How to Make Sun Tea So It is Bacteria-Free and Safe to Drink

A quick Instagram search for #suntea turns up more than 36,0000 results confirming that the summer months are prime time for this classic tea beverage. Add in the untold number of sun tea worshippers out there who aren’t into hashtags and social media and results are clear—there’s a lot of love for sun tea.


But what is sun tea, exactly, and why do more than a few health experts warn it may be dangerous? Making homemade sun tea (tea brewed by leaving it to steep in sunlight) can be dangerous because it can facilitate the growth of bacteria.

Does that mean you should abandon your favorite method of making home-brewed iced tea? Not necessarily. What it means is that you need to know how to do this safely.

Reduce the Risk

Tea steeped in a jar on your porch won’t get any hotter than 130°F, about the temperature of a really hot bath and not nearly hot enough to kill nasties lurking either in the water or on the tea itself. For that, water needs to be heated to 195°F for three to five minutes.

So, does that mean sun tea will make you sick? No, it probably won’t, but the risk is there. It’s up to you to evaluate that.

The easiest and safest way to make iced tea is to make cold brew tea. Combine the water and tea bags and let steep in the refrigerator overnight instead of in the sun; this eliminates the threat of contamination.

If you decide to go ahead and make sun tea, use regular black tea, not herbal tea. There is some thought that caffeine aids in prohibiting the growth of bacteria.

Safety Rules to Follow

The following guidelines are recommended for those who choose to brew sun tea:

  • Use regular black tea, never herbal tea. There is some thought that caffeine prohibits the growth of bacteria.
  • Use a container that has been washed well in soap and water and then rinsed or dipped into a bleach solution of 1-1/2 teaspoons liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. If your sun tea container has a spigot, take it apart and clean it well with the bleach solution. If you can’t get it apart to clean, find another vessel for your sun tea.
  • Do not leave the tea to brew in the sun for longer than four hours.
  • Prepare only the amount of tea you plan to use in one day.
  • Refrigerate the tea as soon as you bring it into the house and keep it refrigerated.
  • If the tea appears to be thick or you see “ropey” strands, that’s bacteria.  Discard it immediately.
  • If your love for sun tea is waning about now, consider “refrigerator tea.” To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags, and refrigerate it for at least six hours or overnight. Enjoy!

How to Safely Store Sun Tea

A good rule of thumb is to store keep iced tea in the refrigerator for up to two days.

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5 replies
  1. Cally Ross says:

    Growing up in Arizona my family lived on sun tea. I would wager that the contents got “hot enough” in that environment! We would have to cool it down in the fridge for a few hours (after adding sugar) so it didn’t melt the ice too much. I do remember seeing the ropey look in the jar, and usually it tasted fermented, so we tossed it out at that point. I don’t remember ever getting sick.
    now, in the midwest, I opt for cold brew and find it just as good.

  2. John says:

    I’m a big fan of sun tea myself. Now, in many poorer countries that don’t have access to clean water, water bottles are filled and placed on roof tops to let the UV radiation kill off any bacteria in the water. It seems to me that the same principle will be at work while making sun tea, as long as you’re using a clear, non-colored glass container. In fact, the only time I’ve seen anything grow in my tea was after I’ve finished brewing it and I’ve taken it inside to add lemon and whatnot. I’d say that it’s best practice to add sweetener and fruit to your iced glass and then pour the tea on top. Unless you’re going to finish the batch in one day. So, go ahead and add that herbal tea you like!

  3. Phyllis says:

    Uh oh – I’ve been doing it wrong, looks like!? I start with filtered water and some form of herbal tea, one is black tea with macha, the other is herbal, and I Love it, so I guess I’ll have to move it to the fridge. Will have to wash the jars more thoroughly than I have. And I’ve left the jar out for more than 4 hours most of the time. Will readjust all of this now that I know better. Thanks, Mary! I had no idea there was so much more to this process.

  4. Sheri B. says:

    I have done sun tea (decaf) for years. I do it in the summer time. I also use a glass sun tea jar. Never have been sick. Praise God!

  5. Kathy says:

    See #6. You don’t need the sun to make “sun” tea. You can make it on your counter or overnight in your fridge. Tea needs boiling water to brew properly, so in the sun or not the product is the same. I make a quart at a time (no one else in my house drinks it) in the fridge overnight.


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