A (Frugal) Cheesecloth Alternative

frugal cheesecloth alternatives

It’s funny to think that merely 2 years ago, I didn’t even know what cheesecloth was, let alone have a need for it.

However, now that my kitchen has been transformed into a real food workshop, I find myself needing all sorts of “weird” items.

Cheesecloth has many uses. Most commonly it’s used in various forms of cheesemaking (duh), but it also works great as a strainer for broth, jellies, or soft cheeses like yogurt or kefir cheese.

If you walk into your run-of-the-mill store asking for cheesecloth, the clerk will scratch his head and then most likely send you to the hardware department where they will point you to a poor, gauze-like, excuse for the stuff. Don’t be tempted, it doesn’t work! The “fabric” is flimsy and the holes are too big. It’s not really designed for kitchen use.

The other option is to find a high-end kitchen supply store, as they sometimes carry it. (But not Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Been there, done that…)

OR, my solution to this problem?

Go grab a package of diapers.

Wait a second. Crinkly, disposable diapers are probably the first thing that came to your mind, right?

Nope, not those ones. I’m talking the old-fashioned, cloth kind.

You know, the cheapie ones that create a big, leaky mess if you use them on your baby? Well, they make horrible diapers, but perfect cheesecloth!

Really, all they are is a big ol’ linen-style napkin. They aren’t fuzzy, so you don’t have to worry about fabric bits ending up in your cheese.

(You can get a 10-pack on Amazon for around $14. That should last you quite a while…)

But, if you do decide to go this route, make sure you buy a package specifically for kitchen use and mark them with a Sharpie.

Lemme say that one more time: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use these interchangeably on your baby and cheese.

That.would.be.gross.

Thankfully, I use the high-tech version of cloth dipes on Prairie Baby (look for a future post on that, by the way!), so I don’t have to worry about any confusion.

I’ve used this technique for all sorts of cheese projects, and it’s worked great. Maybe someday I’ll get around to ordering some real, official cheesecloth from Cultures for Health, but for now, I’m happy with my diapers!

Fresh out of diapers? Try these alternatives instead!

  • Muslin fabric
  • A clean pillowcase
  • A clean sheet
  • A tea towel

Do you ever use cheesecloth in your kitchen? Do you use the ‘real’ stuff, or a creative alternative?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

 

 

Comments

  1. What a great idea!!!I have been using the DIY store version of cheesecloth for sometime, and while it works for my yogurt straining, it’s less than ideal – and a waste since I can’t rinse and reuse it.

    • For yogurt straining I use a mens white handkerchief. Works great! Be sure to hand wash and rinse throughly after each use. Makes the perfect consistency of yogurt.

  2. I’ve been using flour sack towels. I scored a bunch some time ago, something like 4 for $5. They are huge.

    • I love flour sack towels, but seem to have a hard time finding them!

      • I just saw them at Target. 4 pack for $3.99!

        • Really? Will have to look next time I go to town! Thanks for the heads up!

          • Valerie says:

            At our local WM, they’re 5 for $5.50. Years ago, I used cloth diapers for everything, but they seem to be harder to find than the flour sack towels. The towels are a great cheesecloth substitute. I cut a batch into quarters, ran them thru the serger and use them in place of paper towels. They get better and softer with use and dont leave any lint behind!

          • Kathryn says:

            They generally have flour sack towels at Ikea for about $0.79 each.

  3. I bought a cheap white top sheet ($3 @ stuffmart) cut it into squares and ran it thru my washer on hot water a few times, then boiled them once or twice, and washed them –yeah, I am a bit anal about the possible chemicals on the cloth lol– dried them and voila! An awesome thin alternative to cheesecloth. It works fabulously, cleans easily, and was inexpensive. The sheet cost less than a pack if the loose woven poorly made cheesecloth.

    • This is a great idea too!! And good idea about the repeated washings, I totally agree about the icky chemicals.

    • Mish Roark says:

      I use my husband and kids old t-shirts. I cut them into the proper shape for general purpose, wash them good the use them for all sorts of stuff like straining my new batch of Apple cider vinegar. With a large active family we end up with a lot of t-shirts in our “rag bucket” on a monthly basis.

