Is Play Dough Edible?

Child's hands kneading modelling clay
Westend61 / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

It's normal for small children to explore everything with their mouths, and play dough is no exception. Although it's not meant to be eaten, most versions of play dough are nontoxic and should not be harmful in small quantities.

Nonetheless, it's a good idea to learn the precautions to take with play dough and what to do if your child eats too much of it.

Is Play Dough Toxic?

Commercial play dough is nontoxic across the board. It's important to read product labels before buying it, though, to check for warnings and age recommendations.

The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC) does not define the term "nontoxic." Rather, they allow manufacturers to place a nontoxic label on their product after it has been tested and found not to pose any chronic health hazards.

The AP Seal

The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) provides an Approved Product (AP) seal for products that have been tested and found "to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans, including children, or to cause acute or chronic health problems."

Crayola Dough bears the AP seal, but Hasbro Play-Doh and RoseArt Fun Dough do not. The ACMI recommends that only AP products be given to children or adults who cannot read and understand product labels.

Commercial Play Dough

Always read labels to make sure that the product you buy is safe, but know that the most popular commercial brands are likely to be nontoxic.

The most popular brand of commercial play dough, Hasbro Play-Doh, is nontoxic. Crayola Dough and RoseArt Fun Dough are nontoxic as well.

Homemade Play Dough

Play dough is easy to make, and you can find a variety of recipes online. Keep in mind, however, that the safety of the play dough you make at home depends on the ingredients you use.

Many play dough recipes call for edible ingredients that you probably already have on hand. But just because it is technically edible doesn't make it good for your child.

As the amounts of salt and baking soda increase, so does the unpalatability of the play dough. While your child might take a curious bite, they'll probably spit it right back out. Even if your child does swallow play dough, homemade or not, chances are the taste will be so bad they won't want to try it again.

Play Dough Safety Concerns

Just because play dough may be technically safe to consume (in that it does not contain harmful ingredients), there are still other concerns to be aware of. Certain ingredients, such as salt or common allergens, can be problematic. And as with many things that small children play with, there is a risk of choking.

Salt

In 2014, the United Kingdom's National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) issued a warning about the salt in homemade play dough. According to the BBC, the report stated that one gram of the average homemade play dough recipe contains 250 milligrams of salt. That is far higher than the amount of salt in commercial play doughs. 

The NPIS stated that a child would have to eat about 4 grams (0.14 ounces) of homemade play dough to feel any ill effects. The symptoms include vomiting, headaches, irritability, and listlessness.

Because playdough is so salty, it's unlikely that a child would eat that much, and no cases of salt toxicity in children were reported at the time of the warning.

In the unlikely event that your child swallows a large amount of play dough that contains salt, have them drink plenty of water and call poison control to be safe.

Table salt can be hazardous. For a 28-pound toddler, just under half an ounce of salt consumption has the potential to be toxic.

For a play dough recipe that contains 1/4 cup of salt, be concerned if your child has eaten a quarter of the entire batch of play dough. That would be pretty hard to do given the taste, but it's something you should be aware of.

Also keep in mind that salt is toxic to cats and dogs, so if you have pets in the house, carefully monitor your children when playing with play dough and be sure your pets do not have access to it.

Flour

You may have heard news reports of recalls on flour due to possible contamination with Salmonella and E. coli. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the process used to mill grains into flour does not kill bacteria, so any type of raw flour may carry harmful bacteria and should not be eaten until it's cooked.

Because flour is an ingredient in many homemade play dough recipes, you should not allow your children to put play dough in their mouths unless you cook the flour before adding it to the other ingredients.

To kill any bacteria in flour, place it in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. This should raise the temperature of the flour to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill most illness-causing bacteria.

Alternatively, you can spread flour out evenly on a baking sheet and cook it at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.

Food Allergies

Consider any potential allergies before giving your children play dough. Before making play dough at home, make sure your child isn't allergic to any of the ingredients, such as wheat flour, powdered milk, peanut butter, or food dyes.

Children with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, for example, should only use commercial gluten-free play dough (such as Aroma Dough) or homemade play dough made with gluten-free flour.

Even though your kids may understand that they shouldn't eat it, their hands could come into contact with their mouth and cause a reaction.

If you notice symptoms in your child such as skin rashes, wheezing, congestion, or hives after handling play dough, contact your pediatrician right away.

Choking Hazards

The biggest safety concern of play dough is that it's a choking hazard. Play dough is labeled as appropriate for children 2 years old and up.

However, you should provide constant supervision just in case your child makes a ball or pulls off a large chunk and places it in their mouth. It is also a good idea to know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver in case of a choking emergency.

What to Do If Your Child Eats Play Dough

If you notice your child eating play dough, immediately have them drink water to dilute the salt they may have consumed. Also be watchful for signs of salt toxicity, which include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Twitching
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

If you notice any of the above symptoms, call 911 or take your child to the emergency room right away.

Very rarely will a child enjoy eating play dough or make continued attempts to taste it. To prevent your child from exploring play dough with their mouth, follow these steps:

  • Don't offer heavily fragranced play dough, like those made with Kool-Aid or peanut butter, until your child is old enough to understand that they shouldn't eat it. Young children may be too tempted by the scent and repeatedly put it in their mouths.
  • Don't offer play dough until your child is at least 2 years old and is less likely to explore the world with their mouth.
  • If your child continues to eat play dough after taking the above precautions, put it away and try again when they are older.
  • Supervise your child during play dough activities. If your attention is needed elsewhere, even for a moment, get the play dough out of your child's hands first.
  • Have your child use play dough on a baking sheet or tray, so that pets or younger siblings will be less likely to find dough crumbs on the floor.

Even though play dough should not cause a problem if your child gets a little bit in their mouth, it's best to avoid the problem in the first place. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids what they can and cannot eat.

If you are concerned about your child eating play dough, consider trying one of the edible play dough recipes available online that are meant to be eaten.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Art materials frequently asked questions.

  2. Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI). Safety tips - what you need to know. 2021.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Handling flour safely: what you need to know. Updated November 27, 2019.

  4. Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention. Homemade playdough: keeping kids safe. September 3, 2019.

  5. Metheny, N, Krieger, M. Salt toxicity: a systematic review and case reports. Journal of Emergency Nursing. 2020;46(4):428-439. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2020.02.011

Additional Reading
  • Bradford E. Warning Over Home-Made Play Dough. BBC. 2014.