The Last Thing You Should Do with a Plastic Bag

updated Apr 22, 2021
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Someone holding empty plastic bag.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I do my best to opt for reusable grocery bags as much as possible, but this past year, as we know all too well, has changed everything — and my grocery-bag habits are no exception. Because of the pandemic, we, like so many others, reduced our shopping trips to just one or two super-large shops a month. Many of the stores where I shop stopped allowing reusable bags. And we had many of our groceries delivered. All this resulted in an even larger-than-usual collection of plastic shopping bags.

We keep them in the ubiquitous IKEA bag holder in our cleaning closet, ready to be grabbed for picking up pet messes on dog walks, tying up a dirty diaper before tossing it in the outside trash can, or to separate shoes from clothing in a suitcase (not like we’re going anywhere these days). 

But these uses don’t ever deplete our plastic bag stash, and I’m always looking for more ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle what we’ve got. Recently, I realized I can use them to help with our laundry process. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Use Plastic Bags to Hold Dirty Kitchen Towels

Plastic bags, naturally, are perfect for keeping wet items from getting adjacent items damp. (They’re great for stashing wet swimsuits in a bag on a summer day, for example.) Our kitchen generates a lot of wet items that need to be washed and dried. From rags that we use to wipe down tables and counters, to towels that get practically saturated with frequent and multiple hand-washing sessions, damp linens seem to be on a perpetual cycle out of and, eventually, back into the kitchen. Along the way, they need to be stored in wet/dirty rag purgatory until they’re washed. 

Putting these wet towels and rags in a plastic grocery bag until wash day is a perfect way to keep them separated from other laundry. I prefer to wash our kitchen linens separate from both our clothes and our other cleaning rags. Storing them separately from other laundry allows me to accumulate a load of kitchen linens that can be washed all at once, without being mixed with, say, the rags I use to clean the bathroom or our dirty soccer uniforms. (Obviously, you’ll have to keep an eye on this kitchen load and be sure to wash it before mildew or odors begin to set in. You can’t let this pile up for weeks.)

The benefits of keeping the load separate extend beyond just washing. After kitchen towels and rags are washed and dried, folding a load that all gets put away in the same room makes getting everything back where it belongs straightforward and easy. Having all the items that are destined for one space in one load, from start to finish, streamlines the entire laundry process. In the case of wet kitchen laundry, plastic bags that can be recycled once they’re done functioning as laundry separators are a big part of making this happen. Also, sometimes I even get another use out of my plastic bags by using them to help soak my faucet and shower head with vinegar.