  4. Never thought of those. Going to buy me a pack!

  5. What a great idea, it is such a pain to find real cheese cloth thanks for the great tip.

  6. petra lonowski says:

    I use tea towels (I think its the same as the flour sack towels mentioned above) You might find them in a hardware store. I got mine at Menards for under three dollars for ten or so. Its been a while so I don’t quite remember how many came to a pack. they work perfectly.

    • I will have to check our Home Depot or Lowes next time I’m there. I would really like to grab some of these. Can think of many, many uses for them!

  7. Hi…I found some “bar mops” at Sams and have them for my kitchen, bees, and cheese needs. They work great, last a long time, launder well, and are CHEAP!

  8. What a great idea! I can find decent cheesecloth at my grocery store, but it’s anything but frugal. Are you sure you mean prefold diapers though? That’s the kind with additional layers in the middle. Would flat diapers be more like cheesecloth?

    • Whoops! Thanks for catching that Danielle! I got my diapers confused- I meant the single layer, flat diapers. Not the pre-folds! Fixing it right now. ;)

  9. Large Cotton Diapers – these work the best!

    Light weight kitchen towels.

    Extra large handkerchiefs – as good as cotton diapers: MPO.

    Old pillowcases … in a pinch :-)

    ~Val

  10. You cracked me up. I use cheesecloth a lot. I buy it at our dollar store a lot of times, but I like the diaper idea a lot, too. I’m going to see if I can find them.

    Thanks for the tip!

  11. Great idea! I’ve used cloth diapers for other purposes, but I never thought of using one this way. We’ve used flour sack towels for straining our milk, but now we use one of those inexpensive white sheer curtains for our milk, butter, cheese, and also for straining sorghum syrup when we make it. We cut it into the sizes we want, and it doesn’t tear up the way cheesecloth sometimes does. We first saw one hanging on a line at a friends house in an Amish community. They had been using it for straining their sorghum.

    Blessings,

    Sherry

  12. Awesome tip once I realized your weren’t talking about prefolds…lol.

  13. I LOVE this! Thanks for sharing at Traditional Tuesdays! I haven’t made cheese yet since our oldest is allergic to cow’s milk, but I do have some frozen goat’s milk that I hope to try my hand at in making cheese soon. I had bought some cheesecloth this past year on sale, but now I have another great option!

    Thanks again!

  14. I’m with Adrienne, can’t do cow’s milk cheese right now, but I’m seriously interested in the benefits of making my own coconut milk from fresh coconuts and it seems like cheesecloth is needed for that too. Definitely going to give this tip a try!

  15. I use cloth diapers for many things around the house. (Have a bundle of cheesecloth in my kitchen, but can never find it when I want to use it.) The best other use I’ve ever found for the diapers is as dust cloths! Personally, I HATE dusting the furniture, but this does do an EXCELLENT job. Even better that all the “new” stuff out there.

  16. Great idea! I use sheer curtains too but I think the diapers might work even better. I need the sheers for bagging seed heads in the garden anyway.

  17. Big Dave says:

    In my local grocery, they sell a 2-pack of large (24×36 in.) linen squares, which they call flour sack (it isn’t), for $1. It’s great as a standing for cheesecloth. I leave some whole. Others I cut in 1/2 and hem, so I get 4 cloths for $1 that way. I use it to cover rising bread, straining anything and everything, and, in a pinch, I use it as a dish towel. There is definitely more than one way to strain a cat. :)

  18. Big Dave says:

    stand-in …duh!

  19. Amy Hughes says:

    my favorite is the butter muslin from Hoegges goat supply and they ave a great cheese press liner I live that is synthetic…I use it against the cheese w/ the mudlin underneath as it does not collect hair in the washer like the cloth does!

  20. I use old, clean white t-shirts (the undershirts that men where) for straining juice for jelly, broth, butter…anything that needs to be strained. I haven’t made cheese before so not sure if it would for that but it works great for all other liquids. Great way to repurpose t-shirts.

  21. Love everyone’s ideas! I’ve been using some old cloth hankerchiefs that were handed down to me, but they are starting to get a big ragged. I’ll have to look for some flour sacks or cheap diaper at Target next time I am there! (I also love the idea of using curtain sheers to bag seedheads in the garden: brilliant!!!

