Why Dye With Tea and Coffee?
Tea and coffee provide a quick and easy way to dye paper and fabrics. Originally tea dyeing was used to hide stains on table cloths, dish towels and aprons. Nowadays it is a great way of adding color and age to a project. White paper looks far more interesting when stained with a subtle shade of tea, journal pages gain instant authenticity when they sport a few coffee rings, natural fabrics look warm and inviting when they lose their pristine look. Other reasons to dye with tea or coffee is that it is cheap, slightly unpredictable and fun!
In her book The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, author Sasha Duerr, explains that using natural dyes, including tea and coffee, is one way we can eliminate toxic chemicals from our home. Her book includes a 'recipe' for coffee dyeing a t-shirt.
What Fabric Will Take a Tea or Coffee Stain?
Fabric needs to be natural - wool, silk or cotton is recommended. If you aren't sure then try a test patch.
Recipe for Coffee or Tea Dyeing Fabric
For each yard or metre of fabric you will need:
- 4 cups/1 litre of water
- 1.5 cups/360ml of instant coffee or tea (not made up).
- Two tablespoons of salt
- Put water and coffee/tea into a large pan and bring to the boil.
- Switch off the heat and immerse the fabric. Leave it for up to 60 minutes, gently agitating it now and then.
- Check how the color is taking, but remember that it will dry lighter than it looks when wet.
- When it is a shade that you like, take the fabric from the, by now, cooled dye, wring out gently and set to dry, either outdoors or over a tub or sink.
TIP #1: Don't throw away the tea/coffee dye right away. Let the fabric or garment dry and if it is too light, simply dunk it back in the solution for a further 30 minutes or even longer.
TIP #2: If you like, you can tie the fabric in bunches with string for a soft tie-dye look prior to immersing in the tea/coffee. Remove the string only when the fabric is dry.
TIP #3: Lay the wet, dyed fabric out flat and sprinkle on a handful of salt crystals. Leave where it is to dry. The crystals will absorb some of the dye, leaving an interesting spotted effect.
Distressing Fabric with Coffee
Make up a fresh strong brew of coffee. One or two cups should do it. Keep the grounds. Allow coffee and grounds to cool. Lay the fabric out on a waterproof surface and drip coffee randomly onto the fabric. Take a handful of grounds and rub it randomly on the fabric. Smoosh it around, squeeze it, drip more coffee, if you like. You can add sea salt crystals and spices such as cinnamon. Be as rough as you like. Allow the fabric to dry, shake off the coffee grounds, and assess the results. You should have a pretty beat-up piece of fabric to use in art projects or anywhere else that grunge is necessary.
TIP Wear strong rubber gloves as this process is a little rough on the hands.
TIP: Decant some coffee into a spray bottle and let loose!
Making white paper look old is simple. Make a cup of strong coffee or tea by whichever method you prefer. Have your paper on a waterproof surface and simply paint the coffee or tea on with a foam brush or a small decorator's brush. Turn the page carefully and paint the other side. Allow to dry.
If you want to stain multiple sheets of paper then use waxed sheets to separate them. After painting the first sheet, cover it with a sheet of waxed paper, slightly larger than your stained sheet. Gently lift the waxed paper and the stained paper should come with it. Lay them, waxed paper down in a convenient drying place - like the kitchen floor. Make sure you have protected the floor with some plastic sheeting first. Then repeat the process with the next sheet, finally laying it down on top of the other, again, waxed paper down. When you have finished, you can put one last sheet of waxed paper on your stack and weigh them down with a heavy book or chopping board. Leave overnight to dry. Next day, carefully peel the stack apart and iron the individual stained sheets.
Tea or Coffee Paper Art
Experiment with different papers and different ways of applying the coffee or tea to them. Spray, dab or wipe the coffee onto the paper. Use a mug as a stamp by dipping the bottom into a dish of coffee and stamping it onto paper.
Save your used teabags and press them or squeeze any remaining tea out of them onto the paper. Get your children or grandchildren to create artful animals with the blotches. They will be thrilled that they can paint without paint.
Use your grungy, coffee stained paper as backgrounds for journals, scrapbooks or collages. There's no end to what you can do with tea and coffee dyeing.
Check out the resources below for even more ideas.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a white ring on my outside stone steps as a result of fertilizing plants. Can I use tea to cover the stain?
Answer: I doubt it as it will be washed away and/or faded by the sun pretty quickly. You probably need to get some advice from a stone mason or landscaper. My experience with tea dying is restricted to paper and fabric, I'm afraid.
