7 Secrets to Avoid the Play-Doh Mess (from a Neat-Freak Mom)

avoid the Play-Doh mess

Do you avoid Play-Doh because you’re really trying to avoid the Play-Doh mess? I totally understand, and have been there.

We love to do Play-Doh in our home!  The kids are always engaged with it for long stretches of time (a big win!).  And I actually love it for them, too!     

After understanding the benefits, and how to manage, or even eliminate the mess (it can be done!), you will be running to your Play-Doh bin!

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It’s such an excellent tool for little hands for so many reasons.  

It does a wonderful job developing their hand muscles and fine motor skills.  A child’s coordination and creative planning skills are practiced and improved.  

Physically, children use those tiny muscles in their hands while playing with Play-Doh.  This kind of practice and hand strengthening will help children with handwriting, shoe tying, and many other tasks we complete everyday.

Not to mention, how playing with Play-Doh allows children to let their imaginations run wild!  

(You can read about the 50 best Play-Doh toys here!)

I’m a big fan of open-ended toys that spark imagination. 

To learn more about open-ended toys, click here.

So even though we know there are an endless number of benefits to utilizing Play-Doh, we also have to be realistic: Play-Doh can be a MESS. 

And what mother needs yet something else to clean up?

But here’s a secret: It doesn’t have to be that way!

I know a lot of moms hesitate to use Play-Doh, because it can be so messy and it can get everywhere.

I’ve found a way to avoid the Play-Doh mess.  Or should I say, exactly 9 ways to avoid the Play-Doh mess.

I’d love to share these tips with you, so you can pull out the Play-Doh without holding your breath!


9 Secrets to Avoid the Play-Doh Mess

1. Use a basket for tools for each kid.

I just use some dollar store baskets like these. The kids can fill up their basket with whatever toys they like. This limits the amount of toys (i.e. mess) that are pulled out from the start.  

The basket keeps their Play-Doh tools contained while they are using them at the table.

It also allows for an easy clean up. At the table, they just put all the tools into their little baskets, then they can dump them into the big Play-Doh drawer.

2. One color at a time.

Generally, when they’re picking out their Play-Doh tools, I let them select one color can. Because we almost always do it this way, they’re used to it, and don’t often ask for another color.

My 2 year old and 3 year old will usually trade off colors at some point.

I’m not super strict on this, especially as Play-Doh gets old.  It doesn’t actually even bother me when they get mixed. I’ve just seen kids in the past stop using Play-Doh that is some sort of funky brown color from being so mixed up. 

The other thing is that when we make our own Play-Doh, it makes so much! When we pull out our own Play-Doh, we usually stick to just that. 

Limiting the colors and the amount of actual Play-Doh that is out can help to avoid the Play-Doh mess.

3. Use place mats.

We use large place mats when we use Play-Doh. It protects the table and any tablecloth, of course.

But it also provides a clear workspace and boundaries in which the child may play with the Play-Doh.  

If they learn to keep the Play-Doh on the place mat, then the Play-Doh really shouldn’t end up in all the corners of the table.

4. Stay at the table.

Keeping the kids in their seats is really helpful when it comes to avoiding the Play-Doh mess.  

One of my tips for having children really close together in age, is to have them each in a chair or booster that requires you putting them in and taking them out.  This way, they can’t just wander around. 

Believe me.  It’s often very helpful when it comes to mealtime…and Play-Doh.

You can read my other tips for having babies close together by clicking here.

Anyhow, if your child is clipped into a seat, he can’t wander the room (or the house) sprinkling the Play-Doh everywhere and smearing it into your couch!

5. Use this vacuum for clean ups.

I truly believe every mother of toddlers needs to have this vacuum.  I consider it my favorite “tool” of the trade.  It’s cordless, powerful, lightweight, and amazing.  

I use it for cleaning up all the crumbs, the baseboards, the car, the dryer…really for everything.

When it comes to Play-Doh, I (or the kids) will sweep up the Play-Doh crumbs, and then will just vacuum them off the floor.  I’ll vacuum out the high-chair and booster seat, and then hit the table, if needed, too.

This thing is incredible, and you probably need one.

6. Use simple storage.

To avoid the Play-Doh mess, you do need to have a place to store your Play-Doh materials.

We have these sets of drawers, and one drawer is dedicated to everything Play-Doh.

It’s not organized. They literally just dump in the Play-Doh tools and cans. But they’re also the ones using the drawer to pick out their tools for the next time.

It doesn’t affect me, and it doesn’t bother them that it isn’t super organized!

7. Teach.

Teach your kids how to clean up the Play-Doh!  Investing time into teaching them how to clean it up properly will pay off in dividends!  

I know it can be really time-consuming and often frustrating.  But if you keep at it, they will get good at it!  

Not only that, they will learn that they are responsible for that mess.  

Which in turn, they will learn to be more aware of how they are playing with the Play-Doh. They will probably stop carelessly dropping some on the floor.

Here are three things I have found helpful to focus on when teaching my kids how to clean up Play-Doh:

Teach them to keep it on the table.

Remind them that the Play-Doh belongs not only on the table, but on the place mat.  Reminding them of these boundaries will take a little time, but it will help!

Teach them how to clean up Play-Doh crumbs.

You know how you can take a clump of Play-Doh and stamp it on crumbs to clean them up?  Teach this to your kids!  They often have fun with it, and it’s a quick way to tidy up!

Teach them how to clean up the floor.

First, any tools on the floor need to go away.  Then, they pick up large Play-Doh clumps.  For the crumbs, I teach my kids how to use a dust brush and dust pan.  

(I learned this trick teaching kindergarten from an colleague who taught it for thirty years!  She knew what she was talking about!)

My kids will grab the dust brush and dust pan from our cleaning set and will sweep up the crumbs themselves!  

Like anything else, it takes time (and patience!) to learn, but it’s a practical skill that teaches them the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves.

8. Clean tools with stuck Play-Doh.

What to do about Play-Doh toys encrusted in dried out Play-Doh?  Stick them in a bowl of warm water.  Just let it sit there for 30 minutes.  Or until whenever you get to it.  Take it out, rinse it off, and it’s as good as new!

9. Embrace the mess.

Yes, it can be messy.  Especially in the beginning.  But if you follow these tricks, it really will be minimal!  With time, your kids will understand the boundaries.

And if you’re persistent, it won’t even take that long!



You really can avoid the Play-Doh mess by following these tricks.  It may take a little practice and patience, but Play-Doh does not need to wreak havoc all over your home.

At the end of Play-Doh time, all I really need to do is a quick vacuum (with my favorite dust buster) of the chairs, floor, and possibly the table.  The kids put away the Play-Doh and the tools, and that’s really it!

Try out these tips when you’re looking for something to keep them occupied.  They will love you for it, and you just might love it, too!


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