Every winter I find myself trying to find enough indoor activities for the kids to keep us all from going absolutely stir-crazy. Homemade playdough is always at the top of the list: if you’ve never made it, you simply MUST try! We have made it countless times over the years; with careful supervision you can allow the kids to take part in most of the process. Our favorite part is when the dough comes off the stove, is dumped out onto the table, and is just cool enough to handle. Kneading and pressing into the still-warm dough, amazingly pliable and smooth, is a sensory activity that both kids and adults enjoy. Adding color to the dough is essential! I thought the idea in the following blog post by Thrifty Mama was new and exciting. Instead of food coloring, why not try using natural dyes?
To avoid the artificial colorings in commercial products, we’re going to explore a homemade playdough recipe with natural dyes. Don’t be intimidated. This is going to be a blast.
You might remember this homemade playdough recipe tip from last year. Well, I’ve come up with a few new colors I wanted to try out. So join me as we see if we can improve on an old favorite.
NOTE: Even though this will eventually bring hours of joy to your children, I would suggest the making of this homemade playdough recipe be for adults only. The boiling water and stovetop are major accident concerns for young children. Let’s have fun and be safe at the same time!
The first thing we need to do is create our natural dyes. Use this list as a guide to help you choose the colors you’d like in your homemade playdough and then follow the recipe below.
Natural Dyes for Homemade Playdough
- Red and Pink – Cut up 2 small beet roots and combine with 1 cup of water. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Puree in the blender. Strain. (Raspberries and strawberries would be a great alternative for bright red coloring.)
- Orange – Simmer 4 large chopped carrots in 1 cup of water for about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Don’t worry if the water looks clear now. Mine did, too. Mix in a blender and mash through a sieve to retain 1/2 cup of dyed liquid. (Carrot juice would work really well for this. Nothing else would probably come close the bright orange in carrots.)
- Yellow – Combine 1 cup boiling water, 1 whole grapefruit including rind, and one small sweet potato in a blender. Puree. Strain. Admire the beautiful yellow dye! My kids thought it was orange juice. (Turmeric and saffron are very bright yellow colorants. These would be great alternatives if you already have them on hand. Also, golden beets might work for a paler yellow.)
- Green – Combine 2 handfuls of spinach with 1 cup of water in a blender. Puree in blender. Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until liquid reduces by half. Strain and cool. (Kale is a great alternative for the green hue.)
- Purple – Combine 2 cup of water with 3/4 head of red cabbage (roughly chopped). Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Puree in your blender and strain. Reserve ½ cup as purple and set aside ½ cup for blue in next step. (Blackberries and grape juice would work really well for purple.)
- Blue – Use 1/2 cup of the cooled red cabbage dye and add small amounts of baking soda until the desired blue color is achieved. (Blueberries could be used for this instead.)
- Tan – Combine 1 tablespoon of cinnamon with 1/2 cup water. Strain. (An alternative for brown/tan would be cocoa or coffee grounds.)
- Off White – Place a dash of vanilla extract in a 1/2 cup of water.
Now that our natural dyes are ready, let’s dive into the homemade playdough recipe!
Homemade Playdough Recipe
- ½ cup of flour
- ½ cup of dyed water (use natural dye instructions from above)
- ¼ cup of salt
- ½ tablespoon cream of tartar (for elasticity)
- ½ tablespoon cooking oil (to help keep from drying out)
Combine all ingredients into your least favorite pan (It might stain or stick. My pan was stainless steel and caused no problems, but you’ve been warned.)
Cook dough on the stovetop on low heat until the mixture pulls away from the sides.
When the mixture starts to look like the first time I tried to make gravy I pull it off the heat and let the heated pan finish the cooking. It should look like mashed potatoes. Dough should be clumping in the middle of the pan and no longer shiny.
Make sure to wash the pan and stirring utensil in between each color batch.
Allow it to cool enough for handling. By the time I cooked all of my colors and washed the pan they were all cool enough to handle. If it’s sticky you can try adding a small amount of flour. Knead in your hands and enjoy the vibrant colors you have captured from nature.
Aren’t you proud of yourself for making this homemade playdough recipe? Now call the kids in and have a ball with your homemade playdough.
Some final notes from my experience:
The cabbage in the blue and purple dyes really stinks. I actually like cabbage and the first day the dough didn’t bother me at all. But the smell of the dough after 4 days was almost unbearable to me. Just a heads up.
Also, all of my doughs kept really well, but I did notice that the blue dough was much more tacky than the rest. I kneaded in flour until I liked the consistency. This did mute the color a little, but not too much. Conversely, if the dough was a little dried out I just carefully added tiny amounts of water and worked the dough really well. They all bounced back to like new condition.