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How to Tea Stain Fabric

I was shopping online the other day for some new clothes and noticed that there seems to be a growing appreciation for vintage-looking fabrics. Even children’s clothing seems to be embracing neutral colors like beige and brown. Instead of breaking the bank trying to buy vintage-looking clothing for your family, why not try tea staining the clothes you already own?

Natural fibers can be tea stained by adding fabric to a concentrated mixture of black tea and water. Simply steep 15-30 tea bags in hot water before soaking the fabric for up to an hour. The tannins in the black tea will give the fabric a permanently antique look.

In this article, I will walk you through exactly how to tea stain fabric. I’ll even give you tips on choosing the right teas for your project and how to achieve the exact color intensity you want. Before you know it, you’ll have all the vintage-looking clothing you could ever need!

How to Tea Stain Fabric

Can You Dye Fabric With Tea?

Yes, you can dye fabric with tea! In fact, tea is one of the best sources of natural fabric dye since it is rich in tannins that cause permanent staining. Some of the toughest stains to remove come from tannin-rich materials, including wine, juice, or even coffee.

The natural tannins in tea have long made it a popular option for changing the color of fabrics. Dyeing fabric with tea gives it a vintage look, adding a subtle tan or beige color. This makes new fabrics look aged and is why tea-dyed fabrics are often said to look like antique parchment.

Tea dyes work best on white fabrics and can be used to produce a broad range of neutral colors. It is especially useful for producing fabrics that are light beige, reddish-brown, or dark brown.

Is Tea Staining Fabric Permanent?

Tea staining is generally permanent, as long as you take the necessary steps to set the dye before washing. Failure to do so may allow the dye to bleed out of the fabric the first time you use soap.

You can set tea stains using common household products like white vinegar and table salt, the exact ratios of which are included further down in this article. Just be sure to set the stains before adding any soaps or laundry detergents – since these will wash out the color before it gets a chance to fully adhere.

To make the natural color last, you’ll also want to avoid using bleach and other stain removers when washing your fabrics. These can lighten or even remove the tea stain altogether, ruining your hard work. Stick to ph-neutral laundry soaps and use cold water to make your dye last.

How to Tea Stain Fabric

Can You Dye Fabric With Tea

Tea-staining fabric is a relatively simple process. You can produce a full range of colors, allowing you to build a custom wardrobe filled with warm and natural tones. Just remember that it is important to follow the steps below in order; otherwise, you could accidentally wash out the dye before it has a chance to adhere.

Materials Needed

Before you tea stain fabric, you’ll need to gather your materials. Specifically, this method of dyeing requires you to use:

  • Light-colored fabric of choice (choose natural fibers like cotton or linen)
  • Ph-neutral laundry soap
  • 15-30 black tea bags
  • Large stainless steel pot or crockpot
  • Wooden stirring spoon
  • Water
  • White Vinegar
  • Table Salt

1. Prepare Your Fabric

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you’ll want to be sure to prepare your fabric for dyeing. Generally, this requires you to wash the fabric in hot water. You’ll want to be careful to avoid adding in liquid fabric softeners or other products that coat the surface of the fabric.

However, this preparation will work best if you use a pH-neutral soap. This step aims to remove any dirt, waxy build-up, or chemical overlays that could be present on the fabric. Any of these things can lead your final dye to look blotchy and uneven since they will keep it from fully penetrating the fibers.

Do not dry your fabric before you continue to the next stages of the dyeing process. You’ll want the fabric to be damp when you add it to the tea mixture. Make sure it has been completely rinsed to remove any lingering laundry detergent.

2. Make the Tea Mixture

Once you’ve prepped your fabric, you need to make your tea mixture. To do this, fill your large stainless steel pot or crockpot ⅔ of the way full. You’ll want to ensure your pot is large enough that the fabric will be fully submerged beneath this water.

