Have old, stale tea in your cupboard that's no longer worthy to sip but you'd just hate to throw it out? Like to experiment with alternative, natural household remedies? Or just love tea so much you want to incorporate your favorite teas into every aspect of your life?
Here are some interesting and creative suggestions for how to use tea beyond the tea cup.
When you envision a tea-stained mug that gets coated in a thin, brown film after many steepings, it’s hard to imagine that same tea used as a household cleanser. But apparently the astringency of tea makes it great ingredient to cut through grease and dust, and it even helps make furniture shine.
Wood floors and furniture: Moisten a soft rag with bit of strong-brewed, room temperature tea and rub it gently into hardwood floors or wood furniture for a bit of natural color and shine. Use white or green tea on lighter wood and oolong or black tea on darker wood.
Mirrors and windows: Place a cold brewed tea in a spray bottle and use it to make mirrors and glass sparkle.
Toilets: Throw a few tea bags into the toilet, let them "steep" for an hour or so, then remove and discard them before scrubbing the toilet with a brush and flushing down the tea liquid.
Fireplace: Add wet tea leaves to the ash in your fireplace before cleaning it out. The moisture helps soak up the ash so it doesn't blow around as much.
Tea leaves are highly absorbent and can attract odor from anything they come in contact with or even sit next to. Which is one reason you should take care to store fresh tea away from pantry items with strong odors, such as coffee and spices. But it's also the reason you can reliably turn to tea when you need to rid different areas of your household of a stubborn odor.
Carpets: Sprinkle dried or steeped tea leaves across a stinky carpet and let them sit for 20 minutes to an hour. Then vacuum them up. If you used steeped tea leaves, make sure they've started to dry out; you don't want them too wet or they may stain the carpet. If you use a flavored tea, like lemon or cinnamon, you'll get a nice scent left behind.
Cat litter: Sprinkle dried tea leaves into Puss's litter box and just change them out whenever you change out the litter.
Fridge: Tea can soak up funky fridge odors just like baking soda. Place dried out tea leaves in the refrigerator in an uncovered container and they'll soak up those odors in a day or two. (Note: Never store dry tea you plan to drink in the refrigerator, though. It'll soak up odor and the moisture will cause the tea to deteriorate quickly.)
Chef's hands: Rub stinky fish, onion or garlic hands with brewed tea or wet steeped tea leaves to remove unwanted odors. This also works on cutting boards.
Shoes: Before you throw away those old, stinky shoes, place a new or steeped then dried tea bag inside each shoe and see if you can’t remove a bit of odor and get a little more life out of them.
Since tea leaves are highly absorbent, they are very easy to flavor. Many tea companies use natural or artificial flavoring to infuse their teas with cinnamon, lemon, mint, pomegranate or other popular flavors. These flavorings can impart a strong and pleasant aroma as well. Pick any of your favorite flavored, scented teas and scatter them in different places around your house for an easy way to liven up the aroma of your living space. You can scent your own tea by adding a drop or two of your favorite essential oil to the tea leaves. Try oils of peppermint, orange, lemon, lavender, rose or rosemary.
Potpourri: Place dry, scented tea leaves in small, decorative bowls in key locations around the house to infuse your home with the scent of your favorite teas.
Eye pillows: Fill homemade eye pillows with dry, flavored tea leaves scented with relaxing rose, lavender or chamomile for a peaceful, calming rest.
Drawer sachets: Spruce up the scent of your sock or underwear drawer with a few flavored tea bags or muslin bags filled with scented tea leaves. (Note: Make sure the tea leaves and the tea bags are dry.)
Car air freshener: To invigorate your car’s interior, hang a few flavored tea bags from your rear view mirror or fill a muslin bag with scented tea leaves and stash it somewhere in the center console.
Depending on the type of tea, a brewed tea liquid can impart a red, brown, amber, yellow or green hue to many different items it comes in contact with. Which makes it a great natural dying agent. Different green and black teas will brew up different colors depending on how they were processed. But think beyond just green and black teas for dying. Hibiscus flowers brew up as a bright, dark red color, while Rooibos red tea is more of a nice, light rose color. Or use Matcha powdered green tea for a strong bright green color.
Hair: Make a strong brewed tea and use it as a daily hair rinse for a natural way to enhance your hair’s color. Fabric: Dye lace, cotton, muslin or other fabric to give it that vintage look. Make a strong brewed tea, cool it to room temperature, then soak the fabric in the tea until it has the desired color. (Note: Tea is not a permanent dye, so it will fade if you plan to wash the fabric.)
