Forget Fancy Cleaning Cloths, Make a Stash of Rags Instead

Why buy specialty cleaning cloths when old textiles will do the job?

basket of cotton rags
A basket of cotton rags.

@peekies via Twenty20 

Over the course of my adult life so far, I've spent far too much money on specialized cleaning cloths. I have gone to cleaning parties hosted at friends' houses where packages of fancy microfiber cloths are sold for what I'd prefer to spend on a pair of very nice shoes. I have struggled to understand which color is meant for which room, which dusting mitt goes on a specific surface, and what cleaning products I can and cannot use with the various cloths – details I suddenly care about because of all the money I've spent.

Because I swore off paper towels nearly a decade ago, I felt obligated to splurge on these cloths in an effort to keep my house clean, but recently I've discovered that they're really unnecessary. There is a much simpler and cheaper solution for dealing with every single mess created by a busy young family, and that is the untrendy, old-fashioned rag stash.

That's right. All you need is a heap of clean absorbent cotton rags, made from old bath towels, hand towels, or tea towels cut into halves, quarters, or eighths, and you'll be able to clean anything. You can also use old sheets and even T-shirts or sweats. You'll never notice the lack of a microfiber cloth or a roll of paper towel because the rags do it all. They may look tattered, but they get the job done. I keep some in the kitchen and some in the bathrooms. I use them to wipe spills off the kitchen floor, to clean sinks, to wipe down the toilet, to dust surfaces and eliminate fingerprints. I grab those rags to deal with everything from sticky hands to upset stomachs to muddy footprints to pet messes.

I tend not to use spray-on cleaners, but prefer to fill the sink with hot water and Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap to do my house cleaning. Then I swish the rag around, squeeze it out, and wipe everywhere. Depending on what I've cleaned up, the rags get tossed into the dirty laundry basket before getting added to the washing machine. I always hang them out to dry, usually in the sun to help disinfect them further, then they're returned to the under-regions of the sink for another round of use.

I prefer the rags because I can use soap with them (it always felt weird using water-only microfiber cloths) and because they're easy to handle, at least compared to some of the large, unwieldy cloths I purchased. Knowing they're not made of synthetic material also alleviates any concerns over microplastic particles being released into the water when laundered. And because they're made from discarded towels, I essentially have an unlimited supply.

Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar has a similar technique to mine, using cotton cloths to replace paper towels and stashing the dirty ones in a basket under the kitchen sink until there are enough to justify a load of laundry. He recommends buying decent cloths in bulk: "This system really depends on having good absorbent cloths to use. I just find that cotton washcloths and shop cloths tend to work the best for most tasks that I would use paper towels for." For me, old towels (and sometimes flannel sheets) do the job just as well, but if the point is to get away from single-use disposables, anything you get and keep for a long time will do.

Give it a try. You'll quickly discover that needing fancy cleaning cloths and paper towels is a myth.