How To Dye Rice – Vibrant Sensory Play, Crafts & More

How to dye rice - Colors

Have you ever played with colored rice? Kids love it! I saw many people playing with colored rice on Pinterest, and I always thought it looked beautiful and fun. I thought it would be complicated and time-consuming. But it’s actually really easy, quick, and cheap to make. There are many creative possibilities to explore, from being used for sensory play activities to becoming materials for crafts. So when I had some free time, I googled “how to dye rice?” and without realizing I had opened the door to a new, creatively fantastic, and colorful world.

You may be thinking: “I don’t have the time,” “This is for mothers that don’t have a full-time job,” “What do I do with it?”… and I used to think the same thing, but believe me, it is super fast to make! Really! And even if you don’t have time during the week, it is a fun play activity for the weekend! Trust me on this. (And also have a vacuum or broom around, you’ll probably need it – but don’t worry, it’s a dry mess).

In this post…

Learn how to dye rice

How to dye rice - Bowls

We have tried different recipes with different ingredients: vinegar, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, and paint. Of all of them, my favorite option is vinegar. Why? Because it checks all of these three boxes:

  • Super easy
  • Super quick
  • Safe

You might probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now. You can use any type of rice, even if it has gone past the expiry date.

How to dye rice - Ingredients and tools

Ingredients (for 1 cup of dyed rice)

  • 1 cup of uncooked white rice
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar
  • Drops of food coloring

Tools

  • Measuring cups
  • Food container (you can use a Zip log bag – but I prefer the container because it is cleaner and there is less waste)
  • Tray (I ended up buying several TILLGÅNG trays from Ikea since they are super helpful for all kinds of activities – they are $1, 1€, £1 each)
  • Baking sheet paper + washi tape (to tape it to the tray, so it doesn’t curl)

How to dye rice steps – the method I like best:

How To Dye Rice - Step by step
  1. From a bag of rice, measure 1 cup and place inside the food container.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar spreading it around.
  3. Add drops of food coloring.
  4. Put on the lid and securely close the food container.
  5. Now, shake the rice! Give it a big shake for 20 seconds or until you feel it is all colored evenly. (This is the bit my son loves the most – he can’t shake the color all the way, so he starts, and I finish).
  6. Open the lid and voilà! Dyed rice!
  7. Place spread out on the tray with the baking sheet previously taped to the tray.
  8. Leave it to dry (it will be faster if it can be outside with direct sunlight).

How long does it take to dye rice?

I timed myself, and it took me literally 2 minutes to have the rice dyed. It is so easy and quick.

Now… how long does it take for the rice to dry? That depends on the season, the weather, and the temperature. I’ve been dying rice this summer and placing the trays out on the balcony. So with the tray in direct sunlight at 30ºC temperature in 30 minutes to 1 hour, the rice was ready to play with. This was much faster than I expected (many places I had read said from 2 to 3 hours or to leave overnight). I must thank our sunny weather for this.

Of course, you can let it outside longer if you want, or prepare it at night, and it will be ready for playing in the morning. But just so you know, if it is sunny and warm outside, in 1 hour, you could be playing with it.

Tips for creating a rainbow tray

How To Dye Rice - Rainbow Tray

When creating rainbow rice, what I do is the following:
First, I start dying with the lightest color of the rainbow: yellow. Then, once the rice is dyed and spread out on the tray, I take that tray outside, use the same food container, and repeat the operation for the next color: orange. Followed by red. Finally, I would give a rinse and dry with a paper towel and continue with green, blue and purple.

It took me around 25 minutes to get them done and get the hang of it the first time. Now it takes me no more than 15 minutes to have every color of rice drying under the sun (only if I have no little distractions in between).

To speed things up, I bought several TILLGÅNG trays from IKEA. They are handy for many activities, dishwasher safe, and best of all, they have a great price: $1, 1€, £1 each. It’s one of the best investments I’ve made lately.

How To Dye Rice - Drying Trays

Once you have your colored rice created, it is time to place them on the tray. I use a piece of cardboard to help me put them, occupying the space I plan for each color. This way, you don’t mix the colors. Now, take as many pictures as you want now because once the children are involved, it will all get mixed in no time.

How to dye rice without vinegar?

If I didn’t have vinegar, I would go with lemon juice. But of course, it is slightly more work – you need to cut the lemon, use a press to get the juice, and have somewhat more time to clean afterward. So as you can see, it’s not a big deal and totally doable, but I am sticking to vinegar for my own convenience. It’s quicker, and we do not mind the smell.

What can you do with colored rice?

How to dye rice - Ideas

And now comes the fun part! Yay! As I mentioned before there are many things you can do with it. I’ll list a few and post some pictures that hopefully will spark some inspiration. I have separated them into 2 sections: Play & Create.

Each child has its own personality, and they will probably enjoy some activities more than others. For example, my almost 3-year-old son enjoyed playing with it in the sensory bin, on the light table, manipulating it with scoops, and moving it between containers. On the other hand, my 5-year-old daughter enjoys the more crafty side; she loves creating line art with glue, the layered bottles, and drawing on the light table.