  22. I haven’t made much cheese yet, although I’ve done a lot of yogurt. For smaller straining needs, unbleached coffee filters have worked (the organic ones were a clearance item at our store), but the best reusable cloth is my stash of “off limits for anything else” collection of simple cotton dish towels from Ikea. They sell them for $0.79, and they’re large enough to cut into several smaller bits for more projects. And they survive laundry exceptionally well. The red stripe on these is a good “hands off!” colour code for my husband, too, so he leaves them be. :)

    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10100909/

    I also thought of sewing some hanging loops into the corners of the towel bits. That way, I could hang ricotta-style cheeses to dry from those loops, without having to hope and pray for my lame knots to hold. I’ll have to give those diapers a look, though. I remember my mom used to have those in the kitchen when I was a kid, and was surprised, when the cheesecloth at grocery stores wasn’t like it.

    • Those tea towels sound wonderful! And what a great idea of sewing some loops into them as wel… I’ve had issues with my lame knot tying skills as well. Such as mess when they don’t hold! :)

    • THANK YOU! I got everything ready and cooked and can’t find my package of cheesecloth; I’ll try the coffee filters!

      • “THANK YOU! I got everything ready and cooked and can’t find my package of cheesecloth; I’ll try the coffee filters!”
        They weree a bit challenging but this is my first time making it. First tsste–oh my goodness, is this a woonderful food. TY all for sharing!

  23. We use raw cow’s milk and cream to make butter, yogurt and have tried cream cheese and we have started using sheer curtains instead of cheesecloth. Never really thought of using cloth diapers. Will have to try that! Thanks!

    • Curtains- what a good idea! I’m thinking there are lots of ways to get around buying the expensive cheese cloth. ;)

  24. We use Daddy’s old t-shirts, cut into large squares.

    • Love the old TShirt idea! We have such a surplus of those and they aren’t as great for cleaning up spills as old towels are, so they usually get shifted to the back of the rag box.

      I’ve been using a jelly bag to strain my yogurt and cheeses. The bag and stand keeps things neat and compact, which is important in my small, apartment kitchen, and very easy to load/unload the goods.

  25. my grandmother used old sheets that were worn thin for stuff like this, make sure they’re 100% cotton, not wrinkle-free. Some stores still carry flour in cloth sacks, you can get a look at the texture that way, for free haha. I made a dress in high school, in the 60′s from flour sacks with little pink flowers. Cheese cloth needs to me doubled, folded in half, when the holes are too large. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers used whatever they had, recycling at its best :) They used to steam plum ‘pudding’ with bags they sewed out of old sheets, too.

  26. I have purchased the large 24″ by 24″ flour sack towels at Walmart until recently. I was at a fabric store and was amazed to find they sold cheesecloth (the good sturdy kind) by the bolt! I bought the whole bolt :) Yogurt cheese here I come.

  27. Great ideas you guys! I will offer one caveat – try to make sure the cloth you are using has no fire retardant chemicals…it can’t be washed out, from what I understand :( we use organic unbleached butter muslin in our kits and for our classes.

  28. I use muslin. I get a pack of 4 I think it is, at Ikea for less than €5. I cut them according to which ferment I need them for (jar sizes) and wala! Works amazingly well, is affordable, re-useable. and fun as you can get different designs if you want. I usually use plain white, but I do have some pink. lol

  29. I use muslin. I get a pack of 4 I think it is, at Ikea for less than €5. I cut them according to which ferment I need them for (jar sizes) and wala! Works amazingly well, is affordable, re-useable and fun as you can get different designs if you want.

  30. Great ideas. Will be using them. I was getting my cheesecloth through the buying club. I just have one tip. I tie the top of my cheesecloth with a rubber band, tight. Then I put one of the rubber band loops over a plastic hanger, and hang the hanger from my cupboard. Never had any problems.

  31. I make soft goat cheese (a kind of Chevre) and use whatever I can to strain, including many layers of regular cheesecloth, and/or a bandana (white, sterilized and dedicated to cheesemaking, of course).

