DIY Finger Paints and Playdough

With summer vacation in full swing, the constant clamoring for more Play-Doh and finger paints may be ringing in your ears. While buying toys that require creativity and young hands rather than batteries is certainly preferable—here’s a better idea.

Homemade art and craft materials are all natural, non-commercial, inexpensive to make, eliminate excess packaging, and encourage creativity and resourcefulness. There is a bit of magic in seeing modest kitchen ingredients transformed into toy store favorites—and these recipes are as much fun to make as they are to play with afterwards.

Finger Paints
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup soap flakes melted with 1/2 cup
boiling water
Juice dyes (see below)

Make your own soap flakes by grating a bar of homemade hand soap (available at your health food store) until you have 1/3 of a cup of soap flakes. Combine the cornstarch, water, and melted soap in a bowl. Stir to blend. Let the mixture set until it has become thick. Divide into separate bowls and stir in juice dyes for color.

Play Dough
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar

Stir together flour, cream of tartar, salt and oil, and slowly add water. Cook over medium heat stirring frequently until dough becomes stiff. Spread onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the dough with your hands until it reaches a good play dough consistency.

Springy Play Dough
2 cups baking soda
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup cornstarch

Mix with a fork until smooth. Boil over medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat and carefully spread on wax paper, cookie sheet or a plate until cool. Play.

To Add Color or Scent
For an extra sensory addition to your art materials, you can add color and/or fragrance. These additions are food-based and fun!

Adding Color: Juice Dyes
Experiment with different foods: try berries, beets, walnut hulls, cranberries, or tea. Combine 1/4 cup of the food material with 2 cups of water and simmer over low heat for an hour. Strain if necessary and store in a covered, glass jar. You can also use the juice from canned beets, which requires no cooking. Straight turmeric mixed into a paste with a little water will give you a vibrant yellow hue. Once you have your dyes prepared, add to finger paints or divide your play dough into balls and knead in color.

Adding Scent:
This couldn’t be easier, just add a few drops of flavor extract, vanilla or peppermint extract for example, from your spice cupboard.


Yvette Sloan
Yvette Sloan2 years ago

Thank you!

Kristina May
Kristina May5 years ago

Love the finger paint recipe! Glad to see the recipe for making your own food dyes,can't wait to experiment!

susan k.
susan k6 years ago

Great recipies , love the natural juice dyes ideas .

K s Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Angelica P.
Angelica P8 years ago


Gwendolyn K.
Gwendolyn Krupa8 years ago

Thanks Melissa for another great article. Love the play dough recipe and finger paint. I use salt, vinegar and baking soda around our home for most things. Learned a couple new tricks here.
To Teri Stitch: The natural dyes won't mess hands, etc. up anymore or less than artificial food colors.
When I assisted Pre K years ago I made the play dough, but had lost the recipe. I know my grandbabies will love it. I think that cinnamon, lemon or orange oil would scent it nicely, too

Ayeshah Tallat Malik

womderful news exquisite and informative for me .....Thanks

Ayeshah Tallat Malik

womderful news exquisite and informative for me .....Thanks

Ron Avila
Ron Avila8 years ago


Maresa T.
Maresa T9 years ago

We were able to keep the play dough for about 12 weeks (as long as there were no children with colds using it) in my Head Start classroom. We did refrigerate it between uses as a safety measure. At home, with just my children using it, it lasted about the same and I did not refrigerate it.
The silly putty can last about the same but tends to get dirty looking so I replaced it more often.