DIY: Make your own Play-Doh

Maila Rible, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:39 PM ET

Perhaps the biggest problem with an antihero is they make being bad look so very good. If you're a fan of the just-wrapped TV show Breaking Bad, the thought may have crossed your mind that maybe you should have paid a little more attention in chemistry class. It goes without saying that Walter White's business venture is a legal, ethical and literal dead end. But hearing tales of people breaking all the rules occasionally mutes the voice of reason and makes mixing a bucket of cleaning chemicals together seem like a really fun idea.

It is not.

I'm all for exciting experiments. Crazy crystals and fireworks that can be safely watched from ten feet away are fun. Unleashing gases that can kill your family or explosions that cause third-degree burns are awful.

Most folks know basic safety rules like keeping chemicals away from kids and pets. But a really stubborn stain might have you reaching for one product, then switching to another. If you mix an acid like vinegar with a base like baking soda, you get carbon dioxide gas. That's fine. But if you mix an acid with bleach, you get chlorine gas. Which is very, very bad. Cleaners that contain bleach also have the potential to react with alcohol, forming a different toxic gas.

Then there's what I like to call the "impulse experiment:" Maybe you and your buddies have knocked back a few and want to see what happens if you toss an empty can of spray-on sunscreen into the fire pit. The rapid expansion of gas inside the can from the heat plus the flammability of the product will likely mean EMS has just been invited to your marshmallow roast.

If your goatee is really itching to try something science-y, a good way to start is with things that are edible. Also remember that anything can be awesome if you learn the science behind it, even Play-Doh! Consider making the following recipe in an RV, if it makes you feel more hardcore.

Mix together one cup of flour, half a cup of salt, one cup of water, one tablespoon vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons cream of tartar or powdered citric acid in a pot on the stove. Stir the mixture over low heat, adding drops of food colouring until the desired shade is reached (blue, perhaps?). Keep stirring until the ingredients form into a ball. Congratulations! You have just cooked a batch of Play-Doh.

Homemade modelling clay isn't that different from the commercially produced stuff. The company even admits on its website the primary ingredients are flour, salt and water. But there is a bit of chemistry involved. As the mixture is heated, the flour absorbs the water and forms a gelatinous goo, which can be molded. The salt also plays a role in creating the dough's texture, as well as acting as a preservative. The oil acts as a lubricant to help smooth out the dough's texture. The acid in cream of tartar is critical in making the dough stronger and stiffer, so it will hold its shape when molded.

It's a lot safer to stick to family-friendly kitchen chemistry, but there is something positive we can learn from TV science gone bad. Even in the midst of the crazy, Walter White made sure his "lab assistants" were outfitted with protective equipment. So surely you can remember your safety goggles.


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