The Chemistry of Play-Doh

IntroductionEverybody recognizes the smell of Play-Doh. The scent is so memorable and floods people with such nostalgia that there is even a Play-Doh perfume in honor of the dough's 50th birthday.

But the aroma is not the only thing people remember about Play-Doh compound. It feels moist, not sticky. But if you leave it uncovered overnight, it dries out and hardens.

You'll learn a little about its history and how to make your own dough from stuff in your kitchen.

Play-Doh all started as a wallpaper cleaner. In 1955, the company sent a sample of their wallpaper cleaner to a preschool (a doughy substance that people rolled up and down their walls to remove soot deposits.) It was non-toxic and easy to mold. Within a year, the wallpaper cleaner became Play-Doh modeling compound. It officially hit the market in 1956.

Play-Doh packages were made of cardboard and they only had the color white and red, until 1957. I chose Play-Doh for my ... because who doesn’t know what Play-Doh is?! From childhood memories, to current time, Play-Doh has been there through it all and brings joy every time you smell, feel, look, hear, and maybe even taste it, who knows what people do with it. Play-Doh affects my life in various ways, such as building immense sculptures with it then smashing it down and building something else, whatever you can imagine creating, you can do it with Play-Doh.

Composition of ...

  • Water
  • Starch-based binder:(Borax) If you add right amount of warm water, the starch granules swell, break down and release some of their contents into the water. In other words, they gelatinize . The rest of the Play-Doh ingredients fine-tune the dough and give it its color and fragrance.
  • Salt
  • Lubricant
  • Surfactant: Play-Doh includes ingredients to improve its texture and consistency (a lubricant, like mineral oil or vegetable oil, and a surfactant.)
  • You can find surfactants (also called surface active agents) in cleaning products in your home.
  • Preservative
  • Hardener
  • Humectant
  • Fragrance
  • Color

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Two main ingredients in Play-Doh:

  • Water: H2O, a covalently bonded molecule with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water is dipolar, one side of the molecule is positive and the other is negative, which accounts for its unique properties.
  • Salt: Sodium chloride, NaCl, an ionically bonded compound. Sodium chloride has no smell but a characteristic taste, and is also a great conductor of electricity if dissolved in water. Salt is very water soluble.

Chemistry's Role

Things you will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of NaCl (salt)
  • 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar
  • 2 cups of warm water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Food coloring is optional, but recommended

Water is so abundant in society so I’m sure it’s naturally occurring, but filtered through the water filtration plants.

Salt is made in a lab by mixing equal amounts of Sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid,

NaOH + HCl = NaCl + H2O


About the Author

Erik Anderson