Cheesecloth is a lightweight, gauzy cotton fabric that has an open, loose weave and is used for a variety of culinary and non-culinary purposes. Originally used in cheesemaking to separate curds from whey, cheesecloth has become a versatile kitchen staple and household item.
Cheesecloth is made from loosely woven cotton threads that create a thin, breathable material. It comes in different grades, ranging from open weaves to very finely woven. The grade and weave determine the uses for that cheesecloth.
Cheesecloth can be used for straining, food preparation, storage, crafts, cleaning, and more. While specially designed for kitchen use, it has expanded over time to include many other household and industrial applications.
Grades of Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth comes in a range of grades, from very open and gauzy weaves to finely woven tight cloth. The grade refers to the number of threads per square inch, both vertically and horizontally. The lower the number, the more open and gauzy the weave is.
Higher grade numbers equate to a tighter weave and heavier cloth. The grade you choose depends on your intended use, as some grades are better suited for certain tasks than others.
Grade #10 cheesecloth is the most open and gauzy available. It has just 20 vertical x 12 horizontal threads per square inch. The extreme openness makes it perfect when you need very high air or water flow.
Grade #10 works beautifully for decorating, particularly for holidays like Halloween. It creates wonderful, spooky drapes and accents. Many brides also choose this grade of cheesecloth for its lightweight, flowing look when used in wedding decor.
With 24 vertical and 20 horizontal threads per square inch, Grade #40 falls in the middle between open and finely woven. It provides more body and durability than the flimsier Grade #10 but remains somewhat permeable.
Common uses include straining, cooking, faux painting, and even as medical bandages. The openness still allows liquids to pass through reasonably quickly.
Grade #50 cheesecloth has 28 vertical x 24 horizontal threads. The slightly tighter weave makes it more useful for tasks like polishing, wiping, and decorating.
It produces great results when used to strain stocks or custards. The increased density also lends itself well to summertime shirts and blouses.
This grade of cheesecloth falls into the category of mid-range openness with 32 vertical x 28 horizontal threads per square inch. One unique use is testing products for potential fire hazards.
Grade #60 cheesecloth is tightly wrapped around the device, which then undergoes simulated power surges and lightning strikes. If the product is destroyed but does not ignite the cheesecloth, it passes the test as being safe to fail without causing fires.
The finest cheesecloth available, Grade #90 has 44 vertical x 36 horizontal threads per square inch. It is the toughest and most durable cheesecloth. Despite the tight weave, Grade #90 remains washable and reusable.
This high grade works wonderfully for straining custards and broths to produce super smooth liquids. It also shines as table runners, clothing, curtains, and other household fabrics.
Types of Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth comes in two main types – bleached and unbleached. Both are made from cotton but have some key differences.
Bleached cheesecloth goes through a bleaching process to remove the natural oils from the cotton. This produces a bright white cloth.
Unbleached cheesecloth retains the cotton’s natural oils and color. No potentially toxic chemicals are used. It remains biodegradable and is considered a “greener” option. Unbleached cheesecloth can be boiled or microwaved.
Uses for Cheesecloth
Although it originated as a cheesemaking supply, cheesecloth is remarkably handy for many kitchen tasks. Its lightweight gauze can be used in the following ways:
- Straining - Cheesecloth offers a finer filter than typical sieves and strainers. It excels at straining stocks, broths, juices, custards, soups, and sauces.
- Juicing - Wrap cheesecloth around citrus fruits or other juice ingredients before squeezing over a measuring cup or bowl. The fabric catches any seeds or pulp.
- Herb bundles - Bring out flavors when simmering soups, stews, and stocks. Wrap fresh herbs in a cheesecloth pouch and toss into the pot. Remove the bundle once cooked.
- Separating - Cheesecloth allows you to separate liquids from solids. It's ideal for making Greek yogurt, tofu, ricotta cheese, paneer, and more.
- Dusting - Use cheesecloth as a light sifter for dusting sugar or flour over baked goods. The woven fabric provides an even, delicate coating.
- Basting - Moisten cheesecloth with wine, butter, or oil and wrap around proteins before roasting. Keep the cloth moist to add flavor and moisture.
- Proofing - Lightly dust with flour and allow dough to rise wrapped in cheesecloth. It provides shape and prevents sticking.
- Storage - Wrap cheesecloth around produce, hard cheeses, bread, and more. It allows airflow to prevent spoilage.
Beyond the kitchen, cheesecloth has expanded into other household uses, crafts, cleaning, and manufacturing:
- Protect fruits and vegetables from insects and flies
- Straining paints or varnishes
- Polishing silver and glassware
- Dusting when cleaning
- Bookbinding and repairing books
- Faux painting finishes
- Rustic wedding decorations
- Manufacturing tests for fire safety
With its lightweight gauze weave, cheesecloth is remarkably versatile. Keeping various grades on hand ensures you have the right weave for each task.
Key Takeaway: Cheesecloth's open weave makes it useful for many kitchen tasks like straining, juicing, separating, dusting, basting, and more. It also lends itself well to non-culinary uses.
While cheesecloth may be the first choice, you can also substitute other permeable fabrics in a pinch. Consider these common household items:
- Paper towels - Go for durable paper towels over thinner, disposable ones. Dampen before use to prevent tearing.
