Here at the Making Life we’ve been making a bunch of playdough for our kids…and this time I wanted to try something new: making homemade playdough with natural dyes.
I’m not sure what gave me the idea. Maybe it was the artificial dyes we had been using all these years — though vibrant — are unnecessary chemicals. Or anyway, I thought it would be fun to see if we could dye our playdough with natural materials. It sort of fits into the *aesthetic* of the Making Life. DIY. Natural. Eco-friendly.
I would call this a bit of an experiment since we’ve never done this before and some of the playdough colors turned out better than others. All in all, it was fun, and I would
Want to learn how to make homemade playdough with natural dyes? Read on, my friend.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Criteria for Choosing Natural Dyes
When I was selecting dye options for the playdough, I tried to choose things that would be non-toxic. That’s why all of the ones I’m using are food-based. I read about using flowers for dyes and I was about ten seconds from sacrificing my Zinnias when I realized I had no idea if they were toxic or not. The same goes for the marigolds. I did a quick internet search which revealed conflicting answers so I decided food was the way to go.
In addition to choosing non-toxic, my goal was to choose things that produced a rich color. I succeeded with 5 out of 8 of the dyes on that front.
The last part of the criteria was choosing things that were readily available. Everything on the list could either be grown on the property or picked up easily at the grocery store. You probably have several of these things already at your house.
Materials Needed for Making Natural Dyes
- Cream of tartar (I bought a big bag of it because I was tired of running out with the tiny bottle I bought at the grocery store)
- Food oil (like vegetable oil or coconut oil)
- Saucepan (I recommend a non-stick one)
- Foods to turn into dye (more on that in a bit)
- Parchment paper or wax paper
- Essential oils to make it smell good or for therapeutic reasons
Dye Color Options
1. Natural Playdough Dye With Blueberries
Blueberries make a lovely purple-colored playdough. Probably one of my favorite choices. And no… it’s not blue as you might imagine.
2. Natural Playdough Dye With Turmeric
Turmeric is a very rich yellow color. Do be careful when making this one as the color is so potent it also can stain your counters.
3. Natural Playdough Dye With Spinach
We attempted spinach because I wanted green-colored playdough. Perhaps I didn’t use enough spinach, but it sort of ended up a khaki color (maybe a twinge of green?) instead of deep green as I had imagined. Not a bad color, but pretty weak all in all I’d say.
4. Natural Playdough Dye With Strawberries
The strawberries produce a sweet pinky playdough. Five stars. Would recommend.
5. Natural Playdough Dye With Coffee
Another sort of letdown was the coffee. I wanted brown. What I got was… I donno, taupe? I believe my fatal flaw was using my husband’s leftover coffee grounds as opposed to boiling fresh whole coffee beans. Plus I missed out on smelling coffee as it boils on my stovetop. I love the smell of coffee but I hate the taste. Gross. (I know, I’m like one of three adults that doesn’t like coffee).
Anway, the color isn’t bad. Just not what I was looking for.
6. Natural Playdough Dye With Cabbage
Red cabbage is definitely a great choice for making homemade dye. Such a pretty rich color. Didn’t have to boil long to produce this color. Plus…
7. Natural Playdough Dye With Cabbage + Baking Soda
…red cabbage can also be used to make another color if you add baking soda! Although I read that it was supposed to make a blue color, for whatever reason mine came out more green. Maybe it felt bad for me because the spinach was a bust?
8. Natural Playdough Dye With Avocado Pits
This was another one that wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. I used two pits and maybe if I had used more the color would have been richer and more vibrant. The water looked promising but when I mixed it into the other ingredients it was so so. Not a bad color, but not really dee[ brown like I wanted.
9. Other Dyes I Would Try
Although I didn’t use them this time, other potential dyes I would like to try are:
- The outer layer of an onion (I couldn’t think of the name of it and was going to call it an onion wrapper. I Googled it and it said the papery outside part of an onion is called a tunic. So there you go.)
- Dandelions (yes, they’re safe to eat)
- Matcha tea powder
10. The Difference Between the Red Dyes
Just for fun, I made a graphic showing the difference between strawberries, blueberries, and red cabbage. They’re similar but also distinct.
How to Make the Natural Dyes
The process I used for making the dye was boiling the organic materials in water on the stove until it cooked down and made a richer color. Then, I included that colored water into the playdough mixture to color them.
Here are the blueberries. I wanted to end up with a cup of dyed water so I started with over twice that much and a handful of frozen blueberries that we picked this summer.
