How to Make Your Own Produce Bags

How to make your own plastic free produce bags

Imagine yourself in the grocery store picking out the perfect collection of organic apples. You look around, only to discover that you have no option other than to put your fruit into a plastic bag. Not only are they thin and easily torn, they expose your food to the dangers of plastic and have a negative impact on the environment.

There are many non-plastic options for produce bags but did you know they are incredibly easy to make yourself? In fact, I spent more time setting up my sewing supplies than I did actually sewing! (Only very basic sewing skills are required for this super easy DIY project.)

Depending on the supplies you use, these reusable produce bags can be made for next to nothing. You can repurpose a worn or out-dated t-shirt and a spare shoelace as a drawstring for a virtually free bag.

No matter what supplies you use, this easy tutorial will show you how to make you own produce bags to take along on your next shopping trip.

Homemade Produce Bag Supplies

Make your own mesh produce bagsFabric: This is a matter of preference. I have used both organic cotton muslin and a lightweight polyester mesh with a light stretch. As I mentioned above, an old t-shirt or any other lightweight fabric you have on hand will work well. Remember that your bag will be weighed along with your produce so you don’t want to add more weight than is necessary.

I did make sure that the fabric was washable before I chose one. Some mesh fabrics require special care when washing but I want to be able to toss it in with my regular laundry if/when it becomes soiled.

The organic cotton muslin was the easiest to work with and cinched very well with the drawstring, so this is what I would recommend for a beginner. Plus you have the added benefit of using organic fabric.

Bag Closure Options: There are several ways you could finish the top of your produce bags:

The absolute easiest way would be to just finish the edge with a simple hem. This technique would leave the top of your bag open similar to the plastic bags provided at the store. The drawback would be that your produce would have the possibility of falling out of the bag. However, you could use a silicone bag clip to fasten it, keeping everything safely inside.

Another simple solution is to use elastic. I would not recommend this if you buy a lot of bulk nuts or other small items but it works great for larger things like apples, tomatoes, and avocados. Just measure a piece of 1/4″ wide elastic (measure with the elastic fully stretched) the same length as the circumference of your bag plus 1/2″ for overlap. Then insert it into a casing the same way you would for an elastic waistband.

The closure type I most prefer is a drawstring. I purchased a 1/8″ cable cord and also later realized that a large round shoelace would work well. The cotton muslin stayed closed quite well but the mesh slipped a bit on the drawstring so I put a cord lock on that bag for added security.

Other Supplies

  • Sewing machine
  • fabric scissors or rotary cutter and quilting mat
  • measuring tape or quilting ruler if you are using a rotary cutter
  • thread
  • safety pin for inserting drawstring
  • iron for pressing hems and seams (not necessary but helpful)
  • sewing pins (not necessary but helpful)

DIY Produce Bag Directions

This tutorial will show you how to make a drawstring produce bag that is roughly 12″ wide by 14″ long using a lightweight organic cotton muslin. Use 1/2″ seam allowances unless otherwise stated.

1. Lay your fabric out so that it is 2 layers thick.

2. Cut a 13″ by 16″ rectangle (this will give you 2 pieces).

Make your own produce bags- step 2- cut the cloth

3. With the 2 pieces together, measure down 2.5″ on one of the long ends. Mark this spot with a straight pin. You will leave these 2.5″ open to leave room to make the drawstring casing.

4. Starting at the straight pin you placed in step 2, sew a seam around the rectangle on 3 sides, leaving the last side (top of bag) and the 2.5″ on the side open.

5. Along the top edge, fold over 1/2″ to the wrong side and press with your iron.

6. On the side with the open section, press open the seam allowance including the 2.5″ opening.

How to make your own produce bags- step 6- sew the bag

7. Starting at the top edge, stitch down to the bottom of the 2.5″ opening. Stop, pivot, and sew across the side seam about 1″. Stop, pivot, and sew back up the other side, ending at the top edge.

Make your own produce bags step 7- sew the opening

8. To make the casing for the drawstring, fold over 1″ around the top edge to the wrong side and press.

9. Stitch all the way around just inside the bottom of the 1″ fold forming a casing for your drawstring.

Homemade produce bags step 9- sew the drawstring

10. Cut the 1/8″ cable cord long enough to go all the way around the bag through the casing and have enough to tie a knot. I cut mine about 34″.

