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13 Useful Things You Should Do With Your Old Grocery Bags

After my go-to grocery stores temporarily banned the use of reusable bags early in the pandemic, I started rebuilding my previously emptied collection of plastic bags. And since I’m not one to let things just sit around and collect dust (or take up my valuable storage space), I recently decided it was high time I figured out how to use them.

In case you’re in a similar situation of sitting on a pile of empty grocery bags, I thought I’d share the uses I came across during my search with you today. These tips represent all sorts of ways you can put your stash of plastic bags to good use.

Bonus Tip: Wash Your Plastic Bags

  • Regardless of how exactly you plan to reuse your plastic grocery bags, it’s not a bad idea to wash them first. It’s quick and easy to do, and it’s bound to give you some peace of mind that your bags aren’t covered in dirt or bacteria.
  • To wash your grocery bags, submerge them in a sink full of hot, soapy water.
  • Swish the bags around with your hands and allow them to soak there for a few minutes.
  • When you’re ready to rinse, drain the sink and then rinse each bag with clean water.
  • Hang the bags upside down and allow them to air dry completely before using.

Note: If you have any bags that are particularly grimy or have held raw meat, you’re better off tossing them out of an abundance of caution. Better safe than sorry!

13 Practical Ways To Reuse Plastic Bags

1. Keep Your Hands Clean

Pull a plastic bag over each hand to use them as a pair of makeshift gloves! It’s a great way to keep your hands clean when handling messy foods, or when cleaning up messes like vomit, sticky crafts, etc.

uses for plastic bags

2. Clean Your Shower Head

Use a plastic bag and some distilled white vinegar to clean your shower head! Fill the bag with vinegar and use a rubber band to secure it around your shower head. Let it soak for an hour or so to allow the vinegar to dissolve mineral deposits and cut through soap scum.

Related: 8 Of The Best Ways To Use White Vinegar To Clean Your Bathroom

3. Cover Your Plunger

Don’t have a stand or cover for your toilet plunger? Cover the rubber end with a plastic bag to contain germs and grime!

4. Line A Wastebasket

Grocery store bags are just the right size to use as liners in small wastebaskets. Put a few extra bags in the bottom of the empty wastebasket before lining it with another bag, and that way you’ll have a replacement ready to go the next time you empty it!

5. Keep The Shape Of Purses & Shoes

Before you put shoes or handbags into storage, stuff a few plastic bags inside them. The bags will help your shoes or purses retain their shape while they’re in storage so they don’t wind up misshapen or lumpy.

6. Contain Trash In The Car

Tie an empty grocery sack to the back of your headrest on long car rides or road trips. It’s the perfect makeshift trash can for empty wrappers and drink bottles, since you can throw the whole thing away at the next rest stop!

7. Use As “Barf Bags” For Carsick Passengers

Some people may feel a little nauseous in the car, while others may get truly carsick! Prepare for the worst by keeping a few empty plastic bags in your car. That way, you’ll always have a “barf bag” handy should you ever find yourself with a vomiting passenger.

8. Keep Mirrors & Wipers Ice-Free

For those who park their cars on the street or in uncovered spots, it’s all too common to wake up to frozen side mirrors and windshield wipers during the winter. So when the forecast calls for overnight snow, cover your wipers and side mirrors with plastic bags. The bags will keep them free of ice and snow and make the next morning’s commute a little easier!

9. Cover Muddy Shoes

To avoid tracking mud or slush into your car when the weather’s bad, keep a stash of plastic bags in the car. Slip one bag over each shoe before stepping into the car to keep your floor mats clean!

10. Wrap Plant & Plant Starts

With as much plant shopping as I did this past summer, I know just how much dirt winds up in your trunk after unloading a good plant haul! So that’s why I’ve started keeping a stash of plastic bags in my car, so I can wrap the bottoms of any plants and plant starts to keep dirt out of my car. :-)

11. Wrap Shoes In Luggage

When packing for a trip, wrap each pair of shoes you’re bringing in a grocery bag before putting them in your suitcase. The bag will prevent dirty soles from messing up your clean clothes, AND prevent your other items from scuffing up your shoes.

12. Pick Up After Your Dog

One great way to reuse plastic bags is to pick up after your dog on walks. (Just make sure to toss it into a trash can afterward, since they aren’t biodegradable—and it’s just good manners!)

13. Prevent Painting Tools From Drying

Working on a painting project? Wrap a plastic bag tightly around your brushes or paint rollers and wrap a rubber band around the bottom to secure it. This will keep the paint wet for as long as a full day so you can pick up right where you left off tomorrow.

