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

Rainbow Rice!  An easy, mess-freet 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.  You’lve probably seen coloured riced used as a base for sensory bins when you’re scrolling through Pinterest or your favourite kid blogs.  Coloured rice is wonderful for sensory play!   We used a mess-free process to dry this rice.  Hey, who doesn’t love a mess free project?  And, unlike many other recipes I’ve found, mine doesn’t call for Rubbing Achohol.

easiest way to make coloured rainbow rice

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Drizzle your 1/2 tsp of vinegar over the rice.
  3.  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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  1. says

    Love the colors!! I made mine with liquid watercolors from Discount School Supply. You don’t need alcohol or vinegar when using them. I used a large ziploc bag. Put the rice in, squeeze in the watercolors, squish it all around, then dump onto newspaper. I was able to use the same gallon bag for all the colors. Love seeing different ways to try things. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Lisa says

    I use liquid food color and nothing else. Just put it in a bowl and mix well with a spoon. It works great. Also: Try using wild rice. You get a variety of colors mixed on the darker grains of rice.

  3. Sarah Mankelow says

    This is so cool – I’m going to share it with my daughter’s preschool if that’s OK. I also like the painting with ice idea!

  4. Kathleen Veronica Yeh says

    LOVE! I just mentioned colored rice on a post this week…I’m featuring this at Thrifty Thursday this week since I have actually never made it! 😀

    • happyhooligans says

      Thank you! You really have to try it! It was so easy to make! ANd it’s SO pretty! Even when it’s all mixed up!

  5. Jessica says

    I love how the colors came out, they’re amazing! I just started teaching preschool 3 years ago and in my new classroom I do not have a sensory box but you’re idea is genius, love it! Thanks so much for sharing! Have a great weekend!!!!! :)

    • happyhooligans says

      I”m so glad we’ve inspired you to do a sensory box for your classroom, Jessica! Your little people will love it!

  6. Shirin says

    GREAT!!! Just tried it and we all loved it. We tried this before with rubbing alcohol in ziploc bags. This is way better and less mess and stink. I need to make a post about this and credit you for the lovey idea. Thanks, Jackie.

    • happyhooligans says

      I’m glad you had fun with it, Shirin. I love how easy and mess-free it is when you make it this way. Can’t wait to see what you create!

  7. says

    You know, I used vinegar while dyeing noodles and I found we didn’t like it, we much preferred the rubbing alcohol because the colors were more vivid. Also, when using vinegar with the noodles we found they became very brittle, which did not happen with the rubbing alcohol.
    Your rice, on the other hand looks quite vivid and we wouldn’t have to worry about rice becoming brittle. I will have to try this with rice. Thanks

    • happyhooligans says

      How interesting. We didn’t have a problem with our pasta becoming brittle when used vinegar in the dyeing process. In any case, the vinegar is a fine alternative for those who have concerns about using the alcohol when working with little ones. Thanks for your feedback.

  8. Lindsay Woods says

    I’m trying this tonight with black icing colour to make a sensory bin for Halloween – I can’t wait to see the results :)

  9. yasmine says

    This is super brilliant and it looks amazing!!! love it and thanks a million for the great tips ! keep up the good work!

  10. Annie says

    Have you ever tried using this technique to dye white beans? I tried gel food coloring and rubbing alcohol and my beans are still sticky and color comes off on our hands its been about 5 days and still like that. Wondering if the gel color was the problem. Ever have this problem? Tips?

    • happyhooligans says

      No, I’ve only used this process to dye rice and pasta, Annie. I know others have used it to successfully dye corn kernels, but I’ve not heard of anyone dyeing beans. Sorry. It’s the gel that I use to dye my rice and pasta, and I’ve never had a problem when working with those materials, but maybe the beans just don’t absorb it well. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

      • annie says

        Thanks! That’s what I was thinking… I read on another blog somewhere that the gel food coloring and rubbing alcohol don’t mix well. Maybe that was my problem. Looking forward to trying out rice and pasta next! Thanks again for your post and feedback!

  11. Jessica Mitchell says

    I just did the rice coloring project with my 4-year-old, and it was great. So easy! LOVE your blog and SPIRIT.

    • happyhooligans says

      I use the vinegar as a substitute for rubbing alcohol. I’ve read that some people use hand sanitizer, and I’ve heard that some don’t bother adding anything to set the colour, but you might run into the colour coming off on your hands. I can’t guarantee whether you will or not, but I add the vinegar so it doesn’t happen to us.

  12. says

    Love it and did it yesterday! One question: what about dyeing rice with liquid watercolors? I saw you used watercolors when dyeing pasta, why not rice?

    • happyhooligans says

      You can use either, Olgasek. I know lots of people who use liquid watercolours to dye their pasta and their rice.

  13. Lisha says

    Love this idea! But is it really necessary to add the vinegar? I’ve tried making rainbow rice with only liquid food colouring and they turn out great…what exactly does the vinegar do?

  14. Cindy Saffron says

    I always dry my pasta and rice in a big bowl using a hair dryer. It dries within 3 minutes and can be used immediately.

    • happyhooligans says

      That’s brilliant, Cindy! I use my hairdryer to dry our art projects all the time, but I’d never thought of using it to dry our rice! Thanks for the great suggestion!

      • happyhooligans says

        There are lots of sites that will allow you to convert measurements, Emma. If you google “measurement conversions”, it should pull a few up. I’m not sure if this helps, but our “cup” is 8 ounces.

  15. sophia says

    Hi… I used your recipe today & all worked out well…my kids loved the rainbow rice. Though I must ask… how do you store it? The last time I made rainbow rice [with rubbing alcohol] the rice got critters after about two weeks. Has this ever happened to you…?

    • happyhooligans says

      We’ve ever had a problem with “critters”, and we’ve stored our rice for over a year now. The only way I can think that critters would get in is if it’s not sealed in an air tight container. We keep ours in a large mason jar with a tight-fitting lid or in a sealed freezer bag.

  16. says

    I love your ideas! So creative! Just wondering if it’s a specific type of vinegar or just the stuff you would splash on your chips?? Thanks!

  17. Nida says

    Thank you so so much for posting this. I tried these out and they were great. They look super as they’re drying out right now. I didn’t imagine I could make something like this, especially since all the creative genes are in my sister. Hopefully my almost 2 year old will play with it, he was super excited while we made it together though :-)

    I made mine with regular liquid colours from Carrefour supermarket in Dubai and used take out containers to do the mixing. Drying out the rice is no problem at all thanks to the hot weather. The foam plates were a great plus.

    Enjoyed it :-)


  1. […] Great one: Happy Hooligans shared how to make colored rice…something I have always wanted to do and actually mentioned […]

  2. […] and fun! The night before we had the play date, we dyed rice using a quick and easy recipe fromHappy Hooligans. We also added “bubble gum” scent to our rice using Wilton’s Flavored Icing […]

  3. […] tsp of vinegar per 1 cup of rice – thank you to Happy Holligans for suggesting this method to dye rice instead of using rubbing […]

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