Almost everyone I know that has tried loose leaf tea owns one of these clam-shell design tea strainers. After just one or two tea sessions, they will start to get darker and darker through tea stains. How do you clean a tea strainer properly?
If you look around, you will find many methods that people have been using to clean their tea strainers, but I found many of them to be ineffective and some could potentially be hazardous if not done properly.
SHORT ANSWER – How To Clean Your Tea Strainer
Tea strainers can be cleaned mechanically with a toothbrush or a water jet. Cleaning tea strainers with vinegar or baking soda requires less mechanical effort. Diluted alcohols such as Vodka do not work well. Avoid using bleach, drain cleaner or other chemicals not intended for consumption.
This quick answer does not give any detail on why or how these cleaners and methods work when cleaning your tea strainers. I have tried all of them myself today with my own tea strainers and want to share my findings with you here.
How Do You Clean A Clogged Tea Strainer?
Whenever a tea with fine dust is made using a tea strainer, some small particles will inevitably get stuck in the small holes. That happens literally every time I make Sencha! So you need to address this first.
Before you start thinking about the removal of tea stains on your tea strainer, you will need to take a look at the holes in the mesh. If some of these are clogged, you can use one of the following methods to remove all of those pieces.
Clear The Strainer With A Toothbrush
What I found to be the easiest way to unclog a tea strainer is the use of a toothbrush or some other brush I have at hand. Poking the fine mesh with the toothbrush will push out the pieces.
The best kind of toothbrushes are those with the longer bristles in between. With those, pushing out the tea pieces is much easier, as the other bristles won’t block you from doing so.
Force Pieces Out With Water
If you do not have a toothbrush at hand that works for this, you may be able to use tap water to force out the tea pieces. This will require good water pressure on your tap.
If your water comes out with enough speed, the resulting force can help you with the cleaning. You should hold the tea strainer as far below the water stream as possible, so gravity can do its work.
If you have neither a toothbrush, some other brush or proper water pressure at hand, you should try toothpicks, needles or something like that. Be creative.
Removal With Chemicals
Some chemicals can remove organic material completely by decomposing the molecules it is made of. They are most often used to unclog and clean places you can not or do not want to reach.
What I’m talking about is drain cleaner. Drain cleaner will destroy the pieces that are stuck in the metal mesh of your tea strainer. Drain cleaner is extremely destructive and toxic, though.
If you have a tea strainer for Gong Fu Cha, the Chinese tea ceremony, you should not ever use drain cleaner. Drain cleaner can and most likely will destroy the strainer itself as it is made of organic material.
When working with drain cleaner on any item that you want to make food or drinks with, you need to make sure to clean it completely afterward. If you do not clean your teaware properly, you put your health at risk.
Can You Prevent Tea Stains?
You may ask yourself if tea stains can be avoided completely somehow. To understand whether tea stains can be prevented or not, you need to know what tea stains are made of and how they build up.
What Are Tea Stains Made Of?
Tea stains are primarily made of tannins or rather tannic acid. That is a brown compound that gives tea its color. It’s also the reason why you can sometimes tell from the color of a green tea if it is bitter or not.
Tea or rather the tannic acid is sometimes used to dye clothing or make ink. Furthermore, tannic acid is used for tanning leather.
Tannic acid builds up in your teacups and tea strainer over time and is pretty hard to remove, as it does not easily dissolve into water once it has settled on those surfaces.
The stains will become harder and harder to clean off the teaware when you let the stains build up over longer periods. You’d be best of cleaning your teaware regularly to avoid the hassle.
How Does Tea Stain Tea Strainers And Teaware?
After brewing the tea, you see a clear liquid. Everything that has been extracted from the tea leaves is dissolved in the hot water. So why do the tannins stick to the teaware and stain them?
As water cools off, its ability to hold the chemical compounds is lower. Think of it like hot water is being able to dissolve more salt than cold water but with more complex molecules.
So the lowered water temperature will cause the tannins to fall out of solution and stick to the next best surfaces, the teacup and tea strainer itself. This process can hardly be avoided completely, as the cooling of the tea is inevitable.
What also needs to be considered is the evaporation of the water. If you have ever left out tea overnight, you will have noticed rings of tea stains building up slightly above the water surface. This is due to the evaporation of water from the teacup.
How Could You Prevent Tea Stains?
Now you know what tea stains are made of and how they settle on the surface of your teaware. But how can you prevent this? Is there something you could to at all?
Technically, yes. If you do not let the tea cool off or evaporate over time, the staining process will be much less noticeable. You will not be able to stop the tea from staining your teaware completely, though.
The best you could do for your teaware is to clean in shortly after making the tea. If you clean the tea strainer before it dries, the tannins will not have fully settled on the metal surface and you may be able to clean off the stains far easier.
How To Remove Tea Stains From A Tea Strainer
Once your tea strainer has built up a considerable amount of tea stains, you’d want to clean that off completely, right? Nobody wants to make tea from dirty teaware.
Now there are many methods and cleaners you could use. Some methods use natural cleaners, but do not work as effectively while others use toxic cleaners but will get your tea strainer to look as new.
I want you to understand what you are doing and have gone into detail with some of these methods and what the pros and cons of each one are.
With all of these methods, you will need to do at least some mechanical cleaning. The cleaners and chemicals can help you to clean the tea strainer, but you will need to mechanically remove the material from it.