What’s your favorite way to reuse plastic bags?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

MORE IDEAS FROM

Bright Ideas

  • I use white, or as light in color as possible, plastic grocery sacks to make a mini greenhouse. When taking cuttings, I secure the bag over the top of the pot and the cuttings. Watering the soil well before inserting the cuttings will ensure that you don’t have to monitor for moisture for several weeks. The same technique works for starting seeds too.

  • living in france and holland we don’t get plastic bags any more. so I’m very mean with the ones I’ve still got.
    the plastic of the toilet rolls I always cut right in the middle of the package so I’ve got two bags again

  • Use white plastic bags to make a stunning Christmas wreath! It’s easy and truly beautiful. Cut strips from white plastic bags. Tie strips to wreath form, pushing them together tightly — you want a full wreath. Trim with scissors when finished to make the ends of the strips all the same length. Hot glue added decorations onto the wreath. Non-traditional colored bulbs, like pink or purple, make a lovely wreath you’ll be complimented on and that will make you smile every time you see it.

  • The comment about folding the plastic bags reminds me of when visiting my moms sister they fold their plastic bags up very neatly like Landon described. I know that plastic isn’t the best for our environment. But please don’t go ballistic and lecture those of like me in retail. I’ve had people go berserk if we even try to use 1-2 bags.

  • A rice cooker for porridge,oatmeal? I use a microwave bowl with a lid.just 3minutes and it’s done! And as the bowls are pretty i also save on the washing up if I am only making 1 portion eat straight from the bowl

  • I take a large fabric bag and fill with reusable plastic (or fabric) bags and hang it (with one handle) over the driver’s headrest facing the backseat. Easy reach for use and easily seen………….

  • At my work we have let people bring their own bags in. However- with the Pandemic the customers have to bag their groceries themselves if they want to use the bags. Some of the cloth ones are so
    smelly and filthy. It helps protect us from getting the virus.

  • Even better, just don’t get them… I have my groceries put back in my cart at checkout, and I bag them myself into my reuseable bags at my car.

  • They are recyclable at grocery stores. See https://how2recycle.info/sdo and enter your ZIP code to find the nearest one to you. Also recyclable are several other plastic wraps, including ziplocs, that surprised me. These are things that cannot go in our trash recycling bins. I’m surprised at how much I used to throw in the landfill. But I’m glad we have an alternative and can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

  • My mother in law lives with us. She has dementia, so she can’t remember where things are if they’re in a cabinet. I keep her Depends and a pack of wipes in a basket on the counter & I have an old Clorox wipes container in the basket too. I covered the wipes container with pretty scrapbook paper and a Trash Bags label, then covered that with clear contact paper so she can’t pull it off, or smear it with wet hands. If you google pop up grocery bags you’ll see how to fold and roll those grocery bags to fit the container. I roll mine from the opposite end from how they show so that I’m rolling from the bottom of the bag and pushing the air out as I go. I bet I can get 40 or more bags in that container by doing that. When new bags come in the house I just take the lid off, pull the roll out and add the new ones to it.

  • Use plarn and knitting or crocheting sleeping mats for in a tent or for the homeless. Plarn, plastic bags cut in strips to use as yarn.
    For me, putting bags over shoes makes slipping boots over the shoes easier and also keeps foot dryer and warmer.

  • One of the many ways I reuse plastic shopping bags is when making cuttings on the tall upright varieties of Sedums or Hylotelephium. In the spring, when the plants reach about 12 inches tall, I cut them back by half. This also keeps the sedum from becoming leggy and flopping over later in the season. Fill 6 inch recycled plastic garden pots with potting soil, moisten, then place your cuttings in the soil. Add enough cuttings that the pot so that you have a nice full plant. Place a light colored or clear plastic shopping bag over your cuttings and pot. Secure the bag so it doesn’t blow away and place in a shady, sheltered area for a couple of weeks. I dip the cuttings in rooting hormone to speed up the process. When you tug on a stem and it resists, your cuttings have rooted. At this time, I remove the plastic bag and move my new plant to a sunnier location. Wait a few more weeks and your pot will be ready to transplant into the ground.

  • Some stores in my area have bins where you can bring them to recycle. We keep some under the kitchen and bathroom sinks for disposing of gross or messy stuff. I’ve seen the rugs or bags made from old bags before. I’m not someone who can crochet or whatever to make these.

