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cleaning rags save money on paper towels

How to Save on Paper Towels, Part 2

Where to get cleaning rags and how to use them

This post about cleaning rags is part 2 of How To Save Money On Paper Towels.

The average person usually has plenty of rags to use for cleaning rags or cleaning towels from their own clothing and linens- things that can no longer be used or worn. If you need more, ask friends or family members to save you some. If you still don’t have enough, check out garage sales or thrift stores.


When using clothing to make cleaning rags, be sure to cut off all buttons, zippers and other accessories because these will scratch while they are cleaning.

Never use any material like polyester, nylon or other man made materials for cleaning rags. I do use these for other things, but not for rags. Anything that is 100% cotton works well. Also, very heavy fabric like jean material will not work for rags. It isn’t as absorbent and it’s not flexible enough.

Here are some examples of what to use to make cleaning rags and how to use them:


Towels, washrags, or anything terry cloth

All of these items make great cleaning rags. The only bad thing about them is that you can’t easily cut them down to a smaller size because they fray and fuzz really badly when you do.

  • These are good for soaking up spills. If someone spills a glass of water or splatters water all over the walls, if you need to dry the dog or if you have something like a clean trash can that you want to dry quickly, go for a rag towel.
  • If I need to give something a good scrubbing I grab a rag wash cloth, particularly to scrub something like my patio table and chairs.
  • I keep a rag hand towel or washrag by my ironing board to wipe off the bottom of my iron or wipe up the water that sometimes spills when I am filling it.
  • I use cleaning rags to wash down the kids’ toys and the dog and cat bowl (not the same rag for the toys and cat bowl, of course!).
  • This type of rag is great to put under the dog’s water bowl if he is messy.
  • Use old towels for the kids to stand on when they come in from the pool or sprinkler dripping wet to reduce the mess.
  • Terry cloth works great for drying your car.


T-shirts, undies and socks

These are my wimpy cleaning rags. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them– they just aren’t good for heavy duty cleaning jobs. These are usually my throw away cleaning rags because I get so many more of them than other ones and, by the time they make it to the rag bag, they are getting pretty thin.

  • I use old t-shirts for really nasty jobs like washing out my trash can, washing the bathroom floor, animal accidents and car grease clean-ups.
  • If I have to run a rag along my clothesline to quickly clean it or wipe out a plastic laundry basket, I’ll use this type of rag.
  • If I run out of flannel cleaning rags and I’m in a pinch, I will use a t-shirt for something like my Swiffer. I double or triple them and mist with water or spray with floor polish.
  • Socks are especially good for dusting rags. You can just slip them over your hand if you want. I don’t usually do this because I use all sides of my sock. I use the front and back and then turn it inside out and use the front and back again. Using it this way, I only need one sock for a normal weekly dusting for the whole house.



Flannel shirts and pajamas

Anything flannel is nice because flannel is a little thicker than t-shirts but not as thick as terry cloth so flannel is a great thickness for a cleaning rag. Flannel works well for a lot of things. The only drawback is that if you use it to scrub a rough surface, it will leave lint behind.

  • I mostly use flannel with my Swiffer for hardwood floors. I mist it with a little water or, if I have it, floor polish. Don’t use regular furniture polish because it will make the floor too slick. If you don’t have polish just save and use a little water.
  • Flannel is also good when you need to polish things like brass or silver.
  • If it is a large flannel sheet, see “sheets” below for other ideas.


Old cloth diapers and flour sack tea towels

These are my all time favorites. I can hardly wait for my flour sack towels to wear out so I can use them for cleaning towels and I will beg borrow and steal for old cloth diapers (not pre-folded ones but regular ones). The more expensive the diaper, the better they seem to work a cleaning rags. Diapers last forever. I was just using the last of the ones I had from my own kids when my grandkids came along and I got to replenish my supply.

These cleaning towels do what all the other rags do put together, but I don’t use them for my dirty jobs because they are harder for me to find. I wash and re-wash them and I can bleach them as often as I need to in order to reuse them.

  • I use the diapers in my bathroom for drying the faucets and shower walls after I clean them. Then I dampen it slightly and wipe down my mirror. I never buy window cleaner to use in my bathroom.
  • There is nothing like cloth diapers for cleaning mirrors, glass on hanging pictures, or windows. When I use them on something like the outside of a dirty window, I clean the window with soapy water and a washrag first. Then I dry and polish it with a diaper.
  • Cloth diaper rags also work nicely for shining and drying the car windows after you wash it.
  • They are great for any place you want a shine, like on stainless steel appliances, and they don’t leave any lint.
  • Keep an old flour sack towel by your ironing board for a pressing cloth.
  • I have trouble with regular washrags because they’re too harsh on my faceand I don’t like to wash with just my hands. Instead, I take well used flour sack towels, cut them into squares and hem. Then I have a super soft cloth to use for my face.

    Years ago, people didn’t buy washrags or dishrags. They would just cut and hem a piece of old clothing or something to use; hence the name washrag and dishrag. They would be shocked to know that we now pay for cloths to wash our dishes and faces.



Sheets are not very good for cleaning rags. They are too slick and don’t absorb very well, except for flannel sheets. Sheets make great rags for so many things other than cleaning that I felt I should include them.

  • For you quilters, cut the wide top hem off of a top sheet and use it for a sleeve on the back of your quilt when you want to hang it on a rod.
  • Sometimes sheets just wear in the middle. You can often sew a couple of pillow cases from the sides and save any “scrapes” for some of the other things I list here.
  • Cut down a large sheet to use for crib or bassinet sheet.
  • I tear my very worn and ugly sheets in 1-2 inch wide strips to use like rope or string. I just cut to about 1/4 inch through the hem of the sheet at one to two inch intervals and then tear. You don’t need to measure or be exact. This is just a general guideline. One may be three inches and another might be an inch and a half. It really doesn’t matter. You just need strips. I don’t know what I would do without my sheet strips.

    Here are some things I do with my strips:

    • Tie bundles of limbs together for the trash man.
    • Tie my water hose together to store for the winter.
    • I had a fold up table whose legs kept falling, so I tied those up.
    • I roll and tie bundles of batting.
    • I use them for sleeping bags when their ties get broken.
    • I roll and tie my down comforter to put away for the winter.
    • When moving, I tie rods and curtain rods together.
    • After I roll a large area rug to store, I’ll tie it with sheet strips.
    • Tails for kites
    • Tying up all kinds of things in the garden.

    If I am going to need more strength, like when I am holding a large bundle of limbs or a large rug together, I will use double the amount.

  • Use an old sheet for a painting drop cloth. Sometimes I double them to be extra careful so the paint doesn’t leak through.
  • If they are 100% cotton and in pretty good shape, but I can’t use them as sheets anymore, I will use them to back my quilts (no, not my heirloom quilts but the everyday ones).
  • When making a slipcover, instead of buying muslin to use for a pattern, use an old sheet. If you are sewing expensive material for an outfit, you might want to do a trial run out of a sheet first.
  • Keep an old sheet rolled up in the trunk of your car to spread on a picnic table or on the ground for a picnic.
  • If the sheet isn’t worn, but it’s just not the right color anymore, dye it the color you want. You can do this with towels too.

How to cut up cleaning 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.



For even more tip to save money on organizing, cleaning and laundry, take a look at our How To Organize And Clean Your Home e-books.


Photo By: stevendepolo