Then, add your tea bags to the hot water. Allow the tea to be steep until the water reaches your desired color depth. Generally, you’ll want to allow the tea to steep for at least 15-30 minutes so that the color becomes a rich brown and the mixture is highly concentrated.

You can test the concentration of your tea mixture by adding a scrap of fabric into it before you commit to dyeing your larger pieces. Allow the fabric to sit in the hot tea mixture for up to an hour before removing it and wringing out any excess moisture. If the color is to your liking, you can proceed to add your fabric.

If you want the color to be darker, you’ll need to add more tea bags to deepen it. If you want the color to be lighter, you’ll need to add more water or leave the fabric in for less time than your test piece. If you find that the color of the dye is too reddish or has a hue you don’t like, you may want to switch to a different brand of tea altogether.

Remember that wet fabric will always be slightly darker in color than the final product. This may mean that you want your tea dye to be slightly darker than the actual color you’re looking for to make up for the color difference.

3. Dye the Fabric

After you’ve prepared your tea mixture, you can begin to dye your fabric. You’ll need to keep your stainless steel pot or crockpot on a heat source to keep the mixture warm as you work. Warm water will produce a deeper color and faster results than cold water.

Add your damp fabric to the mixture. You’ll want to avoid having any folds in the fabric as you add it since these areas can dye unevenly. You’ll also want to stir the mixture constantly to keep your dye from appearing blotchy at the end of the process.

Steep your fabric in the tea mixture for up to an hour until it reaches the color depth you’re looking for. You will want to check the fabric every few minutes to ensure you catch it before it becomes too dark for your liking. Remember that it is always easier to add more color later than to take it away if the color is too deep.

Remember, when judging the color of your fabric, that wet fabric always appears darker than it is. So be prepared for the fabric to be lighter when dry, and plan accordingly.

4. Rinse the Fabric

Once your fabric has reached the color intensity you like, you’ll need to rinse it in cold water. This may lighten the color slightly since it will be rinsing the dark tea mixture out of the fabric. If it lightens the color too much, you can add the fabric back to the tea mixture until it reaches a darker tone.

Avoid using warm or hot water for this step since it will wash out the dye even further. You also want to avoid soaps or laundry detergent at this step since the dye will not yet be set and will be lifted from the fabric.

5. Set the Dye

After the tea-stained fabric has been rinsed, you’ll need to set the dye. Setting the dye will make it more permanent and resistant to lifting in the wash. You’ll want to be sure that you like the color of your fabric before you set it since it will be harder to change after this step.

To set the dye:

  1. Empty your pot and refill it with two parts white vinegar and one part cold water.
  2. Add in 2-3 tablespoons of table salt, and stir well.
  3. Add in your damp fabric.

Soak the fabric for 15 minutes in the vinegar solution, stirring constantly. Then, rinse the fabric in cold water but do not use any laundry detergent. You will then want to dry your fabric in the dryer since the heat will further set the dye.

How Long Does Tea Staining Take?

This method of tea staining is fairly quick and takes about 1-2 hours from start to finish. That is because this technique uses heat, which produces a stronger dye and alters the fabric quicker than processes that use cold water.

However, you can do this same method with cold water. Just expect the results to take a lot longer. You will need to soak your fabrics in the cold tea mixture for many hours – anywhere from overnight to a week.

For that reason, the hot water method described above is recommended for most natural fibers. Cotton and linen especially benefit from using this technique. However, you’ll always want to check to make sure the fabrics you choose won’t be damaged by the high temperatures.

Can You Tea Dye Polyester?

No, polyester is not a type of fabric that can be dyed with tea, because it is not a natural fiber and is instead a synthetic product. Synthetic fibers cannot absorb the dye into their strands, which means it will wash off the first time you get the fabric wet.

Furthermore, synthetic fibers do not withstand heat as well as natural fibers. This means that the method of tea dyeing I’ve described above would likely damage the synthetic fabric. You can only tea dye fabrics that can stand up to hot water while washing and heat from drying.

