How to Upcycle Towels – Give Your Towels New Life

Upcycle Terry cloth Towels
By Alyce Repko

I always plan on using every square inch of a newly purchased bath towel – from start to finish. But with daily wear, tear, washing, drying, ringing, and occasional floor dates, towels start to wear out, become dingy, or get a smell. I hate throwing away towels just because they’re getting thin or tinted, so I started upcycling them.

Extend The Life of Your Towel

Before you accept the fate of your towels, make sure you take certain steps to extend their life. The first sign of wear is usually along the selvage edges. At first, I used cotton material and sewed a binding over the frayed sides. Today, I use a serger. If the selvage is wide enough, it could be turned under and sewn in place.

Another option would be to sew two to three rows of stitching very close to the frayed edge, and then trim it, being careful not to cut the stitches. The “fringe” could be left as is adding to the absorption ability of the towel. The edges could be crocheted as well. If holes appear on the body of the towel, depending on the size, it can be darned by machine or patched using a piece of terrycloth from an already repurposed towel. Both work well.

How to Upcycle Towels

Luckily, bath towels have other household uses. Here are a few simple ways to upcycle towels.

Make Dishtowels

Any bath towel can be used, but the stripes make them more kitchen-like to me. One regular-sized bath towel will make four dish towels.

If a striped towel is used, the stripes should be oriented vertically. When you cut the toweling, the dish towels should also have the stripes going from the top to the bottom of the towel. Cut the towel into quarters. Not all sides will need to be serged or bound as each towel will already have two finished sides. These towels are thick and absorbent and have other uses besides drying dishes.

Use them for pot holders, hot pads, and occasionally to drain extra washed dishes/glassware. The added bonus is the cost. It is usually less expensive to make them.


Cut the washcloths to match design and shape of the household supply as much as possible, and finish the edges using the serger. The washcloths take a beating and need repair more than the other household terrycloth. Washcloths are replaced somewhat regularly, both purchased and repurposed. When they are nearly frazzled, they can become utility cloths.

Utility Cloths

These utility cloths are essentially kitchen cloths are used for washing dishes, cleaning, drying hands at the kitchen sink, or just about any mess that would not decrease the quality of the fabric such as grease or something that would not come out with a washing.

Other Ways to Upcycle Towels

  1. Wrap a laundry load into a folded towel or two, holding the clothing “taco” under your arm. It is easier to navigate the stairs this way rather than with an awkward laundry basket.
  2. Use towels as bath mats.
  3. “Dad Rags.” Greasy, dirty work calls for a one-use rag.

When Purchasing New Towels

If you decide to upcycle your towels, purchase new white towels. This creates a smoother transition of adding the new towel to household supply and upcycling the old. It is a challenge to match a specific towel color, especially with the ebb and flow of color fashion. White towels, no matter the manufacturer, “match.”

I rarely bleach them and I accept the well-washed look. Purchased towels have variable life spans based on fabric composition, but for me, they are usable for approximately ten years before they are upcycled. Rather than look at mending the towels as drudgery, I consider it a challenge. I strive to get the best service from my purchase and save money to boot!

You might also like this article about creating a mug cozy from the sleeve of an old sweater.

Alyce Repko is wife to a hard-working husband and mother to six adult children. On their six-acre farm they raise rabbits, chickens, and sheep. She puts up food, does freelance artwork, plays with a local orchestra, knits, sews, and buys too many books.

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