Using coffee as natural dye

Reuse those used coffee grounds as natural dye.
Reuse those used coffee grounds as natural dye.

Coffee really is versatile, and has many more uses than as a drink or cookery ingredient. One application that’s not commonly used these days is as a natural dye. As coffee is a natural product, it won’t produce a strong chocolate brown colour on fabric, but it’s great for achieving an aged, antiqued effect, and turning brilliant white fabric to a soft vintage ecru/beige colour.

What you can dye

Any type of natural, washable fabric such as cotton, linen or hemp, as man-made fibres won’t accept the dye very well.

How to do it

For a few days, every time you make a pot of coffee from freshly-ground coffee beans, keep the grounds. To dye something the size of a shirt, you’ll need about half a pint of coffee grounds to seven pints of water – double these measurements for a large item like a tablecloth. This will produce a soft beige colour on white fabric – for a darker dye, add more coffee grounds.

Put the grounds and the water in a large pan, bring it to the boil then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep until cool. Meanwhile, thoroughly wet the item you want to dye in warm water, which will help the dye penetrate. Add the fabric to the pot, making sure it’s thoroughly and evenly submerged, and leave it for anything from an hour to overnight, depending on the intensity of the colour required – remember that the colour will appear paler when dry.

Add two tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the pan as a setting agent, and leave the fabric to set for 15 minutes.

Rinse the fabric thoroughly in clean, warm water, then allow it to dry. Items dyed using natural dyes like this are probably best washed separately in the future, as the dye won’t be as stable as chemical dyes and will fade over time.