Salvaging Old Towels

Q. I have towels which are still useful but the edge (hem?) is getting ratty. I am a marginal sewer … how can I salvage these towels? Margie

A.  Here is an easy way to fix those towels.  Using your sewing machine, sew a running stitch parallel to the hem – now sew another just above or below the first one.  Fringe the ratty edge and voila! you have fringed towels.  The running stitch will keep the fringe from taking over the towel.  When the fringe gets ratty, just cut and repeat – the towel will get smaller, but by the time it’s too small to use, it’s ready for the rag bag anyway!

A.  I have worked from home as a professional seamstress for many years. I laughed when I read your problem.  After 27 years of marriage WE also are having the same problem.  I have 4 solutions for you – EACH can be easily done with very limited sewing knowledge.   1 – If the towels are in excellent shape except for the fraying. Cut them into squares – round the corners – sew into FREE washcloths.  A serer really should be used to do the edges – however you could experiment with a close zigzag stitch – or put a contrasting BIAS (store bought or home made) around the edges for a decorator look.   2 – This idea is also for GOOD towels.  Make personalized patchwork LARGE towels. Cut into squares or rectangles.  Sew into individual rows (best done with serger – but could also do a good zig-zag stitch) – then sew the rows together.  Need to serge of zig-zag the whole outside edge as well. Color co-ordinate one for each of your children – they use the SAME towel for a week of showers/baths – YOU SAVE BIG on washing. They need to hang towel up after each use.   3 – We use homemade cleaners.  For cleaning bathrooms, etc. I’ve cut old towels into rag squares (rectangles).  I haven’t finished the edges (just left them raw – one COULD serge or zig-zag around the edges however these have been lasting VERY WELL without going to the extra effort).  For using on mirrors YOU CAN NOT use any type of fabric softener on them. (I wash the rags with towels – then remove them & hang on towel rack to dry).   4 – Make a beach/picnic blanket from them.  Cut them into desired square/rectangle shapes.  Join into rows with a serger – or a zig-zag stitch (3step zig-zag would be best).  Works really well. Wendy

A.  You can purchase some extra wide binding ( the type that is used to bind blankets) and sew it on the ragged edges. Joyce

A.  When my towels start to get bad or in most cases are bad, I make them into washcloths. I cut the towel into smaller squares and serge around the edges. There you go new washcloths. I never buy washcloths, only towels. Without a serger, then just use a zigzag stitch. Hope this helps! Janine

A.  If you own sewing machine it is easy just get some lace or any other material you like and sew it on with a zig zag stitch this will also allow for the edge to stop fraying. Make sure and cut off the excess thread and material Co-ordinate the towels by getting some fabric and stitching strips around the tile like binding or bias tape. This will take away the fraying and give your towels a brand new look. ~Amy

A.  Trim off the loose threads and use wide bias tape( buy in fabric store). With a sewing machine sew the binding where the old hems where. You maybe can get the bias tape the same color of the towels or a contrasting color.  Sue

A.  This may sound silly, but I have 11 year old towels I still use. Sure they’re a little threadbare, and some have ratty ends. But then I don’t really get upset when I find that my 6 year old son has used them to  make a "comfortable house" for one of the toads, crickets, or other "friends" he finds around the yard. I also don’t get upset that my husband just grabs whatever’s around to wash the car. And when I hang a load of towels, I make sure I have a small pair of scissors to trim the "fringe" that’s gotten out of hand. But if it really bothers you, stitch a double seam about 1/2" in from the edge, trim the "ratty" parts, then let them become "fringed" with use. They’re not ratty – they’re "decorative" (And yes, I do have presentable towels that are put out when we have company – they’re kept up very high in the linen closet). Kim

A.  I cut up ratty towels into hand size rags for dusting and cleaning.  

A.  To spruce up towels that are fraying on the ends but the body is still good I purchase some lace that has been pregathered, you can find some with a finished edge. Trim off the frayed edges of the towels. You  can sew the lace on by hand or purchase some iron on adhesive mesh on a roll and simply fold to fit the edge of the lace and press according to manufactures instructions. And viola you have "new towels". Good Luck – Sue

A.  I use my ratty looking bath towels to make into beach or pool towels. I sew them together along the longest side, two or three, depending on how many matching ones I have. Two sewn together are great for wrapping up a shivering child, and three together are great for putting down on the sand to lie on or for drying an adult.

Here’s a link to an article that shows all kinds of cool things that can be made from used towels. So in case your towels actually get to the point where you don’t want to use them to dry off anymore, you can still get some use out of them. There are actually some pretty cool ideas – like using washcloths for Swiffer covers & using towels for pet beds.

7 thoughts on “Salvaging Old Towels

  1. Liz Hansen says:

    Married for 35 years, we have lots of towel sets that are the same age…and they are still in great shape!!! Why? I always wash our towels on the gentle or delicate cycle, hot water, and hang-dry or dry in the dryer. My sewing machine is near by, and when a towel starts to have a ragged edge, I take it to the machine and fix it, usually with a tight, wide zig zag stitch. Trim threads as soon as they become loose. Use a bit of Fray-Check on it. If you take good care of your towels, they will last for many, many years!

    • Mary says:

      Great tip Liz. A friend just moved out of state, and I’ve inherited a storage bin full of “towels past their prime”. They’re huge towels so sacrificing a few inches will still leave a very serviceable bath towel. I’ll be binding the edges and keeping them in good shape with regular repairs.

  2. Tracy says:

    Loads of great answers. Thank you
    I think I might cut into large squares hem with different coloured bias binding make a hook and use for grandsons at meal times
    For mop up at face wiping at the end of mealtimes
    Time to get scissors and machine in action. Love this site need to join I’m on benefits and need lots of frugal tips

  3. Peter says:

    My wife has lots of old towels but do not have sewing machine. Any tips on how to sew the edges without a sewing machine would be welcomed.

  4. Elayne Peterson says:

    I also have a lot of good towells fraying because the selvedge edge failed. I have 40 year old towlls that are almost thread bare and none of the edges frayed because the selvedged edge held. So thanks for the zig zag tip. I have 5 year old towels without a selvedged edge, just hemed down the length and they failed right away.

    Also thanks for the lace tip. You could sew that on by hand to make it work.

    towels are expensive and once one retires frugality is the name of the game.
    Great site!!!

  5. Cindy says:

    I zig-zagged with heavy duty thread the edges of the towels I bought about 10 years ago. I think that has helped to make them last longer.

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