The Science of Play Dough

Science Literacy Week in Canada (September 17-23, 2018) is a week-long celebration of science and space—for all ages.

Getting creative with play dough is the perfect blend of science, play, and learning. Read on to learn about the science of play dough and how to make your own dough at home.

A recipe for learning and fun

Playing with play dough is heaps of fun, and there are educational benefits to playing with it, too.

In any recipe, every ingredient has a purpose. In fact, there’s a science behind all the ingredients in your cupboard. In this recipe, your dry ingredients—salt and flour—are physically combined to produce a ‘mixture.’ When the liquid ingredients—water, cream of tartar and vegetable oil—are mixed with the dry ingredients, they form what’s called a ‘solution.’ Cooking these ingredients creates a chemical change to the solution and a new ‘substance’—play dough— is formed.

Follow this recipe to set this chemistry in action:


  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 3 tbsp. Cream of Tartar (OR: 9 tbsp. of lemon juice)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Food colouring (try mixing colours together to get creative!)


  1. Mix ingredients in a non-stick pan.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously.
  3. Heat and stir until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away cleanly from the sides of the saucepan.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Caution: Dough will be hot.

Add a dash of imagination and creativity


Now that you’ve created your dough, let your imagination and creativity take control.

PlayDoh Touch app: With the PlayDoh Touch app, you’ll go from PlayDoh to Picasso. The app allows you create a world of adventure and to see your dough come to life on your phone or tablet’s screen. Find it on Google Play or the App Store. 

*The PlayDoh Touch app is no longer available to download as of Nov 10, 2022.

Squishy Circuits: Once you have the art of play dough down to a science, try adding some electricity. Squishy Circuits, opens a new window uses conductive and insulating play dough to teach the basics of electrical circuits to children.

*Did you know that play dough is a conductor? This means that electricity can pass through play dough using its salt and water content. You can also create insulating dough which replaces salt and water for sugar and deionized water. Insulators do not allow electricity to easily pass through them.

Meet us at the Library: Check out our Science and Environment programs for kids, year-round.