In praise of the rag bag
Why use and toss so many paper towels when you can use and reuse cloth?
It takes me forever to use up a roll of paper towels. I wish I'd written the date inside the cardboard tube of the roll currently in my kitchen. It's been there at least a couple of years. Even though I've been traveling a lot, that's still a long time for one roll to have been operating -- and to be only about 50% reduced.
It's not that I'm particularly neat. It's that I see no reason to use paper towels when I have plenty of rags. Post continues after video.
Sure, paper towels are convenient. But they're expensive, too. Why use and toss wads of paper when I can launder and reuse a piece of cloth?
If I'm just draining salad greens or wiping up spilled water, I don't even need to wash the cloth -- just hang it up to dry.
Call that eco-friendly if you like. I prefer to think of it as common sense.
Maybe you do, too. But you'd be surprised how many folks don't wash mirrors with white vinegar and water and squares cut from old flannel sheets. Or how many drain the romaine on paper towels rather than worn-out dish towels. Or actually buy sacks of "shop rags."
I have a theory: The reason so many clothes end up in thrift stores is that not enough people have rag bags.
Old diapers, trashed T-shirts
My cleaning-cloth collection includes sheet scraps, old washcloths, bits of terrycloth towels, and pieces of worn-to-death blouses, T-shirts and flannel pajamas.
The rags are battle-ready when I need to wipe up spills, wash my stovetop with vinegar and water, or do a bit of freelance cleaning in the apartment building that I formerly managed. (They still hire me for odd jobs here and there.)
For quite a while my cleaning rags of choice were old cloth diapers. I'd bought dozens of the things, after all. (Believe it or not, most were "slightly irregular" and therefore cost only $2.99 per dozen. I couldn't make that up.) I was still using the last stubborn survivors when my baby girl went off to college.
Don't use cloth diapers? I bet you have at least one of the following:
- Old sheets: Flannel ones in particular are soft and absorbent.
- Trashed T-shirts: But only the ones too holey even to wear while gardening or painting. I've heard of parents who cut soft, worn T-shirts into small squares to make their own baby wipes. Most such "recipes" use paper towels. If you have enough T-shirts, go for it. (But don't flush them! In fact, you shouldn't flush paper towels, either.)
- Shirts or blouses: Long-sleeved cotton or flannel shirts worn out at the elbows, or whose cuffs are irreparably frayed, can be cut up and bagged. Save their buttons for future repair jobs. (A former co-worker whose cuffs were shredded cut the sleeves off at the bicep and hemmed them to create a "new" short-sleeved shirt. Wow.)
- Worn-out bath towels: Their job is to be absorbent so these are great for cleaning, or for draining freshly washed grapes.
- Old pajamas: We all know how cozy a pair of often-washed flannel PJs can feel. But when they're too threadbare to keep out the draft, scissor 'em up.
What if you're more of a rayon-and-silk kind of person? Or you don't wear T-shirts? Or you don't expect your sheets to wear out for years? Round up some rags at:
- Thrift stores. I bought a garbage bag full of towels and washcloths for $3.99 at the Value Village half-price sale when I moved to Seattle.
- Rummage and yard sales. These are where 10k and marathon T-shirts go to die. I've seen bath towels for as little as a quarter each. I bought a full-sized sheet set for $2; still using it, but eventually it will end up in the rag bag.
- The "free" box at yard sales. I've seen old towels, washcloths and T-shirts there.
Incidentally, my rag bag is actually a white plastic bucket in the entry closet. But "rag bucket" isn't nearly as much fun to say.
Green twice over
I doubt I'll ever stop using paper towels entirely. They're great for jobs such as cooling off bacon. But to me it seems wasteful to use a paper towel every time I spill something.
- Bing:Frugal cleaning tips
Not only am I saving money by not buying paper towels and paper napkins, I'm being green twice over: By not adding more than my share of paper to the landfill, and by giving worn-out fabric one more use before discarding it.
Generally that means really worn-out. The T-shirt I'm wearing right now is a good example. I know how old it is because it bears the legend, "1998: 75 And Still Alive! The Historic Fairview Inn, Talkeetna, Alaska."
It's developed holes that cannot be repaired. But at going on 14 years of age, this shirt doesn't owe me a thing. Time to give it a decent burial -- or, in a manner of speaking, a new life. After its next washing, into the rag bag it will go.
And now I know what souvenir I want to bring back from Talkeetna when I attend the bachelor auction later this year. Hint: It's not a bachelor.
More on MSN Money:
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
LATEST BLOG POSTS
Children from lower income families are at greater risk of suffering accidental injuries and being sickened by food, according to a Consumer Federation of America study.