The tannin present in tea leaves imparts a rustic brown hue to fabrics when soaked in a tea concentrate. Credits: Unsplash

Millennials love sustainable fashion and one of its key elements is using natural dyes – like tea.

Using Brits’ favourite drink to impart a vintage or rustic look to fabrics is a cheap and easy route to an instant on-trend look.

Here’s our guide on how to achieve the perfect tea-dyed look at home – and the science behind it.

What’s tannin?

Tannin is a polyphenol antioxidant (a type of plant compound) and gives tea its distinctive flavour and colour.

The lower the blend of tea, the higher the amount of tannin.

When used in dye, it helps colour bond to the material being dyed.

Silk is a natural protein fibre with a porous surface that quickly absorbs dyes, making it an ideal material.

Tannin readily combine with silk’s protein fibres to give it a muted, earthy tone. The delicate fabric accepts dye nicely without fading or becoming overly saturated.

It’s renowned for its capacity to absorb colours uniformly and for having a shiny finish that brings out the dye’s colour.

Silk is strong, resilient, and can survive dyeing without losing its form or texture.

Chinese tea silk is a kind of fabric that is customarily dyed with tea leaves. Since its invention during the Ming dynasty, this method produces distinctive and exquisite fabrics.

Tea silk is frequently used to make lovely and delicate clothing, including classic qipaos from China and kimonos from Japan.

It’s common in-home furnishings like wall hangings and pillow covers.

How to tea-dye.

  1. Use several tea bags or loose tea leaves to brew a pot of strong tea. Wait until the tea reaches room temperature.
  2. Put the silk fabric in the tea and let it sit for a few hours or until the colour you want is achieved. The colour will get darker as the fabric soaks for longer.
  3. After removing the fabric from the tea, thoroughly rinse it with cold water.
  4. Tumble dry the fabric on low heat or hang it to dry.
From left to right, a bucket with hot water, a tea plant and the silk
The ingredients needed for tea-dyeing. Credit Kiranmmayie Suryanarayana
A bucket of hot water with tea
The silk in the tea during the dyeing process. Credit: Kiranmmayie Suryanarayana
Tea-dyed silk
The finished tea-dyed silk. Credit Kiranmmayie Suryanarayana

Since tea-dyeing is a natural process, it’s non-toxic and eco-friendly. It’s cost-effective, as the only raw material required is tea leaves or tea bags.

The colour that’s imparted is very soothing and gives a chic, vintage look.