How To Tea Stain Fabric, Paper & Wood

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Everyone knows tea stains are hard to remove. While that’s obviously a hassle when unintentional, it’s also one of the reasons why tea makes such a terrific and versatile dye. Learning how to tea stain is fun, economical and easy. Whether you're looking to create unique clothing or household items, you'll find a tea stain project that's just right for you for a lot less than many stores and boutiques charge for “antiqued” items.

How To Tea Stain: Which Tea Should You Use?

Believed to have its origins in Asia, tea staining is an art that's been around for hundreds of years, if not longer. This natural dying technique imparts subtle, organic hues to a wide range of materials from clothing to household items. Depending on which type of tea you work with, you can achieve a surprising number of color variations. Here are just a few:

  • Black tea: Produces beige, tan and brown pigments
  • Green tea: Causes light green shades
  • Chamomile tea: Introduces a bright yellow stain
  • Hibiscus tea: Creates a lavender-pink dye.

Tea staining is perfect for giving clothing and other items a vintage, antique appearance or for renewing fabrics that have become dingy by giving them a fresh, new look.

How To Tea Stain: What Materials Can Be Tea Stained?

Tea staining takes well on a wide variety of surfaces. These materials are all great for tea staining projects:

  • Wood
  • Paper
  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Wool
  • Muslin
  • Velvet
how to tea stain how to tea stain

How To Tea Stain Fabric, Paper & Wood

You'll get professional results when you follow these basic tea stain recipes for fabric, paper and wood. If you’re interested in giving wood a worn, rustic stain perfect for a farmhouse table or rustic Christmas decor, be sure to plan ahead. This particular stain will take three days to create.

How To Tea Stain Paper

  1. Soak three black tea bags in about two cups of warm water.
  2. Apply stain with a paintbrush, soaking paper in shallow pan of tea solution or dabbing paper with a wet tea bag.
  3. Dry paper covered with a flat weight such as a pane of glass to keep it from curling up.

How To Tea Stain Fabric

  1. Make sure fabric is totally clean, as any hidden stains appear during the dyeing process. Brand new clothing is always a good choice, or give worn items a thorough washing. You won't need to dry any washed fabric before dyeing.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and immerse fabric, making sure you've got room to cover it completely. Then remove fabric, squeezing excess water back into pot.
  3. Heat water to boiling and remove from heat.
  4. Add teabags to hot water. Use at least one tea bag per cup of water or more for darker shades. Steep for 10 minutes.
  5. If you'd like an even stain, remove tea bags. For a more mottled look, leave tea bags in the water.
  6. Immerse fabric in tea, stirring to make sure all areas come in contact with stain.
  7. Fabric will get darker the longer you leave it in the tea solution. Let fabric soak at least five minutes and check regularly. Remove fabric when it looks a little darker than your desired shade. When fabric dries, the color will lighten slightly.
  8. Ring out fabric and rinse in cold water.
  9. Give fabric a rinse in vinegar to set the dye.
  10. Tumble dry fabric.
  11. Wash fabric thoroughly to remove any vinegar or tea.

How To Tea Stain Wood

  1. Fill a mason jar with a solution of vinegar and water, and a steel wool pad (don't worry about exact measurements here.) This creates an iron acetate solution that sets and enhances the tea stain.
  2. Cover the jar and wait three days.
  3. After three days, boil a pot of water, remove from heat and add tea bags to brew a very strong tea. Steep for an hour or longer.
  4. Apply tea solution to wood with paintbrush, wait a few minutes and wipe away excess liquid.
  5. Paint on a coat of the iron acetate solution, wait a few minutes and wipe away any excess liquid.
  6. When wood dries, sand gently and apply oil or wax to finish.

How To Tea Stain Your Own Crafts

The possibilities are endless when it comes to tea staining projects! You may want to try:

  • Window treatments: Dress up your windows with unique curtains and cloth shades perfect for a colonial, shabby chic, Tuscan, American farmhouse or cottage design theme.
  • Linens: Tea stain bedding, tablecloths, towels and washcloths.
  • Clothing: Stand out in a crowd with tea stained dresses, skirts, blouses, tea shirts, hoodies, scarves or shawls.
  • Wood: Design richly colored tables, chairs, dressers, shelves, picture frames or wooden boxes.
  • Paper: Create "antique" paper, invitations, journals and stationary.
  • Other projects: Lampshades and lace doilies take on a sophisticated look with tea staining.

Tips For Learning How To Tea Stain

To get the most from your tea stained projects, follow these easy tips:

  • Care for tea stained clothing as you would before staining, but wash it separately from other clothes the first few times to avoid staining other items.
  • Avoid bleaching tea stained fabric.
  • If fabric stain lightens over time, just tea stain it again.
  • To stain paper in an already bound journal, separate pages with aluminum foil or waxed paper.
  • Before staining a valuable or important item, test your stain on some scrap material to make sure you like the color.

So stock up on tea! Delicious, healthy tea isn't just for drinking anymore. You'll want to have lots of tea on hand to create unique and useful projects for yourself and every room of your home once you learn how to tea stain your own fabric and home goods.

Last Updated: May 6, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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