Home Hacks

The One Way You Might Not Be Using Your Tea Bags

March  6, 2017

My old roommate, bless his heart, moved out of our apartment last month. He’s a pretty nice dude, and he did a pretty good job clearing the space of his belongings. Save for our fridge.

There’s a cabal of rotting condiments and yogurts he left behind, their expiration dates stretching as far back as 2014. His mess is now mine to reckon with.

Dealing with another person's mess—especially when it gives rise to potent odors—is never any fun. But it's especially horrifying when dealing with a space like a fridge, which is supposed to keep your foods fresh and appealingly edible. Growing up, baking soda was my family’s preferred fridge-deodorizer, and we applied it with equal enthusiasm to shoes. Baking soda remains our tried-and-true cure-all. In the Sen household, the best way to de-stench a pair of smelly kicks is to coat their soles with a light dust of Arm & Hammer.

But I’ve recently, thanks to the Tea Board of India, discovered a more cost-effective method than baking soda to deodorize my revoltingly grody fridge: used tea bags. It’s almost deceptively simple. After your tea’s done steeping, stick your tea bags in an open container—I used tupperware, but a mug also works—and stick it in the locus of the odor. There, it’ll absorb those unwanted perfumes.

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I approached this exercise with a heavy dose of suspicion, as I'm generally skeptical of these so-called home hacks that tend to ricochet across social media. But quelle surprise: Give it two days, and it works. My fridge now smells as fresh as a batch of pine cones. I’m a fiendish tea drinker these days, and I’ve been used to discarding my pockets of raspberry rooibos in my garbage bags, where they soak. In other words, I haven’t really known what to do with them.

I'm told used tea bags serve a motley of other purposes, too: as dish degreasers, as pasta-fortifiers. (They're also good for shoes.) But I'll experiment with those later; for now, as long as my fridge has this aggressively uninviting aroma, I'll put my tea bags in a fridge. For a fridge whose odor may make you keel over, a used tea bag is a vaccine.

How do you use your tea bags? Let us know in the comments.

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    Josephine Ann
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


maria May 26, 2017
I think everyone should boycott teas which use the new plastic covering, rather than the paper bags which will decompose. I called Red Rose to complain about the news bags they are using as well as Salada Tea and they told me the plastic coverings will decompose but in fact, as another person wrote, they do not decompose. We don't need more unnecessary garbage, so I'm considering buying loose tea from now on. When I was in England, the Tea drinking capital, I noticed that most people used loose tea which tastes much better and is more environmentally sensible.
tamrhendy May 25, 2017
This is a nice new way to use tea bags. thanks
grandma March 29, 2017
We were always told that a tea bag (used) will withdraw pain from a bad sunburn.
manderjoy March 29, 2017
I completely support both tea-drinking and creativity in utilizing all potential in things. But I also am thrilled by your writing style! Please write more articles like this so I can indulge my love of vocabulary and recycling simultaneously.
Josephine A. March 29, 2017
As a dentist, I recommend ice cold tea bags to stop bleeding after a tooth extraction. Works beautifully
Fran M. March 8, 2018
I just used this method recently. I have an extended bleeding time and it worked.
Caryl March 29, 2017
Also good as a dye. I'm a quilter and I often give fabrics a good soak in used tea for a softer, antique look.
Amneris March 13, 2017
Tea bags are also great as plant fertilizers, dig them in around your plants and watch your plants thrive.
Betty March 12, 2017
I dry my used tea bags or loose tea. I cut open the tea bags and save the tea. I use it to sprinkle on the kitty litter to help absorb odors.
foglette March 12, 2017
Coffee grounds also help to get rid of odors in the frig. Though, how many of you have nose blindness in your frig? I'm afraid I do, so I don't know how much odor is in there. Thanks for the suggestion.
Julie March 7, 2017
If I put my used loose tea in a bowl, would that work too?
maria March 8, 2017
I'm sure loose tea would work just as well, maybe even better than using the new teabags which are not made from paper? Perhaps adding a tablespoon of baking soda to the loose tea might be a good idea.
maria March 7, 2017
Thanks, great idea; perhaps flavoured teas such as earl grey or mint, etc. gives an even more pleasant scent? Luckily I have a composter in my garden so my tea bags and coffee grinds go to good use. However, not happy about the new 'plasticky' teabags they've switched to for some strange reason. Will have to see how well they decompose.
Renie March 12, 2017
They don't decompose. I found leftovers in my compost. No longer buy taes in those bags.
maria March 30, 2017
Thanks Renie, good to know since I've been removing the tea from the bags not sure if they would decompose but still putting them in my composter ju. I called Red Rose Tea about these bags
maria March 30, 2017
and I was told that they decompose and when I asked why they changed from the previous 'paper' teabags they couldn't give me reason.
maria March 30, 2017
If you happen to find a brand which has not switched to these new 'terrible' bags, please post. I think a lot of the herbal teas still use the paper, although I recently bought raspberry/rhubarb and was surprised it also had the plasticky bags. As they say, 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it'!
Jennifer March 7, 2017
Does it matter what kind of tea bags?
aargersi March 7, 2017
Haven't tried the tea bag trick, but I am a (slightly) obsessive cleaner of things so ... anyhoo you need to read Britt Marie Was Here, not only a fine read, but also features frequent and heavy use of baking soda as a cleanser ...
liz A. March 6, 2017
dude. this is fantastic repurposing. can't wait to try ~
Whiteantlers March 6, 2017
When I was in art college, I cleaned houses professionally and some of the things I encountered would scare Stephen King. I only drink loose tea and cold brew when it is no longer good for hot brewing, but used tea bags are good for calming down sunburn and depuffing swollen (allergies, tears, hangovers) eyes.