How to cut up cleaning rags. Save money on paper towels, part 3

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cleaning rags save money on paper towels

How to cut up cleaning rags

This is part 3 in a series about how to save money on paper towels by using rags. If you missed them, you might want to read part 1, How to Save Money on Paper Towels  and part 2, Where do I Get Rags?

When cutting a rag, you want to consider what you are going to use it for. For example, if I am going to use a rag as a dust rag I will cut it big enough so I can fold it in fourths and still have a 5-6 inch square (about). This way I can keep refolding as I dust which give me 8 sides to clean with instead of just 2. This is a good professional cleaner’s tip on using any of your cleaning rags. Fold in fourths and keep refolding as you clean.

Cutting rags is great watching TV work and you can get the kids to do it too.


Here are some examples of how to do cut up rags to make cleaning rags:

T shirts

  1. I cut off the sleeves.If it is a long sleeve, I’ll cut each sleeve in half. For dusting, I’d leave them as-is. If you are going to use them for small jobs, you might want to cut them in half again.
    • When using a sleeve, be sure to use each side and turn inside out. Use each side like you do when cleaning with a sock rag.
  2. Next I cut the sides and shoulder seams open and then cut the neck band off.
  3. Last, I cut them into the size of squares or rectangles I want. This isn’t rocket science. I just eyeball it. It’s only a rag. If you ruin it you can toss it, so relax.


Don’t cut towels. Terry cloth frays very badly so it is best to just leave these and use wash rags for small jobs and the towels for big ones.

Note from Tawra: I keep a stack of old towels in my car and in my emergency shelter. Then if we are in an accident or tornado, someone gets hurt and there is a lot of blood we can clean it up easier. 

Cloth diapers and tea towels

Even though you can cut these, I usually don’t. They’re better as cleaning towels. For example when I am washing windows, I use a corner to dry or shine and then move to another dry corner or the middle. By moving from one dry spot on the rag to the next, I can get a whole job done with one cleaning towel.


  1. Like the T shirts, I cut the sleeves first, long sleeves in half.
  2. Then cut side and shoulder seams.
  3. Cut off buttons to save.
  4. Cut the front band and collar off. Often the collar is big enough to save and use for a small wipe up job.
  5. Cut into squares or rectangles.

If I am going to use these cleaning rags for something like my Swiffer, I will measure and cut one for a pattern and use it as a guideline to cut more. Even these don’t have to be perfect. It is just to give you a general idea.

Relax, you’re just working with rags. If I have a drawer full of cleaning rags that are too big for the job at hand, I grab a pair of scissors and cut one down to the size I need. It is not big deal and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Don’t feel guilty about throwing away cleaning rags.  I do it all the time and I do it guilt free. :) No wonder so many people are so stressed and uptight all the time. We can’t even throw out a paper cup or use a piece of aluminum without being badgered or made to feel guilty. Rags are one thing you can throw out guilt free because, if you are like me, you have used it well in the form of clothing or linens and re-used it as a rag until it’s pretty much worn out. Not only that, since I bought most of the things I wear used, my things have really been used by the time they hit the trash.


This is part 3 in a series about how to save money on paper towels by using rags. If you missed them, you might want to read part 1, How to Save Money on Paper Towels and part 2, Where do I Get Rags?


Photo By: stevendepolo


  1. Julie Hird says

    Reading about your articles on rags reminded me of a sign we used to see out where we lived that said “Rapid Rag Rug Weaving”. Try saying that three times fast! Quite a tongue twister.

  2. elizabeth cotten says

    i work at a preschool where we used to use 4-5 rolls of paper towels a week. I got tired of runnimg out of paper towels in the middle of the day and bought a package of shop towels from sam’s club and tought the children to use those to clean with instead. we use 1-2 rolls of paper towels per week (for drying hands only hands only) and the director loved the idea. she bought 4 more packs and the entire center uses them and they just get washed at the end of the day with a bit of soap and bleach. i loved the experience so much that at home, i haven’t bought paper towels in 3 years, saving myself $13/mo times 36 months. For the cost of a pack of shop towels ($13), its almost time for me to buy more (i have thrown away the nasty ones) but instead i think ill just use the clothes my kids have outgrown!!

  3. Irene says

    Shared this article with hubby and how quickly I was using a roll of paper towels each week. On his next trip to Home Depot, he brought home a package of small white towels (the size of a washcloth) and said “here you go”. I use these for cleaning the kitchen counter, cleaning windows, wiping down refrigerator doors and shelves and in to the wash they go. Already saving money after 1 month and love that I’m not contributing to landfills.

