Introduction: 11 Unusual Uses for Coffee

Picture of 11 Unusual Uses for Coffee

Every coffee drinker knows the feeling they get when they have their morning ritual of a hot strong cup of coffee. Mmmmmm, just saying the word makes me smell it in the air; coffee. As a longtime coffee consumer and avid caffeine-scientist I've seen my way around more than a few pots of potent, percolating brain juice. We all know the great benefits of coffee, it's:

  • Hot
  • Caffeinated
  • Awesome

But did you know that coffee has a life outside of being a tasty bevvy? It's true! Coffee grounds can continue to be useful after you've had your morning fix and can work in some interesting ways. So, save those beans and find 11 unusual uses for coffee!

Step 1: In the Garden

Picture of In the Garden

Spent coffee grounds can be mixed with lye to make a great composting agent, you can even throw in the coffee filter, too!
Worms in compost like to eat the bacterium that grows on the facets of coffee grounds, though the grounds themselves are a a food source it also adds grit to the worms' digestive system allowing them to digest better.

Small amounts of coffee grounds can be added directly to top soil, especially on plants that like high acidity in the soil like azaleas or roses. Coffee is high in nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, potassium and other trace minerals, spreading around a thin layer of coffee grounds on your soil will allow a slow release of these minerals into your plants.

Be aware of which plants like acidic soil (roses), and which plants don't (tomatoes).

Insect Repellant:
Coffee has a very strong odour which many insects and animals do not like. In addition, it's been suggested that mosquitoes, ants, slugs and maggots all dislike the acidity of coffee and will stay away from areas where there is high concentration of acidic soil.

Step 2: Pet Repellant

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Pesky neighbour's cat or dog always up in your flowerbed? Sprinkling coffee grounds along with other powerful odour-emitting substances can keep those animals away. Most animals' sense of smell is much greater than ours, and while coffee that may smell great to us can smell very unpleasant to a hyper-sensitive-olfactory feline.

Used coffee grounds can be mixed with orange peels (or other citrus) and spread around flowerbeds for an inexpensive pet deterrent. This potent concoction was enough to drive the cat in this picture away, after a brief sniff he couldn't get away fast enough!

Step 3: Aromatic

Instructables member noahw made a coffee air freshener, "enjoy that great coffee bean scent whenever and wherever you like."

You can easily make your own with a pair of ladies stockings and fresh ground coffee. Simply double-up the stockings, fill with coffee grounds and then tie off.

Step 4: Palate Cleanser

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You may have noticed that many perfume counters at department stores have a small dish of coffee beans nearby (and if they don't have them, they should). These coffee beans are there to 'cleanse your palate' (olfactory). The reason you want to smell coffee beans between perfume samples is that when testing out powerful aromatics it can get hard to discern one scent from another. The strong odour of coffee beans excites different areas in your olfactory, allowing a more sensitive smell for the next perfume you want to smell.

UC Berkeley scientist, Noam Sobel, writes in his article "Influence of Smelling Coffee on Olfactory Habituation":

Smelling coffee aroma between perfume samples, as compared to smelling unscented air, actually works. The perceived odor intensity of the perfume from sample to sample stayed the same after smelling coffee aroma while it decreased when smelling air between samples. The pleasantness of the perfume, however, was similar after smelling coffee or air.

So grab those beans next time you're sampling perfumes or colognes and give your nose a break!

Step 5: Fridge Deodorizer

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Borrowing noahw'sair freshener idea, I found that you can use coffee to help reduce refrigerator odours and food prep smells, like onions or other strong smelling food.

Make a sachet of ground coffee and leave in the back of the fridge for a few days, the sachet should help absorb some of the strong food odours and emit a pleasant coffee aroma.

Step 6: Meat Rub

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We all know coffee is great for breakfast, but what about dinner? Try a coffee rub on your next steak dinner for a unique flavour experience! I toasted fresh coffee grounds under a hot broiler for about 30 seconds, shaking often to prevent burning. The toasted coffee was then added with other steak spices and rubbed into the steak and left to marinate for a few hours in the fridge.