11. Wrap a piece of tape around each end.

12. Put the safety pin through one taped end of your cord and use it to feed the cord through the casing.

13. Put both ends together and tie an overhand knot.

I also made a smaller size that would be handy for buying things like kiwi, ginger root, or 3-4 average sized apples. The finished size of the smaller bag was 8″x 10″ so I cut the initial pieces 9″x 12″.

Homemade produce bags size comparison

You can really make any size you would like. Just take the finished dimensions you want and add 2″ to the long side of the bag (so you have plenty of room to make the casing for the drawstring) and 1″ to the width.

Making the switch to cloth produce bags is an easy way to reduce plastic use in your daily life. Here are some other tips.

Ever made your own grocery bags? What other changes have you made to avoid plastic?

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  1. I dont know why but this idea never crossed my mind.. Although I get most if not all my produce from our CSA box. As well as eggs, ACV and several other things. But once in a while I have to get produce at the store, I have been using my larger cloth shopping bags ! A little big .. And I am sure they add quite a bit of weight. I am going to set up the machine and sew some right now. I even have a stack of old t-shirts that were headed to garage for a yard sale.. Thanks !

  2. I take my own grocery bags into the store, it never occurred to me to also include produce bags. Thank you Katie for opening my eyes once again. I LOVE your site and you are my go-to blog for everything healthy!!

  3. Great idea! I was wondering if you could tell me about how many you use on an average trip? We try to grow as much as we can but with a family of 7 it’s inevitable we must buy produce. We never buy cans and if at all possible buy fresh over frozen. I was just curious how many I should make. Thank you!

    • It depends on how much and what you typically buy at the store. Compare the size of a normal grocery bag with the one you make and work out how many you need from there.

  4. This brought to mind a question about fabric bags and plastics… Would a fabric liner inside a plastic storage container protect the dry food stored inside the container from leaching? Fabric liners would be easy to make and would keep the plastic and food from touching each other. Has anyone tried this or heard of anyone else who has tried this?

    • I don’t think it’s been tested but a lot of the leaching of plastics takes place when it is in contact with water, acids or possibly oil. I don’t worry as much about plastics in contact with my dry goods. I’ve found that I have less pantry moth problems using a plastic bag inside of a tin can. so I do this often. However I do NOT use snack bags for this, or soft plastic produce bags. they seem to off gas most and most quickly. Try putting some nuts into a snack bag, and leaving it for six months on the windowsill, to simulate sitting in your purse (where I like to carry some nuts in case I get fast dropping blood sugar which can make me anxious and irritable. Those nuts will definitely taste like plastic. I’ve bought “dutch” cookies packed in plastic trays. that had that plastic taste. But nuts sold in a plastic packet last longer. so if you use plastic, try to find a sturdy plastic which out gasses less. for instance the plastic bags frozen fruit come in, the plastic bags that Spoon for spoon sugar substitutes comes in (I use stevia due to diabetes)

  5. Absolutely love this idea!! Great post! 🙂

  6. Great project. This is something I’ve been wanting to make for awhile but have not gotten to yet. You can also sew a small label that shows on the outside of the bag to indicate the tare weight of the bag so the checker can deduct that from the purchase.

  7. Thank you for spreading the word about this! I purchased my own drawstring bags in 3 sizes from Amazon (organic cotton) for super cheap 3 years ago and have never looked back. For our family of 7 I use between 12-16 weekly in various sizes.

    Whole Foods will deduct the tare weight of the bag from your purchase. I took all of my bags the first time to customer service and armed with a sharpie had them weigh each one and I wrote the tare on the outside of each bag ( i slipped a piece of cardboard inside so it wouldn’t bleed through). The cashiers have never had a problem with this, in fact I am well known for bringing my own bags.

    I also wrote the size of each bag on the outside for my own benefit ( M,L,XL) so I am faster at the grocery store. I also have a line to write the item number on the outside ( I write the item number with washable marker so it disappears when I wash it between grocery trips). You can also bring empty glass jars and have them weighed at customer service before you fill them. I use inexpensive quart and 1/2 gallon canning jars and fill them up with bulk items like Lentils, Oats, Rice etc. I put a small piece of masking tape on the top of each jar and have them write the tare with my washable marker on the tape. So when it goes through the dishwasher it washes right off. I don’t recommend using your drawstring bags for powder products (flour etc) because in my experience powdery stuff gums up the drawstring. I use glass jars for that.

