Cheesecloth can have a variety of uses – but it finds its main role in the kitchen in cheesemaking and other food-related tasks. If you are a seasoned (pardon the pun…) cook or cheesemaker, you may find yourself spending a lot of money on one-time use cheesecloth. As well as the cost, it also results in more waste to dispose of. If you don’t have a compost pile cheesecloth is highly likely to end up in landfill. With this in mind, is cheesecloth reusable?
What is cheesecloth made from?
Cheesecloth is generally made from cotton, although synthetic varieties made from polyester are also available. Different grades are available, from a tight weave to a loose weave. The tighter weave simply has more cotton threads per inch than the loose weave variety – making the gaps between threads smaller. The variety of grades available make cheesecloth an extremely versatile piece of kitchen kit.
Can cheesecloth be reused?
The answer to this is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ unfortunately. It depends on a few factors. The synthetic, polyester variety will certainly last longer than the more traditional cotton cheesecloths. Whilst the higher the grade – the more threads per inch in the cloth – the more sturdy it is likely to be. The quality of the cloth to begin with is also a key factor. Some of the inexpensive varieties may not even stand up to one use, never mind several!
However, one saving grace for the cotton variety is its ability to biodegrade. It can be broken down by micro-organisms and return to nature after you have used it. Simply cut it up and mix it in with the compost pile – it makes a great carbon-rich addition.
How to wash cheesecloth
You should ideally deal with the cheesecloth straight away after using. Don’t throw it in the laundry basket for a few days and forget about it – a used cheesecloth is an ideal place for mold to thrive! Before popping it in the sink or washing machine to wash, rinse off any excess food. If you are hand washing it, you can add some baking soda to the mix (about 30 grams per liter, although you don’t need to be too precise here) to remove any stubborn stains. Leave it to soak for about half an hour and that should do the trick. If not, many people swear by adding white vinegar to the baking soda solution. Afterwards, boil the cheesecloths in water for around 5 minutes – this will ensure they are sterile for next use.
If you are opting to use the washing machine, it is really important that you avoid using fabric softener or particularly strong or fragrant detergent. This will remain on the cloth and can easily leach into the food when you come to use it again.
As always, we advise hanging them to dry – outdoors if possible – rather than using a tumble dryer. The dryer will add extra stress to the already delicate cloth. So, we recommend you avoid it. If you do opt for the tumble dryer, avoid using dryer sheers. As with the fabric softener, this will add an unwanted layer of chemicals on the cheesecloth which can contaminate your food. These are plenty dryer sheet alternatives available.
Alternatives to cheesecloth
If you want to avoid waste or cut down the cost of continually buying cheesecloth, there are other alternatives that you may have in your home already. Since cheesecloth is just cotton in most cases, you can replicate it with other cotton items. A pillowcase, a cotton shirt or a cloth napkin will work well. However, it will depend on what you are using the cheesecloth for. If you want to replicate the effect of a loose weave cheesecloth you could use a fine mesh sieve. This will work particularly well if you are using it for draining, for example.
The bottom line
Not all cheesecloth is made equally! Some last, some don’t. What it is being used for, the grade and the quality of the original material all play a role. You can simply throw it in the washing machine with your other dish cloths or handwash it – just ensure you avoid excess bleach and fabric softener. Alternatively, other cheesecloth-like options are available in most households. These generally will have more longevity than the cheesecloth. Reducing waste and saving you money in the process. It’s a win-win!