Cook steak as desired.

Step 7: Fabric Dye / Wood Stain

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Coffee's dark colour makes it a good choice for giving fabrics that worn-look and wood an aged patina. You're not going to end up with a very dark dye or stain, but you will get a unique, weathered look. Depending on number of applications and type of material the coffee is applied to this method of dying and staining can produce some effective results.

Fabric Dye:
Brew a regular pot of coffee and completely immerse the fabric of choice into pot, you may need to place a small weight on top of the fabric to stop it from poking out of the coffee while it's soaking. Allow fabric to dye for 24 hours (or longer), then rinse fabric and let air dry. The result is a browny,off-white colour; giving the fabric an aged look. Try a few different strength of coffee brews, or length of time fabric is submerged to achieve different shades.

Wood Stain:
Brew a strong pot of coffee and place the grounds back into the pot, allow to slightly and then apply to untreated wood. The coffee will stain the wood a slightly darker stain, but don't expect very dark results. Leaving a the coffee grounds directly on the wood will result in a darker stain.

Step 8: Paint

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Artists and crafters have used coffee and tea as a form of 'paint' for ages. Regular brewed coffee can be brushed onto cardstock and will dry with a faded, browny, textured look. With repeated applications you can build up your image and create depth.

Make sure to take a sip between brush strokes.

Step 9: Cleaning Abrasive

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Used coffee grounds can be used as a cleaning abrasive. Simply save up your coffee grounds and scoop some into your next dirty pot or pan before hand washing, the absorbent grounds are perfect for greasy pans and the small jegged edges of each ground helps in cleaning even the grossest of dishware.

Step 10: Facial Exfoliant / Faux Beard

Picture of Facial Exfoliant / Faux Beard

Facial Exfoliant:
Coffee grounds are abrasive enough to scrub with, but are soft enough to be used on your face. Gently massage a small amount of spent coffee grounds into your face to use as an exfoliant. The sensation was like rubbing sand into my face, and not unpleasant. My skin was left feeling smooth, tingly and with an espresso aftershave aroma that would make Juan Valdez blush.

Faux Beard:
Feel free to get carried away and give yourself a fearsome coffee-beard while you're doing the exfoliation.

Step 11: Breath Freshener

Picture of Breath Freshener

All out of mints? Sucking on a whole roasted coffee bean can work in a pinch.
Just pop a whole bean in your mouth on the way out the door and you'll have fresher breath than before in no time!

Have you got another unusual use for coffee? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!


Najn_arte (author)2015-12-10

Do used coffee grounds work to deodorize the fridge?

IamTheMomo (author)Najn_arte2015-12-10

NO! I tried that when we moved once and the fridge sat in storage for several months while we built a new house. The fridge was TOTALLY FULL of mold when we got it out of storage! I had thoroughly cleaned it inside with Clorox before putting a cloth packet filled with coffee into it just before it went into storage. This does not work at all! Clean it and put some silca gel or those dehydrating crystals in it that are iften sold in the south or other humid areas.

FYI bleach does not kill mold it only changes its color. Instead try a mixture of white vinegar, and lime juice infused with fresh rosemary.

sheric3 (author)Thdy call me Al2017-05-21

What ratio for the vinegar & lime juice?

KateS52 (author)sheric32017-05-21


LesB (author)KateS522017-05-21

Solid caps make your postings harder to read.

dragnit (author)LesB2017-10-01

so what don;t read

ZamirZ (author)KateS522017-05-21


KateS52 (author)Thdy call me Al2017-05-21


Deeds88 (author)IamTheMomo2017-05-24

borax powder is my new best friend! 6 bucks at walmart, I use it in my laundry, to clean my kitchen and bathroom. It is a great deodorizer and helps gets rid of mold.