    I usually take 10 bags in various sizes on vacation too. They are super light weight and take up very little room. I have used reusable bags for so long now it is painful when I have to use plastic.

    Good Luck, I hope this inspires more people to switch!

    Beth

    • My first reaction was thinking of the additional cost I was going to pay for heavier cloth bags. Makes no sense to pay the store for the additional weight so before doing this I am going to check with my store’s policy on this and if they will be willing to deduct the weight of the bag.

  8. This has been bothering me for awhile, and I have thought of sewing some myself. Quick question, I can’t seem to find the answer anywhere. I am struggling with what type of milk container to buy. Some websites say that #2 plastic milk containers do not leach any chemicals, some say cartons used to leach dioxin, but now they don’t. Organic milk in a glass container costs over $10 a gallon here, which is crazy expensive!! Any thoughts on this?

  9. Can the store scanners read the PLU through these or fine mesh bags or does the clerk have to remove the item from the bag or manually enter the number in order to record it?

  10. Great post!
    Unfortunately polyester is made from plastic. Cotton is the next best option, but hard to see through. 🙂

    • that puts paid to recycling net curtains then 🙂

  11. I made these a few years ago for myself, and have since gotten requests from friends and family. I get thrift store sheer curtains, and upcycle them. Use Fraycheck or zigzag the edges, and they weigh next to nothing .I use the drawstring method; each size bag gets a different colored string. (Yarn) . Blue for small, pink for medium, green=large.

    I also noticed that produce lasts days longer in fabric bags, as extra moisture gets out, rather than stays in and turns to slime.

    I love the idea of elastic! I will be making a few with elastic for apples, avos, etc. Brilliant!!

  12. I always take my produce or fruit out of the bags as soon as I get home. I don’t think it will hurt and get into your food that short of a time!! Besides I can’t afford a sewing machine.

    • They still hurt the environment. Try using an old pillowcase. You can cut a slit in both sides of the tube at the open end and then thread through a shoelace or cord, ribbon or yarn.

  13. When reading this post, it occurred to me that I could probably use the mesh laundry bags for washing delicates and hosiery. They are cheap at a dollar store. I do have one produce bag that was sent to me by Food & Water Watch some time ago. I just load all of my produce in it, and at checkout, the cashier takes out the items and then puts them back in one bag. Keep in mind I’m just feeding two people, though, and not a large family.,

    I do have a question for Katy…what about the Green Bags to store produce in the fridge. Are they safe or loaded with BPA or any other toxic chemicals?

  14. Great article! I have actually made my own “herb” and “produce” bags. Around here it is not very common to see so I had to explain it to the cashier, she was quite confused. I do hope this catches on more – my husband and I try to always have our reusable bags in every store we go to!

  15. FYI, polyester and just about all synthetics are made from petroleum. Hard to believe they can actually make a fiber/thread/yarn out of oil run through a spinneret (like a shower head) and solidified in a chemical bath.

  16. Thanks for this! I dont have a sewing machine but I use these 3B cloth produce bags that I found at my local organic grocery store

  17. not sure if it was mentioned.. but old T-shirts make great bags.. 100% cotton ..

  18. I usually use the plactics bags just for leafy produce and small vegetables, but don’t use bags for fruits or bigger vegetables, to avoid waste. The have been a couple of times that the cashiers have told me in a condescending way: “weren’t bags available in the produce section? Because you are not using for your vegetables, it is difficult to put in the balance like that, you dont want me to touch your produce, right”.

    Nevertheless to say that I have answered to them, I don’t want to create more waste, or, next time I will try the way of not give you that much work.

    • Kind of a strange reaction on their part, if you think about it. I tend to assume several farmers, quality assessors, and grocery store staff have touched any piece of produce, thats 1 reason I wash it! 🙂

  19. I have used old pillowcases to make reusable bags. Some of the ugliest patterns for sheets make cute bags! If you are lazy, you can just cut a couple holes in the doubled over area of the open end, and thread through cord. I have doubled them inside out and sewed that down so the bags are double thick. Great for a shopping bag but unnecessary for produce.

  20. I love this idea for small loose items like beans, loose spinach and grapes, but for everything else, like lettuce, bananas and apples, I just put them loose in the bottom of the trolley or basket!

