The hidden dangers of bagged tea

the hidden dangers of bagges tea

Chamomile, mint, rooibos, oh my! I love tea. Everyday tea. Tea to help calm my muscles. Tea to help me wake up. Tea to help my body detox. Tea tea tea.

OK I think you get the point.

Now I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that my heart broke when I recently learned that there exists a hidden danger in bagged tea. While I use loose tea on occasion, bagged tea is a teensy-bit more convenient, and so it’s what I typically grab at the grocery store. Though I am sure to choose organic tea so as to avoid pesticides, this may unfortunately be completely moot if the tea is bagged.

Plastic tea bags

Some newer teas have plastic bags, which are often pyramid-shaped and, I have to admit, are pretty darn cool looking. These are commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), two of the safest polymers in terms of leaching potential. The Atlantic explains that though both also have very high melting points, there is another temperature point for plastics that needs to be considered: the “glass transition” temperature (Tg), the temperature at which the molecules of materials begin to break down. The Tg of a material is typically lower than its melting point. The Tg of PET is about 169°F, and the Tg of nylon is 116°F. Since water boils at 212°F, this is a major issue: the Tg of PET and nylon are exceeded.

“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’ ‘the answer is yes,’ said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.”

Paper tea bags

If you’re like me, at this point you may be going, “Phew! Thank goodness I stay away from those fancy-pants pyramid tea bags.” But not so fast. To prevent paper tea bags from disintegrating or tearing, many are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins that is considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide.

When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it “hydrolyzes” (science-speak for decompose) to 3-MCPD, a known carcinogen that has also been linked to in infertility and suppressed immune function. This is an issue considering that tea bags are intended to be completely submerged in water.

How can we protect ourselves?

Cut loose! You can find a great variety of organic loose teas online on Amazon and also on Mountain Rose Herbs, which has really great prices for bulk tea.

For brewing loose tea, I have this stainless steel twisting tea ball, which is great for individual cups of tea. It is super convenient since you can just scoop the tea with the ball, close it up and plop it in your teacup. If you are having tea for two or more, you might want to buy a glass teapot with built-in diffuser. This stainless steel teapot also has a built-in diffuser and comes in a variety of sizes.

Sources: The Atlantic and Dr. Mercola.

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Share Your Thoughts





  1. Tok

    Is it safer if I discard the paper bag portion of the tea and use only the inside tea as loose tea since I still have a lot of tea bags.

    May 15, 2013 • 11:05 pm •
  2. Nadia

    Great question, Tok. Go for it! The issue with both the plastic and paper tea bags seems to be when the bag is subjected to water so it seems like this would be fine.

    May 16, 2013 • 1:21 pm •
  3. […] Choose loose tea over bagged tea. Tea bags – whether a plastic mesh or paper bag – are coated with plasticizers that break down after coming in contact with boiling water, which is, uh, what tea is supposed to do (to read more, click here). […]

    May 22, 2013 • 5:57 pm •
  4. You can also buy or make muslin bags for tea 🙂

    May 26, 2013 • 8:06 am •
  5. Nadia

    Thanks for the tip, Linda! These are available on Amazon for anyone who is interested: http://amzn.to/13h2LwN

    May 26, 2013 • 8:10 am •
  6. Kim

    So disappointing to learn I cannot count on my tea bags! Sheesh! Just when you think you’re doing a good job… I like the idea of cutting the bags open, though, since they are very convenient pre-measured containers for one serving of tea. There are some neat glass mugs here and there around the internet that claim to strain the loose tea as you drink them — that sounds pretty cool. Anyone tried them?

    May 26, 2013 • 8:19 am •
  7. Lissa

    i know The Republic of Tea uses natural, unbleached tea bags for their bagged tea- i would like to think that “natural” also means not treated with other stuff either, but you never know these days! might be worth checking them out, they have amazing tea! and they sell all of their tea loose as well.

    May 26, 2013 • 8:20 am •
  8. Nadia

    Ooh I think I know the ones you are talking about – like this http://amzn.to/10G6wtK? These do sound really neat.

    May 26, 2013 • 8:30 am •
  9. J Suds

    David’s tea filters are made with biodegradable, chlorine free, compostable mailla hemp??? that’s all is says on the package, now I wonder?????

    May 26, 2013 • 10:40 am •
  10. J Suds

    Manilla Hemp!!