Question: If I want to dye white cheesecloth an ivory color, how much coffee would I use?
Answer: There are too many variables to give you an exact amount. I'd say experiment with a very weak brew and go on from there.
Question: I need to dye a fabric border around a polypropylene rug. It is currently a caramel color. Do you think applying a very strong coffee dye would achieve a dark brown result?
Answer: No, I don't think it will be dark enough. And even if it is to start with, it will probably fade to a lighter color. You need to establish what the fabric is made of and then perhaps apply dye with a brush. If the rug is washable, you could maybe use a cold water dye and do the whole thing in one go. The polypropylene won't be affected.
Question: Which type of coffee do I use for coffee staining?
Answer: Any instant or ground coffee works fine. Try different things: try pasting on hot coffee grounds, let dry and then shake or vacuum off. There are several suggestions in the article.
Question: What's the difference between using tea vs coffee? When would I use one over the other, or are they equivalent?
Answer: It depends on what shade you are after. Black tea tends to be brighter than coffee. I haven't tested the difference in longevity because I've only used it on paper and wood and, once stained, they stay stained.
Question: I coffee stain quite a few items in the summer and set out to dry and darken in the sun. Can I use a heat lamp or grow lamp in the winter when I have to let them dry inside? I prefer the look the sun gives them and they aren't items I can put in the dryer or oven to dry.
Answer: It's a great idea to experiment with scraps and see if the lamps work. You may find that simply drying them on a central heating radiator works just as well.
Question: What’s the best way to dye a fabric covered paper lampshade?
Answer: I would say paint the dye on carefully with a soft brush. It would be a good idea to test a tiny area first.
Question: I have white polyester gloves I want to be a little darker. Will tea staining work?
Answer: It's doubtful. Polyester is resistant to natural dyes. It would just wash out. You could try a dye specifically for polyester.
Question: How do I coffee stain cotton balls?
Answer: You can't. As soon as you wet them, they won't regain their fluffiness when dry. But there's nothing to prevent you experimenting with them.
© 2012 Bev G
Dyeing for Coffee?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 14, 2019:
Hi Deanne, can you test a little bit of the tea/coffee solution as given in the article in a place that can't be seen? Or perhaps go back to the upholsterer for a sample of the same fabric for testing?
If you decide to go ahead, it won't hurt the fabric, although I wouldn't add too much salt to the solution.
Deanne Mencher on June 14, 2019:
I need help. I just spent a lot of money having a chair upholstered where it used to be cane,it is now fabric, It is supposed to be anantique persian rug pattern, bu there is toomuch white goingthrough it, can I paint on liquid coffee w salt in it? or rub it in to the upholstered fabric.. I cant stand the whiteness! any suggestions?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 12, 2019:
Experiment... it's part of the fun.
Pritika on February 12, 2019:
Can I use instant coffee to stain my paper and should I use thin paper or thick?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 03, 2017:
Hi Kaeth, I wouldn't dip it, but I'd try very gently painting the coffee on to the lantern. Don't soak it or the paper will tear. If the paper has a shiny finish, it won't work. Let us know how it goes.
Kaethe bratton on November 03, 2017:
Can I dip a white paper lantern into coffee,to give it a tan?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 12, 2017:
All you can do is experiment, Jennifer. On some fabrics, it won't take at all. On others, the longer you leave it, the deeper the colour.
Jennifer on September 11, 2017:
If it's left longer will it give it better permanent results?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 19, 2017:
Hi Stephanie, if it doesn't work, it usually means that the fabric won't take a dye. It has to be cotton or some other 100% natural fabric.
Stephanie on August 18, 2017:
what do you do if the coffee dying doesn't work?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 04, 2016:
Hi Lissa, I think I'd try them without rinsing first. Dry them and see how they look. If not so good, then rinse in cool water.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 13, 2015:
Hope it works out. I've used it on several things, including aging wood. Thanks for stopping by x
MG Seltzer from South Portland, Maine on July 13, 2015:
Very helpful! I've tried doing this wih white clothes that are too stained to keep white. I didn't know what I was doing so I got iffy results. I'm looing forward to trying your tips. Thank you. Thumbs up, of course.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 08, 2012:
Thank you, Angela.
Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 07, 2012:
This is very cool!
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 30, 2012:
Heather Henley from Buckfield, Maine on May 29, 2012:
Love this! Great job