  32. I can’t remember what I was looking for that I wound up here. But after reading the comments, I thought I should add what I use for straining juices, 1-Gallon Paint Strainers, found at Lowes or Home Depot, or any hardware or paint store, a package of 2 for $2.00. They have an elastic top, appear to be made of nylon, and are lint free and transluscent (you can see through it).

  33. Shoshana London Sappir says:

    This is funny. Living in Israel, I didn’t know there was such a thing as “cheesecloth.” All I knew was that to make homemade cheese you need cloth diapers. I bought a pack of 6 but usually need only a quarter of a diaper to cover the strainer. I use a whole cloth diaper to make a kind of sour, Middle Eastern spreading cheese: mix half a liter of plain yogurt with 1 teaspoon salt, place in cloth diaper, hang over sink to drip for 12-24 hours, and it’s ready.

    • Love your comment…
      I now find it funny that I didn’t think I could use an old sheet.
      I think I would rather cause I know where it’s been and how clean it is, etc. I use really mild eco-friendly detergent without perfumes…so, yeah!

      Thanks for this post. Now off to strain my cold and flu tonic with an old sheet!

  34. I use muslin for lots of things, not just cheese making! In Australia its easy to buy it from a big fabric store, (Spotlight) 36 ” wide, for $2 a metre, (just over a yard), made in China. Its commonly used here to wrap new born babies, especially summer-born ones. Its light, soft and gives them that tight wrapped feeling without being hot. It makes great mosquitoe/fly nets for cots and folded a few times and sewn together makes beautifully soft wash-clothes for babies. I use my old cot throw as a food cover now for when we eat outdoors. I’ve even made gauze-y flowing curtains from it! I keep a length in the cupboard for whenever I need a clean piece in the kitchen.

  35. It is so awesome to see this! I have been doing this for a while for the same reason, didn’t have a cheesecloth, kept meaning to go about finding one, just haven’t yet, and happened to have some unused cloth diapers in my baby shower’s stash…….Love It! ;) Great minds think alike I suppose, use what you got

    • Dontcha just love it when things work out like that? I’ll probably never buy “real” cheesecloth, I love the diapers too much, ha!

  36. melissa alder says:

    I have found cheesecloth at Walmart in the sewing dept. The price was like 2 and 4 dollars depending on the size package you purchase. My husband uses it for making jelly. Hope that helped someone :)

  37. Nasreen Kabir says:

    never thought of this thanks my baby will be 37 next month so will use them for cheese only

  38. Linda Manuel says:

    Well, I just figured out a wonderful and cheap alternative to cheesecloth! I live in a rural area with a 90 mile round trip to the store – so…..for an alternative to cheesecloth:

    Take a regular strainer about the size of a coffee filter – put the coffee filter inside the strainer and voila! strained, clear chicken stock!

  39. Lesson from today – number of local stores that have cheese cloth = few. Once found, pack of cheesecloth = +$3.50. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, has 2 packs of flour sack cloths for less than $2.00. Cheese cloth = one use, then toss. Flour sack cloths = wash and reuse. And less aggravation chasing around looking for cheese cloth.

    • Mrs Cahill says:

      Thank you for that. My Husband and I went around in circles the other day in Walmart looking for Cheese Cloth, also Toothpicks. Could not find either and no Employees knew…not surprised, of course. Harris Teeter was the only place we found the Cheese Cloth and it was more then I had expected to pay when I remember it being much cheaper a long time ago when I used to can and make Perserves.

      • Toothpicks are in the kitchen-gadgets aisle at Walmart, usually on a bottom shelf by the matches and ashtrays. :-) I bought a box of toothpicks when I moved into this apartment 2 years ago, and it’s still almost full! I use an old-fashioned metal cake tester – it cost maybe $1 – that hangs on a thumbtack on the back of a cabinet door and I found a great reusable toothpick-on-a-handle in the toothbrush area of a drugstore, which substitute nicely for throwaway toothpicks.
        WM does also sell the mesh-like cheesecloth in the fabric department, but since it’s such a PITB to use I bought a yard of unbleached muslin for 99 cents and got 12 foot-square(ish) pieces out of it. If I sewed I’d hem the edges but I just used pinking shears to cut them.
        The men’s handkerchiefs idea is a very good one – back in the day I used to drain yogurt for yogurt cheese in an old bandanna! LOL

  40. I need to get a lot for cheap because were making a mummy

  41. I’ve been told not to use anything but organic fabric, as all other fabric (especially fabric for infants) has fire retardant chemicals added during manufacturing that don’t ever come out in the wash, no matter how many times the item is washed…

    • Hmmm- I didn’t know that. I am aware of the chemicals in children’s sleepwear, but didn’t know it would be in cloth diapers too?

