Learn Whether It's Okay for Your Child to Eat Play Dough

Childs hands kneading modelling clay
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Every toddler does it. You turn your head for just a second and look back to find your toddler chomping on play dough. But is it safe? What should you do if it happens? It's normal for toddlers to explore everything with their mouths and play dough is no exception. While it's not meant to be a meal, most versions of play dough are nontoxic and edible in small quantities. Learn the precautions to take and what to do if your child eats too much of it.

Commercial Play Doughs Are Nontoxic

The most popular commercial play dough brand—Hasbro Play-Doh—is non-toxic and has been since day one. Other brands such as Crayola Dough and RoseArt Fun Dough are also nontoxic. Even though children's toys like play dough tend to be nontoxic across the board, always read product labels for age recommendations and warnings before offering something to your toddler.

Homemade Play Dough Is Only as Safe as Its Ingredients

Play dough is pretty easy to make. In fact, it's made with ingredients you probably already have, but 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 can find in your pantry, but just because play dough is technically edible doesn't mean it will become your child's favorite food. As the amount of salt and baking soda increases so does the unpalatability of the play dough.

Your toddler might take a curious bite, but they'll probably spit it right back out.

Even if your child does swallow play dough, homemade or not, no harm will be done. Chances are the taste will be so bad they won't want to try it again. Make sure you discourage eating play dough in the future and offer your child water in case the salt makes them thirsty.

When You Should Be Concerned

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 and that the 1/4 cup of salt is spread out between at least a cup or more of flour and other ingredients. Still, it's something you should be aware of.

Also, consider allergies. Before making play dough at home, make sure your toddler isn't allergic to any of the ingredients, such as wheat flour, powdered milk, peanut butter, or dyes.

Consider Edible Play Dough

Be aware, too, that if you're still worried about your child eating play dough, there are recipes for play dough that are meant to be eaten or that are at least safe, even if consumed in large amounts. Give edible versions a try before moving on to other doughs.

Choking Hazards Are a Bigger Risk

The biggest safety concern of play dough is less about ingredient toxicity and more about the fact that it's a choking hazard.

Play dough is labeled as appropriate for children 2 years old and up, but you should always provide constant supervision just in case your child makes a ball or pulls off a large chunk and places it in their mouth. Know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver in the case of a choking emergency.

What to Do If Your Toddler Won't Stop Eating Play Dough

Very rarely will a toddler enjoy eating play dough or make constant attempts to eat it. While it's not harmful, no parent wants play dough to be a key component of their toddler's otherwise balanced diet. In this case, the best way to make sure she doesn't eat it is with prevention.

Here's how:

  • Don't offer play dough until your child is 2 years old and outgrowing the need to explore the world with her mouth.
  • Keep your toddler constantly supervised 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.
  • 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 she shouldn't eat it. The tasty smell can make it too tempting.
  • If your still child continues to eat play dough after taking the above precautions, don't offer play dough activities again until she is older.