Easy No Cook Playdough

This Easy No Cook Playdough is made with hair conditioner and corn starch (aka corn flour). It comes together quickly and encourages imaginative play - awesome stuff! |TinkerLab.com

It’s been a while since we’ve made this spectacularly simple no cook playdough, and then I realized that the recipe hasn’t been shared here. I was first introduced to this easy no cook hair conditioner playdough recipe by Anna of The Imagination Tree, in her recipe for Creamy Coconut Playdough. Do check out her blog if you have or work with small children — it’s a gold mine!

The ingredients are beyond simple, they come together quickly, and the resulting dough provides children with wonderful sensory and imaginative world experiences. The texture is different from everyday playdough (see the link below to the Best Playdough Ever) – it’s stretchier and a bit stickier. If you’re short on time or have these basic ingredients on hands, this playdough could be for you!

One of my favorite things about introducing a new batch of dough to the kids is seeing how they interpret it. One day they’re interested in building a play bakery around it and another they turn it into horse stables.

This playdough won’t last for more than a day, so if you’re looking for a long-lasting play dough, you’ll want this recipe for the Best Playdough Ever (seriously – it’s that good).

So, without further ado…

This Easy No Cook Playdough is made with hair conditioner and corn starch (aka corn flour). It comes together quickly and encourages imaginative play - awesome stuff! |TinkerLab.com

How to make this easy, no cook playdough


  • 1 cup hair conditioner: I chose Tresemme Naturals Nourishing Moisture Conditioner (affiliate) for two reasons. One, it’s reasonably priced, and two, it’s silicone-free and dye-free, so I could feel okay with my kids and their friends playing with it.
  • 2 cups corn starch (also known as corn flour)
  • Optional: Liquid watercolors (affiliate) or food coloring

Just 2 Ingredients!! DIY Stretchy Hair Conditioner Playdough | TinkerLab.com


  1. Mix the first two ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. The mixture should not be sticky. Add a tiny bit more cornstarch if your dough feels sticky. Adjust as necessary.
  2. Add a few drops of food coloring or liquid watercolors. Mix.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and play!
  4. Add rolling pins, small toys, muffin tins, or popsicle sticks and encourage imaginative play. More playdough tool ideas can be found in this post, 3 Essential Playdough Tools and in Playdough Tool Ideas. 

A Note on the Scent

This no cook playdough has a lovely soapy smell. If you’re smell-sensitive, be sure to use a hair conditioner that you enjoy the smell of. I’m cost-conscious, and we made this another time with a cheaper conditioner. The dough turned out great, but I couldn’t escape the saturated, artificial smell of it, and could not wait to throw it out. Wah. I enjoyed the smell of this Tresemme conditioner, and as you’ll read in the Amazon reviews (link above), a LOT of people are happy with this product. Bonus: leftover conditioner can go right into your shower!

This Easy No Cook Playdough is made with hair conditioner and corn starch (aka corn flour). It comes together quickly and encourages imaginative play - awesome stuff! |TinkerLab.com


DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Have you ever made your own play dough? Im a fan of store bought dough (it’s so easy!), but making your own is a money saver and we can make TONS of it in minutes. And with the simple addition of a little pumpkin pie spice, our dough smells heavenly…just like pumpkin pie!

"Smells like Fall" Pumpkin Play Dough | TinkerLab.com


Inspired by The Artful Parent’s Autumn Arts and Crafts book, The Artful Year: Autumn, we finally pitched our peppermint playdough in favor of a more seasonal scent: Pumpkin Pie!

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe…

I used our favorite play dough recipe, which also happens to be the favorite of my daughter’s awesome preschool class, so I’m not going to get experimental with the dough itself, but we did experiment with the spice combination.

The dough itself takes about 20 minutes to prepare, it cooks on the stove-top, and the most complicated-to-find ingredient it calls for is cream of tartar. If it’s hard for you to find, you can get Cream of Tartar on Amazon.

Yes, you can find 2-minute dough recipes, and I’d encourage you to use them if you’re short on time, but the benefit of this recipe is that it will last for ages. Ages. Scroll down for a PRINTABLE recipe card.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

After we made the dough, I placed it on the counter to cool. Meanwhile, my 2-year old worked away at pinching out a real pie crust.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

When the dough was cool to touch, we squeezed orange liquid watercolors on half of it and then kneaded it in. For this step, be sure to mix on a surface that won’t absorb the watercolors. My 4-year old wanted to make half the dough orange and half of it white.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

Although we had planned to use a jar of pumpkin pie spice in the dough, my 4-year old was curious about using whole spices that we just bought, so we pulled out the coffee grinder and gave it a very loud whirl. Fun! I don’t have a proper nutmeg grinder, but this seemed to do the trick. And the smell of cardamom — I absolutely love it.

