29 January 2008

Cleaning with rags

Paula has asked me to do a post on rags, which, of course, I'm happy to do. This is her request:

"I would LOVE if you would do a post on rags. And a pattern for the adorable rag bag you made. What are rags (please don't laugh)? What do you use them for? How many do you need? Are they the same as kitchen towels (I use these as fabric "paper" towels)? Thanks for your blog. I am learning so much."

Cleaning with rags is the ultimate in fabric recycling. The older the fabric the better it is because it will be soft and very absorbent. I only recycle 100% cotton or linen fabric, again because it's so absorbent. Poly fabric and poly/cotton blends won't wipe spills as well and will never reach that soft fluffy stage cotton and linen have after many washes.

My definition of a rag is a piece of fabric that has been recycled to be used for cleaning or other household duties. I use rags for all my general house cleaning - both moist and dry, for polishing, wiping up spills and sometimes for draining fried foods. Please note: the rags used for cleaning and food prep are two different types and never cross over to do another tasks. I don't fry a lot of food - it will be the odd fried egg or potato pancakes. I use hemmed new 100% cotton instead of paper towels to drain these foods. They are used once, then washed. If there is a lot of fried food, as in the case of potato pancakes, I use three or four clean cloths drain the food. I stopped buying paper towels and napkins a while ago.

I believe the best kind of cleaning cloth is an old towel. When a towel has finished service as a towel, I cut it up into 25cm (10 inch) squares to use as rags. I am a postmodern woman and I like what I use to look like what it is. To me, a rag is a rag and should look like one. We've become used to neat edges and perfection in our store bought cleaning cloths. I usually don't worry about the edges of the terry cloths as they don't fray a lot when I cut them out with pinking shears. But if you're worried about fraying, or if you want to use the rags as dusting cloths, you could run a zigzag stitch around the border to keep the edges contained. You'll need to run the zigzag stitch around all your linen and cotton cloths to stop the fraying. You don't want to be picking up little pieces of cotton from your cloths as you dust. Generally the zigzag stitch is fine on the edges. I am aware though that there are some homemakers who like everything to be neat and tidy, so if you want neat edges, feel free to hem or edge your rags. There are no rules here, you just do what suits you.

I use these rags for my general cleaning. I have one (or more) cloth that is wet and used to clean the sink or bench (or whatever), and a number of dry cloths to dry when I'm finished cleaning. I never leave a surface wet. Drying, or in the case of metal or glass, polishing the surface after it's been cleaned with the wet cloth or scrubbing brush, will give you the best results when cleaning. So, for instance, to clean the kitchen sink, I would use one wet cloth and maybe two dry cloths.

Kitchen rags and general cleaning rags are washed, dried on the line and stored in my rag bag which hangs in the laundry. If one of my dogs is sick and has a little vomit (sorry) inside, I use a rag to wipe up and throw that rag out. That's the beauty of having a lot of rags, you can afford to throw out the odd one, and still have plenty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths for the bathroom and toilet are never added to the rag bag; they are stored under the sink in the bathroom. I usually colour code my cleaning rags so I know not to use a bathroom cloth in the kitchen. I'm slowly knitting a number of black cloths for the bathroom and toilet. I only have two done so far, but when I have about six of them, I'll only use black cloths for bathroom and toilet cleaning.

I made a larger version of this bag. The measurements of the larger bag are in the photo below. You'll probably need a flap on the front instead of just an opening as the rags will make the bag gape open. Use your clothes hanger as a guide when cutting out the shape at the top. The rest is just straight sides.

Recycling old clothing and towels for cleaning is a really old fashioned thing that I'm sure your grandmothers, and the great grandmas who presented them, all did. Buying cloths specially for cleaning is one of those things we've been duped into. I hope you try this method and stick with it if it works for you. It will save you money, you'll use the products you do buy to their full extent and reduce landfill in the process.

This is just an update on yesterday's post. Tricia saw the bit about the lace doily. She said it was our mother's but it's not hand made. They were mass produced in the 1930s and 40s.
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