How to Stain with Used Tea Bags

By: Claribel Pope  | 

Looking for a natural way to stain paper, fabric or wood? The solution could be inside your teacup.
Looking for a natural way to stain paper, fabric or wood? The solution could be inside your teacup.
iStockphoto/Carmen Martínez Banús

Tea leaves its mark -- literally. You've probably noticed its nature to stain your mug, napkins, countertops and teeth with time. So, why does it stain so easily? Tea has the power to stain because it contains tannins. Tannins give tea its color and acidity, and even play a part in its flavor [source: Britannica]. While tannic tea stains can be troublesome, they do not have to be. For instance, staining with tea bags is a safe and inexpensive way to add color to your crafting and household projects.

Tea bags offer a natural alternative to chemical dyes or complex staining kits. Use your imagination to think of the objects in your home and daily life that might look better with a tint of color. Stumped for items to stain with tea bags? If you're still searching, look no further than this article. Here you will learn how to stain a variety of household materials with tea bags, starting with plain pieces of paper. You can use your tea-stained paper to give your journal and scrapbook pages a unique and antiquated look. Next you will learn how to stain white fabrics with tea bags. You can use this technique for all sorts of fabric crafts, from homey table linens and tea towels to embroidery and quilting projects and more. Finally, you will learn how to darken a light-colored piece of raw wood with tea bags instead of using harsh conventional wood stains.


Did these tea bag staining ideas get your brain brewing? Read the next page to find out how to start staining paper with tea bags.

Using Used Tea Bags to Stain Paper

If you like to use paper that looks antiqued for your journaling, scrapbooking and other creative paper crafts, it's possible to give paper that aged look at home. You don't even have to buy special paper or dyes.

Staining paper with tea is inexpensive and versatile because it allows you to experiment with different shades of stain on different types of paper using materials you already have at home. All you need are some tea bags and water to transform your existing paper into something unique. While it is easiest to tea stain loose leaf paper, bound journal or book pages can also be stained by separating the wet pages with sheets of waxed paper or aluminum foil [source: Aisling].


To start staining your paper or journal, brew a batch of tea. Soak three bags of black tea in two cups of warm water [source: Spatone]. When the tea is ready, apply it by dabbing the paper with the tea bag or by dipping a paintbrush into the tea and brushing it onto the paper. You can also fill a shallow pan with the tea and soak the entire piece of paper in it [source: Aisling].

After you have stained the paper to the desired color, set it out to dry. Put a pane of glass or a nylon screen on top of the paper so it will dry flat [sources: Spatone, Aisling]. This will prevent the edges from wrinkling or warping. Once your stained paper is dry, use it to create all of your paper crafts!

But if you prefer to fashion things from fabric instead of paper, read the next page to learn how to stain fabric with tea bags.

Using Used Tea Bags to Stain Fabric

Staining white fabric using tea is an inexpensive and natural way to transform the fabric's appearance. Plus, it is a simple dyeing process that you can do in your own home without using harsh chemicals.

To begin the fabric dyeing process, brew the tea by pouring boiling water over the tea bags. You can control how light or dark you want the color of the fabric to be, depending on how long you brew the tea. You may want to make the tea in a large glass bowl so you can see how dark it gets. Let the water cool down to a warm temperature and remove the tea bags.


Now that the tea bath is ready, prepare your fabric. Run the piece of fabric or clothing under warm water. Squeeze out the excess water and immerse the fabric in the tea. Stir the fabric with a wooden spoon to avoid wrinkling and to saturate every part of the fabric with tea. If the fabric wrinkles, it will result in odd staining patterns on the fabric. Soak the fabric for a few hours, or until it reaches a desired color [source: Stitching Cow].

When the fabric appears ready, remove it from the tea bath and rinse it in a solution of warm water mixed with a dab of dish soap. Note that your fabric will probably dry a lighter shade than it appears while wet [source: Spatone]. If the fabric is darker than you wanted, you can use a small amount of bleach to lighten the shade [source: Spatone]. Hang the fabric to air-dry and then use it for your sewing projects that require a rustic look!

If rustic wood is your preferred medium for crafting, read the next page to learn how to use tea bags to stain wood.

Using Used Tea Bags to Stain Wood

If woodworking is your hobby, have you ever thought about using tea to stain your finished furniture piece or picture frame? You can, as long as the wood is unfinished. Wood with finishes or treatments from previous chemical staining will not be able to absorb the tea stain. So if you want to stain with tea, you will need to work with raw wood.

Some raw wood, especially light-colored wood such as pine, lacks tannin. As you learned earlier in this article, black tea contains tannins, which can help darken wood. By applying a tea mixture to raw wood surfaces, the tannins can enhance the wood's color and depth.


But before you begin staining your wood with tea, you will need to make iron acetate, which will react with the tannins in the tea mixture to stain the wood. To create iron acetate, soak a piece of steel wool in a solution of vinegar and water in a covered jar for two to three days [sources: McNamara, Organic Gardening].

When the iron acetate is ready, you can create your tea mixture and begin the staining process. Boil some water and pour it over enough black tea bags to make a very strong tea. Allow the bags to steep for at least an hour. When the tea mixture has cooled, apply it with a paintbrush and let it soak into the wood. After a few minutes, use a lint-free cloth to sop up any excess liquid [source: Organic Gardening].

After you have applied the tea mixture, apply the iron acetate. Remove the lid from the jar and use a paintbrush to apply the iron acetate to the wood with even strokes. The iron acetate will react with the tannins in the tea stain and make the wood darker. When the wood is dry, use a fine or very fine grit sand paper to sand the surface of the wood. Remove any dust or debris from the wood and then oil the surface or coat it with a wax finish [source: Organic Gardening].

From woodworking projects to sewing and paper crafting, tea staining is a versatile technique you can use to add rustic charm to your projects.

For more creative crafting projects, visit the links on the next page.

Originally Published: May 5, 2009

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Links

  • Aisling. "Tea Staining Your Art Journal Pages." 2005. (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • Martin, Gene. "Cabinet Construction." Immune Web. 6/97. (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • McNamara, Jim. "Staining Blotch-Prone Woods and Endgrain." The Woodworker's Gazette. 7/19/99. (Accessed 4/15/09)
  • Organic Gardening. "Staining Wood with Tea & Vinegar." (Accessed 4/14/09),7518,s-4-55-457,00.html
  • Shaigany, Sheila. "5 Reuses for: Tea Bags." Planet Green. 10/14/08. (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • Spatone, Susan. "Tea Staining Fabric." Craft At Home. (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • Spatone, Susan. "Tea Stain Paper." Craft At Home. (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • Stitching Cow. "How to Tea Dye Fabric." (Accessed 4/14/09)
  • Encyclopædia Britannica. "tannin." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09)
  • Encyclopædia Britannica. "tea." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09)