Salt dough is a convenient and cheap alternative to clay: made with only three common ingredients (salt, flour, and water), it can be whipped up straight from the kitchen pantry.
If properly made, the salt dough looks and feels just like air-dry clay and can last for a very long time: we still have ornaments I made during kindergarten an-undefined-number-but-definitely-more-than-20 years ago!
In this post, I am sharing the salt dough recipe I have used and perfected over the years; it has served me well in many years of teaching and crafting, and I genuinely hope you will enjoy it as well!
Once made, salt dough can be used to craft holiday ornaments, sweet handprint ornaments, and little sculptures your kids will love. It can be painted with tempera or acrylic paint and sealed to last for many years.
Salt Dough FAQ
What can you use salt dough for?
Salt dough makes for a wonderful cheap alternative to clay.
It can be used to create ornaments and little sculptures. Most importantly, it’s great to use with children as it is made with readily available, fairly cheap ingredients, and it’s entirely edible (disgusting, but edible nonetheless)!
Does salt dough go moldy?
Not if properly dried and stored. A high proportion of salt to flour will dehydrate and preserve your ornaments wonderfully. The drying process matters for the final result: it has to be quick and thoughtful.
Salt dough ornaments should also be stored properly in a dry and well-ventilated area. They could become moldy if left in contact with moisture for a long time, for example, if hung on a cold, damp wall. If you plan on hanging salt dough ornaments to a wall for long periods of time, I would recommend choosing an internal wall that is reasonably warm and dry.
Eventually, fully dried salt dough can be varnished to prevent the absorption of moisture.
Can you air-dry salt dough?
Yes, absolutely! Especially if it has high salt content and the pieces are reasonably thin.
However, it isn’t the recommended method, as air-dried pieces tend to crack on the surface and develop a chalky consistency. If you don’t mind, then it is perfectly fine to let it air dry as it won’t affect its durability, as long as you make sure to remove all moisture.
Pros of air drying:
1. Doesn’t require an oven
2. It is a very low-effort process
1. Requires higher salt content to properly dehydrate and prevent molding.
2. Only thin, flatter ornaments can be air-dried. Thicker sculptures will trap moisture inside as the outer layer dries. Also, because it takes longer to harden, larger sculptures may slowly collapse downward or lose detailing.
3. It can almost only be done during wintertime as it needs a warm, dry place to harden.
4. It may look chalky and may crack on the surface.
What is the best recipe for salt dough?
If you ask me, the best recipe is the one that is easy to make and yields great results every time.
Here are a few tweaks I have learned to make over the years:
Firstly, using equal parts salt and flour gives a hard clay that preserves well over time. If I am leaving the dough unpainted, I also like to add a bit of white gouache color to the dough.
But the hack that I found to really make a difference, though, is to powder the salt in a blender to a very fine consistency, similar to confectionary sugar. It may seem like an extra step, but it will eventually speed up the kneading process and make the dough so much smoother without any hard salt crystals.
Below is a photo of two kinds of dough compared. On the right, I have used fine salt, and on the right, powdered salt. The difference in consistency and smoothness is really quite obvious!
The Best Salt Dough Recipe (that I know of)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup salt
- about 1/2 cup of warm water
- gouache color (optional)
How to make Salt Dough:
- Prepare your ingredients and a large bowl for mixing.
- Powder the salt. You can use a blender or a food processor: pulse a few times until the crystals are small and powdery, almost like confectionary sugar.
- Stir flour and salt together until well combined.
- Optional: if you wish, you can add liquid gouache, for example, to reduce yellowness. Just remember that it will add moisture, so make sure to reduce the water accordingly.
- Add lukewarm water a little at a time, continuing to knead the dough as you pour. The dough should feel elastic and soft but not sticky. Stop pouring when you think you have reached the right consistency.
- Knead until all the salt crystals are dissolved, and the dough is elastic and malleable.
- Let it rest. Ideally, you should leave the dough to rest for a couple of hours, wrapped in saran wrap. If you don’t have the time, frankly, it is fine either way.
- Create away! You should be left with a smooth and malleable dough. As you create, leave the unused dough wrapped in plastic to keep it moist. It can be stored in the fridge and wrapped in plastic for a few days.
How to bake salt dough:
- You should first leave the ornaments to air dry for 30 minutes or so. This will dry the outer surface and prevent them from losing shape during baking.
- Meanwhile, heat up the oven to very low heat (120°C-250°F)
- Prepare a baking pan with aluminum foil.
- Place your ornaments on the baking pan, making sure they lie flat on the surface to prevent bending.
- Place the ornaments in the middle rack for 10 minutes with ventilation on if possible. Check them often to prevent burning. NOTE: Larger, thicker sculptures may need up to 20-25 minutes of baking time. To check for readiness, examine your pieces: there shouldn’t be any obvious raw dough, and the thinker pieces should feel hard and dry to the touch. It may be useful to turn the pieces now and then in the over to allow moisture to escape from the bottom.
- Turn them around and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Turn off the oven.
- You can leave them in the oven to cool down or place them on a rack. Once cold, they should feel hard and firm to the touch.
How to air-dry salt dough:
Salt dough needs to dry completely and as quickly as possible to prevent mold from forming. The best way to air-dry salt dough is to leave it on a wooden tray near a warm heater. This method works pretty well in winter, as houses tend to be warm and dry, but I would recommend using an oven during humid seasons.
- Arrange the pieces on a wooden tray. Wood is better than metal in this case as it will help absorb part of the moisture.
- Place the tray in a dry area near a heat source like a house heater, stove, or fireplace.
- Try not to leave it overnight as it may absorb too much humidity.
- Check on the pieces every now and then. Turn them around to let moisture escape.
- The drying time depends on the size of the pieces and on the environmental conditions. If the room is too cold or damp, salt dough may actually never fully dry and develop mold instead.
Looking for more ideas? Check out my Salt Dough Ornaments Pinterest board
What do you think?
Have you ever tried salt dough for your projects? Do you have any hacks or suggestions to share? Leave a comment below!