Household linens, cleaning cloths, dish cloths and rags

7 September 2016
There are many things we can all do to save money in our homes. Some of them are so easy and commonplace we rarely think of them, or think they'll save us money. One of these is the humble cleaning cloth - those cloths that are used in the kitchen to wash up, wipe down benches and clean up spills, as well as dusting and cleaning cloths for general household cleaning. Click here to go to a 2011 post about cloths. As you can see in that post I was cutting up an old flannel nightie to use as cleaning rags. Well, I'm still at it, last week I was cutting up old tea towels and hemming them to be used as drying cloths. Cleaning is much more effective is everything is dried after it is cleaned.

Here you can see that I've cut the elastic bands from the edges of an old fitted sheet and then used the fabric as super absorbent, soft cleaning cloths.

In Australia the most popular brand of cleaning and washing up cloth is Chux. Way back when I gave no thought to grocery shopping or wasting money, I used to buy a packet every week. I'd use them for all the normal tasks and throw them in the bin after they'd been used a few times, or if I'd cleaned up something disgusting. Chux cost from 30 - 60 cents each now and they're used a few times and then thrown away. You could wash them in the washing machine but most people don't do that. They're marketed as "disposable" and are usually thrown out. If you were to buy one large pack a month for six dollars, you'd be spending 72 dollars a year that you don't have to spend. When I think back to those days it astounds me that I was so thoughtless. Not only about the money I used to spend but also for all the landfill I was responsible for.  I'll never go back to that. Using old sheets, towels, t-shirts etc is a much wiser way to go. As long as the fabric is cotton, linen or bamboo, it will clean and dry well.  When the cloths are dirty, just put them in the washing machine on a normal cycle and dry in the sun if that's possible. When they're past their useful life in the house they can go on the compost heap.

My basic cleaning cloths are knitted organic cotton dish cloths, microfibre cloths, and rags I make up from old fabric here at home. I use organic cotton yarn for the dishcloths which I get from my sponsor EcoYarns. I have six microfibre cloths that I use in the bathroom for cleaning and drying and the rest of my cleaning cloths are old fabric that's been recycled.

If you build up a stockpile of dishcloths, you'll have enough on hand for all the cleaning you need to do.

When you've made up a few dishcloths, if you've used a good quality cotton they can be used as face cloths as well. By teaming a few cloths with a bar of home made soap, it makes a lovely gift for a birthday or at Christmas.
The cloth I knitted above is using Debbie's fabulous waffle weave pattern. You can find the original pattern here on her blog.

When you have a good supply of knitted dishcloths, store them in a little basket or a kitchen drawer so you can just grab one whenever it's needed.

It's so easy to recycle your old sheets and towels. Simply cut them to the size you need - I tend to prefer larger rags of about 40 x 40cm (15 x 15 inches). If they're for general cleaning you don't need to hem them unless they're dropping a lot of threads. I used to use pinking shears to cut the edges but now I just rip them, it's faster.  And the easiest place to store them is in a rag bag.  I made one for myself and have it having in the laundry. I throw out rags if I've wiped up something really nasty, if I've just done regular cleaning with them, I rinse them out then wash them in the washing machine along with my normal washing. They're hung on the line to dry, folded and stored in the rag bag.

Above is the rag bag I made years ago to store my rags in.

It doesn't take much to start making your own cleaning cloths and dish cloths. Just make the decision to do it and when you have a ripped sheet that can't be repaired, old towels or tea towels, put them aside instead of discarding them. When you have time, work out the cloth size you prefer and then start cutting or ripping. I think I included a rag bag pattern in The Simple Home.  If you're making dishcloths, I added the waffle weave pattern in the Down to Earth book, there is another pattern here in an older post, and here is a collection of numerous dishcloth patterns. It's so easy to do, you'll be doing something positive and a practical expression of your sustainable values.

But that's just the start of what you can do to lighten your footprint and cut your costs while still having a wide variety of good quality household linens in your home.  You can make table cloths from scraps of cotton, if you have no sink drainer, make a terry towelling mat to place under your dish rack. Aprons help protect your clothing when you're working at home and also make a great gift. There are table runners, napkins, tea towels, jug covers and cloths to cover your fermenting jars and bowls. The list is long, my friends, and most of these items are things that were one common in every home and now are difficult to buy in a shop because people don't use them as much.

A patchwork tablecloth made from old tea towels, doilies, sheets and pieces of fabric.
This dish mat will help catch the drops under a dish rack. It's cotton on top and terry towelling underneath. 
The bowl covers above are shop-bought and given to me as a gift but you could easily make your own and start cutting down on plastic wrap.

Aprons, table runners and napkins are all easy to make and will also serve as useful gifts.

The cushion cover above used to be a Mambo shirt. I made it into a cover and gave it to my son. He loves it.

Making your own table napkins will allow you to stop buying "disposable" napkins and have a selection of lovely cloth napkins on the kitchen table. They just need to be cut to the required size and then hemmed.

Above and below are my latest recycling efforts. I have too many old tea towels so I took out the red and white ones, cut them in two, hemmed them. Now they are used to dry the kitchen sink, benches, windows and appliances after they've been cleaned.

This is all simple sewing and knitting that anyone can do. Let's stop wasting resources and money buying the convenience of Chux and get back to being productive in our homes. It's easy to do, it often helps you recycle instead of discard, it costs less and it means more. A lot more.