    • With the comments on chemicals in children’s fabrics; if it won’t wash out no matter how many times you wash it, then why would it come off on your food? I am asking in all seriousness.

  42. We have forced hot air heat, and every fall when I turn it on for the first time, all kinds of dust blows out. This year I used cheesecloth inside the vents and what a difference! And a lot cheaper than the special filters they sell for the same purpose. I can’t take credit for the idea, my husband said his mother used to do it.

  43. Rarely have a need for cheesecloth but when I need to strain yogurt I usually double up a couple of coffee filters. Sometimes I have to switch them out for fresh ones if they get too wet and start to fall into the liquid but they work well as a substitute for cheesecloth and something I always have in the house.

    • I’ve never had much luck with coffee filters, but then again, I’m usually straining large amounts. I suppose they’d work better for little batches.

  44. I found that the blue cloths that you get after you have out patient surgery works wonderful for straining things. I don’t mean the ones that that use during the surgery, but the extra ones they have on hand just in case. They can’t use them again with another patient and are just thrown away.so I take them home and use then.

    • Yes, Huck towels! I am familiar with them from when I was a vet tech– I imagine they’d be a great cheesecloth alternative.

    • Heather Reed says:

      My sister is a OR nurse, and she brings the “sponges” home from packets opened during surgery in the OR. They’re not really sponges, I suspect they’re cheesecloths, used to mop up messes on the OR table; they have a blue loop for hanging on one corner (apparently so that they can be detected in x-rays, should the OR team forget to remove them during surgery). This sounds gorey, but they have several uses in the kitchen & bath, and are usually discarded because once the packet is opened, they are no longer “sterile”.
      That being said, I think they would be perfect for straining yogurt!

  45. I luckily live about an hours drive from the Amish Country of Lancaster County, PA. In the fabric section of their general stores, they sell 5-6 weights of cheesecloth by the yard and cheaper than I’ve ever seen it. I think my next step, though, since I plan on only making Greek yogurt moving forward, is to get a reusable cheese/yogurt strainer. Does anyone have experience with these?

    • Hmmm… No, I’ve never tried a reusable cheese strainer– sounds very interesting though!

    • The fine mesh cones? Good for small batches of yogurt. Takes a while. I use a little “shower cap” cover over it and leave in fridge for a couple days.

  46. You can pick up big packages of white flour sack towels at Walmart for just a few dollars. 10 for $5 as I recall. They are perfect for straining things, covering bread, making cheese and so on. Much cheaper than diapers too.

    • Mrs Cahill says:

      What Dept. would you find these Flour Sack Towels in? You know Walmart doesn’t always use the most practical places for items like where you think something should be with related items or uses.

      • Grandma says:

        The last time that I bought them I believe that they were in the same department as the rest of the kitchen towels, in a banded package in a bin at the bottom of the shelves.

  47. Whoa, back up a minute. Those diapers you called leaky are actually great – maybe not the Gerber ones though lol – don’t diss good old cotton flats or prefolds. Might even be better than “modern” cloth diapers in a lot of ways; we love them.
    And yes you can use a prefold to make cheese- just pull apart the stitching so you have one double layer square (like a flat again).

    • Joan Tendler says:

      Thanks for the idea-I have a lot of very well-washed ones stashed away still (youngest is 16). Also, no one has mentioned linen. I was thinking that cotton is very absorbent, while linen is not. I know in Switzerland they traditionally used linen for cheesemaking, and some still do. Linen also is extremely strong, even stronger when wet. Anyway, I was wondering if anyone has tried linen?

      • I have a collection of old linen napkins from my mother and grandmother.
        I use them for straining a lot of things in the kitchen.
        If you can find them they are wonderful and totally lint free.
        The polish glasses brilliantly.