    May 26, 2013 • 10:41 am •
  11. Nadia

    Hmm I feel like the company is obviously very eco-conscious and I would be surprised if they did use epichlorohydrin, but the only way to find out would be to call and ask!

    May 26, 2013 • 10:50 am •
  12. I was gonna ask the same thing about releasing the tea leaves… Thanks for the information.

    May 26, 2013 • 11:13 am •
  13. Nellie

    I stopped drinking tea a while ago for no reason and I found that my bladder problems stopped as well!!!Coincidence?I used only teabags!!

    May 26, 2013 • 2:32 pm •
  14. Bobby Jo

    Stash Tea company also has loose bulk tea and pots and tea balls, reasonably priced and many to choose from. I am still going to use my good old Lipton Tea Bags, that is my favorite and something is going to get me anyway, LOL!

    May 26, 2013 • 2:37 pm •
  15. Helene

    You can also get these small ‘tongs’ which are shaped like two teaspoons facing eachother. They have holes all over and all you do is squize open pickup the loose leaves and put in tea cup and pour hot water over. Allow to steep.

    May 26, 2013 • 8:36 pm •
  16. Nadia

    I also have a set of these, Helene! They are great. Here’s a link for anyone interested: http://amzn.to/15h4weQ

    May 26, 2013 • 8:45 pm •
  17. what are the options for making a gallon of iced tea? Most of the tea balls are for a single serving.

    May 26, 2013 • 9:05 pm •
  18. Nadia

    Great question, Jennifer! And just in time for summer 🙂 I found some larger tea balls on Amazon. This one has a 5.5 inch diameter http://amzn.to/10G3ANX, and this one has a 3 inch diameter http://amzn.to/12gThX7. Happy brewing!!

    May 26, 2013 • 9:24 pm •
  19. Brenda Mitchell

    Steeped Tea is a company that has cups with built in diffusers as well. Along with some awesome flavored natural teas. !!!!

    May 27, 2013 • 4:06 pm •
  20. h

    If the tea is organic does that mean the paper bag it’s in is organic and safe too? Or no?

    May 28, 2013 • 3:18 pm •
  21. Susan

    I drink Yogi teas. Anyone know if they are OK? I tried looking at their website but couldn’t find a very user-friendly site map that would tell me if the tea bags were treated with anything or not. Is there a site that lists which teas use these chemicals?

    May 28, 2013 • 4:01 pm •
  22. Nadia

    Hi, Susan. I also searched around a bit and could not find anything. Perhaps I will give them a call and ask as I also drink their teas!

    May 28, 2013 • 4:40 pm •
  23. Diane

    Would it be ok to cut the tea bag and use the tea inside, since I have lots of tea bags. Or is that tea too fine to use in a diffuser?

    May 28, 2013 • 6:58 pm •
  24. Nadia

    Hi, Diane. Good question and one I was curious about too. I tried it out and it seems that the tea is too fine for my strainer, but perhaps it would work with the muslin bags Linda suggests. These reusable bags are available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/13h2LwN

    May 28, 2013 • 8:19 pm •
  25. the tea in bagged tea is often the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality, there are many a joke in Chinese that tea bags are the “sweepings of the floor”. Tea balls often constrain the tea restricting water’s movement through the leaves and inhibiting the steeping process. I highly recommend using a french press with loose tea. Its so easy to do and serve and clean!

    May 28, 2013 • 8:40 pm •
  26. Nadia

    Great suggestion, Elizabeth! Thank you!

    May 28, 2013 • 8:51 pm •
  27. what about organic tea bags? your article didn’t mention if they are treated as well/

    May 29, 2013 • 5:08 pm •
  28. Tarah

    so what about Keurig teas and coffee “bags” the soft paper kind, not the plastic cups. They are organic, but does that mean anything?

    May 29, 2013 • 8:39 pm •
  29. […] Bagged tea is often just the findings and is not as flavorful.  In addition, bagged tea may be harmful to your health.  You may find this tea available at your local farmer’s market with many fun flavors like […]

    May 30, 2013 • 1:31 pm •
  30. […] less processed than bagged teas. That and, more importantly, you do not need to worry about the hidden dangers of bagged tea, the chemicals that are often used to coat the tea […]

    July 15, 2013 • 11:27 pm •
  31. Omg now the tea !

