Workstation with a sewing machine and finished cloths along with other textiles for upcycling.

Upcycling clothes – practical and reusable DIY cloths

Zero-waste lifestyle to your kitchen and bathroom

The topic of zero waste and the sustainable use of consumer goods is becoming more and more popular. One goal is to create alternatives to the countless disposable products in everyday life. There are many disposable products in most kitchens and bathrooms, including paper towels, cotton pads, make-up removal pads and baby wipes. According to statistics, this can make up to 19 kg of waste per person per year.

Upcycling old clothes and other household textiles can create sustainable alternatives to many disposable products. With our simple step-by-step sewing instructions, you can easily breathe new life into old garments. At the same time, you’ll replace disposable everyday items with washable and reusable multipurpose solutions.

The best material for upcycling wipes

When choosing the right materials, the textiles must be fit for their future purpose. It is also worth considering how to care for the fabrics; for example, if they are heat resistant and absorbent enough for their intended use.

Various items made from plant fibres: Textiles and towels made from cotton, viscose or linen.

Care properties of the upcycling fabric

It’s important to choose a suitable fabric for the functionality of your home-sewn items. To keep good hygiene in your household, the material choice plays an essential role.

First of all, the absorbency of the material is crucial. Both in the bathroom and in the kitchen, we are almost always using water or other liquids. Therefore, the fabric should be highly absorbent. Also, we should consider temperature resistance of the material. To remove dirt and bacteria, the fabric should be washable at high temperatures.

Natural fibres such as cotton and viscose both have these properties. Fabrics made of cotton or viscose are easy to care for, as they are highly absorbent and can be washed at high temperatures. Natural fibres are skin-friendly and are a good option for use as cosmetic or baby wipes.

AttentionIt is not uncommon for fabrics to be made of a mixture of fibres. If a textile only partly contains natural fibres, the added synthetic or animal fibres will change the properties of the fabric.

AttentionIt is not uncommon for fabrics to be made of a mixture of fibres. If a textile only partly contains natural fibres, the added synthetic or animal fibres will change the properties of the fabric.

Haptic properties of upcycled fabrics

Kitchen towels and cosmetic wipes need the same absorbent and heat resistant properties for good hygiene. However, how it feels on the skin becomes very important depending on where it is to be used.

If the wipes will be used for cleaning surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, a pleasant feel for the skin is not important. The focus is on the absorbency and temperature resistance of the fabric. Therefore, less soft materials can be suitable for this purpose. For cosmetic use, for example as a makeup remover, cotton pad or baby wipe, the surface of the fabric needs to be soft. Smooth fabrics from blouses or T-shirts are recommended for this purpose as well as soft fabrics from towels and bathrobes, or nonwoven fabrics made of cotton or viscose.

CheckFor people who are new to sewing, fabrics with low elasticity are recommended as they are much easier to work with.

CheckFor people who are new to sewing, fabrics with low elasticity are recommended as they are much easier to work with.

Upcycling: Sewing instructions for making DIY cloths using old clothes

For beginners, it’s good to start with easy projects like kitchen towels, makeup removers, or baby wipes as they are easy to sew. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can sew them by hand. As it’s handy to have several kitchen towels, it would be much quicker to use a simple household sewing machine.

In addition to a sewing machine, you will need:

  • Garments or household textiles made of natural fibres such as cotton, linen or viscose
  • Thread in a matching colour
  • Fabric scissors
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Water-soluble pen or special marking pencil
  • Sheet of paper
  • Pins
  • Iron (although not essential)

Once you have all the utensils ready, you can start sewing your cloths:

When upcycling old clothes, it makes sense to disassemble the garment into parts. Simply cut along the seams of the T-shirt, blouse etc.

Tools needed for sewing DIY cloths - fabric, scissors, thread, tape measure and ruler.

Starting with a simple rectangular shape is the easiest way is to make the DIY cloth. A good size to start with is 14 cm x 20 cm, as this is about the same size as a hand. You can always make it bigger or smaller as needed. For example, you can cut your reusable cotton pads in a smaller size and round.

Use a water-soluble pen to draw a rectangle on one of the pieces of fabric. Alternatively, you can make a template out of cardboard. The advantage of the template is that you can reuse it to make more DIY cloths at a later time.

When preparing the pattern pieces, pay attention to the so-called seam allowance, otherwise, your cloth will be smaller than planned. Add another centimetre to each side of your rectangle, making it 16 cm x 22 cm.

Cutting the individual parts for the DIY cloth with prepared stencil.

