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This salt dough recipe is one of my favorite ways to combine sensory play with creativity. It’s suitable for all ages and provides endless opportunities for exploration, imagination, and artistic expression. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or caregiver, salt dough one of the most versatile sensory play materials to have on hand. This is a tried-and-true recipe from my collection, that’s easy to follow and produces reliable results every time. With just a few basic ingredients, children can create all sorts of amazing salt dough sculptures, ornaments, and other arts that engage their fine-motor, cognitive and creativity skills.


Differences between play dough and salt dough in sensory play

Similar to many other sensory doughs, salt dough is cheap and easy to make. While salt dough has some similarities to traditional play dough, it also offers additional benefits that make it a valuable material to include in your play resources.

Salt dough and play dough are both modeling materials that can support children to use their senses in creative and cognitive play. However, there are some differences in their composition and properties:

  • Ingredients: Salt dough is made with flour, salt, and water, while play dough is typically made with flour, water, oil, salt, and – usually – cream of tartar. Cream of tartar keeps play dough soft and stops it from drying out, but also makes it stickier and harder to clean up.
  • Cooking: Play dough generally needs to be heated. On the other hand, salt dough is mixed cold.
  • Texture: Salt dough has a drier, more crumbly texture than play dough, which is softer and more pliable (due to the cream of tartar and cooking process).
  • Durability: Salt dough is more durable than play dough and is able to hold its shape better over time. Play dough tends to lose its shape within a relatively short period of time.
  • Safety: Both salt dough and play dough are generally considered safe for children to use, although it is important to supervise young children to ensure that they do not eat the dough. Salt content can result in rapid dehydration or other consequences.
  • Ease of use: Play dough is generally easier for young children to manipulate due to its softer texture. Due to its drier consistency, salt dough extends development opportunities as children’s hand strength develops.

Benefits of using salt dough for sensory play

The differences between play dough and salt dough illustrate why a handy salt dough recipe is helpful resource for sensory and developmental play. Specifically, as children’s hand strength develops and their creative expression expands, play dough becomes increasingly limited. Once children have enough hand strength to control play dough, it no longer provides sufficient resistance to support hand development. Furthermore, play dough does not maintain its shape and does not ‘keep’ well over time. This means that children who want to use their creations over several days (or weeks!), or to engage in more complex forms of play, will likely benefit from an alternative to play dough.

This is one reason that, as children mature in both their play and hand development, I introduce clay. Clay is beautifully stable and long-lasting, and offers opportunities for both physical and cognitive development. However, clay is not a universal or inclusive material. Not all children yet have the hand strength to manage clay, even if they have outgrown play dough. Some children find the ‘dirty’ or ‘slippery’ sensations of clay to be overwhelming due to sensory processing or personal preferences. As a result of all of these reasons, many children do not enjoy working with clay.

Using salt dough sensory play to extend hand development

This salt dough recipe helps act as a ‘bridging’ material between play dough and clay for sensory play. It can be used in many of the same ways as clay:

  • to build ‘stable objects’ such as ornaments, figurines and home-made toys; and
  • to offer increased resistance for building hand strength.

At the same time, salt dough offers some advantages over clay. It has a smoother, less “dirty” texture. It is also more pliable making it easier for little hands to manipulate and shape, which makes it a great material for children who may struggle with the more rigid consistency of clay.

Decorating and drying salt dough

As your child creates salt dough sculptures or ornaments, they can add their personal touches and decorations at each stage of the process.

As you mix it, you can incorporate materials such as glitter, sequins, food dyes, confetti, or homemade vegetable dyes into the dough. You can also try mixing in unexpected materials such as crinkled or coloured paper, dried leaves, flowers or even herbs. This is a fun and easy way to add pops of color, texture and smell to your creations.

Once the shape or sculpture is finished, it’s time to add additional embellishments. Children can use buttons, beads, leaves, bark, or feathers to add interest and personality to your creations. The dough will be flexible enough for children to arrange the decorations as they like, but firm enough to hold them in place.

After your salt dough creations have dried, you have several options for finishing touches. You can paint them, use glue to attach additional materials, or a combination of both. The drying method you choose will depend on the decorations you’ve used. If you’ve incorporated natural elements or any flammable materials, you’ll need to let the salt dough air dry. However, you can add decorations like shells or pebbles, before baking the dough in the oven. Paint and heat-sensitive decorations can be added after baking.

With these tips and techniques, you and your children can explore the endless possibilities for decorating salt dough and create beautiful, unique sculptures and ornaments.

Best Salt Dough Recipe For Sensory and Creative Play

Simple salt dough can be used in place of both play dough, and clay.
Prep Time5 minutes
Active Time40 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Category: Play and Sensory Doughs
Yield: 3 cups
Author: In The Real Wonderland
Cost: $3


  • 1 mixing bowl
  • 1 mixing spoon
  • 1 measuring cup
  • 1 baking tray
  • 1 sheet of baking paper


  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cups table salt
  • 1 cups water luke warm


  • 7-10 drops food safe colouring You can use food colouring, liquid water colours, or your own home-made vegetable dyes
  • 1 pinches sparkles For example, biodegradable glitter or sequins.
  • 1 can spray-on artist varnish For preserving the dough, available at most craft stores.


Making the dough

  • Place flour and salt in the mixing bowl, and combine.
  • Make a well, and pour in water.
  • Mix together with a spoon until all ingredients are blended.
  • Optional: add colour, sparkles etc. and mix well.
  • Turn out the dough on to a floured surface, and knead for 2 – 3 minutes
  • The dough should have a bread-like consistency. You can add small amounts of flour or water to adjust, until the dough is the desired consistency.

Drying & preserving the dough: Oven method.

  • This method is the quickest and most effective. It can be used where non-flammable decorations have been used (rocks, shells, glass), or to dry the dough before painting.
  • Place the completed creations (objects, ornaments, sculptures) on a baking tray that is lined with baking paper.
  • Place the tray on a low rack in the oven, set to 120°C/ 250°F.
  • Leaving the oven door slightly ajar, rest the dough in the warm oven for between 30 – 40 minutes. If you have a bulky sculpture, you may need longer. You can test the dough by squeezing it slightly. If it gives into the pressure, it will need to cure a bit longer. CAUTION: The dough will be EXTREMELY HOT to touch. Use a tea-towel to handle and test.
  • Once the dough is firm, place somewhere safe to cool. The creations can now be painted and/ or decorated. Additional items can be added with a good white glue.
  • If appropriate, you can spray the finished creation with an art varnish.

Drying & preserving the dough: Air dry method (for creations that cannot be dried in the oven)

  • This method is best for creations where children have used flammable decorations while the dough was still soft (e.g. feathers, leaves, etc.) and cannot be dried in the oven.
  • Place the completed creations (objects, ornaments, sculptures) on a baking tray that is lined with baking paper.
  • Place the tray in a warm, dry place (not humid), and leave to cure for 4 – 5 days. Test the dough by gently squeezing it. It should be firm, though may not be totally hardened.
  • Spraying with 2-3 coats of art varnish will help protect the creation from going mouldy.

Ideas for using salt dough to support play-based learning