    August 12, 2013 • 9:11 am •
  32. Chris Salli Carrieri

    Are you aware that most of the teas on the market today are full of pesticides/?? Facebook just posted an article about which ones are good… which isn’t many…. wish I had the link to send you … I will look for it and try to repost..

    September 1, 2013 • 11:10 am •
  33. Nadia

    Yeah, unfortunately with non-organic teas, pesticides are heavily used. The article was from Food Babe.

    September 1, 2013 • 11:40 am •
  34. OBXQUEEN

    Can anyone address the issue of radiation in tea. I saw somethung about the fact that all teas that are not American grown contain radiation and most tea American grown are pestacide laden. Now this. I love Salada, and can’t find anything like it organic, that is American grown.

    September 24, 2013 • 1:21 am •
  35. Erin

    I found wonderful organic tea prepackaged in muslin bags that are sewn with organic cotton. The price is good too

    September 24, 2013 • 11:11 am •
  36. http://www.savoytea.com is where I buy all of my teas. They have some great tea infusers as well.
    http://www.savoytea.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=Infuser16oz

    September 24, 2013 • 3:54 pm •
  37. Kim

    so i can only have decaf (sometimes tough to find in loose tea) and i brew up a pitcher at a time. options??

    September 25, 2013 • 6:59 pm •
  38. well we make ours in a drip coffee maker, so are the coffee filters bad for us too??????????????????????

    September 25, 2013 • 9:18 pm •
  39. Beverley Denman

    Just shoot me already…
    I give up!

    September 26, 2013 • 2:17 am •
  40. Jaslyn T.

    Not a problem, I have always (thankfully) just cut open my tea bag and dumped the tea right in the cup, then strain it out and drink! I never wanted the BAG to steep along with my organic tea, unbleached or not, ick,….. intuition score!!! So, don’t toss your tea, strain it, or get a tea ball, and carry on! I avoid papers because they are always treated with something,.. this includes parchment paper, just use butter to grease and save the parchment paper money!

    September 26, 2013 • 3:41 am •
  41. Britt

    I recently found this notification from the EU that rejected a shipment of stainless steel tea infuser balls from Taiwan because nickel was leeching from them in to the tea. http://unsafefood.eu/notification/2012.AJJ

    Do other tea infusers have leeching metals we do not know about? I do not trust the US Government to screen tea infuser balls manufactured in Asia for metal leeching (very little safety testing is done on imported goods), which means I don’t trust stainless steel tea balls on the market here in the US.

    Apparently titanium is a very safe bet as far as leeching is concerned, but the only ones I have found had plastic or nylon in the tea infuser. Are there any pure titanium tea infusers on the market that anyone knows of?

    February 4, 2014 • 6:44 pm •
  42. Nadia

    Hmm that’s scary.

    There are glass infusers. This cup strainer combo is nice (http://amzn.to/1eyz2Y3) as is this wand (http://amzn.to/LzrMzU) – the reviews aren’t the best, though.

    February 5, 2014 • 3:31 pm •
  43. […] chocolate is likely loaded with nasties, that your new clothes are covered in chemicals, that your tea bags are dangerous, and, now, that chewing gum is bad for […]

    May 4, 2014 • 10:00 pm •
  44. Here is a chart that includes some popular tea brands and indicates whether or not they contain pesticides and additives.

    With all this being said, you may be feeling a little down in the dumps, but don’t worry! There is an upside to all of this. There are some trustworthy companies that provide quality organic teas to its consumers by monitoring the amount of pesticides and also using sustainable farming methods and fair trade standards. Some of these include: Teatulia, Numi, Zhyna’s Gypsy Tea, Choice Organics, Traditional Medicinals, Rishi and many many more; you just have to look. Even though brands like this are a little more expensive than the conventional ones, it is well worth it. Not only will you be getting the full benefit that the tea has to offer, you will be supporting ethical, sustainable and organic farming practices. The more people that switch to brands like these, the greater push conventional brands will feel to start changing their practices and principles and get with the changing times!

    Tea can definitely be a great way to boost your health.