We experimented with the spice blend by adding the different spices, first quite cautiously and then rather liberally, and in different combinations. I learned that my 4-year old isn’t too crazy about the smell of cardamom, but loves cinnamon.

5.0 from 5 reviews
DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Playdough is a wonderful material for building fine motor skills, developing imaginations through exploratory play, and supporting early engineering and building skills. This recipe rivals anything store-bought.
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice, or a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom
  1. Mix everything but the food coloring together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
  2. Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance.
  3. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
  4. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  5. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. We divided our in half: one orange and the other white.
  6. Flatten the ball, add a little bit of food coloring, and knead it in. Add more food coloring to get the desired shade.
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie PlayDough | TinkerLab.com

My 2-year old was very happy, however, to shake-shake-shake the pie spices all over her gigantic mound of dough. Can you imagine how yummy our kitchen smelled?


Easy "smells great" pumpkin pie play dough | TinkerLab.com

After all this cooking, it was time to bake! At this point, our orange and white/tan doughs marbled into something lovely, and we got busy making small cakes and setting them out to eat on a 3-tier plate server.

Playdough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

No-cook Cinnamon Playdough, The Imagination Tree

39 Ways to Play with Playdough, The Artful Parent

Downloadable (Free) Playdough Recipe Book, Nurture Store

Fall Activities

50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids, TinkerLab

Fall Bucket List, Tinkerlab

40 Autumn Activities for Kids, The Imagination Tree

Make Fall Sunprints, Tinkerlab

Multi-color Leaf Prints, Kleas

Negative Leaf Impressions, Tinkerlab

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Homemade Playdough

My daughter and I are addicted to homemade playdough: Playing with it, cutting it, rolling it, but especially making it. Today I’m excited to share a recipe for how to make playdough.

Playdough is an excellent material for exploring a pliable 3-D media, and it has the potential to help a child exercise fine motor skills and develop their creative mind through play acting such as making cookies and tacos!

Playing with Homemade Playdough | TinkerLab.com

When my daughter was 16 months we bought our first batch of play dough at Whole Foods.  It was awesome.  And expensive. And when the whole family came down with what felt like the swine flu just days after playing with the stuff, I knew I had to throw out the whole sad lot with the tissues and hand wipes.

It was painful to fork out more money for another round of dough, and then a friend asked why I wasn’t just making my own. Right. Excellent question. I was an art teacher, and why had I never made play dough?  Slightly embarrassed, I knew I had to set off and find a great recipe.

If you look around for play dough recipes you’ll find recipes that include everything from cornstarch to Kool Aid to peanut butter, but the one I’m sharing here is for the really good, traditional stuff.  The recipe comes from First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos (affiliate) and it’s the only one I’ve used.

Do let me know if you have one that trumps it, but I’ll stand by the quality of this dough.  The book, by the way, is fabulous, and I recommend it highly to anyone searching for excellent art activity ideas for little ones.

Homemade Playdough Recipe

This will make enough dough for an entire preschool class.  I usually make 1/2 the recipe and it’s still plenty!  For two colors, divide the recipe in half.

  • 5 cups Water
  • 2 1/2 cups Salt — an entire container of Morton’s-style
  • 3 Tbsp Cream of tartar — this can be bought in bulk at Whole Foods, or found in the spice section of big grocery stores
  • Food Coloring: 1 tsp for pastel, 3 tbsp for vivid
  • 10 Tbsp Oil — I use Canola, but any veggie oil should work
  • 5 cups Flour

How to Make Homemade Playdough | TinkerLab.com

How to Make Playdough

Combine the water, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a large saucepan on a low heat, and stir with a wooden spoon. As the mixture heats up, stir in the oil and then the flour.

Mix, until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan, starts looking dry, and it becomes difficult to move the spoon. Pinch a piece between two fingers…if it’s not sticky it’s done. Remove from heat. Cool until it can be handled.

Place on counter and knead 3-4 times. Store in an air tight container or large Ziplock bag and it should last for weeks.

Voila! Homemade Playdough.

Seriously, the best playdough you’ll ever make and well worth the effort.

More Playdough Ideas

Are you looking for ideas for playdough tools? This post and this post are helpful starting places.

Add a new scent to your playdough such as pumpkin pie.

If you want to make glow in the dark playdough, you’ll love this recipe.

Want to get creative? Click here and learn how to make masa playdough!