How To Dye Rice for Sensory Play

How to dye rice for sensory play in 3 easy steps!  No rubbing alcohol, no messy baggies, no waste!

Have you ever seen the Rainbow Rice that we use in our sensory bins?  It’s vibrant and gorgeous!  You can use coloured rice for all kinds of sensory activities, and it’s SO easy to make!

There are lots of tutorials on the net that will show you how to dye rice for play.  Many of the recipes out there call for rubbing alcohol to “set” the colour, and most require ziplock bags. Our rice recipe uses neither, so it’s a little more kid-friendly, and it’s easier on the environment too.

jar of dyed rice


We use vinegar as an alternative to rubbing alcohol, and we use just ONE container when we dye rice in batches.  This method is quick and easy, and it’s fun, so grab the kids!  They’re going to want to help!

What you’ll need to make your coloured rice:

  • inexpensive white rice (1 cup for each colour)
  • white vinegar (1/2 tsp for each colour)
  • food colouring or icing gels (I use Wilton Icing Gels)
  • plastic container with lid (margarine container, ziplock food storage container etc)
  • something to dry your rice on i.e. *styrofoam meat trays, baking sheet, pie plate

*when using styrofoam meat trays, sterilize them first by running them through your dishwasher

Easy so far, right?  Ready to colour your rice?

how to dye rice - Happy Hooligans

How to dye rice in 3 easy steps:

1. Pour one cup of rice into a container.

2. Add some food colouring and the 1/2 tsp of vinegar, and snap the lid on your container.

3. Now for the fun part!  SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE! 

Once your rice is evenly coloured, dump it out on your meat tray or baking sheet to dry for a day or two.

Give the container a wipe and a rinse, and proceed with your next colour!

When it’s dry, your dyed rice is ready to use in sensory bins, or for crafts and sensory activities!

I spy bin with dyed rice

How easy was that!  Aren’t you just “dyeing” to dig in and play?

Storing your coloured rice:

Coloured rice will keep indefinitely when stored in an air-tight container.  We’ve been using ours for a couple of years now, and it’s still going strong!

Now that you know how to dye rice for sensory activities,  you might want to see how we dye pasta too!


Looking for more inexpensive sensory play ideas?  Try our:

Fairy Mud

Sensory Art

Garden Soup

2-Ingredient Cloud Dough

Easy, Homemade Play Dough

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  1. Jackie too (but here it's not common) says

    I’m a teacher (in France school starts at 2 or 3 years old) and I read each article you write and I’m so inspiring about your job! Thank you for sharing (woldwide) and sorry for my english…

    • happyhooligans says

      Thank you, Jackie! I am thrilled to hear you read all of my posts! And I’m so pleased that they’re inspiring you in your preschool! Thank you so much for taking time to let me know! x

  2. Sandra says

    Love this idea …done something similar place the food colouring in the bottom of the bowl cover with dry rice ..let the children stir and surprise the rice chages colour SP

  3. says

    Love this idea for getting the kids involved in making the rice – thanks for sharing. I just shared the way that I make coloured rice on my blog today as well – I use vinegar as well, but spray on the vinegar with a spray bottle. I think next time I’ll get my son involved with the spraying! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Valerie V says

    Just because I’m curious, since nothing in it is toxic, could it be cooked and there be any hope of it retaining its color?

    • happyhooligans says

      I don’t know if it would retain it’s colour while cooking, Valerie. I fear the colours would leach out and mix, and you’d get a grey or brown result.

    • Shimmering says

      If you want colored rice, cook plain rice a little less than al dante first, then when its still hot, mix the colors you want in milk or water, pour it over the rice and put the lid over the rice. Heat up the rice one more time for a couple of minutes and turn off the heat. Let the rice stay like this for 20-30 mins. If possible try to make the lid air tight.
      Or you can put the whole thing in the oven and cook the rice for 30-40 mins on 350F
      Then just fluff it and you ll get a mix of white rice with colored grains. You can use multiple colors.

