Staining or dying textiles with natural products such as coffee and tea is an inexpensive, non-toxic method for altering cloth. It's an easy way to create a vintage look, or to disguise those badly stained kitchen towels—not to mention, the process smells a whole lot better than using commercial dyes!
What You Need
- Cloth (We used 100% cotton)
- Tea bags or coffee
- Large pot for soaking
- Utensils for stirring and removing textiles
- Stovetop, tea kettle, or coffee pot for making the coffee or tea
For tea: Unwrap tea bags and cut off the strings and tags (or just buy generic tea bags without tags!). Brew hot water in a kettle or large pot and let the tea bags steep. I used 40 tea bags and let them steep for 15 minutes.
For coffee: Brew in a pot or dissolve instant coffee in very hot water. I used 1/2 cup of instant coffee and added it to the pot of water after turning off the heat. Be careful when adding the coffee— it can sometimes cause the water to boil up and overflow.
Step 1: If staining pre-used fabric, be sure to launder it to remove any soil or food particles just before the staining process; do not dry. When using new textiles, give them a good rinse and wring them out, but do not let them dry before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Turn off the heat and insert the damp cloth into the brew of your choice. Swirl the cloth around and try to get it down to the bottom of the pan so that it's completely submerged. If pieces start popping up, use extra kitchen utensils to hold them under.
Step 3: Let the cloth steep for at least 1 hour. The stronger the tea or coffee and the longer you let the cloth steep, the deeper the stain. I let both my coffee and tea baths soak overnight.
Step 4: When the cloth is finished steeping, remove it from the brew and briefly rinse in a cold water bath. Add a splash of vinegar to set the color and let soak for 10 minutes.
If you want to remove the tea or coffee scent (which will be mild), try washing your cloth in the sink with Woolite, or you may wash it briefly in the washing machine. Washing and rinsing the fabric will take the color “down,” so you may omit this step if you want a darker color.
If you decide the stain is just too light, repeat the steps and stain it again.
Step 5: Let dry and iron if necessary. After wringing out the excess water, I popped my towels in the dryer on low heat for about 30 minutes.
Pictured above (L-R): undyed towel, tea-stained towel, coffee-stained towel. Both dyed towels sat in their baths for the same amount of time, with the tea creating a darker stain than the coffee.
Edited from an original post by Anne Reagan published on February 10, 2010.
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