GeraldineC3 (author)IamTheMomo2015-12-10

I don't think that coffee grounds or any other product would have work in that situation...a closed door on a fridge will get mold, unless it is plugged in....mold seeks out anything damp, it loves getting into our lives and it is really a nasty little devil

kengamine (author)GeraldineC32015-12-11

yup, I know. when I lived in Telford we had a fridge that was given to us. it had so much mould in it we spent the best part scraping it out before we could clean it.

thundrepance (author)kengamine2017-05-22

?was there mold on the rubber/spongy strip, as well❔ a friend gave me a small apartment fridge that looks like a safe [just for fun]. i didn't want to throw it away because of the moldy door strip, but i don't want to dissolve it with harsh cleaner, either. thanx, ken

PattyP17 (author)IamTheMomo2017-05-21

Once you have disinfected a moldy fridge, put a small piece of cloth soaked in real vanilla extract inside. Keep the cloth damp with extract as long as it takes to get rid of the smell. Pu it in a small open container as it may stain the white plastic of the fridge. We always use that trick for moldy ice chests Also, a box of baking soda in each fridge and freezer compartment. Nowadays, the "vanilla flavoring" in the grocery store or at the dollar store may not be real vanilla extract. read the label.

pookiesmum (author)PattyP172017-05-21

A bowl of fresh kitty litter dehumidifies as well as removes smell. Fresh KL is used in many storage companies and is no fail.

Jack Rodgers (author)IamTheMomo2015-12-10

After trying expensive spray bottles that boast about cleaning mold in the shower, etc, and don't...I tried spraying diluted bleach on the shower walls and watched those black critters dissolve away. Even the yellow mold on the shower curtain washed away.

Cheap, no labor involved but the odor took a while to go away and I advise using a diluted spray and keeping a window open and maybe closing the bathroom door until it airs out.

DIY-Guy (author)Jack Rodgers2015-12-10

Bleach drives the mold to sporulate. Bleach is pretty good but only gets the surface. Then the remaining mold goes into a mode where it protects itself, encapsulates, and propagates.
Vinegar will get deeper into the surface without putting mold into a fight and flight mode. (Or so I've heard. Your mileage may vary.)

realife11 (author)DIY-Guy2015-12-12

Cool, did not know that, good info :-)

...just FYI for everyone: Never combine straight bleach (undiluted)
with straight vinegar or alcohol! Very dangerous fumes that can
sometimes be fatal.

PattyP17 (author)realife112017-05-21

I don't know about vinegar or alhohol, but bleach (sodium hypochlorite) plus AMMONIA = nerve gas.

OnAngelsBreath (author)PattyP172017-05-21

Right! Thank you PattyP17, that was the point I was making. Bleach mixed with vinegar DOES NOT create a dangerous gas. I agree with others on here that beach inhaled at its full strength for an extended period can cause discomfort and is probably not the healthiest thing for any living organism. However, that said, it does not negate the fact that reallife11 is definitely misinformed and is misinforming others by saying that bleach mixed with vinegar creates a dangerous gas. It does not.

I have to jump in here. As a rule - one should NEVER mix vinegar or ANY other acid with chlorine bleach - nor should vinegar be used in an attempt to neutralize bleach. Yes, vinegar will destroy the hypochlorite, but only by turning it into hypochlorous acid, (which is btw very damaging to textiles), and if the pH gets low enough, chlorine gas. Although it's true that unlike stronger acids, household vinegar is not very likely to produce a pH low enough to generate very much chlorine gas, someone who has a compromised respiratory system may not need a high concentration of said gas to suffer significant ill effect.

realife11 (author)thepoisonivy2017-05-21

Thanks :-D, good idea, I am glad you clarified that point ;-)

I originally mentioned that I had read it was especially true when full strength undiluted bleach and vinegar are used. Most people probably use their common sense and dilute most chemicals, but I'm sure there are a few that think full strength is better.

They really should teach this in grade school chemistry class. It's very useful information for when a person becomes an adult, and could prevent a lot of injuries.

realife11 (author)OnAngelsBreath2017-05-21

Actually, yes it can be dangerous. I too had not known about the danger of mixing bleach and vinegar or alcohol, until I came across the info by accident. It's absolutely true. Here's the google URL, many articles on it that explain the chemistry of it and exactly why it's dangerous. I would never post something I had not thoroughly researched first. Here's he google articles on it:

realife11 (author)PattyP172017-05-21

Right, glad you mentioned that ;-D that's the big one that most people learn about growing up (I forgot to list it).

OnAngelsBreath (author)realife112017-05-21

I'm not sure about alcohol because I've never heard about that however straight vinegar mixed with straight bleach absolutely does not make any type of harmful fumes. It is when you make straight ammonia with straight bleach that you get dangerous fumes. It is not advisable to mix any household cleaners that you are not positive what their ingredients are because of this fact.

realife11 (author)OnAngelsBreath2017-05-21

Here's an excerpt from one of the links to explain the chemistry of why it's not a good idea to combine the 2 (there are many more links to explain it, but it's basically the following) :


Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochlorite or NaOCl. Because bleach is sodium hypochlorite in water, the sodium hypochlorite in bleach actually exists as hypochlorous acid:

NaOCl + H2O ↔ HOCl + Na+ + OH-

Hypochlorous acid is a strong oxidizer. This is what makes it so good at bleaching and disinfection. If you mix bleach with an acid, chlorine gas will be produced. For example, if you mix bleach with toilet bowl cleaner, which contains hydrochloric acid:

HOCl + HCl ↔ H2O + Cl2

Chlorine gas attacks mucous membranes, such as your eyes, throat, and lungs and can kill you, so causing that reaction isn't in your best interest. If you mix bleach with another acid, such as the acetic acid found in vinegar, you get essentially the same result:

2HOCl + 2HAc ↔ Cl2 + 2H2O + 2Ac- (Ac : CH3COO)

There is an equilibrium between the chlorine species that is influenced by pH. When the pH is lowered, as by adding toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, the ratio of chlorine gas in increased. When the pH is raised, the ratio of hypochlorite ion is increased. Hypochlorite ion is a less efficient oxidizer than hypochlorous acid, so some people will intentionally lower the pH of bleach to increase the oxidizing power of the chemical, even though chlorine gas is produced as a result.

KateS52 (author)OnAngelsBreath2017-05-21


Delboy1111 (author)KateS522017-05-21

I breathed bleach fumes in for 20 minutes 30 years ago, it caused permanent damage to my lungs where by they are often sore and they lost there elasticity-' because the room should have been well ventilated'

and I am still suffering thee effects to this day.


Layla Rose (author)Delboy11112017-05-21

Wow, I'm sorry to hear that. I am so glad that I discontinued using bleach years ago. I have been using only eco-friendly cleaning products in my home for over a decade now. Oxygen bleach works just as well, deodorizes, as well as disinfects, along with alcohol, vinegar, peppermint, oil, etc. There's no reason to use industrial type things in our homes, you're absolutely right Delboy, I have a friend that I'm still trying to convince. He's all natural in pretty much every other area of his life. And he has asthma. So it's like c'mon dude, stop with the chemicals already.

PattyP17 (author)Delboy11112017-05-21

Bleach is a necessary chemical in most people's lives. It's what is used in the water supply of most towns and cities to keep all of us from getting Cholera, Typhoid and any other number of waterborne diseases. Just because it CAN be very dangerous doesn't mean no one should use it, like knives, or fire. Any dangerous chemical or device should be handled with care.

PattyP17 (author)DIY-Guy2017-05-21

DIY Guy, I'd heard something along that line too, in reference to removing black mold on house walls. I was told to use a weaker concentration to actually kill the mold.

You can use some white vinegar along with the bleach spray and it will smell like bleach and vinegar until it's dry but that will help keep the mold from coming back once you wash it down with bleach.

Mixing bleach with vinegar produces chlorine gas, just as it does with ammonia.
Bleach *will* kill surface mold on non-porus surfaces (but really, when is it a problem on non-porus surfaces?) but can NOT reach it's penetrating roots. Compounding the issue, is that household bleach is mostly water (which we often dilute even further), and, as we all know, water creates the ideal environment for mold growth. Ditto for vinegar.
If you want an effective anti-mold chemical, trisodium phosphate (TSP) is your best bet.
Yes, TSP isnt one of the so-called 'natural' chemicals that are so trendy these days. However, keep in mind that mold -being a living organism,-IS completely natural. Natural doesn't always equal better. (lead and cyanide are natural too)
Just sayin' ;)

realife11 (author)Jack Rodgers2015-12-12

Hi, just FYI for everyone: Never combine straight bleach (undiluted) with straight vinegar or alcohol! Very dangerous fumes that can sometimes be fatal.

AlM47 (author)IamTheMomo2017-05-21

Your situation is different and does NOT mean that coffee cannot deodorize a working fridge. FYI you are not ever supposed to leave a turned off fridge with the door closed!! Just proving the doors open an inch would have prevented your mould.

basilp4 (author)IamTheMomo2017-05-21

your mold growth is caused by dampness, and stagnant air, nothing to do with the grinds. always keep fridge doors propped open for storage

All that it really needs is for the door to be cracked a small amount. If you clean the fridge really well before it goes into storage and then just prop something in the door to keep the doors open it won't get that way. A piece of charcoal briquette that you would use for a charcoal grill also works really well to keep moisture out of fridges, toolboxes, name it.

ElizabethC28 (author)IamTheMomo2015-12-12

Putting an icebox into storage with the door shut will get you trouble. The door needs to be propped open, in a climate controlled warehouse/ storage facility. And it needs to be checked on. You also need to be sure the drains are empty and cleared,( and the icemaker) fridges have a ton of places where water acumulates. Silica gel alone won't dry out the humid insides of an unplugged icebox.

MarjonL (author)IamTheMomo2015-12-11

Probably you didn't read well...? It said "leave in the back of the fridge for a few days" - a few days, not months. So that's why the mold after months... I do this all the time, but only for a few days :-)

Najn_arte (author)IamTheMomo2015-12-10


DIY-Guy (author)Najn_arte2015-12-10

Activated charcoal powder, or alternatively, baking soda are old standby methods to deodorize a refrigerator. Don't leave the refrigerator box sealed for any length of storage. The mold spores are already in the plastic from all the food that has been in the compartment. Clorox won't remove every last single spore unfortunately.
Good luck with that!

KateS52 (author)Najn_arte2017-05-21


fattG (author)KateS522017-05-24

Kate don't SHOUT.

dragnit (author)fattG2017-10-01


redvoll (author)Najn_arte2015-12-10

The best option for deodorising Fridges (and even coolers over winter) is to toss in a few unused tea bags. Plain tea bags. They do a great job of absorbing any lingering moisture and leave a fresh "tea" aroma. We have a summer cooler that went 2 years without use and it opened up as fresh as ever. It's not coffee, but it works.

realife11 (author)redvoll2015-12-12

Great, I am going to try that one. I have a small cooler that no matter what I've used to deodorize, nothing is working!! So teabags will be next :-) thanks for the tip.

Technoaussie (author)realife112015-12-12

Hey real life...

Got any vanilla essence? Put some ( a few drops may be enough) in your cooler and the strongest smell is gone overnight. We can but a spray version in the supermarkets in Aus.

realife11 (author)Technoaussie2015-12-14

Thanks I will try that too :-)

I know of a pure vanilla spray (non chemical) that I can buy at my local hardware store, but do you think pure vanilla extract will also work? Or did you mean the vanilla essence (synthetic) that they sell for candle and soap making, that you can get at craft stores?

I'll try them all if I have to, haha.

Anything to save my favorite little cooler :-(

Thanks very much for the tip.

PattyP17 (author)realife112017-05-21

Food grade Pure vanilla EXTRACT, like used to be in the grocery store. If your store doesn't have the real extract, a health food store will, or order online.

PattyP17 (author)realife112017-05-21

Clean and disinfect the cooler first, then close it up with a small rage soaked in REAL vanilla extract (there are fakes these days) for a few days to a week. I don't know why it works, but it will actually remove the odor. Yes, you will smell vanilla at first, but after the rag is removed, in a few days, all the odors are gone.

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