      Also if your kids are allergic to food coloring or you simply dont want to use it, you can even use turmeric, beet juice, mint/spinach juice.

  5. Jessica Mitchell says

    Hi Jackie! This is my go-to recipe for colored rice. It is so easy. I have made several tubs of different colors for my boys and they love it! Thank you for this easy recipe. Cheers!

  6. says

    When I did mine I also put it in the oven on low for a bit just to dry it out faster (I also used vinegar instead). I just need to remember to get a decent sized bin to contain the mess because a tray is too shallow!

  7. Jannette Steverson says

    I am a great grandmother and dyeing rice and pasta is a wonderful idea. I hesitate to ask this for fear of appearing ignorant, but I need some ideas for fun things to do with the colored rice and pasta. Please help.

    • happyhooligans says

      Hi Jannette! Not a silly question at all! I like to use the rice and pasta as base materials for my sensory bins. You can see one here: Both materials are wonderful to run your hands though, making them excellent for sensory bins or discover bins. Also, you can fill a plastic bottle with rice and drop small trinkets into it. Seal it back up and you have an I Spy Bottle – kids can turn it over and over, looking for the hidden items. Hollow pasta is great for stringing necklaces and bracelets, and any coloured pasta is fun to create collages or mosaic art with. Both are fun to simply scoop/pour/sort into interesting jars and containers too. I set out a variety of glass jars, wooden bowls, funnels, sectioned trays etc. They can sort pasta by shape and colour and they can sift and pour the rice with scoops and spoons. All great fine motor and critical thinking activities. :)

  8. Theresa Rivera says

    Does the rice smell like vinegar after it dries overnight? My son is sensitive to smell and might not play with it if he doesn’t like the smell. I’m looking forward to making him a Christmas rice bin to play with! Thank you so much!

    • happyhooligans says

      I’ve heard others say they leave out the vinegar, Theresa. Others still use a bit of hand sanitizer. It is alcohol based, but if you’re ok with that, you can use it instead.

  9. Mandy says

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade – but vinegar is not that far off alcohol… It’s just cheaper.

    What Is Vinegar?

    Vinegar is a product of the fermentation of alcohol by bacteria to produce acetic acid. The acetic acid is what gives vinegar its tangy flavor and also the ingredient that makes vinegar useful for household cleaning. Although you can use any alcohol for fermentation, you want to use ethanol to make vinegar you can drink and use in recipes.

  10. Lisa says

    I can not get over how inspiring you are!! Where have you been all my life!??!!?!?! My kids are growing older getting in there teens and while they will do crafty stuff with me (when they think no one is looking) we do a lot with my niece 3 and nephew 2 :) thank so much for taking time from your busy days to share with all of us followers!!! You rock. Thanks for the fun!!

    • happyhooligans says

      Thank YOU for your kind words, Lisa! I’m so glad you like what you see here! You’re like me – my own boys are teens now, but unlike yours, mine no longer have any interest in crafting. Heehee. Thank goodness I have my daycare hooligans to get creative with! Glad you have some little ones to get crafty with too!

  11. Lynn says

    Hello!! I can’t wait to dye some rice! I need to make a lot of dyed rice for an art project at school, and I can get a huge bag of “parboiled rice” at Costco. I just read online that parboiled white rice is different than regular white rice. Anyone know if parboiled rice can be dyed the same as regular rice??

  12. Lindi says

    Hi, I have a silly question for you …. do you drain the rice from the vinegar/food colouring liquid first before you set it dry????

    • happyhooligans says

      There likely won’t be enough to drain, Lindi. You just sprinkle a small amount of the rice and it kind of absorbs it.

  13. Jenna says

    has anyone had trouble with the dye coming off on hands or clothes? We are filling a sand box with rice in the garage for our son who has SPD and needs to actually sit in the rice.

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