What to Do with Used Tea Leaves?

Picture of used tea leaves in strainer
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Whether you’re looking to minimize the waste you create from your kitchen or if you’re just curious, rest assured there actually is something you can do with your used tea leaves. Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world besides water, so you can imagine just how much waste and leftovers are produced on a regular basis.

Instead of throwing those used tea leaves in the trash, try out some of these methods to be more environmentally friendly.

Why Save Used Tea Leaves?

You may see used tea leaves as simply trash, but the lifespan of tea doesn’t have to stop at your teacup. The modern world is facing rapid environmental changes, and most people do everything they can to minimize the damage we do from day to day. 

Every day, about 2 billion cups of tea are consumed worldwide, meaning that same quantity of tea is also being discarded every single day. One way you can be more environmentally conscious is by rescuing those tea leaves from the trash bin.

The Philosophy of “Mottainai”

Japanese culture has embraced the philosophy of mottainai, which translates to, “What a waste!” Mottainai is an environmentally friendly philosophy which strives to minimize waste as much as possible. 

Used tea leaves, also known as chagra, are often a cornerstone of this practice. You can practice your own mottainai at home by finding uses for your chagra.

Know Your Chagra

The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with what types of used tea you’ve accumulated. Different styles of tea will have different tastes and properties, which can affect how well suited they are to certain uses. For example, black tea contains significant amounts of caffeine, whereas herbal and green teas don’t.

If you have a variety of different teas at your disposal, you should take the time to organize them and make sure you don’t get them mixed up, just to play it safe. It’s always better to plan ahead than to regret it later!


Before anything else, you’ll have to properly dry the tea leaves. This is arguably the most important part of the process and should be done immediately. This is because any remaining moisture in your chagra will quickly mold otherwise. There are two ways you can dry your used tea leaves:

1. Use the Sun-Dry Method

Using the sun-dry method is the easiest way to dry your used tea leaves, but it is also more time-consuming. Simply select an area of your home where there is consistent sunshine and good airflow, and lay your leaves out flat. A great place to do this could be in your windowsill. Keep in mind that this method can take between one to four days to be fully effective, so you’ll need to be patient.

2. Use Your Oven

Alternatively, you can dry your chagra in your oven at home. Lay out your used tea leaves flat on a baking sheet, screen, or towel and set your oven’s temperature to 100℉ – any hotter than this and you risk ruining the tea’s natural flavor, or worse: burning it! Bake the tea at this temperature for about one hour. Make sure to let the oven fully cool before you remove the tea.

Ways to Use Your Chagra

There are tons of ways you can recycle and reuse your used tea leaves. In some countries, livestock are actually fed chagra in addition to their usual diet because of the tea’s natural health benefits. You can reap those benefits, too! Here are some things you can do with your chagra at home:

1. DIY Potpourri

Make your very own potpourri using those dried tea leaves by repackaging them into tiny mesh bags and leaving them around your house. You can even fill a decorative bowl or dish with some tea leaves to make a beautiful centerpiece. The tea leaves’ natural aroma will freshen up your living space in no time.

2. Plant Fertilizer

If you have any houseplants or a garden at home, chagra is a perfect addition to their soil. Tea leaves are rich with nitrogen, the same chemical primarily used in commercial fertilizers to advance plant growth. Used tea leaves are actually more effective for plant fertilizer because after being brewed they lose a significant amount of their acidity, which would have made them incompatible with certain plant species.

3. Compost

If you have a compost bin, your used tea leaves are the perfect addition. The same chemicals that make chagra so helpful to growing plants also counterbalance the carbon in your compost bin, meaning they’ll help the organic material decompose faster.

4. Bath Sachets

After a long day, nothing feels as good as a soothing hot bath. With your dried tea leaves, you can now make bath time even more relaxing. If your tea came in a tea sachet, just throw it into your hot bath water for an aromatic, herbal soak. If you only have loose tea leaves, you can combine them in a small mesh bag. 

I’m a big fan of herbal bath soaks myself, and I’ve found that you can tie the tea bag onto your bath faucet so that the bag is directly positioned under the hot running water. This infuses your bath as the water builds up, keeping you from waiting. If you use this method, you also won’t have to splash around a floating tea bag in the tub!

5. Skin Care

You can use chagra as a natural skincare routine with very little effort. Many major skincare companies actually infuse their facial scrubs with tea because of the natural antioxidants contained within it. If you want to make your own scrub, check out this brief video for a DIY tutorial you can do right at home.

Caffeine, which is present in black tea, is a natural vasoconstrictor. This means it works to tighten the blood vessels in your skin, which can reduce inflammation. Contain the chagra into two small bags and run it under warm water. Then, simply lay back with the tea over your eyes for 5-10 minutes to reduce puffiness and eye bags. Who knew used tea leaves could help you look your best?

Sustainable & Shrewd

It’s important to do what we can to preserve the environment, especially in the modern world. Although saving tea bags may seem like a small act, it adds up in the long run and can help minimize the damage we do to the environment through unnecessary waste. It’s easy to reuse tea leaves and it can be highly beneficial to you, your skin, and your plants.