Last updated on January 27th, 2022
I’m hooked on Flour Sack Cloth. It’s great for mopping up kitchen spills, polishing silverware, dusting furniture, and lots of other household tasks. Unlike expensive/wasteful paper towels, flour sack is easy on the wallet. Also, it’s indefinitely reusable. Here’s the history of this old-fashioned fabric, plus my tips for using it in the kitchen and all around the house:
The History of Flour Sack Cloth
Starting in the 1800s, and continuing through the 1940s, flour, sugar, and certain other dry goods were shipped in sacks weighing 50 or 100 lbs. The sacks were made from tightly-woven cotton. When a sack was empty, it would be laundered, bleached, cut, and hemmed. Flour sack was commonly used as kitchen towels, cleaning and polishing cloths, diapers, underwear, sheets, and pillowcases.
Flour sack cloth is soft, super-absorbent, lint-free, and highly washable. And get this — the cloth becomes even softer and more absorbent every time you wash it. The only products that will hinder absorbency are fabric softeners and dryer sheets, so please don’t use them. Otherwise, feel free to wash flour sack in hot or warm water, either with or without bleach. Bleach is not often required, as the cloth does not hold stains easily. Machine dry.
Cutting the Cloth
About a year ago, I purchased two packages of flour sack cloths from Amazon. Each package contained seven 38-by 33-inch cloths — the ideal size for hand towels, tea towels, or for covering a tea table (see photos below). I used pinking shears to cut some of the cloths into smaller sizes for wiping up spills, dusting, and etc. Since I did not stitch, or “hem” the cloths, the cut sides frayed a little after the first laundering. They did not, however, continue to fray after subsequent washings. That’s because flour sack cloths are made from tightly-woven, 100% cotton.
Ways to use Flour Sack Cloth
I use flour sack cloth for wiping up spills…
And for straining used deep-fry oil (so that the oil can be used again and again).
I also use the cloths for cleaning and polishing sterling silverware…
For cleaning and buffing stainless steel appliances…
For drying vegetables…
And for drying pots, pans, and delicate crystal.
Because the cloths are lint-free, they are great for cleaning and polishing windows and mirrors. (Who needs wasteful, expensive paper towels?)
Flour sack even makes a great table cloth for a tea table!
Where to Find Flour Sack Cloths (Towels)
I’ve heard that flour sack cloths of questionable quality can be found at big-box stores. I ordered high-quality flour sack from Amazon — click here for details and to read reviews.
Wanna help the environment and save a LOT of money at the same time? Do what I did, and trade your paper towels for flour sack cloths! Love ya! Kevin
This reminds me of my grandmother. She used flour sack cloth to make quilts, one of which I have hanging on a bedroom wall right now, and I remember the sacks of flour at her house. Nice memory!
What an excellent idea. I’m sure I will make could use of them in my household chores. Thank you Kevin.
Jean S Wood says
When I was a kid my Mom made me dresses from chicken feed sacks. The sacks came in cute prints and colors, and my great aunt always saved the prettiest ones for me.
I’m glad to hear you don’t use paper towels and happy to hear about the flour sacks you do use. (I haven’t purchased paper towels for the last 6 years.)
I use a variety of materials for household tasks depending upon the purpose for which they’re needed. I have muslin (unbleached cotton) picked up at a thrift store similar to your flour sacks. However, I also save newspaper with soy ink to wipe out greasy cast iron skillets and other greasy things. I use cut-up worn-out clothing– flannel, cotton long johns, old cotton t-shirts for various types of cleaning. I wash these rags, but when they are beyond use, I either throw them away or put them in the compost heap where, because they’re cotton, they disintegrate quickly. My rags aren’t fancy, but they work.
