Is Play Doh biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 30, 2022

Play Doh is one of the most popular toys out there. As well as being fun, it comes with lots of benefits – from developing fine motor skills to enhancing creativity. However, as a nation, we are becoming more aware of how much waste we produce. Shop-bought Play Doh is biodegradable but its unknown ingredients list make it a no-go for the compost pile. Homemade dough, on the other hand, can be diverted from landfill by composting. Here, we take a closer look…

Firstly, what is Play Doh made of?

Play Doh, according to Hasbro, is made primarily of water, flour and salt. But what about the other part? According to a patent in the early 2000’s, it contains a whole host extra ingredients including surfactant, lubricant and preservatives.  

Is Play Doh biodegradable?

If an item/material is biodegradable it can be broken down naturally into its component parts. Essentially it can return to nature. Play Doh, along with the homemade stuff, will biodegrade in the right conditions.  

Is Play Doh compostable?

Composting is a wonderful way to divert items from landfill. As well as reducing household waste, it also provides a nutrient-rich fertilizer that you can use in your garden.

We have seen that Play Doh is biodegradable – so that makes it compostable, right? Wrong! Despite what many people think, the terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ do not mean the same thing – there are subtle differences between their meanings. To be compostable an item needs to be biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable! There can be several reasons a biodegradable item can’t be composted at home – from containing nasty chemicals to simply being too smelly.

We advise against composting the official shop-bought Play Doh – the flour, salt and water pose no issue to the compost pile, but the remaining part is too unknown for us to endorse it.  Some argue that since is deemed non-toxic by the manufacturers (and will, typically, only cause a mild tummy ache if swallowed) then it should be totally fine to add. However, we always take/and recommend the cautious approach. As ever with composting, whatever you add to your pile is your choice!

The homemade stuff does not have any controversy attached! Generally, it can be popped in the compost bin with no issues. Recipes like this one – which only contains flour, water, salt and a little vegetable oil – pass the test!

Composting ingredients are divided into two main types – ‘brown’ and ‘green’. To maintain a healthy pile, you should have a decent mix of both.  ‘Brown’ materials refer to those that are rich in carbon (for example, twigs and shredded paper) whilst ‘green’ ingredients are rich in nitrogen (for example, food scraps and freshly cut grass). Homemade doughs are quite unique. They are largely made from flour – this contributes to the ‘brown’ side of the ratio due to the carbohydrate it contains. But it also adds to ‘green’ side due to the protein in it too!

If you are only adding a small amount of homemade dough, in amongst a large compost pile, its effect on the ratio will be negligible! As ever, monitor your compost pile as you go for any signs that the ratio isn’t quite right.

Some considerations if you decide to compost Play Doh (or the homemade stuff)…

If other additions, such as glitter or Styrofoam beads, have found their way into the Play Doh it is not suitable for the compost pile. Plastic-based items like these simply won’t biodegrade and are, therefore, not suitable for composting. Try and incorporate re-usable items such as marbles or items from your pantry like dried beans. Marbles can be taken out before adding to the pile whilst dried beans can be popped in the pile too.

Play Doh, homemade or otherwise, will not take too long to break down in your pile – a matter of months should do it.  However, you can make it even quicker by breaking it up into smaller pieces before adding it to the compost bin. This allows the bacteria access to a greater surface area to work their magic! It also means that the carbon-richness can be spread to different areas of the pile. If you don’t do this, it will still compost down – it will just take that little bit longer.

The bottom line

Although shop-bought Play Doh is biodegradable, we advise against adding it to the compost pile – the full ingredients list is not known so it could contain chemicals that will contaminate your pile. Homemade equivalents are, typically, ok to add to the compost bin (so long as they don’t contain any plastic-based additions such as glitter!)