How Play-Doh Works

No-cook Flour Dough
The secret to dissolving starch without heat -- lots of mixing.
The secret to dissolving starch without heat -- lots of mixing.

(We found this recipe at Kids' Central.)

The no-cook dough recipe we tried has many of the same ingredients as our first experiment did -- water, salt, vegetable oil and flour. It also includes a little cornstarch as a thickener. The big difference is that it uses cold water and does not require cooking.

Getting the right balance between flour and water was a little tricky with this recipe, and getting a smooth ball took lots of mixing -- a side effect of working without heat. In the end, we had a dough ball that strongly resembled the dough we made on the stove.

The final result: Another lump of dough. But this one doesn't hold its shape as well.

At first, the no-cook dough was a little stickier and less cohesive than the cooked dough. The cooked dough recipe made a soft but firm, workable dough that held its shape well, even when we stored it in a plastic bag. As we played with it, it just got stickier. At first, we blamed the Georgia summer humidity. But when we put the uncooked dough in an airtight plastic bag, it gradually spread into goopy mush. Adding cream of tartar to the recipe might stiffen the dough enough to make it more workable.

Although these balls of homemade dough started out the same, the no-cook recipe quickly became a bag of unmanageable goo.

Here's a chart of our homemade dough findings.

Check out the links below for lots more information about Play-Doh modeling compound and related topics.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • ­Balbach, Lisa. "Craft Ideas and Recipes for Kids."
  • Food Innovation. "Food Starch Dictionary."
  • Food Resource. "Gelatinization of Starch."
  • Hasbro: About Play-Doh
  • Hegenbart, Scott. Food Product Design. "Understanding Starch Functionality." January 1996.
  • Just Kids Recipes. Do-it-Yourself Play-Doh.
  • Kids' Turn Central. "Simple Playdoh."
  • Kiwi Web. "Surfactants: Surface Active Agents."
  • National Starch and Chemical Company. "Food Starch Technology."­
  • O Chef. "What and Where is Cream of Tartar?"
  • USPTO. "Starch-based modeling compound." Patent 6,713,624 &r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=3,1­67,440&OS=3,167,440&RS=3,167,440
  • Walsh, Tim. "Good, Clean Fun."