Kevin, your column on flour sack towels has brought back sweet memories as we near Veterans Day observances. I was A small child living with my grandparents in Iowa. My parents were in San Diego, Ca. My Dad was in the Navy, serving in the 7th Fleet, he saw duty in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Coral Sea, etc. My Mother was a Navy wife working as a “Rosie Riviter”, in the defense plants. Every Saturday a traveling salesman would visit our small town in Iowa selling flour sacks. Occasionally, money was tight, my grandmother would purchase the sacks. She used them for cleaning and household chores, just as you described. But she also gave them as gifts, she embroidered each towel with beautiful “Days of the Weeks” characters. Little kittens, puppies, farm animals. To this day I use and treasure these hand embroidered tea towels. Thank you for reminding me of those days.
Ruth Taylor says
What a great idea! I love the fact that you are promoting cloth over paper! I have used old wash clothes in the past as rags for the kitchen, but I like this idea better.
Laura, what a great idea you have for wiping out grease from pans and composting the rags!
Kevin, what a treasure trove! Like Judy, I was a Navy brat living in San Diego when WWII broke out. My father was in submarines and when he was at sea, we’d move to KS with my mother’s folks who used flour sacking, embroidered with all of the above for household chores. I still have a set embroidered by my Aunt Dorothy. During the war, farmers (like my grandpa) could buy livestock feed in printed sacking, which was what my school dresses were made of when we lived in KS. I loved our Saturday trips to the feed store in Concordia where my mom and grandma and I would pick out my school wardrobe–when the critters had emptied them. Fast forward to today, where I’m greeted by a glorious salad served with a tantalizing mystery, which turns out to be a French Renaissance salad fork by Reed and Barton. Thank you for so much good, fun stuff!
Love this, Kevin, and all of the responses, too. Btw….placed my order on Amazon
JoAnn Dixon says
Kevin, thanks so much for sharing these new ways to use flour sack and less paper towels. A moist piece of flour sack works well to wipe off mushrooms before using them raw or in cooking. JoAnn from Oregon
I always use flour sacks. I have a basket for the kitchen, one for drying dishes and another for cleaning. They are perfect for rising bread. The story behind this material is very interesting. Thank you
Linda Jasinski says
I’ll be trying these on our stainless steel appliances! And I believe we share the same crystal pattern – Atlantis Sonnet?
Margaret Fast says
I grew ip on a farm in Saskatchewan in the 1950s. My mother baked her own bread and bought flour in a printed sack. I remember with fondness the red checked shorts and matching halter top mom made for me from the empty flour sack.
Adriana Nowacki says
Growing up on a farm, my mother got her flour in patterned sack cloth. I still remember the little dresses she sewed for me and my sister using that cloth. Recycling has always been “a thing”.
My mother would agree with you, Kevin. I grew up using flour sack towels & they work great.
One tip, though, if you cut them up into smaller cloths:
A washing machine repair person told me to either stitch up frayed towels or cut fabric because the
little bits get into the mechanics of both washer and dryer and cause mechanical problems.
Stitched up, these cotton flour sack towels would be much better than microfiber being sold today – it’s not recyclable and bad for our waterways and ocean. See this reference for more info:
A very timely post, Kevin. Last week on my weekly stroll through our local DG store (love those 90% off sales), I noticed flour sack cloths tucked away on a bottom shelf. Couldn’t resist as it was the very sort of fabric I was needing for a project. was plenty in the package for 3.50 so that I’ll have left-overs to use in the kitchen. So far the quality looks good, but haven’t laundered yet, but at that price, it was worth a try. I plan on cutting a bunch to half length of a paper towel and keeping a pile on the counter in a flat decorative box for every day use.
I am wondering Kevin that when you wash and dry them, how much do they shrink? And once washed do Aunt Martha’s still fold nice corner to corner without crooked sides? The reason I ask is I embroidery on them and I’ve been quite disappointed with another brand that says their towels are premium. Sure, they look premium when they leave the warehouse, however corners often do not match after the first washing. And does yours have a crisp feeling to them? The plus with the severely dysfunctional towel is they make wonderful bedroom pillows. I love the softness.
Sandy Martinez says
Great homage to the lowly sack cloth towel!
