Homemade Sensory Play Dough with Natural DIY Colorings

These diy non-toxic food dyes are great for food too, not just play dough!

I’ve been making my own playdough for years – since I was about 9.  I’ve followed the same basic recipe for a long time – flour, water, oil, salt, and a dash of cream of tartar.

It makes a fabulous play dough that lasts FOR-E-VER.  In fact, I have a batch of playdough that I made when Prim was barely a year old.

It has actually dried out a couple of times.  Not all the way to the crusty stage, but to the firmer, not-very-pliable-anymore stage.  I unceremoniously added about a quarter cup of water to the gallon ziplock bag I kept it in and squelched it around until it was thoroughly mixed, and let it sit for a bit. Voila!  Good as new.

Because of the amount of salt, it’s also pretty darn sanitary.  (If they can put a salt rock in the geology lab at college and tell every Geology 101 student to lick the rock as part of the first lab session for 50+ years, my salty batch of playdough is going to last a good while yet.)

Then I wanted to take it a step further.

Being a homeschooling mama, I love to give the kiddos as much ‘experience’ as I can.  I was looking for some ideas, and came across one mom who gave her little boy spices and glue and just let him go at it, gluing spices to a paper.  Talk about sensory explosion!

Then I though, why not add scents to playdough?!  It would make the smell sense part of it last longer, and some of them have the benefit of adding natural colors to the playdough.  My kiddos were also tired of just white (I don’t keep artificial food colorings in the house), so I wondered if I could dye all the playdough balls the usual rainbow of colors with my own, HOMEMADE coloring.

The result was fabulous.

Make Some for Your Kids!

This is what I used to color and scent the play dough.

(This post goes into detail about how to make each of the below colors. They can be used in food, or for non-toxic kid projects, like play dough.)

Red/pink: Raspberry-dyed play dough scented with cinnamon oil.
Orange: Paprika-dyed play dough scented with orange essential oil.
Yellow: Ground Red Pepper-dyed play dough scented with lemon or lemongrass essential oil.
Green: Spinach-dyed play dough with lime essential oil.
Blue: Blueberry-dyed play dough with peppermint essential oil. We were hopeful. It didn’t work. 🙂 We’re still working to find a way to make our own natural blue food dye.
Purple: Blackberry-dyed play dough with lavender essential oil.

All but one gave me a rich color.  I was actually surprised by which one didn’t.  Can you guess?

It was the blue.  I suppose I should’ve known.  The blueberry is only blue on the outside (the skin). The inside is yellow-ish.  So it gave us a slight bluish coloring, but not much.  I suppose if I’d peeled the blueberries and only used the skin, I would’ve gotten just a blue color… but I don’t think that’s practical.  And the incredible richness of the other colors makes up for it.

Incredible colors + delicious scents = happy kids!

(The only problem might be if they decide to taste it too… at least it’s all edible, right?) 🙂

The basic recipe below makes about a pint-sized ball of white dough.  If you don’t want to make quite so much for each color, divide the recipe in half or fourths.  (I think my mother originally got this recipe from my grandma or one of the old ladies in our church congregation, so it’s probably an old pioneer recipe or something.)

The ingredients for the basic homemade play dough recipe: white or wheat flour, oil, salt, water, and cream of tartar.

If you want to make the colored play dough, you have to add the coloring BEFORE you put the pan on the stove.  Unlike the food dyes you can buy from the store, you can’t just knead them in at the end.  I have 3 special posts detailing how to use the natural dyes, divided by 3 different (EASY) methods.

Get specific instructions for each color in these posts:
Red, Blue, and Purple Play Dough
Green Play Dough
Yellow and Orange Play Dough

Print
Homemade Sensory Play Dough with Natural DIY Colorings
Author: 
Recipe type: Kids
Cuisine: Basic Recipe
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Make and dye your own play dough with natural, food-based ingredients you probably already have in your fridge. Add a few drops of essential oil to each play dough patty, and your kids will experience sensory explosion!
Ingredients
  • 1 cups flour (white flour will be smoothest)
  • ½ cup salt (use a fine-grain salt and not chunky sea-salt)
  • 1 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • Red/pink: Raspberry-dyed play dough scented with cinnamon oil.
  • Orange: Paprika-dyed play dough scented with orange essential oil.
  • Yellow: Turmeric (the ground spice, not the condiment) dyed play dough scented with lemon or lemongrass essential oil.
  • Green: Spinach-dyed play dough with lime essential oil.
  • Blue: Blueberry-dyed play dough with peppermint essential oil.
  • Purple: Blackberry-dyed play dough with lavender essential oil.
Instructions
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan. Place over medium low heat and stir until a ball forms. Remove from the heat, scoop it out onto a piece of tin foil, and allow the dough to cool. Knead a little bit when cool and the play dough is ready for the kids.
  2. IMPORTANT NOTE: For the play dough to be colored, you must add the appropriate coloring at the beginning. See the specifics of how to make and use each coloring (it's VERY simple... you can make 6 patties of play dough in 30-60 mins) from the natural ingredients on the individual recipe pages on our website (https://homesteadandgardens.com).

