Rainbow Rice – How to Colour Vibrant Rice For Play without Rubbing Alcohol

easiest way to make coloured rainbow rice

This is the easiest way to dye rice for sensory bins, arts and craft without using rubbing alcohol.

The weather is dull and dreary here today, so I thought I’d make some rainbow rice to brighten things up a bit.  This is super easy to make.  There are all kinds of recipes for it out there in the blog-o-sphere, but I chose to make mine a little differently than most of the recipes I’ve seen.  I also used a super simple method for mixing the rice which saves time, mess and materials.

Supplies for dyeing vibrant rainbow rice for play:


  • inexpensive, long grain white rice
  • vinegar
  • food colouring or icing gels
  • food storage container with lid

I used a bag of white rice that we’ve been using for ages in our sensory bins.  Whenever I make a sensory bin, I always save the base material for future use, so that means I have bags of rice, lentils, popcorn kernels, pasta, oatmeal etc. tucked away that we’ll likely continue to use and re-use for years. I just want to mention that most recipes that I’ve seen call for using rubbing alcohol in this recipe as an agent for “setting” the colour so the rice doesn’t stain your hands when you’re playing with it.  A few sites suggested using vinegar as an alternative, but most who mentioned it, hadn’t tried it.  I decided to give the vinegar a try so we’d know for sure if it worked as a more kid-friendly alternative to the rubbing alcohol.  I’m happy to say that my rice turned out to be really vibrant, and I’ve run my hands through all the colours while it’s drying, and the colour didn’t transfer to my hands.

How to make coloured rainbow rice:
For each colour, I used:

  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • a gob of Wilton icing gel (you could also use several drops of liquid food colouring)

For your convenience, I’ve included Amazon Affiliate links for some of the products in this post:


An easy, mess-free alternative to using ziplock bags:

Most recipes suggest mixing the rice/food colour in a ziplock bags.  The thrifty mama in me looked for easier and less wasteful method, so I went out to the recycle bin, and grabbed a margarine container that was headed for the trash.  I cleaned that out, and it worked perfectly!  Just give it a quick wipe between batches in case there’s any colour left behind (there won’t be much at all – the rice absorbs most of it).

Colouring the rice:

Pour a cup of rice into your margarine container.  Then, with a toothpick, a stir-stick, knife, whatever… (I used a plastic toothpick that I could just wipe off each time), swirl a generous gob of colour-gel through the rice.  Drizzle your 1/2 tsp of vinegar over the rice.  Pop the lid on your container, and shake the heck out of it.  Remove lid, and be amazed!

Drying the rice:

Spread each batch out on a plate or a cookie tray (I used styro meat trays – I run them through the dishwasher before using them for this kind of thing) to dry.  You can place them in the sun, or by the fire to dry them quickly.  It’s not sunny here, but it’s too warm to have the fire going, so I’m just going to leave my trays on the dining room table over the weekend.

how to make rainbow rice Doesn’t it look fantastic?   To see how we played with it, visit our other post:  Playing with the Rainbow Rice!

Looking for more colourful and creative play ideas?  Try our:

Coloured Cloud Dough

Sensory Art

Salt, Glue and Watercolour Art

Icy, Coloured Hand Melt

Rainbow Playdough

Colour Laboratory

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 25+preschool activities, 10 printables, 50 links to activities not featured in the book all for $6.99 until May 25, 2014.  Price increases to $8.99 after the 25th.  Download your copy today:

3-5 Playful Preschool 3-book

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Yours in play, Jackie from Happy Hooligans

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