Can You Add Coffee To A Styrofoam Cup? (Why You Shouldn’t)

Last Updated on July 3, 2023 by Barry Gray

I remember as a kid being in places where they would serve coffee in pretty much only styrofoam cups. Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it.

And yet, was I stupid to not think more about the container that would hold this piping hot coffee? 

In a day where we have become highly vigilant of what we come into contact with, and use for storage, is a styrofoam cup actually a good idea?

A styrofoam cup is not something you should use for holding hot coffee. It can potentially allow chemicals to leak out of the styrofoam and leach into your coffee. There’s a belief a number of the chemicals could be carcinogens, so it’s something that should be avoided.

I know that answer may come as something of a surprise to most people, at least those of an older generation, as coffee in a styrofoam cup was just something that happened. Now, I want you to think twice about it all, and for a multitude of reasons.

styrofoam cup containing coffee

What is Styrofoam?

But before I dive into the reasons why styrofoam is a bad idea, what actually is it?

Styrofoam is basically polystyrene, and this is a known carcinogen. But that’s not the only cause for concern.

It’s also known to leak chemicals when it comes into contact with hot things, so it’s incredible it’s so widely used in the hot food and hot beverages industries. 

Now, I don’t mean to alarm you or anything. Still, it does mean there’s a slight possibility that you are ingesting aspects of plastic when you drink coffee from a styrofoam cup. 

Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, but I know I don’t want to take any chances whatsoever with my health when there’s no reason to.

And yet, that’s not my only concern when it comes to styrofoam.

The Environmental Impact

I know this has nothing to do with adding coffee to the cup. Still, I know it’s an issue some people will be aware of, and it’s the environmental impact of styrofoam cups.

They are bad for the environment. It’s as simple as that.

The volume of styrofoam holders and cups that are just discarded and end up all over the place, and in landfill, is astronomical. It’s hardly the way to go “green” when it comes to your coffee.

That’s just another reason why I don’t want to use styrofoam cups.

Why was Styrofoam Used?

styrofoam cup for coffee

The fact we now know that there’s a potential issue with styrofoam opens up the question of why we used it in the first place. Well, there’s a simple answer: we didn’t understand the potential problems.

You see when polystyrene and styrofoam came out, it was a cool and wonderful thing. It was inexpensive to make and could be produced in vast numbers.

People looked at other properties of it, and nobody thought about the potential for chemicals to leach out and be absorbed. It just wasn’t on their radar.

Well, that has changed.

What Does Styrofoam Leach Out?

I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that styrofoam leaches out chemicals, but let me walk you through the reasons why these chemicals can be so dangerous.

Styrene itself is fine, which is why we use polystyrene in so many ways. Yet the form that’s used for hot food containers and hot drinks is different. 

It’s more of a foam-like substance, so it’s not as firm as other types of polystyrene.

When this substance comes into contact with something hot, everything changes.

What then happens is the cup can start leaching out two main chemicals: Styrene and Benzene.

That’s a problem as both those chemicals have been linked to possibly increasing the risk of developing cancers. So, would you want to go ahead and increase your risk, even slightly, when there are alternatives out there?

Will Adding Coffee to Styrofoam Cups Make Me Sick?

coffee granules

I know it sounds scary when you talk about carcinogens. Still, I’m not sitting here telling you that drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup means you will develop cancer.

However, when you are aware of a potential risk surrounding something. Would you want to just put yourself in that position anyway?

The risk remains low, but it’s certainly there, and that’s the key aspect. 

I’m not saying if you drink coffee from a styrofoam cup you will quickly become sick. It doesn’t work like that.

But it’s certainly something that’s worth thinking about. 

People Make Things Worse

I know I’ve probably scared a few people in the last few minutes, but hang on in there, as I only have one other thing to say about styrofoam cups before I give you some alternative solutions.

People make things worse by reheating their coffee that’s sitting in a styrofoam cup in the microwave. Sure, it will heat the coffee, but it then multiplies the possibility of you ingesting some of those chemicals.

Please never do that. It’s not worth potentially damaging your health.

