Hanged Dyed Fabric

Tea Staining Fabric: The Secret To An Antique-Looking Fabric

Guys, how amazing is tea? It’s my go to drink no matter the weather or my mood. Seriously, you can drink hot tea, make ice tea, you drink tea when you’re sad, you drink tea when you’re feeling ill, you drink tea when you’re happy…

But, did you know you could dye fabric with tea? Nor did I until my puppy helped me spill drops of tea on a brand new white jumper.

So, I did a little research and with the world going mad about climate change more people are finding natural dyes and learning how to dye clothing.

If you’re new to the world of dyeing, welcome! You’ve probably got a pot of tea sitting in your cupboard waiting to be welcomed into fabric staining too. Let’s look at the growing popularity of tea dyeing fabric.

What is tea dyeing?

Dried black tea leaves isolated on white background
Dried Black Tea Leaves

When you were at school did you ever make a pirate treasure map, and stain a piece of paper or fabric with tea? Well, tea dyed clothing is kind of the same as that, except we use fabric and let it soak for much longer.

Tea dying fabric is a really simple and non-toxic dyeing process, which can add a vintage look to pre-loved natural fibers or something that has tea stains on it!

Why use tea for dyeing?

Tea staining fabric is an inexpensive way to give fabrics an antique appearance without them actually being aged and falling apart. It’s a toxin free technique that can transform light stains on your favorite shirt into invisible prints.

You can tea dye fabrics like curtains; tablecloths or clothes to give an easy and environmentally friendly antique aesthetic.

Learning to tea dye is a really easy DIY project that you can do from the comfort of your kitchen with items you probably already have in your home. Tea dyed fabric works best with natural fibers and not so well with synthetic materials.

Is tea staining or dying permanent?

If the dye fabric is treated in a solution of salt and vinegar, then dyeing fabric with tea can be permanent. Like most dyes, the color can change over time and lots of washing. It also depends on the type of tea you use and how long you let it soak in the dye for.

Polyester won’t hold tea dye color at all, but cotton, silk and wool will hold that gorgeous aged look!

When you are washing the tea dye fabric after it has been dyed, make sure you don’t wash it with a regular detergent that can remove tea stains. You can wash clothing with lemon and vinegar or natural fabric soap.

TIP

If you notice that your stained fabric will dry lighter, or is starting to fade in color after you rinse it, you can keep repeating the tea dyeing process to get it back to the deep vintage color you like.

​​What kind of tea do you use to dye fabric?

Set of different tea isolated on white
Set Of Different Tea

Traditionally black tea is the best type of tea to use for dyeing fabric as it produces a rich deep shade. Other teas such as hibiscus or green tea won’t produce a dark color on your fabric in comparison.

I prefer to use loose-leaf tea for dyeing as that’s what I have in my cupboards, although it can be messier – overall I would say that black tea bags are more convenient. You could try dyeing with both and see which one you prefer from the two.

NOTE

Natural fabrics such as linen silk and cotton and wool are the only fabrics you can tea-stain. Polyester or other synthetic fabrics for example cannot be stained.

Can you use coffee to dye fabric too?

Yes, you can use instant coffee for dyeing fabric too. Coffee will typically bring a richer color to a fabric as it has a stronger color.

For a very light tan color, a few minutes soaked in the coffee dye is all you need, but if you want a dark strong dye, you will need a dark roast coffee.

Wool is a good fabric to coffee dye as the fibers seem to cling to the color. You can also use cotton or other older fabrics.

NOTE

Dyeing fabric with tea isn’t the only natural option to stain fabric – I’ve used onion skins and avocado seeds to dye old white fabrics in the past.

How to tea stain fabric

It’s so tempting to head straight to the kitchen and start dyeing because it’s a relatively easy project to do. But there are some pointers to think about before we begin:

  • Colors may vary depending on the type of tea (or coffee) and brand so buy a few smaller packets and play around before buying a giant bag of your favorite tea.
  • Don’t put numerous pieces of fabric in the same bucket as the first piece of cloth will absorb most of the tea stain and the rest will come out significantly lighter.

You can find everything you need amongst the cupboards around your home:

  • Natural cotton or linen
  • Black tea bags (30 -40) or loose leaf tea
  • A big fork (I find it’s easier to stir with a fork rather than a spoon).
  • A large pot filled 2/3 with hot water
  • Cool water for rinsing.
  • Salt crystals
  • Vinegar

Let’s boil water in the kettle and get started.

NOTE

You should always try dyeing a small piece of fabric in your tea solution to see the color to see if it is the right one for you. It will also give you a guess-timation of how long you should leave the fabric with tea.

Steps of tea dyeing

Woman Soaking Fabric on a Bucket with Dye
Woman Soaking Fabric on a Bucket with Dye
  1. Prewash the fabric.
  2. Full boil 4 cups for each yard of cloth when making the tea solution. Steep the tea for 5 – 10 minutes using two tea bags for each cup of water – please make sure you have removed all tags on the tea bag!
  3. Once the desired color has been reached after brewing, squeeze out then discard the tea bags.
  4. Place the tea dye into the pot.
  5. Put the wet fabric into the hot tea mixture. (We wet it to ensure the color will hold onto the material better).
  6. Ensure that all of the fabric is submerged in the pot completely, and stir the tea dyeing mixture every few hours. To achieve an even coloring make sure the material isn’t all bunched up.
  7. How long you let the fabric soak in the pot of dye varies depending on what shade you want the fabric to be, it can be 15 minutes, a few hours or overnight. Let it soak for a few hours or overnight if you are looking for a dark hue.
  8. Rinse the fabric underneath cold water – you may notice here that the material color becomes lighter as you rinse out the tea. You can always let the fabric soak for longer in the solution if you wish it to be darker.
  9. Now let the fabric set in a solution of vinegar and salt. Mix ¼ cup of vinegar with ¾ cup of water and two tablespoons of table salt. Pop the stained fabric into the solution allowing it to soak for 15 minutes.
  10. Thoroughly rinse by hand or put on a gentle wash in the washing machine, then dry by hanging it on a washing line, or put it in the dryer.

There you have a beautiful piece of natural tea dyed fabric with a true antique look. Yes, it really is that simple!

How long should I leave my fabric in tea to stain?

The length of time you soak your fabric in the dye will depend on the number of teabags you use, the size of the fabric and how deep you want the tea dyed color to be. The longer you leave it sitting in the dye, the darker it will get up until a certain point. I usually try to soak my fabrics overnight, sometimes even longer.

If you want a darker color, you can always add more tea bags, or leave the tea bags inside the mixture until you get the deep color you desire.

TIP

When the fabric is soaking in either tea or coffee dye, make sure to stir it many times to get an even tea-stained fabric without spots.

For additional tips and information about tea dyeing or tea staining fabric, watch this video below.

HOW TO: TEA DYE CLOTHING/FABRIC

How long should I leave fabric in coffee to stain?

As coffee has a naturally darker coloring to it already, you should be able to let fabric soak in the coffee dye for around 8 hours.

But do bear in mind the same factors – the size of the fabric, how much coffee you have used, the color of the dye, and what color you would like the fabric to be.

Conclusion

Tea staining fabric with light or white fabric is a really simple and easy process. It’s such a good and cheap alternative for dying fabrics without any nasties that are found in other fabric dyes. I told you tea is the best!

Have you ever used tea or coffee to dye fabric? I’d love to know your experiences, and why not share while you’re here with any budding dyers or someone who needs to hide stains on their clothing.

For more creative ideas, you can look at my article on upcycling to give you some direction.

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ 🧵