Paper: For an antique looking paper to make greeting cards or fill journals, dip a heavyweight paper stock into a cooled, brewed tea and let it dry. Repeat for more intense color. You can also brush brewed tea onto the paper with a paintbrush, or use a steeped tea bag to dab some tea onto the paper.
Easter eggs: For a unique, natural look, dye Easter eggs with different types of tea. Place hard boiled eggs in bowls of strong brewed tea with a splash of vinegar. Make sure the eggs have plenty of room to be surrounded by the tea liquid. It’ll take about an hour for the tea to dye the eggs. Use different teas for different hues. Mix and match colors by placing eggs in one tea for part of the time and then another tea for the rest of the time.
Art: Use a paintbrush, spray bottle or brewed tea bag to stroke, spatter or dab strong brewed tea onto the various materials you use in your arts and crafts projects.
Don’t dump out those old tea leaves if you’ll be doing some entertaining in the near future. Tea leaves in votives or vases can add interesting and theme-appropriate decoration to your next party.
Votives: For tea-themed dinner table ambience, scatter the set table with small clear glass votives filled with dry tea leaves and set a tealight candle on top of each.
Vases: For clever tea party décor, fill clear glass vases three-quarters full with dry tea leaves and set silk flowers inside. Or fill clear glass vases one-quarter full with dry tea leaves, then top with room temperature water and add fresh flowers. Watch as the tea brews, the liquid changes color and the tea leaves expand. (Note: Change out the steeping tea after a day or so or it’ll get funky.)
Tea is highly acidic and full of nutrients that can help plants thrive. So before tossing out your used tea, see if there’s a nearby plant that needs a little extra love.
Compost: Instead of dumping out those steeped tea leaves, throw them into a compost pile to help nurture your garden. You can throw whole steeped tea bags in the compost if the tea bag material is made of biodegradable or compostable materials.
Water and feed plants: When you pot a new plant, place a handful of tea leaves or a couple of tea bags (dried or steeped) in the drainage layer at the bottom of the pot. Since tea is highly absorbent, it will help absorb water that will then get released slowly back into the plant. Instead of pouring unused tea liquid down the drain, use it to water your plants. Or feed your plants by scattering steeped tea leaves into the top layer of the plant’s soil.
Tea can be refreshing, exfoliating and relaxing. So why not incorporate it into some of your daily grooming routines?
Mouthwash: Try swishing around a lightly brewed tea blend or herbal infusion made with mint, lemongrass or cinnamon as a refreshing pick-me-up for your taste buds.
Soap making: Dried, ground tea leaves can serve as a natural colorant and light exfoliant in homemade soap. If the tea has added flavor, herbs or spices, you may end up with a nice smelling soap as well.
Bath tea: Steeping yourself in a bath of tea can be as relaxing as sipping on a cup of steeped tea. Add a few tea bags to the bathtub as it fills with water and leave them in while you soak. Or fill a muslin bag with your favorite loose leaf tea blend, hang it over the bath faucet and let the bath water run over it as the tub fills.
Flavor: Steep tea in milk, broth and other cooking liquids to infuse your favorite tea flavor into any dish. Try steeping tea in broth for soups; poach fish in a strong brewed tea; add brewed tea to vinaigrettes and sauces; steep tea in cream, coconut milk or juice to flavor the base of ice creams, sorbets or your favorite baked desserts.
Smoke: Use a mix of dry black or green tea leaves and uncooked rice as a smoking agent for meat or fish.
Tenderize: The tannins in tea make it a great tenderizer. Marinate meat in strong-brewed black tea for several hours or overnight before roasting or grilling.
Season: Use steeped tea leaves or ground dry tea leaves like a spice or seasoning in your favorite sweet or savory dishes. Pulse Earl Grey tea leaves into the flour mixture for tea-infused shortbread cookies; add powdered Matcha green tea to your favorite cake or pudding recipe; or toss steeped oolong or green tea leaves into your favorite stir fry, pot sticker filling or omelet.
Relaxation may very well be the chief reason people consume herbal tea. While chamomile and peppermint are some of the most popular teas for letting go and relaxing, other varieties are also capable of achieving this end. Next time you're feeling stressed out, brew yourself a cup of tea and let those worries float away.
We may live in an increasingly digital world, but that doesn’t take away the importance of stepping back and spending quality time with friends – face to face. A pot of tea can be the perfect centerpiece for a table around which your closest friends and family members are gathered. Whether you're completing an important project or simply getting caught up on the latest gossip, tea is the perfect refreshment for your next social gathering.
Sources: 49 Uses for Tea by Fox News
22 Ways to Use Tea for Beauty, Home and Garden by Reader’s Digest
Other Uses of Tea by China Culture
How to Color Easter Eggs with Tea by eHow
Using Tea (or Herbs) in Your Soap by About.com