The ingredients need to be in the precise ratios given in the recipe.  If you cut the recipe in half or fourths, be sure to keep the ratios as they are.  Combine the ingredients in a pan.

(Notice the smiley face in the oil? Totally non-intentional.  In fact, I don’t think I could make that happen again if I tried.)

Put it on medium low heat and stir…

… until it begins to come together into a clumpy ball (about 2-6 minutes, depending on how big of a batch it is).

Pull it off the heat, scoop it out onto a piece of foil until it cools.  Then knead it for a few seconds, and you’ll have a perfect patty of play dough!

White flour play dough patties.

(Side note… I did make some play dough patties from wheat flour, but they won’t last as long. I only made them because I was curious… but I would recommend just using white flour.) 🙂

I made patties of play dough from both white flour and wheat flour, just to test the difference in color and texture.  The wheat flour patties are still doughy, like normal play dough, but ‘breaks’ a little more easily when pulled apart.  It doesn’t affect the fun of play dough, though.  It is also a bit earthier in color, as you can see.

Get specific instructions for each color in these posts:

Red, Blue, and Purple Play Dough
Green Play Dough
Yellow and Orange Play Dough

Notes

  • To store, ziplock freezer bags in the quart or gallon size work well, depending on the size of the dough ball.

  • Make sure you get the proportions correct.  If you vary the proportions of anything in the recipe, it’s not likely to turn out right.
  • Make sure you keep it on the heat long enough for grains of salt to dissolve better which will give the playdough a smoother texture, and also for the dough to come together in a clumpy ball.

Any questions or comments?  Leave them below!
(P.S. We LOVE comments.)

12 Responses to Homemade Sensory Play Dough with Natural DIY Colorings

  1. Cheryl Preston December 20, 2015 at 12:26 am #

    Thanks for the info on making naturally dyed playdough. I made it for my kids when they were young. Now I have a granddaughter, 2+ years, but we are all gluten free now. Do you think a regular substitution of gluten free flour will work? Or is it the gluten that allows the playdough to be so flexible. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Anni January 6, 2016 at 11:36 am #

      I don’t think a substitute flour would be a problem at all. The texture probably would be different. That’s a really interesting question. I’ve never tried that. I might have to try making it with rice flour or something, and see the difference for myself!

      Reply
  2. Lynnette January 19, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Thanks for the post and recipes! Can’t wait to try it. Also liked your spices picture idea…..but after leaving the room for 2 minutes, 6yr old had half the page covered in inch thick glue…..aaahhhhhhhh…..where did I go wrong?…..

    Reply
    • Anni March 2, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

      I put a little bit of glue on a plate and give them a paint brush. They “paint” the glue onto the page. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Megan Smith February 19, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    I believe you can use Red Cabbage for blue…works with easter eggs! (I know, Red Cabbage=blue color is kind of crazy, but it comes out teal blue!)

    Reply
    • Anni March 2, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

      Thanks! I’ll have to try it!!

      Reply
  4. Kylie September 28, 2016 at 12:52 am #

    Recipes look great! Can’t wait to give them a try. Just a question about the essential oils, I can find edible essential oils, what brand did you use? Thanks

    Reply
    • Anni October 4, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

      I used doTerra, when making these play dough. One or two drops for the whole mass of dough isn’t going to be a problem, especially when using mild oils like the citruses, chamomiles, and lavender.
      I now order all my oils from Native American Nutritionals (which, now that I look them up to give you their URL, have become Rocky Mountain Oils – https://www.rockymountainoils.com). I trust the oils more, they are (in all my research) purer than doterra, and (best of all) they are not an MLM, so I can order straight from them without having to sign up, sign other people up, and create a “monthly shipment”. I can order what I want, when I want, and I feel that the oils are the best, most medicinal, and most pure that I can find.

      Reply
  5. abigail green August 31, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    I am making this for my child’s classroom to use. How long will the play-doh stay good when it has spinach coloring it?? Will it “rot” like spinach would, or start to smell bad? I just want to properly inform the teacher. Thank You!

    Reply
    • Anni September 23, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

      Ours lasted for months. As long as the juice you use has been strained through a fine cloth, so it doesn’t have bits of spinach organic matter in it, the salt of the play dough preserves it all very well.

      Reply
  6. Michele September 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m surprised the fruit doesn’t make it spoil or get moldy! Have you ever experienced that?

    Reply
    • Anni September 23, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

      Nope. The juice you use is clear, and the play dough has a lot of salt in it. It lasts a very long time.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Rate this recipe: