Saturday, April 12, 2008


About a month ago, Vanessa, my new roommate, after pressing a pot of coffee asked me what I did with the grounds. A pregnant pause followed accompanied by my blank stare. Gosh, I thought, I've always just pitched my grounds... you mean I had options?

In fact, upon a little research (read: a Google search), it turns out that some resourceful individuals have found a myriad of uses for used coffee grounds. So many that a "top ten" list has made it's way around the world wide web. Now, I'm not one to pass on a tip unless I've tried it myself. So, in the true spirit of resourcefulness... here's the top ten most popular uses along with the low-down on what really works and what is worth passing up.

1. Plants like a cup of joe in the morning too

Well, actually, the grounds at least. Most recommendations advised working them into the soil, but I just placed them directly on the beds. The nitrogen-rich grounds favor plants that like more acidic soils. My Gardenia bush is thriving (OK, it's not dying anyway), even though the grounds-additive has only been a recent addition. I think the addition has fairly immediate benefits... the foliage seems much more lush and a deeper green color. Fertilizer use? Thumbs up!

2. Compost aid

I have not yet started a compost pile. But my neighbor has been composting for some time. So I brought some over and and threw them in his compost pile. Again, the nitrogen-rich grounds help the compost reduce quicker. But we both couldn't tell a difference, perhaps it's too soon to know. Verdict? Jury's out on this one... though I suspect additional time would yield good results.

3. Dye... naturally

Natural dyes fascinate me. Beets, spinach, and... coffee! You can dye clothing, textiles, papers, and... drum roll... Easter Eggs! Well this came just in time for Easter... so I tried a few using the coffee grounds technique. And I must say... although some might prefer an earthy-style looking egg, I do not. I like the bright, pastel-hued eggs of my youth. So I wasn't a big fan of the coffee-dyed egg, though it did provide a novel conversation-starter. And the dye definitely worked. So if you like your Easter Eggs to resemble farm-fresh brownish-grey eggs... you'll love the coffee-dye technique.

4. Bug-Off

Coffee has a strong odor and high acid-content... so it makes an excellent insect repellent, specifically against ants. Make a small trail of grounds outside as a barrier wall (I tried to mimic the cartoons of youth that showed a trail of gunpowder) and sure enough the ants would not cross the line. I was so impressed with the success, I started setting up coffee barriers all over the place, just to amuse myself. My backyard looks a bit strange now... little half-moons of coffee trails... but my yard is a veritable barren-land for ants. Two thumbs up on this one. And perhaps just a fun little thing for your kids to do in the summer months, "hey kids... want to play with some coffee grounds and keep ants away from the doors?".

5. Wake up and smell the coffee

Perhaps I am a victim of marketing, but I always have a box of baking soda in both my refrigerator and freezer to prevent odors. So I was most excited about using the grinds as a natural deodorizer. Moldy, wet coffee grounds aren't really something you want sitting in your fridge, so I dried them out first on a baking sheet by baking them at 300 for about 10 minutes. I placed a 1/4 cup of the dried grounds in a coffee filter and tied it with some twine, threw them in the fridge, and removed my baking soda. But how would I know it worked if I didn't really put it to the test? I had to sacrifice some milk and produce and let them go a bit past their prime to really let the coffee grounds do their thing. And they did. This was by far, my favorite use. It's simple. It's easy. It's effective. It is good.

6. Flea and ticks be damned

A couple of weeks ago, Vanessa flew back to Bellingham, Washington to retrieve her two fat cats, Kramer and Bentley, who had been staying there until she got settled in St. Louis. Bentley is a big fluffy goofball that exudes a sort of clueless charm. Kramer on the other hand is a massive black cat with piercing green eyes that scheme. Immediately I knew Kramer and I had a date with the coffee-grounds flea and tick dip. Supposedly, this is a natural way to rid your precious pets of the little pests. I wasn't looking forward to this task since I knew I would not be endearing myself to Kramer by thrusting him into a vat of day-old smelling coffee. But for the benefit of you, good reader, I felt compelled to try this one.

