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It’s National Coffee Day on September 29. Let’s celebrate the many ways that we enjoy coffee and coffee grounds, from the garden to the home to your health. Here are 15 uses for ground coffee to get you started.
I love my coffee strong and black. The beans come from our local food co-op—fair-trade, organic French Roast—and we grind it fresh for every pot. That leaves a lot of coffee grounds.
Sometimes I feel coffee contradicts many of my values. I stay far away from other addictive substances. I certainly don’t grow it myself, and my consumption doesn’t support local agriculture. And yet, drinking lots of coffee—as much as 3 to 5 or more cups per day—has been associated with numerous health benefits: a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke; less depression, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia; Parkinson’s disease, some forms of breast cancer, and liver cancer.
However, it’s important to note that the medical research supporting these health benefits consists largely of “observational” studies, which can’t declare a definite cause-and-effect relationship between coffee drinking and lowered risk of these chronic diseases.
So, from a health perspective, good science says the jury’s still out on coffee drinking. But strong coffee and the spent grounds have a lot of other uses.
The Many Uses for Coffee and Coffee Grounds
Use coffee grounds in the garden to improve soil. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and will improve the availability of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper. Till into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.The grounds will provide nitrogen in a slow-release fashion for use by plants over the long term. It is an excellent soil amendment and is recommended to be used at a rate of 25 to 35% by volume to improve soil structure.
The slightly acid properties of the grounds are also a welcome addition if your soil tends more towards the alkaline. Note: Coffee is only slightly acidic so it’s not going to be enough to acidify your soil over the long-term all on its own but it may help, especially with acid-loving plants such as camellias, azaleas, blueberries, and holly.
Add coffee grounds to the compost pile. Don’t just throw out all those grounds! They are valuable as a nitrogen-rich kick-starter for the compost pile. Add to your compost pile; once your compost has decomposed, add to your soil to help plants grow. Nitrogen-rich grounds should make up no more than 15 to 20% of the total compost volume (as they are also acidic). Mix coffee grounds with grass clippings and dried leaves with a pitchfork. Coffee filters can be composted, too, but they are considered green compost and should be balanced with browns.
Add grounds to your mulch. Because they are acidic, coffee grounds make good acid mulch for acid-loving plants, like blueberries, camellias, azaleas, dogwood trees, magnolia trees, rhododendrons, holly bushes, and more. Grounds will slowly decompose releasing the nutrients. Of course, too much of anything is just too much, so apply coffee grounds in limited amounts (no thicker than half an inch). And do not use grounds as the only mulch; they are quite fine and compact easily so they should be used to bulk up the mulch you are already using.
Fertilize your veggie garden with coffee grounds. Just like any other organic material, coffee grounds are a good slow release fertilizer. Mix moist coffee grounds nitrogen fertilizer. Spread a 1-inch layer on the soil in your vegetable garden. The nitrogen fertilizer speeds the decomposition of the coffee grounds and gives your vegetable plants more nutrients. (Don’t leave the coffee grounds on the soil surface; dried-out coffee grounds repel water.)
Cook with leftover coffee. You can use some of that leftover morning coffee to add depth and complexity to almost any marinade, gravy, sauce, frosting, or as part of the liquid in a soup, stew, fruit smoothie, or dessert.
Freeze leftover coffee for iced drinks or to thaw for cooking. Just pop into ice-cube trays and freeze. Then remove the cubes and store in a zippered plastic bag.
Add a tablespoon or two of freshly ground coffee beans to a cake, cookie, or brownie batter (coffee has a special affinity for chocolate).
Exfoliate and tone skin with coffee grounds. Give yourself a full body exfoliation! Simply rub a handful of spent fine (not too big) coffee grounds over your body or your face. Add a bit of olive oil to the grounds for a smoother finish. You can also add a handful of coffee grounds to improve the results from a facial scrub or hair conditioner.
Give hair shine and color hair. For an instant shine, rub coffee grounds through damp hair after shampooing, or add a few grounds to your hair conditioner, then rinse. The coffee grounds will darken light hair.
Darken hair or cover gray temporarily. Dip freshly washed hair into a bowl of strong, dark coffee; squeeze out, use a cup to pour coffee through hair repeatedly. Pin it up under a large plastic bag for half an hour. Then rinse hair and dry as usual. For a more dramatic coloring, make a thick paste of instant coffee or finely ground beans with hot water and apply the paste to sections of hair. Pin up under a large plastic bag for half an hour, then rinse.
Deodorize your garbage disposal. Put a tablespoon or two into the sink and run the disposal. (Do not do this with a septic system, as anything that leaves sediment can cause blockage down the road.)
Deodorize your hands! If you have cut up an onion or garlic, keep a small bowl of fresh coffee grounds on hand to add to your soap while washing your hands. After scouring your hand, they will be clean and refreshed!
Give fabrics an antique look. “Age” white or off-white natural fabrics. The longer you leave the article in the dye bath, the deeper the shade will be, but coffee always gives a soft, tan shade, never a deep brown. Coffee grounds can color paper as well (for a fun antiqued look) and even make a creative paint!
Control wood-ash dust. Sprinkle the morning’s coffee grounds on ashes before scraping them from your stove or when you prepare to empty the ash pan.
Deodorize closets, car interiors, fridge, and microwave. To remove stale or musty odors fill an empty butter tub with coffee grounds, punch holes in the cover and set the tub under sinks, in the fridge and freezer, and in your closet. Alternatively, tie up a cup of spent or fresh coffee grounds in a pantyhose leg and hang on a hook in a closet or pantry.
Hide scratches in dark wooden furniture. Use a Q-Tip dipped in strong black coffee to swab small scratches in dark-stained wood. For larger areas, make a paste of finely-ground fresh beans or instant coffee and a little hot brewed coffee, brush paste over area, let dry, brush off excess.
Remove stubborn stains. Use a wet coffee filter and a few spent grounds to scrub the stains from ceramic coffee or tea cups. Sometimes a few coffee grounds and a stiff scrub brush will clean up burned-on food or grease from pots and pans.
More Uses for Coffee Grounds
Our readers have posted several more interesting uses for repurposing coffee grounds! Let us know how it works for you!
Sprinkle around plants to keep slugs and snails away; these soft-bodied pests do not like to crawl across soil with grounds.
Apparently, cats also do not like stepping or rolling in coffee grounds either. Adding a one-inch layer on the soil will keep your furry friends from using your garden beds as a litter box.
Worms like coffee grounds! If you vermicompost, add the ground to your worm bin.