  4. says

    not sure where to put this but cutting rags seems like a likely place.
    if your scissors start getting dull here are two ways to sharpen them instead of tossing them out.
    fold up some tin foil and cut through it until the scissors get the edge back.
    or get a glass bottle and pretend to cut through it. The price of scissors now a days it is just as easy to go out and buy a new pair when yours get dull. But try these tricks and you might save your scissors.
    My grandmother used to do this in the days when you took your scissors in to be sharpened.

  5. Lori says

    We like most families deal with allergies and colds. The absolute best comfort is found in old undershirts. They are the softest on sensitive areas. We use them for wiping noses pain free. They are also great to keep in the bedroom.

    • says

      Lori that is so true. My mom when she has a cold always uses some old worn hankies of my dads because she says they are so much softer on her nose.

  6. Cindy says

    I have been using rags for the past ten years. It all started with my daughter who is very environmental didn’t want me to buy all those paper towels. I have been using old t-shirts, towels, diapers, socks, etc. On laundry day I have a special load just for them. I would think if I buy paper towels it would only be once a year and then they are used thorougout the year for when I am lazy or its a really nasty mess, or bacon.
    We also only use cloth napkins so we don’t even buy those either!!!

  7. Vinnie says

    Great articles on rags! I’ve been using them forever and only use paper towels for the grossest of the gross. Even then sometimes I’ll just use the oldest, nastiest rags and then trash them.

    But I was wondering if you could do an article on how you store your rags. I’ve been trying to revamp my system but I’m short on ideas. Right now I fold the rags and put them in plastic grocery bags that I hang on my door knobs. I have a bag of kitchen rags in the kitchen and 2 bags of general rags (big — quarter towel or larger, and little) near my cleaning supplies in the living area, but I find that the handles of the bags rip pretty quickly from the weight of the rags and also, how dumb is it to be folding rags? But if I don’t fold them they get all stuck together and I pull out a lump of rags rather than just one. I mean like half a grocery bag of rags at a time, and they fall all over the floor and then I have to pick them up which is a pain and wastes time.

    Grok my problems? How do you handle storing your rags between washing and use?

    • says

      Vinnie it isn’t crazy to fold your rags. As a young bride I remember seeing my mother in law neatly fold all of her rags and thought that was so neat. I am a firm believer in folding everything. You really save space when you do plus like you say they handle easier. People think they don’t have time to fold things but for the amount of time you spend struggling to try and dig out a wadded rag it would take less time to quickly fold it.

      First I store my rags in a folded pile just like I do my other linens. In the kitchen I keep a hand full in a drawer next to my dish towels and dish rags. In the bathroom I keep a small pile next to my cleaning supplies, and then I have a stack of larger things like old towels and sheets in where I store my sheets and towels.

      I have a shelf in the basement where I store my excess rags. If I get more then will fit in those places I usually have to be brave and get rid of them which I have a hard time doing because I use them all the time. Just the other day Tawra called and she needed bigger bibs for Jack so I hauled out some old t shirts and cut them down the side cutting out the sleeves and side seam and voila nice long bib to cover legs and everything. They are easy to slip over his head too.

    • Laura says

      Vinnie, Make your own bags to hang on the door knobs. You could even make them out of the “better” rags, and put better handles on them – use an old belt or ???

  8. says

    you can use old large towels for beach covers.
    sew about a quarter of the way across the top on both sides to form a head hole. The up the sides leaving a space for arm holes.
    For the beach they are great to throw over top of wet bathing suits and they don’t slide off children who are trying to warm up in big towels. They also cover skin if the sun is too hot so they don’t burn.
    Mom always had a couple for each of us as children. We boated a lot and those wraps didn’t blow around in the wind.

  9. Sharla says

    Storing rags: Once when it was on sale I bought one of those collapsible fabric cube bins. It fits nicely in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, and my rags are in there. I fold them so it’s not a tangled up mess.

  10. gina says

    Storing them in a pretty basket has always worked for me. Then it can sit on the counter and be attractive until you need it. My Mother in law stored her large ones in an old wicker clothes hamper that she spay painted a pretty color to match her decor and kept her small ones in her kitchen on a designated cabinet shelf close the the sink.

  11. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I fold my shammies (rags) when watching tv. Every little bit of order helps to make the house more homey.

    On the other hand, my mom folds dollar store bags. THAT is obsessive!

  12. CelesteWolffe says

    This was a fantastic series. I am a big rag user myself, and I learned lots of nifty things here. I am one of those people that hates to throw out a rag, but you helped me see and “gave me permission” to throw them away after a long life. Thank you for that point in particular. Love belonging to this site. Thanks!