  • Lots of great ideas here as usual, but a few additional notes I’d like to contribute:

    1. Re: “Unfortunately, I know I won’t always remember to bring (fabric shopping bags) with me.”

    This is something my sister used to always say too. My advice to you Jillee is the same I gave to her: Always keeps lots of extra reusable fabric shopping bags in the trunk of your car. Then you’ll always have them on hand when going grocery shopping. When you get home and unpack your groceries, immediately hang the empty fabric bags on your door handle… (the same door you exit through whenever you leave the house). That way you’ll see it on your way out & will always remember to take them with you to throw into the trunk of your car again. It doesn’t take too long before it turns into habit, and no longer becomes a chore to remember!

    2. Re: “Pour excess cooking oil and grease (after it’s cooled down) into a plastic bag before throwing it in the trash.”

    Many municipalities actually ban throwing cooking oil or grease into the trash! Better idea yet: Find out if someone in your city/municipality collects used cooking oil & grease to use as bio-fuel. Some will even come collect it from you for free (after you have a certain amount accumulated)… or others will have nearby drop-off sites. They often make money after collecting LARGE amounts of used cooking oil, which they then sell to businesses who turn the used oil into bio-fuel… (which is why they’ll often collect for free or provide an easy drop-off site). Try googling for such places/services near you… or in the case of my city, I was able to find one nearby by searching in my local Craigslist using a search term along the lines of “used cooking oil” or “bio-fuel”.

    I go through large amounts of cooking oil when using my deep fryer (admittedly something I don’t do as often these days)… so not only would I purchase cooking oil in large Costco-sized containers (1 gallon or larger), I use those same containers (when emptied) to store the used oil until I have enough for pick-up or drop off. For those who don’t like the idea of keeping used cooking oil around to accumulate, simply store out of the way in a place like the garage or tool shed until you’ve amassed enough for pick-up/drop-off!

    3. Re: “Reuse baggies to create starter pots for plants. Just poke a few holes in the bottoms of the bags, fill with soil and plant your seeds.”

    To each their own, but personally, I discourage this method of seed-starting. Any manipulation of young seedlings that will disturb the delicate, young roots in any way (when it comes time later to transplant them into the garden or a container) can be very traumatic for the seedlings, and even permanently stunt their growth! Better to make little starter pots from newspaper… (the less ink –especially colored– the better!) Instructions to make such pots can be easily found online by Googling along the lines of “newspaper starter pots”.

    Then they can be transplanted without any need for removal from the newspaper pots, since the paper will degrade naturally in the soil, and any paper that hasn’t yet broken down will easily rip when wet, so that the roots can continue their growth into the new, surrounding soil without becoming root-bound or inhibited, as can often tend to happen even with other commercially-available starter pots such as peat pots (Jiffy) or others like coco coir… (although coco coir is great in the garden, in general!)

    And lastly, for those who own a Foodsaver or other vacuum-sealing device:

    4. Re: “Put ice in a plastic bag in your cooler. That way the water stays inside the bag when it starts to melt!”

    The following is one of my favourite ways to pack extra ice in the cooler for camping (or other such excursions): Make “DIY ice packs” by freezing clean, filtered drinking water in ice cube trays, then vacuum seal the cubes in the plastic bags/rolls that are made to be used with your vacuum sealer… (the plastic you use should be food-grade for this purpose).

    Then, not only will the ice/water be contained in leak-proof bags when they begin to melt, but when the ice packs have completely melted (but hopefully caught before they’ve started to warm up!) simply snip off a corner from the plastic bags to serve ice-cold, clean, drinking water straight from the bags!

    On hot days when camping or when no other sources of cold water are present, you wouldn’t believe what a welcome treat this can be! Others will marvel at your method of transporting ice, and if not privy to the gems of your efforts, will also be VERY envious! Far better to have clean cold drinking water, than a cooler full of melted, dirty water for your food to eventually drown & go soggy in!

  • These ideas are possibly ok for plastic we’re already stuck with but hopefully 3 years along the line from the original post everyone is trying their very best to avoid using any kind of plastic bag.
    Film of the mess we in the west have helped create in the east by dumping our ‘recyclable’ stuff there, which as it turns out isn’t recyclable, shock us all and as for the devastating impact on our oceans……! Don’t think folk need to apologise for being on a soap box any more.

  • I squeeze the air out of any type of plastic, such as bread bags, newspaper bags, vegetable bags, etc., then tie knots in them. I use them in the bottom of plant pots when I don’t need dirt to go all the way to the bottom, or need room for drainage. Packing peanuts work as well, but most companies use those air-filled pillows or paper these days. I have also used crunched up plastic water bottles in larger pots.