What a BOON for us! I use mine for everything, also.
I can garden veggies a lot and they come in handy …a lot!
Also, My local “fancy ” store sells Mary Lake Thompson sack towels with different holiday or season pictures. A Halloween towel I’ve been using lately is a pic of two vintage black cats dancing with jack-o-lanterns! Super cute and super useful!
I also like to wrap them (new) around Christmas gifts-a bottle of wine or some home canned creation.
The possibilities are endless, just like you Kev!
Thanks for the great cabbage recipes and for getting vaccinated and sharing your booster story.
P.S Me and my Mr. got our covid and flu boosters last week! We celebrated with home grown fresh crushed apple cider mimosas!!
Mary in Iowa says
Flour sack towels, embroidered or not, were the only dishtowels we had when I was growing up, and for the first 6 years of marriage when we finally acquired a moveable automatic dishwasher.
I have a quilt my grandma made from feed sacks, and recently when I was going through boxes of “stuff” I came upon one of the printed feed sack aprons, trimmed with matching colors of bias tape, that she made for me when I turned 13 and started my first job in the dining room of a retirement home. I confess I got a little choked up when I happened upon that. It brought back so many memories of a fabulous woman who adapted to the times and survived multiple tragedies, including 2 of her young children dying from childhood diseases that today have all but been eradicated by vaccines. In her 92 years she witnessed the advent of indoor plumbing and gas and electricity in homes, the introduction of automobiles, telephones, television, and airplanes, then marveled when the first space ships blasted off and landed men on the moon. I see the story of a life in that prettily printed feed sack apron.
Your posts are always delightful but this one is especially so. The responses that this subject has brought are so personal.
People don’t talk to each other this way any more. Whatever magic that you possess to bring out this lovely type of conversation, could you package it and sell it to the world? It is needed desperately!
They are the best! Thanks for this post; great new ideas for use.
…and, I use several to clean my eyeglasses every morning. After they have worked for many years doing other hard cleaning jobs they become soft and definitely do not scratch or leave lint on my glasses. Also, when the edges become a bit ragged I just use my rotary cutter to make a new edge and re-hem; but certainly a pinking shears would work perfectly as well. I buy very few paper towels. Great suggestions for saving more trees!
Wow, Flashback to summer vacations at my grandparents’ house. My “Nonnie” always had flour sacks for me to hem and embroider to keep me busy. I made many sets (days of the week, birds or tea pots) for my numerous aunts. Grandmas also got a set or two.
Thanks for the memories !
And they would print the sacks with calico designs so that the farmer’s wives could use them for quilts or making clothes for the family.
I bought a few packages of these towels but have not used them yet. Why? Because I also have some vintage embroidery patterns with the days of the week and I am going to embroider a set for each day of the week. I will also leave a set of “working” towels that I won’t mind getting stained or greasy.
I disliked flour sack towels until I discovered those made by Berg Bag. They are very high quality and made me a convert.
Hi, Kevin -do you think that putting iron-on fabric tape along the cut edges would work and not interfere with the cleaning properties?
Forgot to ask – do you wash them before using them the first time?
Christi Schmidt says
Great tips! I’ve always used them to dry my stemware but now I’ve learned so many more ways to utilize my flower sack towels.
I use the exact same flour sacks towels. Have tried others bought from different stores but the ones you linked to are definitely the best. Now that I am trying your bread recipes, I use these towels over the rising bread instead of plastic wrap. My grandmother always just covered her rising dough with flour sack towels.
This is such a great idea – thank you for probably the best “old things new again” home-keeping hint ever. Until I read this blog post, I had no idea that flour sack cloth was still available. I was raised by my very frugal, inventive and creative grammy who had come of age during the Great Depression, and she always used these. I don’t think I would take on her strategy of hand-hemming those, though – her stitches on everything were uniformly perfect in every needlework project but despite careful coaching mine simply never were. Just ordered, can’t wait!