If you do want to reheat your coffee in the microwave, there are safe ways to achieve this, and I’ve spoken about how to do it elsewhere on the website. 

What to Use Instead of a Styrofoam Cup

Thankfully, fewer places are now using styrofoam cups when offering coffee, but they are still out there in vast numbers. So, you need to know what to do should you encounter one of those coffee shops

But what should you use instead of styrofoam? Thankfully, you have a number of options available, and not only are they safer, but they are also better for the environment.

Basically, it’s a win-win situation for you.

If I see a place that offers coffee in a styrofoam cup, I would instead go elsewhere if that’s the only option. There are enough coffee shops around for you to get your caffeine fix without resorting to using these dangerous cups.

But I also do something else. I will see if they have other options.

Honestly, I’d rather use a paper cup for my coffee, and that’s certainly safer for you as well.

And yet, here’s the cool thing. You have a number of reusable options available, and here are some of my favorite solutions.

A Stainless Steel Travel Mug

One option I love is a stainless steel travel mug. Not only is it lightweight, but it also won’t leak any of those nasty chemicals I’ve been talking about.

And yet, there’s another thing I love about this type of mug: it keeps my coffee warmer for longer.

That does mean you don’t feel as if you have to rush your coffee to continue enjoying it. You can take some time and enjoy the flavors of the coffee, knowing your mug is helping to keep it as hot as possible.

Also, I know they last for years and continue to do an excellent job. It’s just the way they are made, and they won’t let you down.

A Ceramic Travel Mug

Ceramic travel mugs are perhaps not as common as the stainless steel version, but I do love what it offers. 

Personally, I think it’s easier to get a ceramic travel mug that looks cooler than it is with a stainless steel version. Also, ceramic mugs are biodegradable even though they should last years before they start to look a bit tired.

But my suggestion with a ceramic travel mug is to look for a version that comes complete with a sleeve and lid. This will be made from silicone, and it just stops any spillage, which is an absolute waste of coffee.

Plus, there’s no need to worry about any chemicals ending up in your coffee.

Plastic Cups

starbucks plastic cup

OK, so I know some people will be confused as to why I’ve included plastic cups, but what I’m talking about here are reusable plastic cups, and that makes a huge difference.

So, reusable plastic cups won’t be good for the environment, as they won’t break down, but on the plus side, they do allow you to use them over and over again. 

But I have something important to state regarding plastic cups. Check they are BPA-free. 

Newer models should be ok, but I wouldn’t go for the inexpensive option. Instead, I would suggest buying a quality reusable plastic cup that you know is safe from various chemicals, or you will simply be causing problems for yourself as with the styrofoam cup.

What Do I Use?

Personally, I prefer a stainless steel travel mug. I feel it’s so easy to clean, and it does a great job of keeping my coffee as warm as possible and for as long as possible. 

I would tend to stay clear of both plastic and styrofoam for both personal health issues and environmental issues. Both are important to me, so I know I do not want to entertain those options.

But that’s not all.

You may see bamboo cups available, and yet they are also not that great. I know they won’t cause you any problems from a health perspective, but they are not the best for the environment due to how bamboo cups are produced. 

My Recap on Adding Coffee to a Styrofoam Cup

I’ve covered several key points, so here’s my brief recap of my thoughts on adding coffee to a styrofoam cup.

  • Don’t add coffee to a styrofoam cup. It’s bad for your health
  • Styrofoam can leak chemicals into your coffee
  • Those chemicals are known carcinogens
  • Use a paper cup instead
  • Look at reusable cups as an option
  • Styrofoam cups are bad for the environment

Seriously, I would avoid it at all costs. It’s not worth the potential problems that styrofoam can bring to your life.

My Conclusion

You should avoid putting coffee in a styrofoam cup due to the very real risk of it leaking chemicals into your coffee. Those chemicals are carcinogenic, so that’s something you want to avoid.

Go for a paper cup if you have to, or get something that is reusable and more natural. You can go for a plastic bottle or cup, but you need to be aware of how it’s made to avoid running into the same sorts of problems.