The Best Ways to Reuse Coffee Grounds and Tea Leaves

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Written by Michele C. Hollow


Michele C. Hollow

Climate Journalist

Michele C. Hollow is a journalist that specializes in climate and health. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.


After enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee or tea, most of us toss the grounds and leaves into the trash. Collectively, that’s a lot of coffee grounds and tea leaves that wind up in landfills. A better idea is to reuse them for other purposes.

Table of Contents
  1. Make a compost
  2. Other uses for coffee grounds
  3. Other uses for tea leaves

According to the National Coffee Association, Americans drink just over three cups of coffee per day. That adds up to more than 150 million Americans drinking about 400 million cups of coffee each day. The numbers are higher for tea drinkers. 

The Tea Association of the U.S.A., Inc. reports, worldwide tea is the second most consumed beverage, next to water and almost 80 percent of all U.S. households drink tea resulting in more than 159 million Americans drinking tea each day. 

See also: The best lead free tea

Following are ideas for used coffee grounds and tea leaves. 

Make a compost

Composting enriches soil, promotes healthy plant growth, is a great alternative to chemical fertilizers, and lessens waste at landfills. Coffee and tea are rich in nitrogen, magnesium, copper, and potassium, which are good for the soil. 

The Environmental Protection Agency offers easy-to-follow steps on how to create a compost in your backyard or apartment; you don’t have to have a yard.

Adding coffee to your compost

Add used coffee grounds to your compost heap. According to a study from Oregon State University, coffee grounds are an excellent addition to a compost pile because they are rich in nitrogen and provide the energy needed to turn organic matter into compost. (Organic matter is mostly fruits and vegetables. It also includes grains, bread, pasta, and other items that come from the ground. The only animal product that goes into a compost is eggshells.)  

Adding tea to your compost

Place used loose tea directly into your compost. If you use tea in bags made from paper, silk, or muslin, cut open the bags and place the leaves onto the compost pile. You can also add the bags—only those made of paper, silk, or muslin—into your compost. Some tea bags contain a mixture of paper and polypropylene; keep tea bags made with polypropylene out of your compost because polypropylene contains plastic. 

All teas: black, green, white (its name comes from the white fuzz on its leaves and is mostly comprised of buds and new leaves), red or rooibos, and herbal tea leaves work well in a compost. 

Other uses for coffee grounds

Jack Miller, founder of How I Get Rid Of, a home improvement blog, sprinkles coffee grounds onto the soil beneath plants because “coffee grounds are an effective insect repellent,” he said. 

Bryan McKenzie, a landscape designer and co-founder of Bumper Crop Times, a lawn care, gardening, and home improvement site, also uses coffee grounds as an insect and gastropod repellent.

“If your yard or home get infested with ants, slugs, or snails, you can simply sprinkle coffee grounds around the infested area to get rid of them quickly.”

Bryan McKenzie

McKenzie also suggests using coffee grounds as mulch and carrot fertilizer. “Flowers like hydrangeas, rhododendrons, roses, evergreens, and azaleas will thrive if you add some used coffee grounds as mulch,” he says. “It’s because the acidity of coffee is good for these acid-loving plants.” 

Carrots also love coffee grounds, according to McKenzie. “If you want your carrots in the garden or pots to grow even better, mix dried used coffee grounds with seeds and plant them like that,” he said. 

Neutralize odors and keep your home clean

Coffee smells great and masks odors because of the nitrogen. Put an open container of used coffee grounds in your fridge or in your kitchen to absorb unpleasant smells. This also works in your freezer. 

Miller uses ground coffee as a cleanser to scrub and polish cookware and “to clean a sink in case you want to skip the bleach,” he added.

You can make a paste of equal parts of ground coffee and baking soda. Scrub the item or area and then rinse. It’s a great alternative to harsh chemical cleaners. Avoid using ground coffee grounds on porous surfaces because they will leave a stain. 

For your face

Mix coffee grounds with coconut oil to exfoliate your skin. A scientific study suggests coffee grounds promote healthy skin, boost collagen levels, and reduce premature aging of cells. 

Gently scrubbing your face with coffee grounds clears away dead skin cells and unclogs pores making it a good treatment for acne. 

Applying coffee grounds to your face is messy. It’s a good idea to mix it with coconut oil – but don’t wash the mixture down the drain. You don’t want to clog any pipes.

Other uses for tea leaves

Like coffee grounds, tea leaves make an excellent plant fertilizer and insect deterrent. “Green tea is rich in nitrogen, which makes it a perfect addition to any plant,” McKenzie said. “You can sprinkle used leaves into houseplants or gardens and let them decompose.” 

A bug bite and minor burn remedy

When your tea bags cool down apply them to mosquito bites and minor burns. This works for sunburns, too. You can also add used tea bags to your tub and enjoy a soothing soak.

Get rid of unwanted smells

Tea leaves absorb odors. Let the tea leaves dry and place them in an open container in your fridge. It works just like baking soda. 

You can also sprinkle dried used tea leaves in your cat’s litter box to absorb the smell. Don’t overdo it. You want to make sure your cat is comfortable with the scent.

Clean cutting boards and countertops with wet tea leaves. Just make sure these surfaces aren’t porous because tea leaves, just like coffee grounds, will leave a stain. The tea leaves will get rid of the smells on these surfaces.

Tea Tip

Wet tea leaves also rid your hands of food odors such as onion and garlic. Simply wash your hands with the tea leaves. Make sure you have a sink strainer in place to catch loose tea leaves from clogging your drain. The same goes for coffee grounds. You don’t want to have to call a plumber to unclog the drain. 

Tea leaves as a beauty treatment

Tea contains tannins, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. Cool the used tea bags, place on puffy eyes, and relax. This should help with any swelling. 

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