As the escalating temperatures remind us that summer is around the corner, I’m beginning to prep my house for the dreaded humid season in Japan. And what better way to guard against stink and mildew than tea leaves! Tea is a staple in my life and I have found some pretty wacky and wild uses for the leaves. Some of the ideas below might seem a bit radical, but hear me out – they are tried and true!

Create a mock onsen

Much before tanning salons came along, I heard somewhere that you could achieve a bronzed tan if you soaked in a bathtub of Lipton’s black tea. Well, the only thing that got tanned was my hide after I stained my mother’s marble bathtub! Apart from this little episode, using green tea leaves in the bath isn’t as ridiculous as you might think.

On a visit to Ureshino on the island of Kyushu, I stayed at Warakuen Ryokan, a Japanese hot springs resort famous for their unique tea bath. Imagine slipping outside in early February, butt naked, gliding across a stone path in a Japanese garden and into a steaming natural pool of mineral water that has been infused with local tea leaves. I have to admit that getting over the community nakedness was more challenging than enduring the momentary subzero-like temperatures.

By soaking in this hot bath of green tea, my dull, lifeless skin regained its luster and a few irritating little rough bits simply melted away. Next to the huge teapot water fountain was a basket filled with oversized teabags that you could moisten and pat onto your face or any area that needed extra help.

Believe it or not, you can just about have this same experience at home. Using a cheaper tea like Bancha or Aracha, bag up a nice big handful in a stocking, tie the end and chuck it into your bath. If you close your bathroom door, chances are you can emulate the steam of a Japanese hot spring.

Secrets from a Geisha

Green tea works miracles on acne and on dryness because it balances what your skin needs. I’m convinced this is a trick Geisha have kept up their sleeve for centuries.

There are two ways to benefit. You can pat wet, but not-yet-steeped tea leaves on your face and hold them there for a short time, say a minute or two, and then rinse them off with water. This is similar to the Warakuen tea pack, mentioned above, only without the oversized teabag.

For a lighter application, simply fill your basin with luke-warm water, add fresh non-steeped tea leaves, allow them to unfurl and lightly color the water. Then rinse your cleansed face multiple times with the green tea water. Follow with your normal moisturizing routine for an alkalized, hydrated, ph-balanced, fresh complexion and get ready for Geisha-like admiration.

Kiss my feet!

For a blissful pedicure, soak your feet in a tea bath while reading a good book or meditating. Just fill a dishpan or foot spa with warm water and add some non-steeped green tea leaves. The concentration will be much stronger than for your bathtub soak and that’s good because the bottoms of your feet are very porous so the nutrients in the water are quickly accessed. If you prefer, you can make a teabag out of an old stocking and infuse the water that way. This ritual is particularly effective for stinky feet!

Tea Trees

Speaking of stinky feet, the culprit may be your shoes. Nothing beats a green tea shoe tree! Here’s what you do:

Get a pair of ladies trouser stockings or lightweight socks and inspect them for holes. Then pack a very generous portion of dried leaves in each sock until you have filled it halfway full. Tie a tight knot in the remaining fabric and stuff them into your shoes. When you wear your shoes, just hang the shoe trees in your closet to keep humidity levels in check and odors at bay in there too.

Fridge magnets

Have you ever taken a bite of cheese and it tasted like an onion? Nothing’s worse than a tainted fridge. Your poor cheese can’t tell you what’s going on behind those closed doors! So to prevent a Toy Story ambush in your fridge, it’s best to install an odor prevention system with a dish of dried tea leaves. It can stay in there until you notice your food has started switching shelves. Binchotan white charcoal is also an effective odor eater in the fridge.

Slumber Party!

Nothing beats a good nights sleep. In China, ladies dry their used tea leaves in the sun and sew them into pillows. Jasmine and oolongs work particularly well for this because they are highly fragrant after steeping. You can do the same thing with houjicha. I have had less admirable results with sencha so don’t bother with that.

