8 Ingenious Ways to Repurpose Used Coffee Grounds

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 

coffee grounds, fertilizer
Used coffee grounds are good for fertilizer and composting. Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

In the U.S., coffee is king. Seventy percent of Americans drink this fragrant beverage weekly, while 62 percent enjoy it every single day, according to the National Coffee Association. But few give a thought to its byproduct, coffee grounds, which most people unceremoniously dump into the garbage. And that's a mistake, as there are a surprising number of things you can do with used coffee grounds.

Some of this versatility comes from the fact that coffee is filled with valuable nutrients. Researchers from Spain's University of Granada found coffee grounds are rich in fiber and phenols, and their antioxidant effects are 500 times greater than those found in vitamin C. The grounds' coarse texture is another advantage, as is their ability to stain.

Intrigued? Here are eight creative ways to reuse your old coffee grounds.

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1. Incorporate Into Your Cooking and Brewing

Coffee grounds impart a rich, smoky flavor when rubbed onto meats such as ribs and brisket. Their acids also tenderize meat and amplify its flavor. While many recipes call for combining fresh grounds with other seasonings to create dry rubs, you can do the same with used grounds.

When it comes to beverages, porter and stout beers often incorporate coffee to add more depth to their flavors, typically using brewed coffee. But home brewers can do the same using coffee grounds. One possibility: place coffee grounds in a muslin sack and steep in cold water for 24 hours or so. Then remove the grounds and add the cold brew you've just created to your beer.

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2. Make a Body Scrub

Coffee grounds are coarse and gritty. And grittiness is important when it comes to body scrubs, which exfoliate your skin by removing dirt and dead cells. Make your own body or facial scrub by combining 3 tablespoons of coffee grounds, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of a natural oil, such as coconut, olive or almond. Mix well, then transfer into a lidded jar. To use, gently work into your wet skin, then rinse. You can also create an exfoliating lip scrub by mixing coffee grounds with a little honey.

It's important to make sure you're using caffeinated grounds in your body scrub, as caffeine helps protect your skin from sun damage, thanks to its strong antioxidant properties. Caffeine may also result in increased blood flow to the area, which is great for skin health.

coffee facial scrub
Coffee grounds can make a great facial scrub. This one combines used grounds with brown sugar and olive oil.
automidori/Getty Images

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3. Make Homemade Coffee Candles

If you love the scent of coffee, use your old grounds to make coffee-scented candles. Homemade coffee candles tend to smell better than commercial versions, as homemade candles use real grounds. And if you carefully layer the grounds in the candle, they're also quite attractive. One other perk: When the coffee grounds become exposed as the candle burns down, the heat will release even more of that soothing coffee aroma.

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4. Create Dye

If you've ever spilled coffee, you know how easily it stains. Use that to your advantage by dying various items with those old grounds. Use grounds to stain your chic ripped jeans, for example or your torn sweatshirt. You can also rewet your grounds and rub them onto craft paper or Easter eggs, which will imbue them with the sepia tones popular in the Victorian era. You can even mix those grounds with some water and use it as a wood stain. Coffee grounds may also be used to deepen the color of dark hair.

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5. De-Ice the Road

Those who live in colder climes know how slippery snow and ice can be. For years, people have been deicing with salt, which lowers the freezing point of water and prevents ice from forming. It also has a gritty texture that aids in traction. But deicing salts can kill plants and aquatic species, plus pollute the groundwater. So more recently, people have been switching to sand.

Sand is a natural substance, which is a huge plus. But while sand increases traction, it doesn't melt ice. And it's messy if you track it into the house. Enter coffee grounds, which carry the best qualities of salt and sand. Like sand, coffee grounds are a natural product that doesn't harm the environment. They also have the gritty texture found in sand and salt that's important for traction. But coffee grounds also contain nitrogen, which helps melt ice. (Note: one TV station tried this hack and determined you might need a lot more coffee grounds to break up the ice than you would rock salt. Still, it worked.)

Polish worker sprinkles coffee grounds
A municipal worker in Krakow, Poland, sprinkles a road with coffee grounds, Feb. 10, 2021. The city collects used coffee grounds from local cafés and uses them instead of salt or sand as an ecological way to safeguard against slippery winter conditions.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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6. Combat Unsightly Cellulite

Ladies, this one's for you. An incredible 80 to 90 percent of adult women have cellulite, a skin condition that causes lumpy, dimpled flesh on the thighs, hips, abdomen and buttocks. There are many treatments for this unsightly condition, including pricy laser therapy and liposuction. But an inexpensive and natural treatment is a coffee-ground scrub.

Take your old, caffeinated coffee grounds, mix with water or coconut oil, and rub all over your cellulite. How does it work? Caffeine dehydrates cells, so using this scrub may make them less visible. You'll need to do this daily, though, to be most effective. Also, be aware that most cellulite treatments — even the priciest — don't typically result in dramatic changes.

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7. Neutralize Odors

You probably love the smell of coffee (or you wouldn't be reading this article). But coffee, thanks to the nitrogen it contains, can also can absorb smells in the home. This can be bad before you've used the grounds (which is one reason you need to keep the coffee can or bag locked tight) but it's a plus afterward.

To get rid of funky smells in your kitchen or fridge, leave some dried used grounds in a bowl on the kitchen counter or at the back of your fridge. You can also sprinkle dried used coffee grounds on a rug to get rid of carpet odors (leave overnight and vacuum in the morning). Or tie some up in an old sock or pantyhose to freshen up your car or gym bag.

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8. Nurture Your Garden

Perhaps the most popular reuse of old coffee grounds is in the garden, as you can use them in numerous ways. First, a lot of insects find coffee toxic, so sprinkle the grounds liberally around plants that are being attacked by ants, slugs or snails. You can also toss grounds around your outdoor seating areas (or place them in containers) to help repel mosquitoes and fruit flies. Finally, you can mix the nitrogen-rich grounds into your compost, or use as a fertilizer for acid-loving plants (like azaleas and hydrangeas) by lightly working them into the soil.

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