One of the most popular holiday-themed posts on my blog is my tutorial for how to make cinnamon ornaments—they are easy, smell wonderful, and are a super fun craft for the whole family. But if cinnamon isn’t your thing, another great option for homemade ornaments is to use salt dough.
One distinct advantage to making salt dough ornaments is that I can almost guarantee you already have all the supplies you need in your kitchen. All you need to get your ornaments going is all-purpose flour, salt, and water. It’s a great craft for those days when you just aren’t quite sure what to do with the kids (or adults). No special materials or equipment required. Just mix, cut, bake, decorate, and hang!
Why do you need salt in salt dough ornaments?
Before I dive into the (really simple) directions, I want to answer a question you see a lot when talking about salt dough—why salt? Well, there are a number of reasons. First up, the large volume of salt makes this dough not-so-tasty, which is a good thing when you have the littlest elves helping you and they are determined to take a sample taste of the craft project. While the dough isn’t toxic, it isn’t exactly recommended anyone eat it. After all, consuming raw flour has been linked to e. coli outbreaks.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, salt is an excellent preservative. If you left the salt out of the recipe below, and just mixed together water and flour, you would end up creating a near-perfect little homestead for mold to set up shop in—not so great if you want to keep these ornaments in a box in the basement for the majority of the year. Salt is such a great preservative, that I have a salt dough ornament that hangs on my Christmas tree that I made as six-year-old in 1989! That’s a 30-year-old ornament, friends. Add the salt to preserve these ornaments for long-term memories.
What ingredients do you need to make this salt dough recipe?
The recipe for these ornaments doesn’t get any easier. You need exactly three ingredients to get you going (scroll down to the bottom of the post for a printable version):
- All-purpose flour (4 cups)—I recommend sticking with all-purpose flour here because it’s affordable, it’s easy to work with, and it creates the most consistent color. Bleached all-purpose flour is best, but unbleached works, too. Since you aren’t ingesting this at all, go ahead and get the bargain basement generic brand flour to save yourself some cash. Save the whole wheat flour for making muffins or baking bread!
- Table salt (1 cup)—Again, make sure to add the salt to preserve these ornaments! Just like with the flour, go with the generic brand table salt here—reserve your high-end Himalayan sea salt for cooking.
- Warm water (1 1/2 cups)—The warm water helps the dough come together a little bit easier. Plus, you’ll knead the dough with your hands, and warm dough is so much more comfortable to knead in the winter!
What tools will you need to make salt dough ornaments?
Chances are, you’ll have all the tools you need to make these ornaments already in your house. Here’s a general list of what we used to make the ornaments pictured here:
- Mixing bowl and large spoon
- Parchment paper
- Rolling pin
- Cookie cutters
- Forks, steel wool, rubber stamps, other textural items—optional, to add texture to the ornaments
- Straw or toothpick—for poking a hole for the ornaments to hang from
- Baking sheet
- White spray paint—optional, for giving the ornaments an even background to decorate
- Glitter, glue, paint, Mod Podge—optional, for decorating, or leave the rustic salt dough ornaments
- Polyurethane spray (like this one) or Mod Podge—optional, for extra preservation power
- Ribbon—for hanging the ornaments
How do you make salt dough ornaments?
Alright, let’s make these ornaments. You’re going to be blown away by just how easy this is!
Step 1: Mix the Dough
Grab your large mixing bowl, and add in the flour and salt. Stir until well combined. Then, slowly stream in the warm water while stirring. Keep stirring until you’ve added all the water.
You’ll get to a point where it is too hard to stir with a spoon. Put it down and use your hands to get in there and mix it well.
Once the dough starts to come together, keep kneading with your hands for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable (just like making a pizza!).
Step 2: Roll Out & Cut Ornaments
Put down a large piece of parchment paper, and place a good-sized chunk of dough in the middle. Place another large piece of parchment on top, and roll out the dough until 1/8″ thick. You want to err on the side of a thinner dough. Too thick, and the ornaments tend to split or break easily because of air pockets that get trapped in the middle. I’m a believer that all body types are beautiful, but in this instance, thin is in.