    May 5, 2014 • 12:00 am •
  45. crap the chart didn’t copy for you guys 🙁 sorry! there was a lot! lets try this…Let’s take a look at some of the tea brands that contain the highest pesticide levels. Celestial Seasonings is among the worst; this makes me especially sad because I’ve always loved this tea brand (you can probably tell by my extensive collection). There’s just something so whimsical about the name Celestial Seasonings… Anyway, in a study conducted by EuroFins (a worldwide analytic testing company) 91% of Celestial Seasonings teas contained levels of pesticides that exceed the US federal limits. Considering all of the other toxins and poisons that the FDA lets slide by, this is very alarming. When Celestial Seasonings started in 1969, it was “founded on the belief that all natural teas could help people live healthier lives.” Maybe that was the case in 1969 because there weren’t as many pesticides being sprayed, but in this day and age we have to be wary of the products we are consuming.

    Other notable teas containing toxic pesticides include: Tetley, Bigelow, Mighty Leaf, Teavanna, Tazo, Davids Tea and many more. Not only do many of these teas contain these toxic pesticides, many of them contain artificial flavorings as well. Also, a popular way to mask undesirable sounding ingredients is to tent them under the umbrella of “natural flavouring,” any ingredient that comes from a natural origin falls under this category. So, additives such as: Castoreum (a chemical taken out of glands from a beaver that are located near the anus,) Carmine aka Natural Red #4 (made from dried and ground up Cochina beetles, gives foods a red color,) and many more. Just because something says all natural doesn’t mean that it is a good thing for you to consume. Be sure to thoroughly read ingredient labels before purchasing; be aware of what you’re putting into your body.

    May 5, 2014 • 12:03 am •
  46. Nadia

    Thanks so much for sharing, Leanne!!

    May 7, 2014 • 8:59 pm •
  47. Thank you, I’m stunned. I guess we simply cannot buy anything without researching it. I drink at least 3 herbal tea bags a day (in about 4 qts of water). Darn it, I’ve two full ‘organic’ peppermint tea and half box ‘organic’ red tea from Whole Foods, and an unopened Tazo tin.

    I better load up on bulk teas IF and WHEN I can find them … Santa Monica Co-Op has some, but nothing like the HUGE variety you find in ‘organic’ herbal tea bags. I guess I gotta call/write Yogi and Traditional Medicines, my faves. Otherwise, finding bulk organic herbal teas is very pricey, mostly only online. Sigh.

    September 8, 2014 • 10:28 pm •
  48. I wondered about Teavana. Their flavors seemed rather un-natural, not like you find anywhere else. They’ve a few stores near me, but I’ll avoid them. Oy.

    September 8, 2014 • 10:29 pm •
  49. Paul F.

    The source of this information was “third-party analysis by Glaucus Research.” Glaucus Research is what is known as a short seller. This means that Glaucus makes money if stocks fall. At the time Teavana was the most shorted stock on the New York Stock Exchange. In this case, they stood to reap significant financial reward if Celestial Seasonings and Teavana took a hit. This note was printed at the beginning of the Teavana report: “We are short Teavana and therefore stand to realize significant gains in the event that the price of stock declines.” Does this make the information false on its face? Not necessarily, but it is critical to note the conflict of this organization being presented as an independent, unbiased source.

    Celestial Seasonings responded strongly to the allegations, posting a statement of Product Safety Assurance on their website. Following the Glaucus report and subsequent re-posting of the information they submitted their products for testing at the National Food Lab (NFL). NFL did not detect any pesticides and gave assurances that the products meet industry standards and are safe. Celestial Seasonings also cited their protocols for testing all of their product ingredients for pesticides, herbicides and insecticides and its industry audits for Safe Quality Foods (SQF) certifications.

    Teavana also noted its ongoing program of third-party testing and its adherence to standards set by organizations including the European Union which is known to be particularly stringent. They were quick to note Glaucus’s conflict of interest and it was notable that the report was released as Teavana was preparing to be sold to Starbucks.

    July 19, 2015 • 11:23 am •
  50. Jesse

    Hi Nadia, I know I’m late to this article but was hoping you had an answer for me. I was a long time tobacco chewer/dipper, but quit 4 years ago. I was wondering if chewing or really just holding a tea bag in my mouth, as you would with tobacco, but using tea bags from the grocery store instead,if that is safe? It’s more of an oral fixation for me I don’t crave tobacco just the act of it is something I miss, and was wondering if it is healthy or not to try this. Thank you for your time and hope to hear from you. 🙂

    May 26, 2016 • 3:11 pm •
  51. marlowe d rafelle

    this seems incomplete. it would have been a better article if you had done a survey of organic tea manufacturers to see whether or not they create bags with plastic in them

    July 14, 2016 • 4:21 pm •