The Last Thing You Should Do with a Used Tea Bag Before You Toss (or Compost!) It

updated Jan 4, 2021
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Someone dipping tea bag into tea mug.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I’m a coffee person through and through, but every now and then I’ll go on a tea kick. Convinced I need to rethink my coffee habit (and unwilling to cut out caffeine entirely), I’ll give my Keurig and Bialetti the week off, retrieve a very old electric kettle from its hiding place in the cabinet, and brew some Earl Grey. I always return to coffee in the end, but recently I discovered an interesting reason to consider a more permanent switch (or, at the very least, to continue keeping tea bags on hand): They’re good for a lot more than a hot drink.

If you’re a dedicated tea drinker or just someone who doesn’t like to create waste, you might know that used tea bags can be pretty useful around the house. The tannins in black tea have anti-inflammatory properties, which is why pressing cooled tea bags onto your skin can help soothe sunburns and reduce puffiness around the eyes. You can also stick spent tea bags in stinky shoes to absorb the odor, or compost them to enrich garden soil (so long as the bags don’t contain any plastic or metal, which won’t break down). But there’s a lesser-known way to get the most out of your tea bags in the kitchen: You can use them to help tackle the dishes. Yes, it turns out that the astringency of tea can cut through grease and loosen stuck-on food. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Use Your Used Tea Bag to Cut Through Grease on Dirty Dishes

Next time you finish steeping some tea, don’t toss the tea bag right away. If you have anything in the sink, like that morning’s sticky oatmeal bowl or a tough-to-clean pan from dinner, drop the tea bag right in with some hot water. Let it soak for a while. The tea should help loosen any hardened grime, so you’ll be able to wipe clean easily in the morning with little to no scrubbing and less dish soap. 

The beauty of this trick is that you can apply it to whatever needs a little TLC when you happen to have a used tea bag on hand. Gently press one onto dirty silverware to loosen grime, or if your sink’s all clear (go you!) take a peek at your microwave turntable. I rubbed a used black tea bag over mine after neglecting it for a week (it had a good amount of buildup) and was able to wipe it completely clean using only the tea bag.

My only word of warning: Just take care to not press too hard, or you’ll tear the bag and wind up with a bigger mess than you started with!

Do you reuse your tea bags? What do you do with them?