There are few things that symbolize the fun of a day at the carnival or amusement park as well as a big cone of brightly colored cotton candy. The fluffy treat requires just one ingredient—sugar—but you need a special machine to melt and spin it out into delicate strands.
Thankfully, cotton candy makes are available in many shapes and sizes, from compact countertop models to large carts with nostalgic flair. You can purchase a high-capacity commercial-level machine if you're planning on throwing events often or go for a more budget-friendly option for just the occasional dabble in the confection. We researched the many options out there and picked the best ones for many different situations. Here are our favorite cotton candy makers.
VIVO Electric Commercial Cotton Candy Machine
Powerful and easy to use
Comes apart easily for cleaning
Works with hard candies or sugar
Does not include safety shield
This heavy-duty machine is the same kind you'll find being used at carnivals and amusement parks, but it couldn't be easier to use. Turn it on, pour in some sugar, and you'll have magical threads of colorful candy floss in just seconds. With more than 1,000 watts of power, the VIVO can satisfy a whole birthday party of screaming kids in short order: It'll make two to three servings of cotton candy per minute.
A really cool thing about this machine is that it also works with hard candies instead of just granulated sugar. You can use favorites like Jolly Ranchers and Nerds to create custom flavors and colors. Try peppermints to make a cloud topper for a mug of hot chocolate or a roll of Life Savers to make a rainbow of cotton candy. (The brand recommends using only corn syrup-based candies made without butter or starch, so steer clear of items like butterscotch or caramels.)
Designed for long-term use and re-use, the VIVO disassembles completely, with a removable bowl and motor head that are easy to clean (plus a spare parts kit in case you lose track of a screw). However, it does not come with the bubble-shaped safety shield other models include as standard—if you want one, you have to buy the shield separately, and it's not cheap.
Price at time of publish: $240
Dimensions: 21 x 21 x 14 inches | Weight: 23.1 pounds | Power: 1,030 watts | Capacity: 2-3 servings per minute | Extras: Sugar scoop, spare parts kit
Nostalgia Retro Cotton Candy Machine
Includes cover and reusable cones
Can use sugar-free candies
Must wash by hand
Slow to heat up
Cute and fun but with a small countertop footprint, this retro-styled cotton candy maker is what you need for kids’ parties or family movie nights. It can also use hard candies—even sugar-free hard candies—instead of the standard sugar. This machine includes two reusable plastic cones so you don't have to keep buying and throwing away (err, recycling) the paper ones. (If you upgrade to the Complete Start Up Package, you get the machine with extra cones and some sugar, too.)
The Nostalgia machine has some nice safety features for home use, as well. The clear rim lets you watch the cotton candy form without hot sugar flying all over the house, and its suction-cup feet keep it stable on the table or countertop. Like most cotton candy machines, this one disassembles easily for thorough cleaning, though nothing can go in the dishwasher. Some users also complain that it's slow to heat up: The instructions call for 10 minutes of preheating before you add sugar (or five minutes if using candies), and it definitely needs every second of that.
Price at time of publish: $60
Dimensions: 11 x 11 x 12 inches | Weight: 3.5 pounds | Power: 450 watts | Extras: Sugar scoop, 2 plastic cones
Best With Cart
Great Northern Popcorn Commercial Cotton Candy Machine Cart
Mobile cart with storage drawer
Complicated to assemble
If you're looking to recreate that carnival or state fair experience at home, Great Northern Popcorn Company is the way to go. It specializes in commercial-style concession equipment including hot dog rollers, snow cone makers, and, of course, popcorn machines. Plus, its cotton candy maker does not disappoint. There's no need to find table space with this cart, which you can roll from room to room to backyard to sidewalk—anywhere you can access an extension cord and electrical outlet. It works super fast, too, preheating in just six minutes and making a cone of cotton candy every 30 seconds.
The kettle is stainless steel, so it won’t rust, stain, or retain odors, and it’s easy to keep clean since it’s removable. There's also safety switch that keeps that machine from turning on without the kettle securely in place with all four clips that hold it down. Its belt-driven motor is quieter than other models, the front-mounted controls are easy to use, and the cart includes a storage drawer to hold all the sugar, cones, and other items you'll need.
This is a heavy-duty machine, weighing in at 46 pounds. It comes disassembled, and you'll probably have to read the directions carefully to put the cart together, but you also need to do so only once. After that, you'll be able to wheel your confection machine anywhere it needs to go.