- Coffee filters - Again, dampen standard cone-shaped filters first. Use multiple layers for a finer filter.
- Muslin - Lightweight cotton fabric with an open weave similar to cheesecloth. Often used for swaddle blankets.
- Medial gauze - Sterile gauze works but is thinner than cheesecloth. Use several layers stacked.
- Thin cotton - A lightweight woven cotton fabric can mimic cheesecloth when nothing else is on hand.
- Clean socks - The stretchy, breathable weave makes socks a cheesecloth stand-in. Opt for thinner socks over thick athletic pairs.
- Paper napkins - Stronger than tissue and designed to hold up when damp. Works for light draining or covering.
For the best results, choose an item that is cotton, disposable, or lint-free. Avoid fabrics like terrycloth that may shed into your food or liquid. Test substitutes first before relying on them for lengthy straining or juicing.
Where to Buy Cheesecloth
With cheesecloth's importance for cooking, it has become widely available at many stores:
- Grocery stores - Check the kitchen linens or parchment paper sections for different grades of cheesecloth.
- Big box stores - Retailers like Target, Walmart, or Bed Bath and Beyond typically carry cheesecloth.
- Hardware stores - Stores specializing in home goods and DIY supplies stock cheesecloth.
- Fabric and craft stores - Joann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, and independent fabric shops sell different grades by the yard.
- Restaurant supply stores - Commercial kitchens rely on cheesecloth for prep work and buy in bulk.
- Online - Amazon offers a wide variety of cheesecloth from different brands.
Look for cheesecloth in pre-cut squares or bundles in the cooking section. Craft and fabric stores sell it by the yard on rolls in a variety of grades. Opt for pure cotton cheesecloth whenever possible.
Caring for Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth is designed to be reusable, especially the higher grade numbers. With proper care, your cheesecloth can have a long life in the kitchen.
Hand wash cheesecloth immediately after use in very hot, soapy water to remove all traces of food and oils. Rinse thoroughly.
For stubborn stains, soak in a baking soda solution for 30 minutes before washing. Consider boiling used cheesecloth for 5 minutes to sterilize it and kill any lingering bacteria.
Let your cheesecloth air dry thoroughly before storing. Stash cleaned cheesecloth in a sealed plastic bag until the next use.
You can also safely wash cheesecloth in the washing machine. Be sure to rinse off any food debris first. Wash in the delicate cycle with similar fabrics, using a gentle laundry detergent. Tumble dry on low and avoid using fabric softener.
Repeated washing, especially in hot water, will gradually cause cheesecloth to fall apart. Higher grades will last through more washing cycles. Replace cheesecloth once it becomes overly stained, develops holes, or seems thin and brittle.
Key Takeaway: Cheesecloth should be washed by hand or in the washing machine after each use. Boiling it for 5 minutes helps sterilize the fabric fully. Store cleaned cheesecloth in a sealed plastic bag.
Which is better, cheesecloth grade 90 or 100?
Grade 90 is preferable for most kitchen uses. It provides a tight weave for excellent straining and filtering but remains easy to handle. Grade 100 can work but may be prone to tearing and needs to be layered. For non-culinary tasks, opt for grade 10 or 40 since the looser weaves drape better for decorating.
What grade of cheesecloth is best?
Grade 90 cheesecloth is the best all-purpose grade for most kitchen uses like straining, proofing dough, making cheese, etc. It balances tightness with durability. Grades 10-40 have more open, gauzy weaves suited for decorating. Grade 60 works for manufacturing tests.
Should you wash new cheesecloth before using it?
It's smart to wash any new kitchen textile before first use, including cheesecloth. Wash it separately with hot, soapy water to remove any residues from manufacturing and handling. This prevents contamination from chemicals or other particulates adhering to the unused cheesecloth.
What's a good cheesecloth substitute?
The best substitutes mimic cheesecloth's open weave cotton fabric. Paper towels, coffee filters, thin cotton, medical gauze or a clean sock can work. Layer thin substitutes for more density to approach real cheesecloth. Avoid terrycloth and fabrics that shed lint easily.
Is it OK to reuse cheesecloth?
Absolutely! Most grades of cheesecloth are designed to be reused if properly cared for. Immediately wash after use in hot, soapy water to remove oils and food debris. Higher grade cheesecloths stand up to repeated washing. Replace it once excessive staining, holes, or brittleness develop.
Can you boil used cheesecloth?
Boiling used cheesecloth in hot water for 5 minutes is highly recommended before reusing. The hot temperature kills any bacteria clinging to the fabric after straining food products or liquids. Boiling sterilizes the cheesecloth fully and allows it to be safely reused.
Cheesecloth is an indispensable kitchen prep item and household helper. The woven cotton gauze can tackle countless tasks, from straining stocks toproofing dough. It switches easily from culinary uses to craft projects, cleaning, and more.
Keep various grades of cheesecloth stocked in your kitchen. The open weaves drain liquids while retaining solids beautifully. When cared for properly, cheesecloth offers longevity and versatility. Its countless applications provide value for the inexpensive price.
Experiment with cheesecloth in place of less suitable items like paper towels or loose weaves. And explore non-kitchen uses like rustic wedding decorations, dusting when cleaning, and protecting produce.