The operative word here is DRIED THOROUGHLY! Simply spread your steeped leaves on a flat plate, towel or Japanese noodle basket (the best!!) and allow it to dry. Depending on where you live, it might take up to 3 or 4 days in the sun to dry a plate of leaves. It takes a long time to accumulate enough dried leaves to make a large enough pillow. It’s not uncommon to collect leaves for up to a year or two for a big pillow! You can also make a quick eye pillow or a scented sachet by putting a few sun-dried leaves into a stocking or sewing a sachet and placing that inside your pillowcase.

To keep your tea pillow in tip-top shape, make sure you regularly dry it in the sun as moisture accumulates while you sleep.

Turn your home into a teahouse

Popular for centuries in Japan, tea burners (chakouro in Japanese) are coming into mainstream fashion in the West but are disguised as essential oil burners. I’m sure you’ve seen those special ceramic holders with a section for a tealight and a little dish or plate on top. While Westerners put water with a few drops of oil in the dish, Japanese warm to the scent of tea.

Simply fill the plate with some Bancha or other lower-grade green tea leaves, without adding water, and never use Matcha or Funmatsucha. Light the candle and transport yourself to the backstreets of Kyoto.

The Ultimate Fly Swatter!

If pesky flies and biting bugs are bugging you, here’s a radical thing to do: set fire to some tea leaves!  Yes, you heard me right. By setting alight a little more than a tablespoon of dried steeped leaves, either on a plate or on the top of your tea burner, you can bet those bugs will run for cover. It works as well–if not better–than citronella. A word of caution though…it might take a bit more than a few burning tea leaves if you live in a place like the swamplands of Louisiana. And yes, take the right precautions so you don’t burn down the town! Japanese use tea leaves or an incense type coil called katori senko when the mosquitos start to dive bomb!

Visionary Vacuuming

When I was little my mom had me captivated the day she took some used tea leaves from our teapot and tossed them onto the floor. As a 4 year-old I thought this was a great idea for other green things like broccoli, asparagus, and lima beans…

Old steeped leaves are fantastic for cleaning tiny nooks and crannies like tile floors, place mats or if you live in a Japanese house like we did, tatami mats, the tightly woven mats that literally carpet floors all over Japan.

All you do is take lightly damp, almost dry, tea leaves and sprinkle them on the dirty, dusty floor, then just sweep or vacuum them up! The tangled leaves act like a magnet to get hard-to-reach dirt and dust dislodged and discarded just like magic.

Cutting boards

Moist tea leaves work like magic to slay the germs that loiter around your kitchen sink! Not only do tea leaves kill germs but they remove odors and refresh as well. Generously scatter moist tea leaves on your cutting boards and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes. Next, gently massage the leaves on top of your board, paying particular attention to the stained areas. This might turn your board green but a quick light scrub removes it.

A Plant’s Paradise

Plants love tea leaves because they give the soil so many vital nutrients but it can go horribly wrong if you aren’t careful. Trust me, or rather, my two dead plants.

Just like you are making a pot of tea, take a couple of scoops of new tea leaves and add them to about 400 ml of filtered water (any temperature is OK) and let them stand for 1 to 5 hours. Then strain out the leaves, put the water in a spritzer bottle and spray your plants all over, especially on the plant leaves. Don’t keep the water hanging around in the spritzer – just make it fresh every time.

The next way to nourish your plants is to dry the tea leaves completely, and I mean totally! Tea leaves are acidic and some plants prefer acidic to alkaline soil so know what your plants prefer. If you are like me, I need Google to figure this part out. You can either put the dried tea leaves around the base of the plant or mix it into the soil. To take it a step further, grind the dried tea leaves in a coffee grinder and place these bits into the soil. Monitor this process very carefully because old damp leaves are prone to growing fungus and attracting bugs. This was the demise of my fungus-strangled plants! RIP.

Feed Mother Earth

Composting is probably the most familiar use of old tea leaves after everything has been eked out of them.  Tea leaves are nitrogen-rich and help kick start your compost. Toss them in and let ‘em RIP!

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A similar article on T Ching:

Zero Waste: Eight Surprising Reasons You Should Keep Used Tea Bags