Use tea to give fabric a rich, antique look.

How to Dye Cloth for an Antique Look With Tea

by Chance Henson

No material suggests fragile beauty quite as well as the look of antique garments. Antique fabrics are beautiful, but they can also be expensive and extremely delicate. You don't have to spend a pretty penny at antique dealers anymore to get the heirloom look you want. You can create a unique outfit, repurpose table linens or even make a Halloween costume with common tea leaves. Tea dyeing gives you the opportunity to cheaply make any white or near-white natural-fiber material look antique in as little as one hour.

Wash the fabric in the washing machine with hot water and detergent to remove all traces of bleach, fabric sizing and starch, which can inhibit the dye process. Remove the item from the washing, then rinse it with warm running water and set it aside.

Measure out 6 cups of hot water, and pour it into a cooking pot or saucepan. Measure out 1 cup of tea leaves, and set it aside. Use more water and leaves to dye large items such as shirts and jackets, but remember to keep the ratio proportionate. For example, mix 16 cups of water -- the equivalent of a gallon -- with two and two-third cups of tea leaves.

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Place the loose tea leaves in the center of a cheesecloth or other porous material while the water heats. Use nylon hose if you don't have a cheesecloth handy, and tie it off with a piece of twine or strong, white string. Do not use a cloth or string that is dyed -- the pigment may bleed and affect the tea dye's color.

Add the tea bag and 1 tablespoon alum when the water reaches a full boil, and stir it for 2 to 3 minutes. Use alum to help the fabric retain the dye when laundering. Turn the stove off, and leave the pot covered for no less than 15 minutes.

Uncover the pot, then scoop out any loose tea leaves you find floating on the surface. Slip on a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands, and slowly remove the tea bag from the water. Press the bag against the side of the pot to push out the excess liquid, then discard it.

Place the garment in the tea -- taking care to not splash when doing so -- and press it down until it is completely submerged. Stir the tea periodically to help it absorb the color, and allow it to set for 20 to 45 minutes.

Remove the garment when it is sufficiently dyed. Keep in mind that the fabric will dry much lighter than it appears when wet. Return the garment to the tea if it dries too light for your taste, and let it soak until it takes on the desired hue.

Wash the dyed garment alone, on hot and with a mild detergent. Dry it in the dryer or air dry.

Items you will need

  • Laundry detergent
  • Measuring cup
  • Cooking pot
  • Tea leaves
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • String
  • Alum
  • Large spoon
  • Rubber gloves


  • Cream of tartar may be used in place of alum to help fabrics retain the dye.
  • Tea dyeing will not work on synthetic fabrics such as polyester or rayon.


  • The acidic properties of tea will weaken the fiber integrity of antique and delicate fabrics.
  • Never leave a hot stove unattended.

About the Author

Chance Henson earned a B.A. in English literature and a writing minor from Lamar University. While interning at the "University Press" newspaper and "UP Beat" magazine he received an award for news feature writing from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. Henson went on to serve as content editor for "CUSH Magazine," eventually leaving to pursue the development of an online secular humanist educational publication.

Photo Credits

  • NA/ Images