The next step is to cut the pieces of fabric. Start by laying several layers of fabric on top of each other to save cutting them all individually. Fix the layers of fabric with a few pins to prevent them from slipping. Make sure not to use too many layers, so that your scissors can still cut through them. The number of layers will depend on how thick the fabric is.

Next, get two fabric pieces ready to join them together. It makes sense to use two different fabrics. If you have patterned fabrics, then combine them with a solid colour. If your fabric is too thin, then add another layer in the middle. The colour and texture are not important as they will not be seen.

Now take the two pieces of fabric and place them right sides together, and then sew around the rectangle, about 1 cm from the edge of the fabric. When doing this, you should lock the seam by sewing backwards after the first three or four stitches. Stop sewing about 2 to 3 cm before you hit the beginning of your seam to leave an opening. To finish the seam, backtack at the end by sewing a few stitches backwards and then forward again. If you add a third layer, simply place the additional piece of fabric on top of the other two pieces right sides together.

NoteA fabric always has a right and a wrong side. The right side is the printed or pretty side and it always faces outward on garments.

NoteA fabric always has a right and a wrong side. The right side is the printed or pretty side and it always faces outward on garments.

Sew two pieces together with a sewing machine.
Making the corners - neatly flatten out each corner.

Next, turn the two joined layers of fabric inside out by bringing the inside out through the opening. Make sure you smooth out the edges and the corners to keep a nice rectangle shape. Using an iron can make this job a lot easier. For a 3 layered cloth make sure the two original layers are on the outside and the third disappears inside.

Lastly, sew a wide decorative stitch around the edge, both to close the opening and to permanently fix the shape of the rectangle. Place the edge of your sewing machine presser foot against the outer edge of your sewing product.

Finally, your reusable DIY cloth is ready to use as a kitchen or cosmetic cloth, depending on the material.

Decorative stitch to close the opening and fix the shape.
Upcycled homemade cloth in the kitchen.

Sew your own cloths for the kitchen

With enough self-sewn kitchen towels made of absorbent, durable and heat-resistant cotton, you can eliminate all paper towels from your kitchen and save a lot of waste.

Old T-shirts, sweatshirts or even flannel shirts make good fabric donors, as the feel does not play a major role for use in the kitchen. Also, two layers of fabric will be sufficient.

Kitchen cloths will soon become dirty and full of bacteria, so cleaning at high temperature is important. Washing at 60 degrees is usually sufficient to remove dirt and kill bacteria. However, if you don’t want to take any risks, you can wash the cloths at 90 degrees.

DIY makeup removal wipes

The DIY wipes made of upcycled fabrics can replace makeup removal wipes and cotton pads in the bathroom. It’s a good idea to use two different types of fabric. A good combination is a soft terrycloth from old towels, washcloths or a bathrobe, and a smooth blouse fabric.

The terrycloth is usually thick enough to make a cloth from just two layers. If you use thinner materials, you should add a third layer.

Since some cosmetic products, such as mascara, eyeliner etc, cause heavy contamination or discolouration, it is a good idea to use coloured fabrics for the upcycled cloths as slight discolouration will not be as visible. DIY makeup remover wipes can be washed at 60 or 90 degrees, depending on how dirty they are. However, washing at 60 degrees is kinder to the environment.

Finished upcycled cosmetic towel in the bathroom.

Make your own baby wet wipes

Baby wet wipes are made in the same way as cosmetic wipes described above. Follow the same instruction using the same materials and sizes.

Once the wipe is made, make a liquid to soak the wipe and then wring it out slightly so that it is damp but not wet.

To make the liquid you will need:

  • 500 ml of distilled or boiled water
  • One teaspoon of coconut oil and one teaspoon of sunflower oil
  • A pot
  • A spoon

To make the cleansing liquid for the baby wipe, heat the water in a pot to 30 to 40 degrees. Then add the coconut oil and stir until it is completely dissolved. Repeat this step with the tablespoon of sunflower oil until no bits are visible. Now wet your homemade upcycling wipes with the cleansing liquid and store the DIY wipes in a sealable, airtight container to preserve the moisture.

Conclusion

Homemade reusable wipes are an easy upcycling idea to help you bring a zero-waste lifestyle into your own household. Consciously avoiding disposable products not only reduces your own household waste but is easy on the environment and your wallet at the same time.

For those who want to reduce disposable products such as paper towels, makeup remover or baby wipes from their household, there are many other upcycling ideas to try, such as an old rain jacket made into a ‘cling film’ cover.