When I cleaned my tea strainers, I started with brushing off all of them thoroughly with a toothbrush. This removes dust and dirt that would prevent the cleaners from reaching the actual tea stains.
Once the tea strainer has soaked in the cleaner for a while, I started scrubbing off the build-up tea stains. With some cleaners this was an easy and effective process, with others it did not work at all. But the mechanical cleaning was always necessary for the best result.
DO NOT use bleach to clean your tea strainer!
Bleach is a very effective cleaning agent that will remove each and every stain on your tea strainer. So why should you not use bleach to clean your strainer or any other teaware?
Bleach is toxic. These cleaners contain very aggressive and corrosive chemicals that can be a huge hazard. I would not ever recommend anyone to use these with items you plan to make food or drinks with.
If you want to use bleach to get your tea strainer completely clean, be sure to use proper safety measures such as gloves and possibly eye protection. Let the tea strainer soak in bleach for 15 minutes.
Afterward, you need to clean the strainer very thoroughly. No bleach may persist on the tea strainer, as you do not want that in your tea. Use a disposable toothbrush and lots and lots of water to finish the cleaning.
Alcohol Does Not Work!
Some sources state that you can clean off tea stains with alcohol. Vodka is specifically mentioned. This does not work. I have tested that with the tea strainers you see in the featured image at the beginning of this post.
After soaking the tea strainers in vodka for an hour, nothing changed. The tea stains remained on both the metal, glaze and cotton surfaces of the two strainers.
What could possibly work are pure alcohols, but I do not think that these would be worth getting for this purpose, as other household items work perfectly fine.
Vinegar Will Get The Job Done
What I have found to work best is vinegar. Take some gloves and pour a good amount of vinegar in a small bowl. Place the tea strainer in the vinegar for about five minutes before proceeding.
After soaking the tea strainer, you will need a toothbrush, a sponge or some cloth to do mechanical rinsing. Without mechanical effort, the tea stains do not come off properly.
Just scrub the surface of the tea strainer a few times and you will see the metal becoming shiny again. This method required the least amount of effort but had another problem that you need to know about.
It is very hard to get the taste of vinegar off of your teaware. Even after rinsing the tea strainer for fifteen minutes under running water, the next tea I made with that strainer had a slight vinegar taste to it.
It seems humans are extremely capable of tasting vinegar, so I think you need to know that before trying using it as a cleaner. With a small amount of baking soda and water, you can clean off this lingering taste much easier.
Lemon Juice May Be Better
Another acid that is less effective but has a less intense taste and smell is contained in lemon juice. Lemon juice can be found in most households nowadays and is a very good alternative to vinegar for many purposes.
The cleaning of tea strainers was definitely not as easy witch lemon juice but could be done. I let the tea strainer sit in lemon juice for 30 minutes this time and scrubbed it with a toothbrush afterward.
With lemon juice, more mechanical cleaning is required, but there is not that lingering taste afterward that ruins your tea. That’s a huge advantage that is worth the additional effort.
Clean Your Tea Strainer Baking Soda
Another common household cleaner you could use that is not an acid is baking soda. Baking soda is the opposite, it is a base. Nonetheless, baking soda really helps with cleaning tea strainers and other teaware.
I have found that wetting the tea strainer and sprinkling baking soda directly onto it was the most effective method. After a few seconds, I took the toothbrush and scrubbed the surface with the baking soda particles.
Cleaning off the baking soda took way less effort than previous methods, as a quick rinse with tap water for a minute or two did the job. There was no lingering taste at all.
The tea strainer I cleaned with baking soda did have some stains left on it that could be cleaned off with acids such as vinegar and lemon juice but did not seem to come off with baking soda. I’d say baking soda gets off 90 percent of the stains, though.
Circumvent The Problem Entirely
Instead of regularly cleaning a tea strainer with all this effort required, you could opt for less work-intensive tea making. There are two very common ways to make tea without a tea strainer that can work very well for you.
Tea Filter Bags Are A Cheap Solution
The first and most common utensils that can be used as an alternative to tea strainers are tea filter bags. Tea filter bags are often made from paper and are discarded after use. You do not need to clean tea filter bags like a tea strainer.
As these paper tea filter bags are not reused, you will not have a problem with tea stains building up. If you care about the environment, you should make sure to use tea filter bags that are made from recycled paper and do not contain plastic.
There are also tea filter bags that are made from fabric or plastic. Some of these can be intended for reuse and will not be sold in packs of 50 or 100. These will require cleaning in the same way that a tea strainer does. You’d want disposable tea filter bags to avoid that work.
Making Tea Without A Strainer
There are a few ways you can stop using tea filters and strainers entirely but still make good and tasty tea. The first option I want to mention is so-called grandpa-style tea making.
With grandpa-style tea making, you put the tea leaves in a tall glass or cup directly and fill that up with water. You then drink the tea directly from the glass and refill with water as needed.
This method works very well with teas like Long Jing tea (Dragonwell), which does sink to the bottom of your glass instead of floating. I have had very good experiences with most silver needle white teas, too.
The second option is what I use most commonly to make my tea. Instead of using a tea filter bag or tea strainer, you can use a teapot or gaiwan to make your tea.
I would recommend you trying to use a gaiwan to make tea as these are very versatile, easy to clean and allow you to truly control the tea making process. For general use, a gaiwan is much more convenient than a teapot could ever be.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.