We’re willing to bet that right now, you have a bunch of beautiful dish towels and flour sack tea towels sitting around your house, and you aren’t sure what the heck to do with them. Maybe you bought them for the funny expressions printed on them, or perhaps they once adorned gift baskets you received and you thought they were too pretty to toss out. But now, there they sit in a drawer or on a shelf, and you don’t quite know what to do with them. How do you put those towels to good use?
We have a few ideas — 50 of them, to be exact.
What Is a Tea Towel?
First, let’s clarify what we’re talking about. What is a tea towel, and how does it differ from a dish towel (or does it)? Technically, the two have different definitions. A tea towel is a large piece of cloth — typically cotton or linen — that is intended specifically for drying dishes and cutlery. Historically, tea towels were meant for use in tea service, both as tray liners, as well as to cover scones or a teapot to keep them warm. Traditionally, tea towels are found in abundance in Ireland and England, countries where tea is a daily ritual.
Tea towels often bear beautiful designs and are meant to be decorative, while dish towels are more utilitarian in design and are made of looped, cotton terry material that dries hands and wipes countertops. The lint dish towels leave behind means that, despite common practice, they actually shouldn’t be used around food or to dry dishes at all. Save your best dish towels for hanging prettily on a hook or door handle in your kitchen, ready for drying hands.
A tea towel, on the other hand, is a kitchen workhorse with dozens of uses, including many DIY projects that take the simple tea towel out of the kitchen and give it life anywhere else you live, work, play or entertain.
Back when people used to purchase flour in 50- or 100-pound sacks, you’d see flour sacks everywhere. Their versatility, large size, heavy weight and tight weave made them indispensable when cut up and used as towels, polishing cloths, pillow cases or even as apparel.
As people have realized the many uses of flour sack tea towels and have begun cutting back on the volume of paper products used in the kitchen, flour sacks are enjoying a comeback. Although linen tea towels and terry dish towels have very different uses, we love flour sacks because they pull double duty, and work great as both dish towels AND tea towels.
Here’s why: Flour sack tea towels are usually dye-free, they’re always lint free and they are more absorbent and faster-drying than other tea towels, which is why many people — including us! — believe they are the best variety of tea towel, rather than linen, which tends not to be very absorbent. Plus, the lint-free nature of flour sacks makes them perfect for drying dishes, hands and countertops.
As icing on the cake, flour sack tea towels make a wonderful canvas for gorgeous patterns and colors if you like using them decoratively — and we do! Towels & Home even offers a design store that allows you to style your own tea towels with colors, images, artwork and text.
50 Great Uses for Tea Towels
Whether the tea towels in your home are linen or flour sack, we’ve found a bajillion ways to use them (OK, 50, we found 50). So gather those tea towels out of your cabinets that have been gathering dust and try some of our 50 favorite uses for tea towels, which go far beyond wiping dishes or making tea. In fact, you may find you cannot only use all the towels you have, but you may even need to purchase more!
In the Kitchen
Yes, OK, we know we promised we’d go beyond the kitchen. But why not start there when there are so many ingenious ways to use those towels just in the kitchen alone?
Check out our list of innovative ways to use flour sack towels in your kitchen:
1. Dry your dishes with them — Duh!
2. Folded into quarters; a flour sack tea towel makes a great potholder or oven mitt.
3. Lint-free and larger than the average dish towel, a flour sack dish towel is ideal for polishing silverware or other kitchen silver.
4. A flour sack tea towel is the perfect thing to lay over rising dough — it won’t leave lint behind, and it’s large enough to cover an entire tray.
5. Wrap baked goods or other hot foods in a flour sack tea towel to keep them warm. A towel prevents condensation from forming while also keeping in heat. A large flour sack towel can thoroughly cover a long baguette or a casserole dish.
6. With a flour sack tea towel, you can skip the salad spinner. Simply run salad greens or fresh herbs under water, lay them out flat on the towel and then roll it up to absorb the moisture.
7. Keep them rolled up and place those greens or herbs with the towel in a zip-top bag to keep them crisp.
8. Line your refrigerator’s crisper drawer with a flour sack towel — if it’s replaced often, you’ll never need to clean that mucky drawer bottom again!