Kramer stared me down immediately. Before I even attempted to steer him to the bathroom, he had my number. He knew something was up and he wanted no part of it. The low, intense growls Kramer made told me he was not enjoying this bath (or any bath for that matter). Aside from a few scratches on my forearms, and some temporary anxiety on Kramer's part, when all was said and done the flea dip was a success. Kramer didn't have fleas prior to the dip. And he's still flea-free. One can only deduce that a coffee dip maintains a flealess status.

8. And speaking of cats...

What's this? Coffee grounds repel cats from digging in your plants? Oh Kramer. I perhaps should have tried this before dipping you into the same substance that repels you from digging in my Rubber Tree. No wonder you squirmed so fiercely. But yes, sure enough, the placement of dried coffee grounds in my plants pot keep you from peering in with mischievous thoughts of defiling my plant. Yes, indeed. Coffee grounds keep your cats away.

But wait, there's a nasty side-bar to this use. Coffee grounds, while a wonderful repellent of ants, attract roaches. I'll give you a moment to calm yourself. And because of this, I cannot in good faith advocate using grounds in your indoor plant beds and probably not in plant beds right next to the house either. Some folks in Las Vegas with a lot of time on their hands and an active imagination invented the now semi-famous Vegas Roach Trap and found that, coffee grounds do indeed attracted roaches, by the jar full. Guess Kramer will get the best of me on the Rubber Tree after all.

9. Scratch damage control

Sometimes pets think your Queen Anne reproduction chair's legs are their own personal scratching posts. Tsk tsk. And what are you left with? Unsightly scratch marks! What's a resourceful gal to do? Well, if you have used coffee grounds... you can brew up some coffee and use a Q-tip to gently and sparingly dab some on the scratches. It might not be an exact match to the color of the stain, but as long as guests don't break out the magnifying glass, from a distance the coffee solution does a pretty decent job of hiding Kramer's, I mean a pet's, scratch marks. Verdict? Not too shabby!

10. Rub-a-dub dub with coffee scrub

The last and most curious use I found was to use damp coffee grounds a cellulite-reducer. Immediately I was suspicious. This just sounded too good to be true. And if this is truly an effective cellulite-reducer... wouldn't it be a gloriously cellulite-free world? I decided to modify the expectations (after all, no one expects coffee grounds to work a miracle), and decided to test it's effectiveness as an exfoliant instead of an actual cellulite-buster.

But first, I wanted to make sure that coffee grinds down the drain wasn't going to cause a plumbing disaster. So a quick call to the Plumber's and Pipefitter's Local 562 verified what I suspected, coffee grinds are BAD for your pipes. Before lathering up with the coffee scrub, I placed a drain catcher in the tub. Next I mixed the grinds (medium or fine grind work better than coarse grind) with 1/4 cup olive oil. This was especially effective on my elbows and heals and I'm completely sold on this great-smelling AND next-to-free exfoliant.

But what if you don't drink coffee? How can you score some used grinds? Well, both Starbucks and Peet's Coffee have a coffee-grounds initiative. Simply ask an associate for their used grounds and they will give them to you... for FREE. Or ask your local independent coffee shop if they'll do the same for you. Your plants, cats, and elbows will thank you!

Got another great use for grinds? Sound in and share the resourcefulness!


Becky and the Beanstock said...

Oh, Kramer...! Though I'm sure he's glad the experimentation is over, this is a great post. I consider myself well-practiced in the ways of reducing, reusing, and recycling, but several of these great ideas are new to me! Mostly my grounds end up in the ground, after a long stint in the compost pile. Who knew that this was such a waste? Thanks for this, Amy!

LucyinStLou said...

Love the ideas! The insect barrier and odor control uses will immediately be implemented in the Luce household. As for the flea and tick dip, um, maybe I'll leave that for the groomer to try.