Live Green and Earn Points


The List

7 DIY Swaps For Disposable Items 5

By |

Single-use always equals more waste. Here are some easy DIY substitutions for common single-use cleaning and food-storage products.

I’m all for having a clean house and an organized fridge, but it can be mind-boggling when I consider the waste I’ve created using single-use cleaning products over the years. This got me wondering: Why do I use the products I use everyday? Disposable products claim to be more convenient, but are they really? Is it more convenient to always be buying paper towels than to have a stock of cloth cleaning towels and do a load of laundry now and again? Sometimes a paper towel is just the only thing for the job, but for many household tasks, a reusable absorbent towel does the trick as well or better.

From paper towels to produce bags that claim to be biodegradable, my trashcan would quickly overflow if I routinely used all these supposedly handy-but-wasteful products. So, I’m reevaluating my use of disposable products around the house in an effort to reduce my family’s overall waste footprint.

Thank goodness for crafty folks who are similarly sustainable-minded (and thrifty!). You can find DIY instructions to make reusable replacements for just about every type of single-use and disposable product, many of which upcycle otherwise disposable items to make something that’s far longer lasting.

I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites below, and because not all of us have the skills or the time for DIY projects, I’ve also included a link for each one where you can purchase them instead.

1. Crochet Reusable Mop Pads

There’s no doubt that mops with disposable pads like the Swiffer were a fantastic cleaning innovation. But I hate the idea of having to buy batteries to operate a mop, and having to throw away the cleaning pad every time, even if the designers claim that it has its own sustainability savings. If you don’t like the strong chemical smell of the store-bought cleaning solution, you can make your own with white vinegar as the base, and you can make reusable pads with a fuzzy sock or a crochet hook and some yarn. Can’t crochet? Buy a mop pad on Etsy.

2. Homemade Baby Wipes

Baby wipes can’t be flushed, they’re not recyclable or compostable. And as a young mom, I was surprised to discover that whatever is in those wipes is potent enough to rub marker off walls! — Did I really want those harsh chemicals on my baby’s tush? A far better option is a stack of homemade baby wipes made from baby wash cloths or cotton flannel, and a custom-mixed solution. You can even soak and store the wipes in an old baby-wipes container, just like the disposable version! Or just buy a set of reusable cotton wipes.

3. “Unpaper” Towels

Paper towels are so ubiquitous, for wiping up spills, cleaning counters, catching drips, and cleaning grape-juice-smiles on the way out the door to school. And it’s so convenient to pull a square off the roll that lives right on the counter. I was totally charmed by the tutorial for these unpaper towels, which even snap together and roll onto a reusable plastic-mesh tube, so they can fit onto your countertop paper towel holder. But it if seems like a lot of work to make, you can buy a set from an etsy designer.

4. Pillowcase Shopping Bags

The downside of reusable shopping bags is that they eventually get filthy. I never know how to wash many of those cheapie plastic ones, but canvas or cotton versions can be thrown in the washing machine with your kitchen towels and table linens. This project uses old pillowcases to stitch up grocery bags. They’re the perfect size, easy to wash, and compact to roll up and store in your purse. And I love the idea of scouring thrift stores for old pillowcases in pretty patterns. I also like these upcycled shopping bags that are made from colorful animal-feed sacks.

5. T-Shirt Produce Bags

I try to avoid using produce bags unless I need to — why does my cucumber need its own bag? But when I do, I prefer the reusable bags over taking the plastic ones from the roll in the produce department. You can make your own ventilated bags from old T-shirts, and this version doesn’t even require knowing how to sew! Another option is to crochet your own bags using cotton yarn, or buy this pretty version, which is made from old lace curtains.

6. Cleaning Wipes

I once bought a container of cleaning wipes, thinking that it would be an easy way to keep my bathroom counter pristine. But I hated the overwhelming chemical smell, not to mention how the headache-inducing cleanser solution lingered on my hands. But there’s no doubt that it’s so expedient to have a wipe, already soaked with cleaner, at the ready. Here’s a clever instructional for using dishrags and a jar to make your own cleaning wipes. You could also cut up old T-shirts or similar cloths to make the wipes from that.

7. Sandwich and Snack Bags

If you pack as many school lunches as I do, you probably go through a lot of zip-top bags. They’re ideal, not just for lunches, but also for portable snacks and stashing leftovers. I am excited to make up a few different sized versions of cute reusable bags with this tutorial. There are also plenty of cute handcrafted versions available from Etsy vendors, too.

Reducing waste (and saving money in the long run) often comes down to making a few simple shifts in our habits, but I’ve found my new ways of doing things around the house have actually made my chores more enjoyable because I’m using natural cleaners and nice cloths that I’ve invested in, and on top of that, I feel good about using products that reduce waste.

Whether you tackle a project for making a reusable, or simply buy it from an independent artisan or an online source, it’s always a great idea to find a reusable option for the many single-use items we’re used to using.


What reusable items have you swapped in place of disposables? Share your favorites in the comments below.

Share with Your Friends & Family
About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Karen K. 23 days ago
    I prefer cotton underpants--which are, by definition, highly absorbent. When they wear out, I dispose of the crotch and elastic, and just use the body for cleaning over and over. (After all, cotton washes...) These things are soft, absorbent, and we've used them for years and years past their 'human use' lifespan. (Learned this one from my mother.)
    • Jessica K. 1 day ago
      I've done the same! So many clothing items can be repurposed once worn out! I've even used cut-up cotton clothes for hankies.
  • Alane F. 1 month ago
    I use old towels and tee shirts for almost all my dusting and cleaning. Kitchen counters, floors, etc. They look so much better when you dry them immediately after cleaning. Also drying dishes, especially big pots and pans.
    I also use old clothing for quilting. I’ve made 3 denim quilts from all the not quite wearable jeans.
  • Lucy S. 2 months ago
    Try to find at least one more use for any "single-use" item. Example: reuse those anti-bacterial wipes (from dispensers, outside of grocery stores) to wipe up stuff you cannot/don't want to wash, then dispose of them - properly, of course! I think these cloths are landfill-destined anyway, so of course best to avoid using at all, whenever possible.
  • Angela B. 2 months ago
    My husband and I buy natural cloth, as much as possible; so stuff made out of cotton or other plant-based fibers. When these cloths wear out, we bury them in the yard/compost them to return them to the earth. :-)
  • Audrey N. 2 months ago
    For Xmas I bought my mom crocheted dish Scrubbies that you can use over and over again. She thought it was the greatest gift ever and said next year she wants 20 of them.
  • View More