Tale: Adventures of Homemade Play Doh

Last week Baby Belle had a cold and the weather was dreary, wet and chilly so that meant a lot of indoor quiet time. Even sick, that’s not her favorite activity. I perused the internet for some new and easy ways to keep her entertained (but relatively still and not in front of a screen) and found a recipe for homemade play doh. Bubba was never much for it as a little boy; within minutes, he was asking to wash his hands and saying “all done.” Baby Belle has no such qualms about dirt (how ironic that my girl is the one who loves the messy stuff) so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

I had all the ingredients on hand, time to kill and nowhere to go, so I popped on some Britney (don’t judge me. If-I’m-a-Slave-For-You-era Britney doesn’t motivate you into greatness, I don’t know what will) and got to cooking.

Now, it’s important to note that I am NOT a crafty type. I can’t sew. Hell, I can’t even thread a needle. I can bake but I cannot decorate a cake or cookie or cupcake to save my life (see cake pops to the right). I can’t draw (even my tracing skills are questionable). I cannot build things (like, it’s so bad that I think my husband hides the hammer and screwdrivers from me to prevent me even attempting anything outside his presence). My mounting pile of Pinterest fails is quite impressive. So I take each project with a grain of salt, expecting failure and being satisfied with anything short of that.

Let me tell ya…this was a resounding success!

The first batch I made, I used purple gel food coloring (gel food coloring is much more intense than regular, so if you use this kind, less is more. Use just a couple of tiny drops at first and then one tiny drop more at a time until you get the color you’re looking for) and it came out great! The color was vibrant. The dough was so soft and smooth. I was in love.

So I thought I’d up my game and go a little fancy. I added a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. We like Young Living cuz we get it from BFF Tink and it’s been amazing over the years. Like with the gel coloring, though, less is more. Tiny drops, one, maybe two. A little goes a long way. Well, that just made this some next-level play doh right here. So I didn’t stop there.

I also mixed in about 1/4 cup of glitter sprinkles. This turned out to be a terrible mistake. The glitter pieces were way too big to be held by the dough, so as Baby Belle plays with it, the pieces come loose and it looks like there was a tiny disco party wherever she was playing. Stick to standard glitter and you should be fine. I’ll be avoiding it altogether. It turns out I really hate glitter.

But Baby Belle LOVES the play doh! She squeezed and tore apart and kneaded the dough happily for a solid 20 minutes. In toddler time, this is like 3 weeks, so woo hoo! It was so easy and so quick and she liked it so much I thought, hmmm. I should make more. In all the colors. And different scents. Without glitter.

And then I thought…what if I added Kool-Aid packets for color and fragrance? I grew up on pitchers of that glorious artificial flavor and copious amounts of sugar. It felt both nostalgic and like a genius inventive twist at the same time. As soon as hubby came home, I popped out to the store to grab whatever flavors I could find to test my idea. One whiff of that manufactured purple-flavor smell (I’m not sure what the creator of grape flavor was eating but it sure as heck wasn’t grapes) and I knew I’d made an excellent choice.

Note: I cut the recipe in 4 to make the Kool-Aid batches. 1/4 of 3/4 cup of salt is 3/16 but I don’t have that size of a measuring cup (does that even exist?) so I just got the 1/4 cup and didn’t fill it up all the way. Eh, close enough.

Blue raspberry lemonade – the blue was a little bit pale so I added a drop of blue gel food coloring and it was gorgeous! It’s a lighter blue, not a navy or royal blue, but still recognizably blue. The smell is tangy and unnatural (not that any of the flavors have an “authentic” smell), not entirely unpleasant but not what I was looking for. I’ll try berry blue (if I can track it down) to see if I can get a better fragrance while still getting a similar color.

Orange – pretty straightforward. It’s a bold, bright color and smells awesome.

Grape – Purple is my favorite color (like, obsessively so) so I was most excited to try this one. The scent is awesome but the color was on the grayish side (most likely because of the washing out from the flour) so I added a drop of my pink gel food color. That made a huge difference. It became much richer and bolder in color. And that smell…heaven.

Lemonade – Well, not all experiments are successful. This was an epic fail. The color is a very pale yellow, if it could even be called yellow. The flour really washes out the color and it becomes like a dirty white with a hint of yellow. I tried to add a tiny drop of orange gel food coloring (I didn’t have yellow) and it just made it a very pale orange (I told you that gel coloring is strong AF so I should’ve known). Besides the color being too faint, the scent was almost nonexistent on this one so I won’t even bother trying again with regular yellow food coloring. It just wasn’t meant to be with this flavor.

Sharkleberry fin – it’s a deep hue of pink, not a pale or pastel shade. If you want something on the lighter side, I think the pink lemonade might work better, but I chose this for the fragrance. The package shows strawberries, oranges and bananas so I figured it’d be a tropical scent and I was right. It’s my favorite of all of them, like a pink Starburst.

Cherry – I was worried this might be a strange scent (cherry always reminds me of cough medicine) or too similar in color to the pink, but I was pleasantly surprised on both counts! The color is a rich, deep, unmistakable red and it has a sweet smell.

Surprisingly, Kool-Aid flavors are hard to find so this is our collection for now. Unless you want to buy them in bulk on amazon or eBay, it can be a challenge to locate some. I’m still on the hunt for flavors to make green, the berry blue and pina-pineapple (to attempt yellow again). If I can’t track them down, I might try Hawaiian Punch or use food coloring and essential oils for yellow and green. But I’m super excited about and happy with the ones we have so far.

Overall, this was a super fun, quick and easy project. And so inexpensive! I had everything but the Kool Aid on hand and they’re only $0.25 a bag so it was practically a free craft! It’s perfect for Baby Belle to work on colors and shapes and have sensory play at the same time. She loves the smell and says “ooh, nummy nummy.” The dough doesn’t taste good, but if she is inclined to take a nibble (as most toddlers are), it’s completely safe. I love that we can play with the colors and scents and have an endless variety of options.

The project was such a big hit, we picked up some play doh tools on amazon. A 44-piece set was only like $12! Baby Belle found a whole new world of exploration with her dough and was occupied all day with it! Thank goodness cuz we have even more rain coming (uh, Mother Nature, I live in San Diego. I’m not equipped for this madness. Bring back my sunshine!) and this will easily keep her entertained and minimize the cries for “side-side” and “go bye bye.”

Oh, and an added bonus: it keeps husbands occupied too 😋

Homemade Play-Doh Recipe

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (be accurate with this. Too much oil makes for a greasy dough)
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 to 2 drops of essential oil (if using, Young Living recommended)
  • 1 packet of Kool-Aid flavor of choice (if using)
  • Food coloring of choice (if using, gel recommended for bold colors)
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a small pot (if using Kool-Aid, mix it in now)
  2. Add oil and water to dry ingredients. (If adding food coloring and/or essential oils, I added them in here. You can also do it at the end and knead it unto the dough, but I thought this was the easiest way to do it.) Stir until combined.
  3. Cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly, until dough sticks into a ball. This won’t take long but don’t turn the heat up too high and do keep stirring or you’ll burn pieces that will stay hard and ruin the batch
  4. Let cool on parchment paper for about 10 minutes
  5. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle some flour on it and knead it until it’s firmer
  6. Store in a ziploc bag or airtight container (if you have one). The dough is supposed to stay “wet” for about 3 months of regular use and proper storage.

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