Price at time of publish: $285
Dimensions: 38 x 20.5 x 35 inches | Weight: 46 pounds | Power: 950 watts | Capacity: 2 servings per minute | Extras: Sugar scoop, 2 spare ribbon belts
The great thing about making cotton candy at home is that you can control the ingredients and serving sizes. There are special sugars available in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and many machines will also work with hard candies, so you can make confections that are sour, fruity, cinnamon-spiced, and more. This versatile treatment can make fun, fancy garnishes for desserts or drinks, too.
Chef Buddy Cotton Candy Machine
Simple to use
Lightweight and portable
This miniature machine is perfect for making small servings of fluffy cotton candy right on the kitchen counter. It's got a suction cup on the bottom that holds it in place, and it takes just five minutes to heat up. The kit even includes 10 wooden sticks to wrap the cotton candy around. It's easy to use, and the price is low enough for a beginner or even if you're only going to use it once for a birthday party.
This is, however, a much smaller model than the others on this list. It doesn't create the fluffy spheres of candy you're used to; it's more a smaller, shorter cylinder, but you can always go back for another round when you finish a serving. The plastic guard around the bowl and heating element works to protect your hands from the hot sugar, but some reviews note that candy strands can fly out above it and make a mess. (Honestly, though, cotton candy is a messy food to eat no matter where it's made.)
Price at time of publish: $33
Dimensions: 10.5 x 10.5 x 9.3 inches | Weight: 4.2 pounds | Power: 450 watts | Extras: 10 wooden sticks
Olde Midway Commercial Quality Cotton Candy Machine Cart with Bubble Shield
Heats up quickly
Includes safety shield
Commercial-style cotton candy machines work really effectively, but they usually don't come with the safety features of smaller, less-powerful ones. This package gives you everything you need, with a huge, powerful machine that can make two cones per minute, a cart for portability and storage, and the plastic bubble shield that most high-end units lack. The shield makes it easier to collect the candy floss on a cone without letting strands of sugar blow away, while also keeping dirt and bugs out of the machine when you use it outside.
Of course, for all those extras, you're going to pay a pretty penny. The 950-watt heating element and belt-driven motor are among the most powerful and effective options available, and the cart includes both a convenient storage drawer and holder for three finished cotton candy cones. The huge bowl is attached securely with clamps but also comes off easily for simple cleaning. The Olde Midway is a machine for cotton candy fanatics only, but it's a great one for the cotton candy fanatic.
Price at time of publish: $397
Dimensions: 20.5 x 36 x 37 inches | Weight: 36 pounds | Power: 950 watts | Capacity: 2 servings per minute | Extras: Bubble shield, sugar scoop, 2 spare ribbon belts
Cotton Candy Express Fun Pack
Variety of flavors and colors
Makes up to 90 servings
Only includes 50 cones
Colors are not very vibrant
Once you've bought (or rented) a cotton candy machine, you still need ingredients for it, not to mention a way to serve the cotton candy. This convenient kit includes everything you need for a sizable party, with three jars of colored and flavored sugar specially designed to melt quickly and easily into fluffy floss, plus 50 old-school paper cones to wrap it around.
The kit comes with blue raspberry, pink cherry, and purple grape sugars, each enough to make up to 30 servings. (You'll run out of cones before you use up the sugar, but better that than the other way around.) Reviews praise how well the sugars work making cotton candy, though some buyers complain that the color winds up less vibrant than expected. Once you've sampled these flavors, you can try more: There are a total of 10 different Cotton Candy Express flavors, including bubble gum, chocolate, banana, and even piña colada.
Price at time of publish: $28
Includes: 3 (11-ounce) jars of floss sugar, 50 paper cones
For a fast, efficient, high-volume cotton candy machine like the pros use, the VIVO Electric Commercial Cotton Candy Machine is a perfect choice. If you're searching for a less expensive machine that makes just a few servings at a time, the Chef Buddy Cotton Candy Machine delivers high quality at a low price.
What to Look for in a Cotton Candy Maker
The larger the bowl of a cotton candy maker, the more cotton candy it can make at a time. A bigger machine will be more expensive, but it will make the basketball-sized fluffy spheres you find at the state fair. A smaller, countertop-sized machine is more affordable and storable but makes smaller servings of cotton candy. There are also cart-mounted cotton candy makers, which make the larger machines more portable by adding wheels but take up a lot of space.
Cotton candy makers vary pretty wildly in price. You can get a small machine made for countertop use for well under $50, while professional-level ones can cost $400 or more. The larger cart versions are party-ready and easy to transport, but they will run you a prettier penny. You should keep in mind that you'll also have to buy supplies—sugar and cones—as well, since most machines don't come with any.
