Whether you drink a cup of tea in the morning for a caffeine boost, a cup in the afternoon with cakes for tea time or a cup at night to fall asleep, a warm cuppa is a wonderful way to simultaneously soothe and stimulate your senses.
According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of tea in 2018 alone, which adds up to more than 3.8 billion gallons. That’s a lot of loose tea and tea bags.
Don’t let them go to waste! There are many uses for those soaked tea bags and leaves around your house and garden.
First, you should know that time is of the essence. Try to use your old tea bags as soon as possible. Moist tea bags can be kept at room temperature for a day, but any longer and you will want to refrigerate them in a moist medium to prevent mold and bacteria growth. The smell test is your best measure of bacteria growth — if that bag smells funky, then toss it in the trash.
So, what can you do with leftover tea leaves and tea bags? Here’s a few ideas:
Tea is yet another thing you may not have known you could compost. Toss brewed tea bags or leaves in your compost pile for a boost of nitrogen and nutrients.
There are a few restrictions, though. Make sure the bags are made of paper or muslin, and not polypropylene, which will not decompose (you can check the box to find out, but these will typically have a waxy coating and won’t tear). Be sure you also remove the metal staple from bags. You can also empty the used tea leaves directly into the compost.
Protect plants from fungus and pests
Even aside from compost, tea bags can be useful in your garden. Tea is generally a great fertilizer for plants that need acidic soil; dump used tea bags or sprinkle used tea leaves around the base of your plants to fertilize the soil and deter garden pests, especially mice. You can also rebrew used bags in a bucket of water and use the resulting weak tea to water your plants and protect them from fungal infections.
Clean your carpets
Use spent tea leaves to clean and deodorize your carpets. Open the used tea bags or spread out loose leaves on a fresh paper towel until they dry enough so that they are slightly damp. Sprinkle the damp loose tea with a handful of baking soda over your dirty rugs and carpets and leave them until they are dry. Vacuum or sweep the dried tea leaves away from your freshly cleaned carpets. The tea leaves and baking soda will work together to soak up dirt and odors.
Used tea is also great for removing lingering odors from your home. You can mix dried used tea leaves into stinky cat litter, or drop a few dry used tea bags into the bottom of your trash bins to keep nasty smells out of your kitchen as you collect your trash for the week. If you cook with garlic, fish or other odorous ingredients, you can keep odors from lingering by washing your hands with water steeped with used tea leaves. You can also keep a bowl of used tea bags in the back of your refrigerator to absorb odors if you run out of baking soda.
Degrease dirty dishes
Tea can be a miracle worker for greasy dishes. Soak your dishes in warm water with a couple of used tea bags to break up grease without the application of harsh chemicals. The tannins will help to loosen any sticky food and save you from scrubbing.
Stain wood surfaces
If you are a hobby woodworker, save your used tea bags for a lovely DIY finish on your favorite wood furniture pieces. Prepare weak tea made from pre-brewed bags to stain wood, clean or shine hardwood floors and polish wood furniture. Check out this handy DIY from the blog Saw on Skates to help you prepare your own tea-based wood stain.
Clean streaky glass
Like with greasy dishes, tea is surprisingly effective at stripping stubborn stains from your glass surfaces and widows. Wipe down windows with a slightly moist tea bag, or re-brew used tea bags and spray the weak tea onto windows, mirrors and other glass surfaces. Wipe away the mixture with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove the loosened dirt, grime and fingerprints while minimizing streaks and dust particles.
Dye paper and cloth
If you are looking for a fun twist on your stationary, steep used tea bags and use the weak tea water to turn white paper into sepia-toned, antique-looking parchment. You can also use weak tea made from pre-brewed bags to dye white cloth if you are trying to bring new life to your clothing in a natural way. You can experiment with the tannins and dyes from different teas to create a spectrum of shades of warm brown, orange or pale green. Check out this DIY on how to age paper with tea from Empty Easel and this post about dyeing fabric with tea from Create Whimsy.
Liven up your rice, quinoa or barley by placing a leftover tea bag or two into the boiling pot of water and cooking as usual. Tea can boost the flavor profile of your grains with subtle spice without any extra salt or seasoning.
Soothe your skin
Used tea bags can be repurposed to soothe puffy eyes, canker sores and sunburns. Unlike tannins in fruits, tea tannins don’t have tannic acid, so it is soothing for your skin. Apply chilled used tea bags directly to sunburns, or brew used tea bags and dab the weak mixture onto sunburns with a clean cloth. Chill a used tea bag in the freezer and place it over a canker sore to help shrink it and ease the discomfort. If you are suffering from allergies, you can place a chilled, used tea bag over your closed eyes until the puffiness subsides. You can also use warm, wet tea bags as a compress to soothe the pain of pinkeye. Tea bags can also be used to reduce under-eye circles.
All of these ways to repurpose tea bags and leaves may change the way you think about tea time. What are your favorite ways to repurpose used tea? Add them to the comments below.