  13. diane says

    I used an old sheet the other day when I was trimming a shrub. Very easy clean up.
    I have also use the elastic on underwear(men) as a safe scrubber on my car and on floors. Men’s socks- white over the ankle kind, also can be used as a scrubber.
    I have a mesh bag that I keep by the washer and throw all my clothes in there to wash at one time.

    I also bought a 12pack of white napkins from Sam’s and use those instead of using paper ones or paper towels.
    I always by the paper towels that are sized so if I need a small amount I just tear off that amount. We have found that that has saved up a lot of money!

    We use rags all the time and only use paper when we have too!

  14. wyomingmommy says

    Along the lines of cloth napkins…

    I just bought about 20 cloth napkins from our local thrift store for about 2 bucks!

    I had sewn several before that but, we go through them pretty quick since we’re a family of seven. We kept running out of them. I keep them in a pretty basket on the couter.

  15. Maggie says

    I have been wondering what to do with all my terry dish towels that were gifts from my son when he was little. They are getting worn but he always looks for them at the holidays. I think I will keep one out during Christmas but take the others and start using them as rags. I have a lot and have been looking for ways to reduce our paper towel consumption. I really like the idea of marking the “rag” ones so they don’t get mixed up with the good ones.
    Thanks for these good hints.

  16. Jean says

    I love my rags! I have far too many but I don’t buy paper towels or swiffer refills because I have my rags – I just put them in their own white load as needed – some are gray now but I keep using them. I marked them kitchen and bath & leave the new ones (Costco) for our face & body. I wish I could make more converts at church – paper towels are such a waste!

  17. Karen says

    I just want to say thank you for this post and the rest of this site. I am learning so much here about how to save money! I not only appreciate your tips, but the positive attitude you have about frugality!

  18. says

    Hi I love the ideas of using rags I also use left over clothing for rags,Icut up my husbands old under shirts and run them through the through server this allows me t reuse these for my swifter dust mop, I took early retirement knowing if I did I would need to live on less, so far I have not been sorry, just knowing I have liked living with less makes it easy I have lived in the same 3 bedroom ranch in a town of 10000 for 35 year, still enjoy sewing, quilting ,canning yard work,making something nice from other peoples trash gives me great pleasure,last week my library was getting rid of books,2 boxes free westerns for bubble, with winters are long .Marilyn

  19. Lulie says

    This site is awesome! And I knew from the first thing I ever saw on here, the folding sheet video, that you were a good person Jill. I could see it in you. Your spirit so peaceful. Reading on and investigating the site more I see I was right. God Bless You! And Thank You for your time. What a wonderful ministry you all have here.

    • says

      Thank you Lulie for your kind words. I am so glad you are enjoying the website. I have to chuckle once again, I never dreamed people would like a video on folding a fitted sheet so much and I have to give credit to my son in law for doing such a good job shooting the video. The only thing he hasn’t figured out to do yet is to make me look 20 years younger. : ) : )

  20. wendy horn says

    I loved this three part article. I must tell you, I was chuckling throughout while remembering an ongoing argument with an old boyfriend who kept stealing my rags!!! First he didn’t know the difference between a “washcloth” and a “rag”, that got my goat. Then he didn’t understand why I’d get so ticked when my ‘cleaning rags’ would suddenly turn up COVERED in grease from him working on the old truck! Those are CLEANING rags I’d scream, not GREASE rags!!! And he’d retort, “well, I was ‘cleaning’ GREASE???”. MEN! Thank you for the great information and the chuckle down memory lane.

    • says

      Yes it is kind of funny that they can’t seem to understand the difference when in our mind it is very clear and easy. Too funny and too true.

  21. Robbin says

    I’m one of those “recycle everything” folks. 😉 Unless it’s something that was used to wipe up oil or something nasty, did you know that Goodwill takes “rags” (I designate bags as such) and will, if they can’t turn them into usable rags (something like tee shirts), will turn them over to a textile recycler to be recycled to begin again!

    I’ve been reading your site and really enjoying it! Thanks!!

  22. MaryR says

    Very interesting article and comments. I get the bulk of my family’s rags at our church rummage sales. When we are cleaning up after the sale I take any soft items that would make good rags. I then spend a few evenings watching tv and cutting rags. Some go to my son’s workshop, our garage, and inside our house. My cleaning lady only uses these rags when she cleans my house. My house ones are kept in a plastic bin in my pantry, and yes, all folded up. Even the ones I take to the workshop and garage are folded!

