Home » DIY Playdough: The Best Substitute for Cream of Tartar

DIY Playdough: The Best Substitute for Cream of Tartar

homemade playdough - the best substitute for cream of tartar

Have you ever started to make homemade playdough with your children only to realize you are out of the cream of tartar (that you used to ice ALL of those cookies over the holidays) and begin to look around for a hopefully, better substitute?

Like you, I have tried the white vinegar and lemon juice alternatives before.

And all that your kids were left with was playdough that:

  1. Did not keep fresh very long;
  2. Had too strong of an odor/scent; and
  3. Was way too wet and sticky

Cream of tartar is good for making playdough but it can get rather expensive using it for cooking AND crafting.

Extra expensive for myself, because personally, I am somewhat of a germophobe and switch out my childrens’ playdough quite often in fear of germs (and after EVERY playdate).

So I began to research why cream of tartar works so well and what I could possibly use instead.

Well, after literally making hundreds of batches of playdough and looking through recipes I eventually discovered citric acid.

Read on and find out why you will use this homemade playdough cream of tartar substitute from now on!

(I know a thing or two about making a good substitution, like my Italian seasoning substitute recipe.)

make your own gluten-free playdough what you need to make it

Did you know that citric acid can be used in playdough with gluten-free flour?

Check out this post and find out:

How To Make Your Own Gluten-Free Playdough

What is Citric Acid?

citrus fruit

Citric acid is derived naturally from citrus fruit, mostly from lemons and limes. It is one of the weaker organic acids that are safe for personal use and consumption.

This acid gives citrus fruit the characteristic sour taste.

What is The Difference Between Cream of Tartar and Citric Acid?

Cream of tartar is an acid, the byproduct of the fermentation of grapes into wine in the form of a white powder. Citric acid is the crystallized (also powder-like) form of citric acid derived from citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes.

IngredientCream Of TartarCitric Acid
What it isacidacid
Active Ingredientpotassium bitartratecitric acid
What it doesstabilizer, anti-caking agent, and preservativethickener, preservative, gives playdough elasticity

Examining the similarities between these two helps us to understand why the swap makes sense in the first place.

They both function as preservatives to keep the playdough fresher, longer by staving off the growth of mold and other fungi.

What Makes Citric Acid Better A Substitute For Cream of Tartar in Playdough?

While both ingredients perform similar functions in the playdough, citric acid is a better substitute for cream of tartar because it is also known for its antimicrobial properties.

“As a mom and someone who has taught in preschools for over a decade, I understand the concerns and the reluctance of wanting to give children playdough (especially during the winter months) because of the risk of bacterial and viral transmission. ”

“That is why I have started using THIS ingredient for making homemade playdough instead.”

Nicole, Familyandglamour.com

This Substitute For Cream of Tartar Can Help Keep Your Children Healthy

By using citric acid instead of cream of tartar for playdough you can:

  1. Help to inhibit the growth of bacteriamultiple children sharing the same batch of playdough can obviously spread bacteria and citric acid helps to mitigate this activity.

(Study: The prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus among preschool-aged children is 41.7 to 48.8%, and it increases among 9th-12th-grade pupils (73.0%, P<0.001).)

Staphylococcus (commonly known as “staph germs”) is an example of a bacteria that can cause skin infections when they come in contact with damaged skin from the tiniest of cuts to larger scrapes or wounds.

  • 2. Reduce the risk of spreading viruses– as children use playdough on surfaces like mats and tables where viruses can live for extended periods, citric acid can help to avoid viral contamination.

(Study: “...citrate binds at the histo-blood group antigen-binding pocket, which are attachment factors for norovirus infections. Taken together, these new findings suggested that it might be possible to treat/reduce norovirus infections with citrate…”)

Norovirus (commonly known as “tummy bug”) is an example of a virus that is easily spread among children and adults, especially in daycares where children share objects and spaces in smaller, closed quarters.

Testing revealed that citric acid does demonstrate antimicrobial properties against anaerobic bacteria, especially against cocci…”

Citric acid is another potent natural antimicrobial with anti-viral activity that inhibits the foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV)9.

(Studies on Citric Acid and its effectiveness against bacteria and viruses)

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Where Can I Buy Citric Acid?

citric acid
Citric acid purchased from a supermarket in Sweden

Citric acid can be found at most craft stores in the soap-making section, in big-box retailers, health food stores, and in supermarkets in the baking section. It can also be found for purchase quite easily online through a quick Google search.