        • I currently use an old cotton curtain that I cut up, which is OK, but I make quark, which is very wet and takes a very long time to drain, so I’d love to try linen to see if it’s perhaps any quicker, because it’s less absorbent.

  48. Mrs Cahill says:

    What’s the best way to wash the Tea Towels, Muslim or Diapers to make sure there’s no soap or chemicals left in them? I shutter at the thought that they won’t be sanitary to use with my Cheese making after laundering. Should I also use Bleach to help kill any germs, or not?

    • I’ve run mine through the dishwasher before– mine heats everything hot enough to sanitize it, and I’ve never had problems with residue, etc. :)

    • I rinse them out and hang them up to dry after using, then chuck them in the regular laundry but I don’t put them in the dryer – I dunk them in a pot of boiling water for a minute or so and then let them drip dry. I store boiled cloths in a zip-top bag to keep them clean. I use very little detergent and never fabric softener, so I don’t worry about residues from that, and I never ever use chlorine bleach. If you use chlorine bleach I would rinse multiple times so there is no residue of that on your cheesemaking cloths – not something I would want in my cheese! If you live in a place where you can hang laundry outside, you can hang your cloths in direct sunlight for several hours unless it’s very dusty or there’s a lot of pollen in the air. Sunlight really IS the best disinfectant, it’s not just a saying!

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  50. I used tea towels for a LONG time too…but found they were hard to clean! I now use a sheer window panel! You can find them at the dollar store for $5. I cut them and then singe the edges over a low flame on the stove. They are WONDERFUL! I cut some the size of my milk pail then put it over the top, and place a rubber band around the bucket to hold the filter in place while I milk. The filter catches all the icky stuff BEFORE it can get into the milk and be let to soak in there awhile, YUCKY! I use them to strain juices, cheese, our maple syrup, as tea/spice bags, YOU NAME IT! They wash easily and can even be boiled, try um, you’ll love um too!!!

    J…

  51. Why would you buy diapers on amazon when cheesecloth is far cheaper on amazon and you get far more as well lol. Also you could find cheesecloth at the dollar store.

    • The cheesecloth sold at most dollar stores or hardware stores doesn’t work for make cheese. And honest-to-goodness cheesecloth isn’t available to me locally, so I opt for diapers instead.

      • Ok so why do you spend more on diapers as a cheesecloth alternative on amazon when you can get more cheesecloth for a cheaper price on amazon?

        • I can’t speak for Jill, but I’ve not been successful in washing and reusing cheesecloth. I’ve had to throw it away after a single use. But with my cloth diaper and my flour sack towel, I’ve lost count how many times those have been washed and re-used. In the long run it’s a whole lot cheaper. Kind of like the difference between using paper towels and cloth towels. The initial price is not always the best indicator of value. Just something I’ve learned along the way.

  52. I use cloth napkins for everything like this- straining broth, ghee, etc.

  53. I love the idea of using diapers. My husband is from Europe and his family used cheesecloth. When he moved here we were not able to find good cheese cloth. I have a bunch of old cloth diapers in the basement. Maybe I will dig them out, clean them very well, and give it a try.

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  55. Shannon says:

    Would a coffee filter work well? I’ve read that some people use paper coffee filters and paper towels, but neither seem like they would hold up very well. Possibly a sturdy coffee filter (the kind that come with the coffee maker) would do the trick..

  56. I have a flour sack towel and a diaper towel that I use. One was a decorated gift and the other was a craft I did in my mom’s group. I just embellished the corners so that I was sure to tell the difference between that and my baby’s cloth diapers. I would hope that they would never get mixed up anyway, but just in case!

  57. After reading this, I ordered a pack of these from Amazon. They are FANTASTIC!! Since I don’t use fabric softener, I use wool dryer balls, I don’t have a problem washing them, drying them and keeping a constant rotation of them in my kitchen cabinet. Genius. These cover my kombucha and water kefir, clean up spills, sit under thawing stuff in my fridge, and anything else I can think of…Just think of the money I’m saving on paper towels too. :D

  58. I got a pack of these for kitchen use and washed and rinsed them a few times in the washing machine before drying them in the dryer, and they are pilling really bad. I’m afraid all that lint will get into the cheese and such. Do they usually have this problem or should I be washing and drying them differently?