9. Keep your cutting board in place by placing it atop a flour sack tea towel. Dampen the towel a bit for extra stay-put power.
10. Use a large flour sack tea towel as an apron. We love this tea towel apron from Wrapped up in Rainbows, which requires only a flour sack tea towel, scissors, pins, a sewing machine and cotton tape. So simple and adorable!
11. Go green and replace those expensive paper towels with reusable flour sack towels to wipe counters or cutting boards after chopping produce.
12. Keep a flour sack tea towel tucked into your waistband, and you’ll always have a place to wipe your hands while working in the kitchen.
13. Flour sack tea towels are super absorbent. Try laying one out flat and upturning wet glasses or other dishware that can’t go into the dishwasher onto it to drip dry.
14. Forget about shelf paper. Line your cabinets with Flour sack towels for a stable, scratch-free surface.
15. Place a flour sack tea towel between dishes or breakable items in kitchen cabinets to prevent chips, scratches or noisy clatter.
16.If you frequently use your slow cooker, you’ll love this tea towel trick for preventing condensation. Line the lid with a towel, and it’s hello to slow-cooker breads and cakes!
17. Moisten a flour sack towel and lay it flat between pots and their lids for an extra-tight seal.
18. Use a flour sack tea towel as a strainer or cheesecloth for straining stocks, yogurts or cheeses. The towel’s tight weave gives it outstanding straining power.
At the Dining Table
That kitchen workhorse moves seamlessly into dining mode. Here are a few ideas for using a flour sack tea towel at your next meal or when you entertain:
19. Obviously, a flour sack tea towel was meant to be a tea cozy. It holds in heat, keeping your teapot toasty warm.
20. Line a bread basket with a colorful flour sack tea towel. It’s pretty, keeps your bread warm and keeps it from drying out or drawing flies.
21. Flour sack towels make great trivets. Fold a flour sack tea towel and place it under a hot pan fresh from the oven.
22. Placemats can be expensive and don’t always come in the right colors or patterns for your home. Pick up some beautiful flour sack tea towels and try this trick for making your own placemats with flour sack towels. With no other supplies but flour sack tea towels, a seam ripper, a sewing machine and scissors, you have gorgeous, homemade placemats!
23. Fold them neatly and flour sack tea towels make great, eco-friendly napkins.
24. Use a flour sack tea towel as a bib for eating crabs or other messy meals, or tie one around a baby’s neck to catch those spills — far more practical than those tiny bibs, in our opinion.
25. Line a serving tray with a flour sack tea towel for a lovely spread.
26. Channel your inner Martha Stewart and sew together a set of flour sack towels to make a table runner her way.
Around Your Home
27. Give those old guest towels a break. Leave a folded set of pretty flour sack tea towels out for guests to dry their hands on in the bathroom.
28. Display pretty flour sack tea towels proudly in your living room or bedroom. With just two tea towels, a sewing machine — or needle and thread, if you’re ambitious — and pins, you can create decorative shams for throw pillows. They’re perfectly sized for boudoir pillows.
29. Turn flour sack tea towels into curtains for small windows, perhaps in your kitchen or bathroom. Keep it simple by stringing them on wire with clothespins. Or, if you have a curtain rod, cut small holes along one edge of the towel and string ribbon through them, or fold over one edge and sew it together to create a pocket through which to string the rod. You could even sew several together to make longer curtains.
30. A big flour sack tea towel is a great hair towel, because it absorbs lots of water, doesn’t cause as much frizz or static as a terrycloth towel and dries quickly.
31. Use towels as chair or sofa arm covers, or turn them into doilies to lay between furniture surfaces and jewelry boxes or other trinkets, giving instant appeal to plain surfaces and preventing dust buildup.
32. Speaking of dust, flour sack towels make excellent dusters because they leave no lint behind.
33. For this same reason, they’re also great for cleaning windows. Go natural with vinegar and water for a no-streak shine!