You’ll always want to test your fabrics to make sure they aren’t synthetic before you begin the dyeing process. Synthetic fibers can only be dyed using commercially available synthetic dyes since these are designed to alter these polymer-based fabrics.

What Kind of Tea Should You Use to Dye Fabric?

Tea dyeing works best with black teas since they have a higher amount of tannins in them than herbal or green teas do. These tannins are what produce the rich brown color that tea dyes are known for and will leave the best finish on your final product.

Within the many black teas on the market, there can be a great deal of variation from brand to brand. Some black teas will produce more of a reddish hue to the dye. Others will be more of true brown color.

Different types of tea and tea blends could produce additional colors of fabric, especially those with fruits or berries added. These may produce subtle pink or purple colors to the dye. However, using these other types of teas can be inconsistent and less permanent.

Whichever type of tea you choose, you’ll want to try dyeing a test strip of fabric before you commit to a bigger project. This will give you a chance to see the exact shade produced by the tea as well as how permanent that color will be once the fabric is washed and dried.

What Kinds of Fabric Can Be Stained With Tea?

Any fabrics made of natural fibers can be stained with tea. This means that fabrics made of 100% cotton, linen, silk, wool, or blends of these natural fibers will dye better than any others. Of these options, cotton fabric tends to dye the best and can stand up to the heat this process requires.

You’ll want to avoid any synthetic fabrics since these will not be able to absorb the tea stain. Even synthetic blends should be avoided as they will only be able to take on a subtle amount of color at best. You should always check the label on your fabrics or do a burn test to ensure they aren’t synthetic before trying this process.

It is also important to note that white fabrics will dye better than all other colors. Light-colored fabrics will also take on an antique look when stained with tea. Dark fabrics should be avoided since they will show little to no change after dyeing.

How Can I Change the Darkness of Tea-Stained Fabric?

There are several ways to change the darkness of your tea-stained fabric. First, you can make the fabric darker by leaving it in the mixture for a longer period of time. The more time it spends in the mixture, the darker it will tend to be.

You can also make tea-stained fabric darker by increasing the concentration of your dye. You do this by adding more tea bags to the mixture before you add the fabric. Leaving the tea bags in hot water for longer will also allow them to produce a deeper color.

Hotter temperatures are also important for producing darker stains on your fabric. If your tea mixture is allowed to cool down, your fabrics will probably end up lighter in color overall. Try to increase the temperature of your mixture as you work to deepen the stain on the fabric.

If you’re looking to make your tea-stained fabrics lighter, you can remove some of the color by immediately rinsing the fabric in warm water after you pull it from the dye mixture. This will usually help remove some of the color. However, once you have set the color, it is very difficult to lighten it unless you use bleach or other stain removal laundry products.

How to Tea Stain a White Shirt

White shirts are one of the easiest pieces of clothing to dye, as long as they are made from natural fibers like cotton. To stain a white shirt with tea, you will want to wash it in a pH-neutral soap to remove any residue from the fabric.

Then, you will soak the shirt in a concentrated tea mixture. Simply add 15-30 tea bags to a pot of hot water, and allow them to steep until the water reaches a deep brown color. Add the shirt to the mixture, and stir continuously for up to an hour.

Keep the temperature of the water warm as you work since heat will help the dye to set. Check the shirt regularly and remove it from the mixture when it reaches the final color you want.

Rinse the fabric in cold water, then set the shirt in a 2:1 mixture of vinegar and cold water. Adding 2-3 tbsp of salt to this mixture will further help the dye to set. You’ll want to dry the shirt in your dryer since heat will finish this process.


Tea staining is one of the simplest and most rewarding ways to naturally dye fabrics. With the methods I’ve described here, you should be able to customize the color of virtually any natural fibers within your wardrobe. Keep this guide handy as you work and you’ll have no trouble achieving the vintage clothing looks of your dreams!