This is what it looks like after it was strained:
Here’s what it looks like added to the playdough mixture:
As it’s being mixed up in the pan:
On the parchment paper:
Here’s a shot of the turmeric. I screened it through a paper towel and a strainer to remove the particles. It left a very dark liquid to add to the playdough. Again, be careful with this one because it will stain other things at least temporarily. (I do think a magic eraser would help remove staining, but do be careful anyway). So far I haven’t noticed it being a problem once it was incorporated into the playdough, but you can keep an eye on that in your home.
For this one, I added a couple tablespoons of turmeric to about two cups of water and simmered on the stove for around 20 minutes.
The red cabbage has an amazing trick up its sleeve because you can get two colors for the price of one. I cut up several handfuls of cabbage and placed it in a small pot of water to let boil.
It didn’t take too terribly long to bring out the rich color of the cabbage.
The end result of this without baking soda was this:
Red cabbage + baking soda looks like this:
So how does the red cabbage water turn from dark pink to green when you add baking soda? It has to do with the acidity of the cabbage. The pink hues are highly acidic, while the green color I produced is very alkaline which is why it turned green. Perhaps if I had added a little less baking soda to my cabbage water it would have been more blue (less alkaline). If you want to experiment with this, you can add a bit of vinegar to make it a little more blue/purple. This is not so dissimilar to the soil test kit that we recently did on our blog.
For the record, I added a teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of cabbage water.
How to Make Homemade Playdough
The recipe that I use has been the same one I’ve used for years. It’s one made by Living Well Mom that she calls “How to Make the Easiest Playdough.”
I have tried other playdough recipes, and the reason I kept landing on this one was that I liked the final product, and because it really does last a long time.
A couple of things to note about this one: It requires a hot pan and you kinda have to act fast. Sometimes I feel like it gets a tad stressful making it this way. Also, this time around I used a regular pot and I would not recommend that. A non-stick pot would work a LOT better than the one that I used.
Something else to know is the recipe makes about two cups of playdough per color. If you want to make a smaller amount you can cut the recipe in two, especially if you want to try out a lot of natural dye playdough colors.
I’m not going to give a step-by-step recipe for this playdough because it isn’t my recipe and I wouldn’t want to take credit for it. The creator of that blog has worked hard to create something many other moms and dads have made for their kids and I want to protect her creativity and hard work. Sorry for making you click on over to another website.
I will show you a few pictures of the making process here:
Once it’s all put together you can roll it out on parchment paper or wax paper.
It always comes out looking kind of craggly like the blueberry playdough here:
But once it cools down and you can knead it a little it becomes beautiful playdough like this:
Gluten-Free Playdough Recipes
I know some of you may avoid using playdough recipes because they’re not gluten-free. I personally don’t have a gluten-free recipe but I do know they exist.
One Savvy Mom has a gluten-free recipe that I think would work with the homemade dye. It does call for boiling water and I’m not 100% sure how difficult that would be to do with dyed water but it could probably work.
Living Well Mom also has a gluten-free recipe that I’m willing to bet would be good, and it includes water that can be dyed with natural ingredients.
Essential Oils in Homemade Playdough
I personally love to add a few drops of essential oils into the playdough. I noticed a couple of the playdough balls (looking at you cabbage and spinach) kinda had an odor, at least while it was still warm. A few drops of essential oils really did the trick.
You can get an aromatic effect from playing with the playdough, and it’s another part of sensory play.
I chose to add the essential oils after I made the playdough because I didn’t risk removing any benefits by heating it up.
What Essential Oils Should You Use?
Really this is entirely up to you. The picture above is just a picture of essential oils. There are some essential oils that people feel are unsafe for kids. Others feel that all essential oils are safe. Because of this, I’m not going to list essential oils here that I think you should use.
One thing I would say is to not let your kids touch the essential oils when they’re full strength. Undiluted essential oils can irritate the skin and would hurt if they accidentally rubbed on sensitive skin or in their eyes. Once the essential oils are incorporated into the playdough I don’t think it should be a problem.
Five to ten drops should be plenty to make the playdough smell yummy.
How to Store Homemade Playdough
Or these cute containers:
Time to Make Homemade Playdough With Natural Dyes
Are you ready to make some homemade playdough with your own homemade natural dyes?
Have you made your own playdough before? What are your favorite recipes?
Have you tried homemade natural dyes before? If yes, what were your favorite options?
If you’re making homemade natural dyes for the first time, we can’t wait to hear what you think.
As always, keep making, keep dreaming, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time creating something or making something with your hands.
-the Making Life