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How to Dye Rice – Busy Toddler


A cookie sheet full of drying rainbow rice sits on a counter. The rice is dyed yellow, blue, green, purple and pink. The text reads "How to Dye Rice for a taste-safe sensory bin."

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Making a rainbow rice sensory bin is one of the easiest and most satisfying DIY projects. In this post, you’ll learn how to dye rice (in a taste safe way) and find sensory bin activities that can be done once the rice dries. Grab your rice, food coloring, and vinegar: we’ve got rainbow rice to make.

A cookie sheet full of drying rainbow rice sits on a counter. The rice is dyed yellow, blue, green, purple and pink. The text reads "How to Dye Rice for a taste-safe sensory bin."

What is rainbow rice?

Rainbow rice is an umbrella term for colorful dry rice that’s been dyed to be played with. The color is bound to the rice making it a sensory activity that won’t make little hands messy.

It’s a unicorn sensory material.

Inviting, colorful, easy to make, and taste-safe. Yup, taste-safe.

What makes this recipe for rainbow rice special is that the rice is still “edible” at the end. You wouldn’t want to cook it for dinner but if your taby grabs a handful for a nibble, it’s safe for their little mouth (but probably won’t taste delicious).

Other versions of rainbow rice use hand sanitizer, tempera paint, or liquid water color. All are great options but lose the taste-safe joy of rainbow rice, which is why I’ve stuck with this method for seven years.

RELATED: Looking for information on sensory play, like why sensory bins are so important? Check out this article.

Looking for more structure each day?

Check out Playing Preschool: Busy Toddler’s 190-day at-home activities program

Is it hard to dye rainbow rice?

No.

A thousand times no.

When I was a first time Pinterest scrolling parent, I would audibly scoff at the idea of dyeing rice. Who has the time? Why go through all that fuss? And again, who has the time to be dyeing rice?

Turns out: it’s super easy and the process is really fun. In fact, making rainbow rice is it’s own fun activity and only gets kids more excited to play with the rice they learned how to dye.

And the why? Rainbow rice is magical rice. As much as I love the simplicity of a rice sensory bin, I know that rainbow rice is gold for kids. They go total moth to a flame with it so the little bit of extra time to make the rice comes back to you 100-fold.

RELATED: How do you get toddlers to play with sensory bins without making a giant mess? You teach them. Learn how to introduce toddlers to sensory bins here.

An up close image of mixed up rainbow rice colors: pink, purple, yellow, blue, and green.

Supplies

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  • 5 lbs bag of white rice: brown works but isn’t as vibrant
  • Food coloring: I used this pack of neon colors
  • White vinegar: this is going to preserve the rice

You’ll also need a few non-consumable supplies:

  • Resealable zipper bags or a container with a lid
  • Cookie sheet
  • Parchment paper: technically optional but makes clean up a breeze

RELATED: Love that feeling when you see a recipe online and have all the ingredients on hand? Me too. That’s how I feel about activities and supplies. You can see my list of supplies here.

The supplies for how to dye rice are on a counter: rice, food coloring, vinegar, and a container.

How to dye rice

Let’s get into the step-by-step of how to dye rice. Remember: it’s easy, it’s fun, kids can help, and the play at the end will be worth it.

Basic recipe/ratio for each color of rice (I do 5 colors):

  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • Generous squirts of food dye

This ratio (1:1 rice to vinegar) is gold. Stick with that formula and adjust from there.

Why vinegar? The vinegar helps spread and set the dye when using food coloring. There will be a slight vinegar smell the first day or so of play but this disappears fast.

Step four: Shake, shake, shake. Just turn on shake it off and really go for it. Just make sure the bag or the container is fully sealed. Trust me.

As you shake, open and check to make sure

Step five: Lay on a cookie sheet to dry. It will be dry in about 30-45 minutes. Don’t start playing with it until it is fully dry.

Step six: Repeat with the next colors, adding to the cookie sheet.

Make a rainbow rice sensory bin

Now that you know how to dye rice, it’s time to play with that rice.

Pour it into a sensory bin (my favorite is just an under the bed storage container from Target). You can add in just about any toy to the sensory bin to make it come alive.

Here are some of our favorite ways to play with rainbow rice over the years:

Rice and Funnels

There’s something about rainbow rice and funnels. These funnels are from the dollar store.

Scoops and Jars

Three jars and a few scoops and my toddlers were set for an hour. And days, and days, and days after that.

Construction Site

Toss in some toy trucks and turn it into a rainbow rice construction site. You won’t regret it.

Can you reuse rainbow rice?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Rainbow rice will last for YEARS if it is sealed in an air tight container.

I have rainbow rice that we’ve been reusing since 2019. The rainbow rice I made for this post when to a little friend who is 20 months old. His first rainbow rice sensory bin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the color stain hands?

Nope! Once it is dry, the color stays on the rice for-ev-er. It’s not coming off. But you have to make sure it’s dry before you play with it.

What age group likes rainbow rice?

All age groups. Once a child is safe to use a sensory bin with rice, they can try this activity – and they’ll keep playing with it well beyond age 10. No joke. Rainbow rice sensory bins are ageless.

How do you keep bugs out?

Store it in an airtight container, like you would any food item. And store it safely for the area you live in. Different climates will have different storage needs.

Susie Allison, M. Ed

Owner, Creator

Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.



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