How to Make an Ocean in a Bottle

Beautiful sensory play
Materials List

Plastic water bottle with cap

Clear vegetable oil


Plumber’s teflon tape (optional)

Duct tape (optional, but suggested)

Tiny plastic sea creatures (optional - small enough to fit through bottle opening)

Table covering/tarps/newspaper

Painting smocks or aprons (optional)

Paper towels


Funnel (optional)

Spoons for mixing

How to
Step 1

Remove any labels from your water bottles. Open your bottle and fill it halfway full with water. Add food coloring drop by drop until the desired color is reached (the darker the color, the better the contrast). If you are so inclined, add glitter and a few (not too many!) plastic sea creatures.

Step 2

Slowly fill the remainder of the bottle with vegetable oil. Leave a little air pocket at the top. Do not fill the bottle entirely, or your ocean won’t be able to move.

Step 3

Use a paper towel to dry and clean the top of the bottle (where the screw-top threads are). If you have plumber’s tape, apply a thin layer of it around the neck threads of the bottle (this will prevent any leaking. Screw on the cap so it’s nice and tight. If you have duct tape, wrap a strip of it around the cap end where the cap meets the bottle to further seal against any leakage.

Step 4

Turn your bottle on its side and gently tip it left and right -- your ocean will begin to move!

Craft Length
15 - 30 minutes
Attention, please! (a few rules to follow)
Prep Time
5 - 10 minutes
1 adult per 5 children

1. If removing the water bottle label proves to be tricky, try one of two techniques: A. Leave the bottle soaking over night in warm water. B. Use a solvent or gummy remover like Goo Gone.
2. Any spills should be cleaned up right away. Oil is very slick, you don’t want anyone slipping!
3. Sealing the end is very important, so make sure you use bottles that have a solid, sealing cap.
4. Some water bottles are made out of recycled materials, which is great, but the result is a much thinner bottle. Those bottles are not ideal for this project, since over time they break down, and the contents will begin to leak. Also, the walls of the bottle are so thin that they dent when they are handled. You are best off using a sturdier water bottle.


1. Play with colors -- instead of blue, do red or green.
2. Experiment with different small objects, like beads, jewels, rice, etc.. See what happens when you add those elements.