  • So much applications of the plastic bags that I’ve never thought of! I usually end up with a lot of leftovers that I put in plastic bags and then back to the fridge. I like the bathtub idea a lot! Thanks for sharing here!

  • I use a plastic sack to line my paint tray instead of buying the cheap plastic liners. Once you’ve used all the paint, just dispose of the sack. No messy paint tray to clean. If my painting project isn’t finished, I also use plastic sacks to store my paint roller and brushes. Wrap them tight and put them in the fridge to use later. Not having to clean the brushes saves time and a lot soapy water. I have stored my brushed and rollers in the fridge for several days at a time.

  • Hi Jillee,
    Just wanted to add that in your blog post about “in California you now have to pay for bags when you go shopping.” This is only in certain areas of California. In my area it is not law. Yet anyway.
    Love your blog!

  • Bags are not banned in ALL of California. San Francisco and San Luis Obispo Counties have banned them but none of the San Joaquin Valley counties have that I know of. We already take our own bags, practicing, in anticipation of the eventual ban.

  • I work at a daycare and we use grocery bags to double seal the stinky diapers. Also, when I make stuffed eggs, mix all the filling ingredients in a bag. It is much easier to transport this way. At destination, clip a corner off the bag and pipe them into the whites!

  • When my granddaughter was young, I cut white drawstring plastic trash bags into long strips and braided the strips to make headbands. The wider the strip, the wider the braid. At the closure, I’d make/add a flower from a white or colored plastic bag. She’d wear these waterproof headbands in our pool. Very cute!!!

  • Wow! I learned a lot of great ideas from this post. However, they won’t work well for a cat litter box as their claws will tear the plastic. I found this out quite a few years ago when I purchased regular kitty litter bags for the litter box. The bag was shredded and they are quite a bit thicker than the bags we get at the stores. Now, if your pet is declawed, they would be great.

  • Besides lining smaller trash cans, I also put a paint pan into a grocery bag before pouring the paint into it. After I finish painting I just take the pan out of the bag and throw the bag away.

  • I fail to see the difference between washing a glass dish that has been used to marinate meat vs. a ziplock bag. If I wash the dish in hot, soapy water and do the same for the baggie, what’s the big deal? I’ve done it forever with no ill effects.

    Since the marinade bag always contain oil, after washing, I reuse it for the next meat marinade, and identify it by labeling it as such.

  • In San Diego County and Temecula bags are still given out freely so it’s not all of California that does not give out bags. I always carry my own anyway.

  • Wow! This is great! Plastic bags are frowned upon so much because they end up in the wrong places. But, you’ve definitely put together a list of great uses after you’re done with them :D I can’t wait to try out the car side mirrors and wipers. I live in Iowa and it certainly gets icy every year. It’s not uncommon to see me pouring water on my wipers to get them unstuck enough to use them haha!!

  • Don’t forget about plastic bread or roll sacks. They are great for freezing, breading chicken for baking. Just remember to keep the colored part to the outside, some of the dyes have toxic chemicals.

  • I use them as trash bags. Instead of buying a box of trash bags, I just use the bags that I get from the store. Yes that means I can’t have a huge trash can, but it also encourages me to recycle more vs just sticking everything in the trash can.

  • I applaud your ideas for reusing plastic bags. The only problem I have is that a lot of your idea actually encouraged the use of plastic bags when a plastic bag is neither required or a glass or metal bowl or cloth bag would work just fine. Many entrances of grocery stores havebins that will recycle plastic bags. Sorry to be on my soap box but I see and know may people who just don’t care. This is our planet ….let’s care for it. Thanks

    • I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I worked for 16 years at a major, international retail/grocery mart, in 3 differant states. Those big bins of plastic bags in the front of the store get emptied directly in the trash in the back of the store. It sucks but it’s true.

  • It’s about time someone did a post on re-using plastic bags. Our staff bring them into work and we use them for packing when sending out lighting and other delicate products. We should all try and use them two or three times before they go to land fill sites.

  • All great ideas except for the one about slipping them over muddy shoes when you get in your car. I would be afraid of my foot slipping off of the brake pedal and hitting the gas.

    • Kathy,

      I was thinking the same, but then I figured that you put them on kids’ shoes to keep the mud out. Definitely don’t drive with them on!

      :–)

  • We don’t get a lot of snow here in Alabama, but I remember my mom using plastic grocery or bread bags over each sock before putting on our shoes to play in the snow. It keeps your feet dry!

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