34. They’re also ideal for removing stains from carpets because of their absorbency and lack of dyes. Simply soak the stain in a 3:1 water-vinegar solution and lay a flour sack towel on top of it. Use a hot iron on the towel, and the towel should absorb the stain.
35. Flour sack tea towels can make beautiful art pieces — why not stretch one around a frame and hang it up? Flour sack dish towels don’t unravel, so they make a great canvas for cross stitching or embroidery. You can even use iron-on designs. Wrap it around an existing art canvas and staple it on the back to fix it into place.
36. Wrap gifts, such as soaps, wine, bottled oils or fruit, in decorative tea towels. We love this method for wrapping a bottle of wine! Or go for a more rustic look by simply placing the bottle or gift in the center of the towel, decorative side facing down, gathering the towel up around the bottom, pulling it up around the sides and tying it with a ribbon.
37. If you’re feeling crafty, sew in drawstrings and make it into a tote or bread bag.
38. Line a gift basket with spa items, oils, snacks, books or more. The towel can add to the theme and become a useful addition to the recipient’s home.
39. Use towels instead of wrapping paper on boxed gifts, like these from Merriment Events. Tie them into simple knots on the top, or duplicate the look of taped paper by stringing ribbons and bows around the package to secure the folded towel. No more wrapping paper to throw away! Use big, pretty ribbons, twine, raffia or even neckties for a creative look.
Other Ingenious Flour Sack Dish Towel Hacks
40. Bundle ice inside it for an instant ice pack.
41. Do what Van Gogh did: Use a flour sack tea towel as a substitute canvas for painting.
42. Replace your handkerchiefs with flour sack towels. They’re plenty absorbent!
43. Is your kid appearing in the Christmas nativity play? Turn that flour sack tea towel into a shepherd’s headdress!
44. Wrap breakables with flour sack towels when you move.
45. Turn a flour sack tea towel into a makeshift cloth diaper or burp cloth.
46. Keep a flour sack tea towel in the car for dusting the dashboard or wiping the windshield when it gets fogged up or accumulates that cloudy, greasy residue.
47. Keep flour sack towels in your cooler or picnic basket so you’re prepared for dirty seats in the great outdoors. Flour sack tea towels are essential picnic items, perfect for wiping down plates or utensils or laying over picnic tables as handy tablecloths.
48. Find yourself grabbing lunch in the car? Lay a flour sack towel across your lap to catch crumbs and drips.
49. How’s this for an instant dog toy? Take three flour sack tea towels — cut two thin strips of cloth off one of them — and tie them at one end with one strip. Braid the towels tightly together and tie off the other end.
And if all else fails and you simply need to unload a few towels, remember:
50. Donate them to pet shelters or other nonprofits who can use them as rags, cage liners, bath or kitchen items and more.
Cleaning Your Flour Sack Tea Towels
Using your flour sack towels safely in the kitchen means making sure they’re properly cleaned. Kitchen towels are a breeding ground for Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and lots of other nasty bacteria, and many of us do a lot of things with our towels that we shouldn’t.
Follow these tips for using your towels safely and hygienically in the kitchen, and making sure they’re around and doing great things for you for a long time to come:
· Never use the same towel to dry your hands as you do to dry dishes.
· Keep towels away from surfaces where meat has been.
· Your sink is germy — keep your towels away from it, and that includes when you’re cleaning the sink.
· Don’t use towels with chemical cleaning products. The chemical residue runs the risk of contaminating your food or your hands when you wipe them.
· Don’t put towels on your countertops, where bacteria from foods can collect on the towels. Keep them hanging on hooks or the oven handle, where they dry faster and are far away from raw foods or chemicals.
· Wash your towels a LOT. Your kitchen towels should be washed every couple of days — immediately if they’ve touched food.
Before you use your flour sack dish towels and tea towels for any craft project or at the dinner table, make sure they’re as clean as they can be. We recommend washing them in hot water on either the regular or heavy-duty cycle. And never use fabric softener on a flour sack tea towel — it ruins the absorbency.
Do you have another brilliant and fun use for tea towels? Let us know about it. And now that you have 50 new ideas for using them, be sure to pick up a few more flour sack towels before you go!