Monday, April 11, 2016

How to Dye Rice

I decided that between the weather heating up and my belly getting bigger, I needed to make something to put in the sensory table that could hold Bears' attention.  I tossed a few ideas around, but wanted to go with dyed rice for his table.  It's easier to clean up then sand and he can still use his sand toys with the rice.  I made this into a tot school activity to do with Bear, though he wasn't interested in making the dyed rice.

A quick run to the store and I had everything I needed.

Gather a few more supplies from around the house and I'm ready to start making the colorful rice!

To start, I lined the baking sheets with parchment paper.  You can use any wax paper or even aluminum foil if you don't have parchment paper.  It doesn't have to be perfect, you just want it to cover more then the sheet itself.

I forgot to take a picture of the next step. 

Our sensory table holds 30 lbs of rice.  This means I can make 5 lbs of each color; Blue, Green, Red, Yellow, orange, and Purple.  You can divide up the rice however you need to, but you need to make sure you follow the formula.  

1 Tablespoon of Distilled White Vinegar to 1 cup of raw rice.

I divided up the 10 lb bag into four containers that each contained 5 1/4 cups of rice.  Two container will be for one color.  I found out the hard way that anything more than 6 cup in a gallon size zip lock doesn't give an even color distribution, hence the two bags for one color.

Using the formula from above I put 5 1/4 tablespoons of vinegar into a zip lock bag.  

I then added an entire .25 fl oz container of food dye into the bag with the vinegar.  Once again this is for 5 1/4 cups of rice.  Use less if you are making less.  You can add more or less food dye depending on the color you are looking to achieve.  Just know the more your child plays with the rice the lighter the color becomes.  I suggest a darker color to start with because of that.  

I could only find the small food dye containers, but if you can get the large ones I would go with that and just measure it out.  

Use a glove as the dye can splatter staining your hands or clothing.

Once all the dye is in, give it a few swirls to mix it up.  Next add the rice from one of the containers.

Your little one can help pour the rice into the bag.

Close the bag and make sure you leave air as it makes it easier to mix it.

Another opportunity to help by shaking the bag of rice.

Shake until it is combined.  Leave it in the bag for an hour or so making sure to shake it every 15 minutes.  Any liquid will settle to bottom so a good shake will help it distribute better.  You will notice chunks start to form the longer the bag sits.  This isn't a problem they crumble rather easily when you shake.

This is what it looked like after the hour was up.

Putting back on a glove and spread out the rice on the tray.  The thinner a layer you get the faster it will dry.  Some people like to bake them low and slow to speed up the process but I am fine just letting it dry naturally or on a sunny (non-windy) day leave it outside.  

This is a rather thick layer so I left it to dry for 24 hours.  

A few questions I know I will get asked so let's address them now...

The vinegar stinks!

-  Yes, the room you make it in will smell like vinegar until you bag up the rice.  The rice will continue to "off-gas" for a while unless it is left to air out.  Drying it outside seems to be the best way to keep the smell out of your house and also seems to get rid of the vinegar scent faster.

Are there other methods of dying rice?

-  Yes there are other methods of dying rice.  The two most common I run across are tempera paint pour directly into the bag of rice and the other is using rubbing alcohol instead of the vinegar.  They are both effect in dying rice however I prefer those methods for older children.  Ones that know better then to eat colorful rice. 

I like this method for kids under 5 or 6 years old as all materials are edible.  It tastes gross as Bear quickly found out when he grabbed a handful and licked.  I haven't seen him try it again.  That said I also know nothing in there could harm my child or even on of his friends if they tried it.  I obviously don't encourage any kid to ingest the dyed rice but I feel better knowing I'm not relying on the term "non toxic" (for paint) or the thought that "it's such a small amount of rubbing alcohol" as a safety net.  While both are true this method makes me feel better about it all.

What do you do with the rice when you are done with it?

I like to up cycle the rice and use it for art projects.  The colors will be mixed but that doesn't bother me at all.  I'll post a bit more on this in the future.  

Can I make one color?

Yes, make one color or a dozen different ones the formula is the same.  If you are using this specifically for an art project you can make a single cup or half of a cup the same exact way you make it in bulk.

The smaller the batch the easier for kids to help.
I did that here for a small project to do with Bear.  

Can you add scents to it?

Yes you can, but wait until the rice finishes "off gassing."  The vinegar smell will alter the scent you wish to add.  Put the dyed rice in a sealed container, add a few drops of your essential oils and pour it back out onto the lines tray and let it dry.  I have only done this once but note it takes a whole to dry as most scents are oil based.  You can bake this low and slow to speed it up.  Mix well throughout the process and keep a close eye not burn it.  

That said scents can encourage younger kids to try and eat the rice.  This is why I avoid this step with my own child at this point.

How do you store the rice when it's not being used?

Many people use Rubbermaid bins to store the rice and toys and in that case putting the lid on it should be just fine.  Our sensory table has a lid and so I use that in between uses.

Small Jars are easier for kids to handle and less likely to make a mess.
Long term I prefer plastic jars with screw top lids.  I use peanut butter jar that I washed and dried.  You can use glass or even zip lock bags, anything air tight really.  I suggest plastic only because Bear helps me carry supplies to the table or put them away.  There is less of a chance to break them if he slams it down or drops it.

So there you have it, how to dye rice.  If you have any more questions then feel free to ask.  


  1. This is such a neat idea, I love it!

  2. I love this idea. I think when we move we will be looking into getting another sensory table.

    1. We love ours! It's a water/sand table technically, but really it's just a shallow basin with a lid. It holds about 40lbs of sand. I used it for mega bloks at one point and with shaving cream another time.


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