Making Your Own Sidewalk Chalk

My children love drawing on the sidewalk and driveway in front of our house. They’ll draw huge pictures, hopscotch diagrams, long messages, and body tracings all over the place. My daughter particularly gets into this, as she recently filled a large portion of our driveway with a giant rainbow.

I’m a big fan of sidewalk chalk. It keeps them engaged in creative projects. The drawings are really colorful and interesting, but then before long a rain storm comes and washes away the canvas, giving them a big place to draw on again.

The only drawback with sidewalk chalk is that buying a lot of it can be pricy. It seems like, over the course of a summer, we end up buying three or four large batches of sidewalk chalk.

As always, my mind was at work. “There has to be a cheaper way,” I thought.

Of course, there is.

Here’s how to make some great homemade sidewalk chalk. This recipe was sent to me by a reader and, I must say, it works really well.

You have to buy some initial supplies at an arts and crafts store which will add up to more than your first box of sidewalk chalk, but if your kids go through it like mine do, this recipe will make a ton of chalk without much additional expense.

Not only that, the making of the sidewalk chalk is a great rainy day activity at the kitchen table.

Here’s what you need:
five small bottles of tempera paint – get white, black, yellow, red, and blue, since you can mix up almost any color and any shade from those five colors
plaster of Paris
wax paper – a single roll is far more than enough

Those are the only things you may have to buy. These next items you should have on hand around your house:
wrapping paper tubes or paper towel tubes or toilet paper tubes
sandwich baggies
liquid dishwashing soap
masking tape

First, if you’re using a paper towel roll, cut it into two pieces. If you’re using a wrapping paper roll, cut it into four pieces.

Next, line the insides of those rolls with the wax paper, so that the waxy side is facing the inside. Trim it to fit. Then, put some masking tape on one end of the tube, covering the opening.

After that, get a bowl and put in three tablespoons of paint. You can mix the colors as you wish – feel free to experiment. For example, for pink chalk, just mix two spoons of red and one spoon of white. For a dark red, mix two spoons of red and one of black. For a lavender, mix one spoon of red, one spoon of blue, and one spoon of white. Mix until the color is consistent.

Once the paint is a color you like, add in half a cup of water, then mix in 3/4 cup of plaster of Paris. This will make a very thick mixture once it’s thoroughly stirred. After stirring for a bit, add in one drop of dishwashing soap, as this will help the chalk wash away during a rainstorm (without it, it stays really well).

When your mix is consistent (and very thick), spoon the mix into a baggie, cut the corner off of a baggie, then squeeze the contents into one of the tubes with wax paper on the inside and tape on the bottom. This should fill up a good portion of the tube.

After that, leave the tubes standing upright on the table and allow them to dry for at least twelve hours, though I’ve found that a good twenty four hour period is usually best. Then, when you’re ready, remove the tape, slide the tube off, unroll the wax paper, and you have sidewalk chalk!

You can get an enormous tub of plaster of Paris for $4.99 at Hobby Lobby (where I usually go for stuff like this). You can also get large containers of each color of tempera paint for $1.77, and sometimes they have variety packs, making it cheaper. A tube of wax paper is $3.99, but you can use that for many other things. These supplies alone will make more sidewalk chalk than your child will ever be able to use, for a total cost of about $18 along with things you already have on hand.

For comparison’s sake, a jumbo box of sidewalk chalk from Crayola costs about $12. Our children have blown through a box of that size in less than a month in previous summers. On the other hand, I’m not sure they’d ever run out of our homemade chalk.

If your children are into sidewalk chalk as much as mine, this can be a big money saver, plus it provides a pretty fun rainy day project for them.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.