  23. Linda says

    I enjoy your site and newsletters so much. One thing, among many, is to use rags instead of paper towels. My problem is that when I wash them, they fray so badly that it takes me a half hour to get them all trimmed and ready to reuse. I am wondering if it is really worth the time and trouble. Do you have this problem?
    Linda :o)

    • says

      Linda first of all I only use rags that are made of a certain fabric like t shirts which don’t fray and second I never wash my rags. I literally use them like paper towels – use them and then throw them away. They are free and I have plenty of them plus like you said it really isn’t worth the time, trouble or detergent or hot water to wash them. You may as well buy paper towels if you do that. I’m not sure why people have such a hard time just tossing their rags. You aren’t out anything if you do.

  24. Linda says

    I respect your opinion so much. Thank-You for answering me. Being frugal, I guess I don’t want to throw away anything I can reuse. But you are so right, just throw it away. Ha! Too easy!
    Thanks Again, Jill, you really know your ‘stuff’.
    BTW, I ordered and just received your frugal Quick and easy cookbook.
    Lots of great sounding recipes in there, along with some great tips.
    Thank-You for all that you do to help people…
    Linda :o)

    • says

      You are just like me Linda. Being frugal too it is so hard to throw things away that I almost cringe every time I do thinking I really could use this more or for something so that is why I understand exactly what everyone feels when throwing rags away. It’s just I hate washing nasty things so I figured one day if it really pays to wash rags and found it didn’t so from then on I could do it guilt free. : ) Hope you enjoy your cookbook.

  25. Susiestar says

    After you cut off the seams of tshirts and other clothing, you can use the seams either as string (if sturdy) or for stuffing. While watching tv I often will put a sheet of paper in my lap and cut the seams into small pieces, 1/4-1/3 of an inch square. I catch them on the paper and then put them into a plastic bag or box. When I go to make a pillow or a small stitched ornament that is stuffed, I grab the bag of these little bits and use them. I have one bag for white only and one for everything else. I do a lot of cross stitch and end up doing ornaments for holidays, gifts, etc… I used to buy 2-3 bags of fiberfill stuffing each year and now I use these instead. It rarely takes even a 30 min show to cut up the seams/hems/otherwise unusable bits to these small pieces and it saves a LOT of $$. I have even done throw pillows with this and they hold up great.

    On pillows I do tend to line the cross stitched fabric with a layer of finely woven or knit cloth before I put the filling in. This ensures that the little bits of fabric used to stuff the pillow does not work its way out through the looser cross stitch fabric. If the pillow goes flat, fluffing it in the dryer works great, with or without washing or dampening the pillow first.

    If you have knit fabric, like tshirts, cut them across the grain into strips up to 1 1/2 inches wide and then stretch them. they will curl into themselves and are much stronger than not stretched, plus longer. Some tshirts have no side seams and they can be cut into tshirt yarn by cutting into one continuous strip about 1 inch wide and then stretched. the amount of usable yarn is staggering from just half of one of these shirts. Here several churches use thm for VBS and they end up in the thrift store rag bins. A friend of mine is even using them to make into this tshirt yard and crocheting blankets for the homeless from them.

  26. grey poodle says

    I was taught by a very wealthy lady when I lived in India, to never waste a thing and so with extra material from any recycled article (such as material around seams, etc or little bits) that was destined to become a household rag, she would snip the leftovers in small triangles, save them in a bag until she had enough to stuff throw pillows and indeed this worked perfectly, making a firm filling for any size pillow cover. The natural weight and flexibility, unlike man-made foam, make the pillows stable and comfortable. Now, I have a big bag where I too, collect the small triangles of material for future pillows. Nothing in a developing country goes to waste and no one is too rich to recycle. India recycles more than 75% of its waste, impressive, I think.

  27. Katina says

    My family doesn’t really “go through” clothes quick enough for me to have a nice rag supply. Thankfully there the a large Goodwill store nearby that sells by weight, I go on days that everything is $2.00 a pound, you’d be surprised how many large t-shirts it take to make one pound!

    I’m glad I read the comments, I’ve been cutting and cutting and thinking to myself “there MUST be something I can do with all of these little bits that I’m cutting off to make the correct rag size” Others have been cutting them even smaller to save it as stuffing, what a marvelous idea!

  28. Carole Edminson says

    I use the prefolded diapers for my Swiffer. I like the extra thickness. I get mine at the local thrift store.

  29. Melody says

    I buy the cheap packs of white washcloths at Wal-Mart. We use them as washcloths & when they start looking bad, I move them to the kitchen. I use them for cleanups & cleaning. When they look really bad I use & toss or move them to garage!!

    I also have a plain Swiffer & Wet Jet that I put my husband’s old socks on to clean the floors! They fit perfect!!

    I save up all the used, dirty socks & rags in a bucket till I have enough to wash & bleach!!


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