Does Your Homemade Play Dough Fail?


Although I love the idea of homemade play dough, we’ve always used the store-bought kind except for one brief exception.

I don’t recall exactly which recipe I used on my first try last year, but I know that it called for Cream of Tartar. This is not normally used in German baking, but I was lucky enough to find some at a big grocery store. Unfortunately, the results were quite disappointing.

The play dough was extremely sticky, and nothing I did made a difference. Extra flour, refrigeration, letting it sit out: No matter what, it was still sticky sticky sticky.

I finally just let E have it, and she played with it for about 15 minutes but it stuck to everything, and I barely managed to scrape it off the table afterwards.

How I found out why my homemade play dough was too sticky, and what I did to fix it!

Recently, I saw a post by Learn with Play at Home about the recipe they use that motivated to try again, even after all that disappointment. I definitely consider them an expert {go check them out if you don’t know them!}, and I felt sure that it would work. I was even confident enough that I decided to make homemade play dough as a goodbye gift for the kids at E’s child minder’s.

While this batch wasn’t quite as bad, it was still just a bit too sticky, and every time E held some of it in her hand, she smeared it everywhere. This time, I didn’t want to be deterred so easily, and I knew the error must be mine if it worked for Learn with Play at Home. {I also really wanted to make those gifts ๐Ÿ˜‰ }

So I added flour. A lot of flour. In the end, I’d added 13 heaping tablespoons of flour but while it seemed to help initially, I was always back to square one after a few hours of storing the play dough.

Fail play dough.

I was really confused and had no idea what I had done wrong.

Today, I chanced upon a different recipe that said to use Cream of Tartar OR citric acid. I still had citric acid in my pantry, so I went ahead and tried this variation.

And lo and behold – the citric acid batch made wonderful non-sticky play dough!

Perfect play dough.
I’m so happy that E’s friends (and E!) can play with homemade play dough now! 

I’ve come to believe that the problem was with the Cream of Tartar I used. Since this is really an unusual item here in Germany, I may have bought some that had been stored for too long, or possibly it’s simply not the same thing that you can get in other countries.

So, if your homemade play dough fails, try substituting citric acid for Cream of Tartar and see if it helps!

Note: I still believe that Learn to Play at Home’s recipe is just perfect if you can get some proper Cream of Tartar. In no way is this an attack on their recipe! I simply replaced one ingredient.

Now that you have play dough that works, try one of these activities:

Animal Imprints in Play Dough

Emotions Play Dough Mats

Magic Playdough Halloween Treat Bags
(not just for Halloween!)

Play Dough Activities for Kids

Do you make your own play dough? Does your homemade play dough fail? Has my post helped? Write a note in the comments!

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  1. This absolutely helped! I was trying to make play dough as a favor for my daughter’s 1st birthday party. It was so sticky I couldn’t even get it in the jars and it took 15+ minutes to get thick. My first try with adding citric acid it took about 2 minutes it was thick and perfect! Just like store bought. Thanks for this suggestion!!!

    1. Woohoo, so glad it helped! I hope your daughter and her friends enjoyed the playdough!

  2. I can’t thank you enough!..My nephew was so excited to have play dough (and I must admit, so was I!) and all he got was a huge letdown! It was a sticky, gooey mess!..I will definitely be trying this today! Thank you for sharing! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Thank you SO much! This saved my sanity. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I had made two batches that were total goo. Never thought about the cream of tartar being the problem, I just thought I must be doing something wrong. My cream of tartar was really old, so bought some new after reading your post. Play dough came out perfect, colored it with koolaide. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you!

  4. I think this must be my problem german cream of tarta great the moment imade it and then later goop. Where do i get citric acid here in germany?

    1. I bought it at Edeka two years ago, so I think you can probably get it at any grocery store. It should be in the baking aisle, and it comes in little paper “envelopes” like yeast or vanilla sugar. Good luck!

      1. Tthank you so much. You wouldnt remember what its called in german????

  5. I live in Honduras and I’m not sure if we have cream of tartar or citric acid. Is there an easier way to make playdough not sticky? I’m trying to make my 4 year old sister happy because she loves play dough but if she can’t use it she will get sad. So any other suggestions?

    1. I’m not sure if there’s an alternative to both. However, you could always make something like this Ice Cream Dough from conditioner and cornstarch. It’s not quite the same consistency as play dough but still a whole lot of fun! Let me know how it goes!

  6. I have been facing the same problem with my home made play dough. I tried with cream of tarter and even with out , but it turned sticky next day, no matter how much flour u add it didnt work.Looking for solution i came across your post. I’m gonna try it .Thanks

  7. This is wonderful tip; I can’t wait to try it. Can you please post the recipe for it? Many thanks in advance.

  8. Hi, lam from U.A.E and l tryed the play dough with cream of tartar unfortunately it was perfect the first day then in the next day it was sticky and l was so depressed that l made big amount and my kids were sad . Then l read your try with cirtic acid l said why not lets give a try . I made 3 batches and it was so amazing and perfect the problem of stickiness disappeared.

    I hope my writing is correct because it’s not my mother language but l felt l have to say thank you sister so much .

    1. I’m so glad that my post saved the day, Reem! I hope your kids get many hours of play out of those three batches – that’s a whole lot of play dough, I love it ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Reem, where did you find Citric Acid in the UAE and how is it packaged? Box, sachet? I didn’t see it in the baking section at carrefour ๐Ÿ™

      1. I’m not familiar with the UAE, but until Reem has a chance to reply, I can tell you that in Germany, I found it in the baking section in little sachets. Hope this helps!

  9. Julie Stevens says:

    I have to wonder if you were using weinsteinbackpulver, which would be cream of tartar mixed with baking soda– this would explain the problems. As far as I know, ‘weinstein’ by itself is very difficult to find and if you did it would be at the Apotheke and not the grocery store. But thanks for the tip– I’m going to try this instead of resorting to importing it from somewhere!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your tip on using citric acid instead of cream of tartar! I couldn’t find cream of tartar in the country I live in and every attempt to make playdough failed, turning into a sticky mess. After substituting as you suggested I got perfect playdough, just like store bought! Thanks again!