Using Knitted Dishcloths – Making them and Keeping them Clean

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Knitted dishcloths are a great alternative to disposable cloths. Here are some tips on making and using knitted dishcloths, including how to clean them.

The first time I heard of knitted dishcloths I thought ‘why would anyone want to knit dishcloths?’ Even taking into account the environmental benefit of ditching disposables and reusing the same cloths over and over, surely, I thought, it would be easier to just recycle rags.

Then I got my first dishcloth in an internet swap and promptly fell in love. The knitted texture makes the cloths great for cleaning. So if, like me, you’re wondering why you would bother, try one out. You may be surprised like I was.

making and using knitted dishcloths

What are knitted dishcloths used for?

Knitted dishcloths are great for handwashing dishes because the knitted texture helps with the cleaning.

But beyond washing dishes, dishcloths also make great cleaning rags for wiping down benches and cleaning the bathroom.

Why use a knitted cloth over a microfibre cloth?

When you use a knitted dishcloth made from cotton, microfibres aren’t being shed into the waterways. Microfibre is made from plastic, and the accumulation of microfibres are becoming an environmental problem.

And while cotton isn’t a perfect option either, it’s not plastic and it can be composted at the end of its life, reducing waste. If you can opt for organic cotton.

I like to colour code my cloths so I’m not cleaning the toilet with the dishcloth (eeeewww). Yellow cloths are for bathroom cleaning in our house.

knitted dishcloth patterns

Making your own dishcloths

If you are wanting to learn how to knit, dishcloths make an excellent first project.

It doesn’t matter if your knitting looks like the dog’s breakfast (as many of my first attempts did), you are only cleaning with them anyway.

If you prefer not to knit at all, you can make great cleaning cloths by recycling old towels. Here’s a tutorial on how to make double-sided cleaning cloths.

What yarn is best for knitted dishcloths?

The best yarn to knit dishcloths is organic cotton yarn or regular cotton if you can’t get that.

Cotton blends also work well; a cotton bamboo blend is nice. Another option is mercerised cotton used for crocheting doilies. This is a stiffer yarn.

Ideally, you want to stay away from acrylic yarn because the acrylic sheds microfibres and it can’t be composted at the end of its lifecycle.

However, if you have a cotton acrylic blend already, it’s best to use up what you’ve already got on hand. On the upside, the acrylic blend dries quickly.

The worst choice is wool because it can felt when exposed to lots of water and scrubbing.

using knitted dishcloths

How to knit a dishcloth

If you’re new to knitting, start with an easy pattern. You can find a bunch of dishcloth patterns here.

You will need some yarn, knitting needles (or crochet hook if you prefer), and a darning needle. To choose the right size needles, check the recommendation on the yarn wrapper.

The great thing about dishcloths is that it doesn’t matter how rough the knitting is because you’re only cleaning with them. It’s a great first project to get started with knitting. Or crocheting if you prefer.

Knit the pattern on repeat until the dishcloth is square. You can check it’s square by folding it in half on the diagonal. Once the sides match up, it’s square.

Cast off, tie off the yarn, then using a darning needle, weave then loose threads into the dishcloth to hide.

How to clean and sanitize dishcloths

It’s a good idea to start a new day with a fresh new dishcloth. That way, you don’t have germs building up and the dishcloth getting funky.

To avoid funk, rinse out your dishcloth each time you use it in cold water and hang to dry. Don’t leave it in a crumpled ball in the sink.

Bacteria loves hot moist environments to grow, so rinsing it in cold water and then hanging to dry will help keep the dishcloth from going yucky.

If you’re wondering how to teach the rest of the family not to leave the dishcloth in a wet pile in the sink, then I can’t help. We haven’t managed that in our household yet either.

At the end of each night, either hang in the laundry to dry or put in a bucket of water that has nappy soaker or oxy bleach to sanitize them.

Then, when it’s washing day, wash in the washing machine with other items to make up a full load. I usually wash mine with the towels.