There are many possibilities; you just need to adapt to your child and enjoy more.

Colorful play ideas

Using rice for sensory play is an easy and fun play experience for your children. When they manipulate it, play on it, search for things hidden underneath it – their senses are awoken, and what they learn while doing so will likely have a more significant imprint on them. Here are some ideas of ways to play:

  • Sensory play with bins. You can fill bins with rice to create sensory bins. Use one color, two, or you can even create a rainbow with it. Use it to make small worlds – for example, you can combine shades of blue and simulate it in the ocean, or combine greens, and it can be grass. Or let them explore and manipulate with spoons, containers, scoops, and funnels.
  • Sensory bottles for sensory play hearing. You can fill bottles with rice to create shakers. Combine colors or stick to monochrome, so they are also appealing to the eye. You can also fill different bottles with different quantities of rice and experience the difference in the sounds. Finally, add some objects in the bottle for them to find, like this ocean-themed bottle, with a dolphin, a shell, and a hidden shark.
How to dye rice - Sensory Bottles
  • Playing on a light table. You can spread the rice on a light table and see if you can tell the difference between colors. If you put a thin layer of rice, you can draw and write on it. For more ideas of things to do on a light table, check out this post.
  • Role-play – let’s cook! If role-playing in the kitchen is fun, add some colored rice or pasta to the mix, and the pretend dishes will be even more delicious. We use yellow rice to “cook” traditional Spanish paella with different “toppings” like mushrooms, peppers, and peas.
How to dye rice - Paella
  • Colour exploration. Have them mix colors (for example: yellow and red to give the illusion of orange). Or give them a small number of mixed colors and ask them to sort them. This is an activity to work on patience and only if your little one can be still and concentrated for some time.
How To Dye Rice - Multicolored Rice
  • Rice treasure hunting. Hide things under the rice and have them discover what they are just by touching them. Can they guess what it can be? You can also hide things inside a bottle with rice and see if they can spot them and identify them.
How to dye rice - Ocean sensory bottle

Crafts & creative ideas

  • Colourful rice layered jars & bottles. When I was little, I used to do this with salt, now we have adapted it with rice. It is easier to start with a jar with a wide opening – they can create them using only a spoon. If the gap is narrower, they might need a funnel.
How To Dye Rice - Layer Jar
  • Rice line art. This is so easy and much fun. First, draw lightly with a pencil the drawing you would like to make. Take white glue and trace a section and while it is still wet, throw some rice on it. Press gently and wait for 1 minute before placing the paper vertically and letting the excess fall (better to work on a tray). Repeat with the whole drawing until every line has been covered.
How To Dye Rice - Coloring a Rainbow with rice work in progress
  • Mosaics. Mosaics are patterns or images traditionally made of small pieces of colored ceramic, glass, or stone held by plaster and covering a surface. They were used to decorate floors and walls and were particularly popular in the Ancient Roman world or used by modernist artists like Antoni Gaudí. Why not replicate with rice and glue? It is more time-consuming, but the results are beautiful.
How to dye rice - Rocket mosaic
  • Rangoli. Rangoli is an art form originating from the Indian subcontinent. Patterns and designs are created on the floor, tabletop, or other flat surfaces made with colored sand, dry rice, flower petals, and colored stones. In India, they are mainly done during festivals and are thought to bring luck and prosperity to the family and welcome guests. Because of their beauty and the meticulous work that creates them, they are regarded as a grand gesture and symbol of hospitality. They are not glued, just placed, so Rangolis will usually last one day, as a reminder that beauty and time fly and nothing is permanent. Since it is difficult for little ones, we do them with the wooden hoops, and hopefully, one day, we’ll do real Rangolis.
How to dye rice - Rangoli hoops

What do you do with the rice afterward?

All the remaining rice I store to be able to use it again another day. I reuse glass jars and plastic containers from takeaway and have them stored and ready for some other time. Sometimes we even sort out the grains into colors.

How To Dye Rice - Storage

“How to dye rice?” The question that opened the door to a colorful, creative world for me

I started exploring this world for my children to play with, but to be honest, it is something I am really enjoying doing for myself. I love to see how something as simple as a cup of rice can become something so colorful as the rainbow. Feeling the rice slip through my fingers or create rice line art can be very soothing and relaxing. Happiness is in the little things.

Final tip: Always have a vacuum or broom at hand. Rice will spill, and rice will fall, but it doesn’t stick anywhere and is very easy to clean up the mess. My son (usually the one that causes the most giant chaos) always wants to pitch in – he didn’t get much cleaned up at first, but he is improving little by little (I always do the final sweep). Hopefully, not long from now, he’ll be able to completely clean up and leave spotless.

I would love to know your tips and your experiences with dying rice. What do you like creating, or how do you like playing with it?

Happy rice dying!

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4 thoughts on “How To Dye Rice – Vibrant Sensory Play, Crafts & More”

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