A cost-saving option might be to rent a cotton candy maker. Party stores that rent out chairs, tables, bounce houses, and similar items usually have cotton candy machines on offer. If you only want cotton candy for a one-time event, this might be a good option, but the cost for a one-day rental is often a good fraction of the cost to just buy the machine new.
When it comes down to it, a cotton candy maker is essentially a heating element hooked up to a spinning motor, both of which use electricity to operate. More power makes for faster preheating and a larger sugar capacity, while an underpowered machine might need 10 minutes or more to get hot enough to start making cotton candy. Large commercial machines generally boast 800 to 1,000 watts, while smaller ones can get away with 400 to 500.
In order to get the best results out of your cotton candy maker, you should use sugar designed especially for cotton candy. Often called flossing sugar or floss sugar (because it's for making candy floss), this is granulated sugar that's been dyed and flavored and then dried. The sugar melts evenly, distributing the color and flavor throughout the cotton candy. There are many brands in countless colors and flavors. As a rough estimate, a half-gallon carton of flossing sugar is enough for 60 to 70 servings of cotton candy.
You can use plain granulated sugar for white cotton candy, but if you try to add your own food coloring or flavor extracts, you may not get consistent results. Some machines are designed to work with hard candies, too. You can toss one or two Life Savers or similar corn syrup-based candies into these machines to turn them into cottony floss—as long as the manual says your machine can use them.
Two ingredients that should never go in a cotton candy maker are butter and starches like flour. These ingredients don't melt down like plain sugar and will burn. That means no caramels, no butterscotch, no gummies, and also no powdered sugar—it has added cornstarch to keep the sugar from clumping.
Almost as important as sugar is something to wrap the wisps of candy around. A long cone or stick is traditional, as it keeps your hands from getting sticky and away from the hot parts of the machine. Paper cones made especially for cotton candy are durable, sturdy, and perfect for the job, but they're intended for only one use. Some machines come with reusable plastic cones. Besides those, a wooden skewer, chopstick, or basically any long, skinny object will work as a cotton candy holder. Just make sure whatever you use is completely dry, as any moisture will melt the candy down into a puddle of sticky goop.
How does a cotton candy maker work?
Cotton candy is made of sugar that's been turned into lots of tiny strands. A cotton candy machine does this by melting the sugar in a spinning chamber in the center, which flings out threads of liquid sugar that rapidly cool into cottony fibers.
The art of using a cotton candy maker comes in collecting those fibers on a cone or stick in order to make a puffy round cloud. With the machine preheated, pour in the sugar and then move the cone around the inside of the bowl, slowly twirling it to make an evenly circular pouf. (It sounds more complicated than it really is.) Once you get some practice with the technique, you can try making multicolored creations or fun shapes, too.
How do you clean a cotton candy maker?
With melted sugar being flung everywhere, cotton candy makers can get pretty sticky and messy. On the other hand, melted sugar is easy to clean up with warm water. No matter what machine you're using, it's helpful to let it run for a minute or so after you're done making candy to melt and clear out any excess sugar. After that, shut it off, unplug it, and wait for it to cool completely. Then you'll want to remove the bowl and any other pieces that disassemble. (Check the manual for instructions on doing that.)
To clean any removable parts, you can just scrub with a damp cloth or sponge, or soak in hot water to dissolve any residual sugar. Some models have dishwasher-safe pieces, but you should only use the dishwasher if your manual specifically allows it. Make sure to wipe down the exterior of the machine and any plastic guards, too. As with all electrical appliances, you should never submerge the motor or anything connected to the plug in liquid; consult the directions for tips on cleaning more delicate parts.
How often should you clean your cotton candy maker?
After every use, no matter what. If you let a sugar-coated machine sit around for days, you're likely to attract mold or even ants. You should also make sure everything is completely dry before you reassemble your machine, as moisture can lead to rust.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is an expert on all things food, from desserts and cookbooks to cooking gadgets. She's the author of her own cookbook, "Make Ahead Bread," and loves to test out her favorite kitchen gadgets and appliances. She also has an extensive blog where she details these recipes.
The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn updated this roundup. He's written about food and drinks for almost 20 years, and his greatest experience with cotton candy to date was when he worked as a production assistant on Food Network's "Candy Land" cooking competition show. He was responsible for renting a machine, and then got to spend an entire day working on perfect pink puffs to adorn the set.