Remove the top sheet of parchment, and then using cookie cutters, cut into the dough—do not try to remove the cut out pieces! You want those to stay on the parchment.
When you’re finished cutting the pieces, peel away the excess dough, leaving behind the shapes on the parchment.
I like to put texture into my ornaments, so this is where I bring out any random object that has a fun texture—forks, straws, steel wool, other cookie cutters, scissors. There are no rules! You can also use rubber stamps.
And then, take a drinking straw, and poke a hole in the top of each ornament for a ribbon to hang from. Make sure to blow out the plug in the end of the drinking straw before you go to the next ornament. Trust me, I’ve ruined a good stainless steel straw or two by forgetting the dough inside and having it drying rock-solid inside!
Step 3: Bake Your Ornaments
Transfer the whole parchment paper and shapes onto a baking sheet. Bake the ornaments in a 300°F oven for about an hour. This isn’t an exact science, because inevitably, your shapes won’t be 100% even in thickness. They are done when they feel hard. They are really done if they start to brown (no worries, that’s something we can fix later!).
Let the ornaments cool completely before proceeding to the next step.
Step 4: Paint and Decorate Your Ornaments
Now we get to the really fun part—decorating! If you prefer the rustic, classic look of the salt dough, you can hang the ornaments as-is. But I think part of the fun of making salt dough ornaments is getting out the glitter and making a holiday mess.
Before I start decorating, I like to mist all of my cooled ornaments with a thin coat of white spray paint. This helps cover up any irregularities in color (like when some got too brown from baking), and I think it helps the ornaments looks more like clay than hard bread. A light coating will dry to the touch in just a few minutes so you can keep decorating. Of course, this part is totally optional!
Once the spray paint is dry to the touch, I paint using acrylic paints and brushes (puffy paints would also work wonderfully). I like to use the textural spaces to help guide where I put paint—but it’s really up to you to get creative on how you want to decorate. Where I want glitter, I use Mod Podge or school glue. It’s a fun, carefree way to spend a holiday afternoon!
Step 5: Seal and Hang Your Ornaments
Once all your decorating is dry, it behooves you to seal these ornaments so they last a good, long while. While the salt does an excellent job of preserving the salt dough itself, sealing the ornaments will help keep all the decorations you just lovingly applied looking great for years to come. I like to use spray poly, but coating each one in a thin layer of Mod Podge would also do the trick.
I just do one coat on each side and let it dry completely. I like to use matte or satin finish poly so the ornaments still feel like unfinished clay, but if you dig the glossy look, use semi-gloss or glossy poly or Mod Podge.
String up the ornaments using pretty ribbon or twine, and then put those beautiful new ornaments on your Christmas tree! These also make wonderful, thoughtful gifts. We tend to make either a batch of these or my Cinnamon Ornaments each year to give as stocking stuffers to friends and family.
How do you make a salt dough handprint?
Salt dough ornaments are a great way to mark major milestones in your life! This is a salt dough ornament we made to mark our daughter’s first Christmas using her hand print. Her hand was so tiny. *sniff* *sniff*
To make a salt dough handprint (or footprint):
- Roll out the dough as directed above, making it slightly thicker than you would for regular ornaments.
- Evenly press the hand or foot in the dough.
- Cut around the handprint or footprint using the rim of a bowl or glass. You might be tempted to do the other way around (cut out the shape first, then get the handprint), but trust me on this one—wiggly, squirmy babies do not know how to center their hands into a shape! You’re better off having a large piece of salt dough to “catch” the print, and then cutting out around it.
I recommend making more than one of this precious heirloom! Salt dough is incredibly affordable, so you can make lots of “copies” for just pennies more. I speak from experience here. While salt dough preserves well, it is still breakable, and I dropped and broke our handprint ornament from our daughter during her second Christmas. I would have been heartbroken if I didn’t have two others stashed in storage. Happy holidays!