Dealing with stinky dishcloths

Dishcloths can get stinky even if you’re careful with drying them. You have a few options for restoring their clean, fresh smell.

The first option is to boil them in a pot of water for 15 minutes. Boiling will sanitize and deodorise.

Another option is to leave it to sit in a solution of water, vinegar and bicarb soda. Add 1 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of bicarb soda to a bucket of water, leave to soak for an hour or so. Rinse the dishcloths and wash in the washing machine as normal.

Don’t leave them to sit in vinegar overnight, because the vinegar can go mouldy, especially when it’s hot and humid. I learned that from experience.

The final option is to soak the dishcloths in a solution of water and bleach. Chlorine bleach (normal household bleach) is cheap and easy to get but NOT environmentally friendly, but it is cheap. If your dishcloths are coloured, the colour will fade if you bleach them. It’s important that you DON’T mix bleach with other cleaners or vinegar. It can create toxic fumes.

A more environmentally friendly alternative is hydrogen peroxide, which you can find in the chemist. It also disinfects and removes odours.

Do you use knitted dishcloths? What are your tips for using dishcloths?

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  1. Hi Melissa,

    I too use knitted dishcloths and I also knit them in the same pattern as you. I love them because they last so long. I don’t use mine anywhere else but the kitchen and use rags for the other cleaning jobs and pop them into a bucket with the soaker each day. If I wipe down the benches with one it goes straight into the bucket to soak. I hate wet smelly dishcloths and always dry mine over the tap. Must try the rinse in cold water though as I always have rinsed out with hot water. I usually have a cloth going on the needles as I like to have something to do and I agree with you that knitting is very relaxing if you have five minutes to spare. :)

    1. Hi Sharon, I never think to knit any other pattern, I enjoy this one so much :). RInsing in water may possibly be an old wives tale that my nan told me :) but I can see the logic of it. I also feel ‘itchy’ if I’m not doing something with my hands especially while watching the box.

    1. Hi, off the top of my head, I can think of a few alternatives:

      soaking in water and vinegar
      soaking in water and hydrogen peroxide bleach (more eco than chlorine bleach)
      rinsing and drying well then just throwing in the wash and not soaking at all.
      or I’m thinking water with a little eucalyptus or tea tea oil added might work also, but I haven’t tried it – just wondering if the oil would just float on the top??? but eucalyptus can disinfect and make them smell nice.

  2. Mary Jane says:

    What is ‘nappy soaker’?

    1. PeggySue Lesperance says:

      Nappy soaker would be something like Dreft.

  3. PeggySue Lesperance says:

    How much will the cotton shrink in the clothes dryer?

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Not sure. As they are cleaning cloths, I probably wouldn’t worry about shrinkage.

  4. I received a hand knit washcloth several years from a cousin who made them out of Sugar & Cream cotton yarn. She used to gift these to everyone. She has now passed and I have decided that I would like to knit some. Her knitting is very tight and close together and I don’t know what she did to get the finished product to look l Ike that. What do I do with them once my knitting is finished? I’ve seen some postings regarding boiling water but that tip seems to be for disinfecting the cloths. Can you please help me?

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Judy, you could try using a thinner pair of knitting needles for tighter knitting. Also, the pattern plays a part in how the finished product will look, so a tight weave pattern might be a good choice. I don’t do anything to finish my cloths off except for knot the ends and weave the tails into the cloth.

  5. As n alternative to soaking the cloths, you could lay them out in the sun in your backyard. Sun kills germs as well as drying it out :)

  6. I use knitted cotton dishcloths and they last for years! I wash mine once a week with the towels, but I live in a very dry climate where a wrung out cloth will dry overnight. About the smell: I have done extensive research on this – this is most of the time related to the dish soap one is using – avoid all Dawns and Palmolives, no matter what type of cloth you use. I have used yellow sunlight and any of the method brands, and my cloths never smell.