How to Dye Clothes Tan or Brown With Coffee

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How to Dye Clothes with Coffee

before and after photos of dying khaki pants with coffee

We all know from unfortunate experience that coffee is great at staining our clothes. Use coffee’s powers for good by turning a hot brew into a natural dye. This can produce all shades of tans and browns.

What You’ll Need

  • A medium-sized garment for dying
  • A hot pot of coffee
  • 1 cup of vinegar for soaking animal fibers, like wool, cashmere, and nylon 
  • 1 cup soda ash for pre-soaking plant fibers, like cotton, linen, rayon, and silk
  • A large spoon (wooden works well)
  • A storage tub or large bowl (small enough that the coffee will cover the clothing, but large enough that the clothing is not cramped)

Note that coffee will work well to permanently stain animal fibers such as wool, but on cotton (cotton is a plant fiber), the color is going to fade over time. Decide what kind of material you would like to use for a pure brown or fading antique look.

Once you have all your supplies, you're ready to brew the coffee.

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Brew the Coffee

pouring brewed coffee into a container

This project comes with a drink. Brew a ten cup pot of coffee. Follow the directions on your coffee to see how much you should use for ten cups. For a darker brown, add an extra scoop of coffee for more power. The brand of coffee does not matter, and this is one instance in life where decaf has a purpose. Any sort of coffee will work.

Prepare your garment by pre-washing and drying it in your machine washer and dryer. Remember to check the tag for care instructions. If you aren’t supposed to put it in the dryer, then hang it up to dry.

You can opt to pre-soak your clothes in vinegar or soda ash solution to help the coffee stick to the fibers. Add a cup of vinegar/soda ash to a tub of water and let soak for at least an hour. What you use to presoak depends on what you are dying. For animal fibers and nylon, use vinegar. For plant fibers and silk, use soda ash.

Pour the hot coffee into the tub. Once you are all set, we can learn how long to soak the fabric.

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Soak for Lighter Colors

hands soaking pants in tub of coffee

Submerge your garment in the coffee and stir with the wooden spoon so that there are no wrinkles in the clothing and everything is sure to get covered. When you remove the clothing, keep in mind that the color will be lighter when the garment is dry.

  • For sandy beige, soak for only a couple of minutes. Rinse immediately in hot water.
  • To achieve a buttery tan, soak for five minutes. Rinse quickly and thoroughly in warm water.

For darker colors, you will need to adjust your soaking method.

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Soak for Darker Colors

soaking pants in coffee

For a white garment, you will need to soak longer to get a dark brown. A colorful piece of clothing will end up looking like a muddy version of the original colors. Note again that the resulting color will be a few shades lighter once the garment is dry.

  • For a cappuccino brown, leave your clothing in for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and rinse in cold water.
  • For a dark chocolate brown, you should have added an extra scoop of coffee to the brew. Soak for ten minutes, and then pour the coffee back into the pot. Re-heat and soak the garment for another ten minutes. Rinse thoroughly in cold water. Repeat as needed until you achieve the desired color.

Once you’re happy with your khaki or teddy-bear brown, it’s time to rinse and dry.

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Rinse and Dry

putting pants into dryer

Follow the above rinse instructions for each shade of brown. After rinsing, wash your garment in the washing machine on hot with detergent. It is very important that you put this garment in the washing machine alone! Do not wash your dyed garment with any other clothing until it has been fully washed and dried on its own.

Line dry or machine dry according to the garment’s care instructions.

If your garment is not as dark as you would like, repeat these steps until you reach the right shade of brown. If your garment started out as white, then keep in mind that it will take more soaking to turn it a dark brown. If your garment was originally colored, then the brown color will be a muddy version of the original color.