  21. Thanks for your post, but I think it bears reminding that any reusable bag you use or make needs to be washed regularly and washable – especially if you are using it for produce, and especially if it’s made of a natural cloth. It would be unfortunate to put all that effort into avoiding plastic only to contaminate your produce with E.coli and other bacteria. There were news stories on this topic a couple years ago, e.g. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2016/01/reusable-grocery-bags-and-bacteria-video/.

    As long as the bag is strong enough to stand up to a hot wash, I’ll definitely be doing this myself, or I’ll stick with the big cardboard box that some stores let you have/take.

    Thanks again.

  22. Have to admit that I had never thought about this until about 6 months ago, when I saw something on another web site about produce bags. My first thought was “OMG, that is so right!” But then I looked at the price of the bags they were selling, and while they cost a pretty penny, they looked really cheap. My BFF and I were talking about it, as we were crafting away, and it suddenly hit me… DUH, I could knit produce bags! After all, I have tons of crochet cotton in very small sizes. Pattern is pretty easy, just cast on about 25 stitches per side using Judy’s Magic Cast On, or Turkish Cast On (like you are going to make toe up socks) and knit until your bag measures about 8-12 inches from top to bottom. Cast off. For draw string, you can either do a YO, k2tog around about 5 rows below the cast off, or sew down a casing after you cast off. You can either finger crochet a drawstring or use a shoe lace.

    These are easy to do because it is just knit around and around and around, until you get bored with it. I’ve made 5 of them, and one of the cashiers at my local store admired them so much, I gave her one to use herself. These knit bags probably weigh less than the plastic bags, and are completely reusable, and washable. <

  23. Simplified cutting and sewing (replacing one side seam with a fold): Instead of Katie’s cutting instructions, cut one rectangle twice as large as you want. Fold it in half and sew the side and bottom seam. (Wish I could draw you a picture.) Continue as Katie directs.

    I make my own bags that I use for meat. I used a free pattern I found online. Old pillowcases and old laundry bags can also be used. A reusable bag from the store or a plastic sack end up in the trash can if meat leaks in them. But a cloth bag can be laundered.

  24. Jodi,

    Great idea. I shop at a market that sells mostly organic, but many think I’m crazy for spending a Little extra for organic. I can’t imagine bringing in these bags! And I’m a big shopper. I live in a small town in California.

    Amazon does sell a organic type of material cover to wrap your food in, instead of using Saran Wrap, wax paper, etc.

  25. Do you use these for everything? Even Lettuce or greens that will dry out or wilt in the fridge? The only place I haven’t found a good replacement for plastic is for moist fridge items and for freezing things like berries, fruit etc.
    I would love some ideas for those!

    • I put my lettuce in a stainless steel bowl and cover it with a wet towel. It stays fresh and crisp.

  26. I made some for my son’s lunch box (also “Momma-made”) to use for his dry snack items. They work really well and he loved picking out the fabric. I used pinking shears to keep the seem allowances from fraying. By cutting 8X8 squares just a single yard of 45″ fabric makes 10 bags. They last “forever” and the cost in the long run is a fraction of what just a single box of ziploc bags are. No matter what the size/use its a win-win!

  27. I would think you could also have a tight closure on the bags using velcro to act like the ziploc bags. I was wondering if anyone uses these in the freezer to store food?

  28. If you cannot afford a sewing machine, maybe borrow one, visit someone who has one or maybe there is a place where you can go and use one? If not, why not hand sew, people used to do that for centuries and the bags are not big. I’m really bad at needlework etc but even I can manage that. I bought my first bags about twnty years ago and later made new ones by copying the model. They were polyester with a cotton drawstring. I’ve also seen some women use wash bags for this purpose. (I’m not sure if that’s the correct term, I mean the bags you put your delicate laundry in for washing in the washing machine.)
    Also, I don’t know if it’s forbidden where you live, but here you can weigh you fruit and vegetables before putting them into the bag.

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    • Hi Marilyn! This is Ryan from Ultimate-Bundles.com, where you purchased your bundle.

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  30. I have been on a long search for what kind of containers to use in the freezer other than glass. I freeze a lot of home grown berries and would like to use a fabric type bag. I could close it with velcro like the plastic bags but is there a certain fabric I need to use that would best keep in the freezer and hopefully, something organic.

  31. I would also love a good solution for freezing bags! as well and wet produce like lettuce in the fridge!

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