game.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Not bad! Stress relief! I’ve been pulling this out for myself all week!

  • Reply Lisa January 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Not a parent but I do work with children & actually made playdough yesterday for a little guy who came in to see me, he loved it! We used pipe cleaners to make trees & he loved punching & squashing the dough to make lakes and avalanches. Another easy activity for when choking hazards are no longer an issue are rice trays! Grab a large container or sealed box and fill with rice (only needs to be a couple of inches deep) and hide little treasures in there. We tried dinosaur figurines but you could use whatever you have around the house – buttons, feathers, pasta shapes, pebbles, marbles etc – anything that’ll have your little one itching to dip their hands in and search for treasures!

  • Reply Susie R. January 13, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    We just made a batch too! My little one (1 1/2)wasn’t ready yet and immediately wanted to eat it. But my 3 year old niece did the same exact thing with her rolling pin and cutters. We used beet juice water for a natural dye. Side note: Haven’t been to the mail yesterday or today and am dying to see if Simple Matters is in my box waiting for me!!!!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      I hope it is!!! Thanks so much for your support!

  • Reply Emilie January 13, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    The water from cooking red beets adds a lovely pink color. We used it to do naturally died Easter eggs one year …. along with some other veggie colors!

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      Yes: I love experimenting with natural dyes! This was definitely a day for a much more low-key project, but I would love to do that one day.

  • Reply Jennette January 13, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Hot tip: add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil. I recommend lavender, bergamot, or sweet orange.

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      We did that this morning!

  • Reply Patricia January 13, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Use a garlic press with your play dough….so fun!

  • Reply Heather | Cedar & Bloom January 13, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I loved reading the comments on this! I appreciated the reminder that it can be baked and also the idea to make it pink with beet water. We have been making star crayons and washi tape drawings. 🙂

  • Reply becky January 20, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Love this idea!!! I used it to occupy some time this morning with the kids I watch. I am a nanny and always looking for projects to do with the kids that keep them occupied for more than 20 minutes. They loved adding the ingredients, waiting for the dough to cool, rolling it (with a marker because that’s all we had on hand), and cutting out shapes with cookie cutters. We did use food coloring and stored it in zip lock bags (they can’t break when thrown). They love to mix the colors so it may not last for too long but it’s cheap to make again and again (when needed). I especially loved that it is not toxic (the two year old is in a phase of putting things in his mouth).
    And I must add that I love love love your book. It is beautifully put together. I go to school for design for publishing. As a life long book lover who looks at and reads books for pleasure and for school, I consider your book a great example of simplicity and sophistication. The content is wonderful. I’ve been reading your blog for the past year, since reading an article on I love to cut down on clutter by nature. Your great ideas inspire me to keep it up when it feel boring and unrewarding!

  • Reply Elizabeth in Paris April 21, 2016 at 3:09 am

    Cool! I will be making a batch with my son later today! I’ve been relying on Wallace and Gromit and other educational videos a bit too much! Time to wean off the TV! Will see how it goes! Thanks!

  • Reply Lindsay July 31, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Just made this again today for the 100th time! My kids love it and I love how easy it is to make. I also love that it’s a dissolvable food based product that cleans easily off carpets or clothes or cookie cutters with just warm water. AND I especially love that they can mix the colors we make together and add rocks or sticks or crumbs or flower petals and it doesn’t really matter. If it gets gross from being handled with messy hands, it just gets tossed and we mix up a new batch! If it does get handled with clean little paws, it never seems to dry out – it lasts forever! Thank you Erin!

  • Reply Emily September 30, 2017 at 9:01 am

    my kids loved doing this! any thoughts on why mine gets all slimy after the first use? 🙁

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