Here are some links to help you find it so you can start using this substitute right away:

What You Need To Make Homemade Playdough with Citric Acid

homemade playdough substitute for cream of tartar


  • Large mixing bowl – for mixing the playdough
  • Mixing spoon – for stirring the warm playdough
  • Smaller bowls – for dividing the playdough and adding food coloring (optional)


  • All-purpose flour (or a gluten-free flour blend) – this is the base for the playdough; the gluten and protiens make it elastic
  • Table salt – acts as a preservative and helps with texture
  • Vegetable oil /Cooking oil – lubricates and adds moisture to prevent dry-out
  • Hot tap water – this makes all of the ingredients “melt” together for the best texture
  • Citric acid – used as a preservative and improves texture; it also gives the playdough antimicrobial properties

Add-ins (optional):

  • Food coloring (gel or liquid)
  • Essential oils
  • Glitter

How To Make Playdough With Citric Acid Instead of Cream of Tartar

Step 1: Mix Dry Ingredients

Place flour, salt, and citric acid in the mixing bowl. Stir the ingredients so that they are well blended.

Step 2: Add Wet Ingredients

Add in oil and hot water to the dry ingredients. Begin mixing the dough with a mixing spoon.

Step 3: Knead Dough

Begin to knead the dough until ingredients are well incorporated. Allow the dough to rest.

Step 4: Optional Add-Ins

After resting, divide your dough and mix in any food coloring, essential oils, glitter, etc.

Step 5: Store Playdough

Properly store the playdough to keep it fresh and prevent it from drying out.

How To Store The Playdough Made With Citric Acid

storing playdough made with a cream of tartar substitute

This playdough should be stored in an air-tight container. I like to use resealable plastic bags because it ensures that all air is kept out and it is easy for the kids to transport and open on their own.

How Long Does Playdough Made Without Cream of Tartar Last?

You can count on playdough made with citric acid instead of cream of tartar to last just as long, usually anywhere from one to three months before it begins to deteriorate.

However, how well you store your playdough, level of humidity, hygiene, frequency of use, etc. will ultimately determine how long your playdough will last!

homemade playdough - the best substitute for cream of tartar
5 from 1 vote

Homemade Playdough: The Best Substitute for Cream of Tartar

This playdough recipe substitutes citric acid for cream of tartar. Citric acid acts as both a natural preservative and as an antimicrobial to help keep bacteria and viruses at bay.
Prep Time5 mins
Active Time5 mins
Resting time5 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Crafting
Cuisine: Kid and Family Activities
Keyword: citric acid, homemade, playdough, Substitiute
Yield: 1 medium batch (4-5 kids)
Author: FamilyandGlamour


  • Large mixing bowl
  • mixing spoon
  • Smaller bowls/parchment paper


  • cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend (220 grams )
  • cup table salt (355 grams)
  • 2 tbsp citric acid
  • 3 tbsp vegetable or cooking oil
  • 2 cups hot tap water (not exceeding 120°F/50°C) (475 milliliters)


  • gel or liquid food color
  • essential oils
  • glitter


  • Add flour, salt, and citric acid to a large mixing bowl. Blend everything together with a mixing spoon.
  • Add in the oil and hot tap water and mix with a spoon until a dough forms. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, knead it until it comes together like pizza dough.
  • Allow the playdough to cool and rest for at least 5 minutes. It will be on the "stickier" side but should become less sticky as it cools.

Optional Add-Ins:

  • If adding food coloring, divide your playdough up into the number of colors you plan to use and place them into their own bowls or on pieces of parchment paper. Add the desired amount (more food coloring = more vibrant color), keeping in mind that too much extra moisture will cause the dough to be stickier. After kneading the coloring through the playdough, allow it to rest again and absorb the excess moisture.
  • When adding essential oil, add a few drops at a time to the playdough until you reach the desired potency and knead. Allow the dough to rest.
  • If adding glitter, add the desired amount and knead until the glitter is evenly distributed.


  • Store playdough in air-tight containers or resealable plastic bags in a cool place.
  • If you notice your playdough changing color or if the texture begins to deteriorate (ie.,  ashy color, sticky feel) it is time to throw it out!  Likewise, if you notice any strange smell.

Have you ever tried making homemade playdough with citric acid instead of cream of tartar?

Leave your playdough-making tips and tricks in the comments!


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