When it comes to things that are super useful in daily life, bed sheets rank right up there. In a world where we’d like to conserve energy, go as unnoticed as possible, or avoid stores, or when fresh resources just aren’t all that available, sheets go up even further on the usefulness scale. To be clear from the start, I’m not saying everybody should run out and buy multiple sets of brand-new bed sheets. For some uses, threadbare and worn are actually better. Used is always acceptable.
Tarps are best for some things, but tarps are also more expensive than old, used sheets we’d throw away or that we find for free or 10-50 cents each, and they tend to be larger to store. A cheap $5-10 tarp is usually about as vulnerable as a well-made used motel sheet, so if the moisture protection isn’t as much an issue and it’s a temp use, we may be able to save some money and space with sheets.
One of the major repetitive advantages to sheets is that they’re lightweight. That means they’ll both wash and dry easily and pretty quickly, even in total off-grid situations. They’re also fairly compact, so it’s pretty easy to store them. They’re not heavy to carry. And of course, there’s the myriad uses an old bed sheet can offer us.
Like any “must have” item, an internet search is going to return dozens of hits, some of them really, really good. This is the kind of area where Pinterest is worth its weight, too. I’ll stick to the less-artsy and more-practical uses here, but there’s still no way I’ll cover them all. It’s just to show some of the range so we can justify a trashcan filled with bags of sheets. I totally welcome other ideas and uses – it’ll only benefit everybody to share ideas.
Lining bedrolls – Lining a sleeping bag or bedroll with a sheet or two gives us hot-night options as well as keeps dust and sweat from hitting the thicker blankets and bag. The same applies to a “regular” bed – both under and atop the main covers, especially if there are pets. Sheets are much faster to wash and dry, especially on the move.
This also works for dogs beds, unless there’s a “nester” involved who likes to dig or root around in their spot before they lie down.
Lining furniture – I have pets, and a guy who thinks pets on furniture is normal, regardless of size or shedding seasons. I can switch out a couple of sheets on chairs and sofas, wash them, and hang them to dry in about the same time it takes me to vacuum and lint roll them. That’s especially nice if somebody drops by, because I can just flick sheets off and they have a clean place to sit besides an office chair and the kitchen table.
It also works for me. There are times I’m too sweaty to even consider padded furniture, but sometimes I’m just dusty or flecked with stuff when I’m hungry and want a break or to watch a show while I cool down or warm up. With sheets on my two rocking chairs and my squishier furniture, I don’t have to sit in the floor like a 1930s child.
Color coordinating by mood and season is just a bonus, as is catching all kinds of remotes and pocket detritus.
Plant covers – Keeping in some extra sheets can help extend our garden season, especially if we have unexpected cool weather. Thin, white or pale green sheets are best for extended use, but any color works for just overnight or for a day or two of cold weather. It’s best if they’re propped up above plants with some air space between the plants and sheets, but just covering them is enough to save tender seedlings and flowers in a lot of cases.
Heat sinks – We can use sheets to make dark curtains that absorb and hold onto more heat in winter without needing nails the way ad libbed tapestries from comforters do.
We can also fold them into 1-2’ rectangles several layers thick to lay right against our plant rows in early spring and autumn. They’ll help block some of the weeds and help protect against splash-up dirt, as well as help warm the soil, hold a little more moisture than bare earth, and protect the roots from frost a little more. Sheets aren’t going to last season after season, but not much does. If we’re only using them for a few days or weeks early and late, we can wash them and fold them back up, and protect them from the most damaging weather and extended bug attacks.
Shade – Sheets aren’t going to last in the long run, but to break the heat for an afternoon, weekend, or even a particularly brutal heat wave, sheets are pretty nice for rigging as a shade cloth since they’re light enough to hang from clothesline, 550 cord, a lot of garden twines, duct tape, and household-level screws and nails. Without rivets, sheets are going to rip in high winds and after hanging soaked from rains and exposed to sun repeatedly, but I’ve had some last out most or all of the summer over rental porches in Arizona and Alabama. Folding the edges to double or triple before poking line, nails or hooks through them can help prevent some of the tearing.
Defensive Training Space – String line and weigh curtains with spare sticks and rocks, and create red-gun and airsoft reaction training courses. They’re inexpensive, faster to erect than OSB/plywood, they cost a fraction of stick construction, and they can be updated and renovated to keep experiences fresh. They can also be cut into truly man-sized targets for airsoft and paintball training. (Do not conduct live-fire drills with restricted visibility unless you have experience running live-fire drills with restricted visibility – that’s how idiots shoot each other.)
Sheets – especially thick, absorbent ones – can be turned into reusable paper towels, cleaning wipes, baby wipes, cloth pads, or hankies.
Health & Hygiene – We’ve all heard of boiling sheets for bandages. We can also cut them up to make hankies. We can go as sew-happy or KISS as we like to turn them into reusable bleach and Lysol cleaning wipes or baby wipes. They can make decent enough dusting cloths. Thicker and softer versions that are fairly absorbent can be turned into top and middle layers for cloth menstrual pads or diapers. We can use any of them to make “family” cloths (reusable adult baby wipes).
If we find multiple colors and patterns, we can color-coordinate by person for a lot of the hygiene uses, which might at least help with the knee jerk “eww” and “eek” factor.
Line floors – When there’s a sick or still-house training pet indoors, sometimes you just can’t get there fast enough. With carpets or old hardwood, this is a recipe for a lot of time on knees. My pets tend to avoid plastic (including training pads) or the cat plays with them, so folding sheets into quarters to stick in their usual areas and the runways leading to doors works far better for us.
Pine Sol and bleach are my friends, and they tend to make it all better. Instead of scrubbing on my knees, it’s a matter of wiping up the worst of it, then washing the sheets the same way I would a changing table cover, leaky diaper bedding, “accident” pants, and puked-on shirts and towels. One baby is very much like another when you love them, especially when the four-legged baby would kill, maim and die for the two-legged baby.
If it’s ugly or I’m rushed, since it’s a sheet that outlasted its mate or cost me $0.25-$1, I am more than willing to just throw that puppy away.
Lining the floors also has a great deal of use when it’s muddy and there’s a lot of foot traffic and no pre-built mudroom for dusty, sandy environments, snow and wet, and freshly tilled garden areas, especially when you’re dealing with poorly trained humans.
There are lots of places we can get our hands on used bed sheets without necessarily outing ourselves as nut jobs. We can limit our “crazy” reaction by citing the camping, pet, and garden uses as our primary interest.
In all cases, like free and low-cost buckets and windows and screens, the burden is on us. Other people have regular jobs and priorities. We cannot make contact once and expect them to both remember our request and keep our phone number, then declare it a dead and stupid idea. We have to check back. Weekly or twice monthly, not enough to be an annoyance, but enough to be that smiling sweetheart. Showing up in person works best in many cases, because a face, a respectful and pleasant tone, and a hand shake can still go far.
We can find used sheets from:
Usually you’ll need at least a manager. Most commonly an owner has to give their nod. Still, there’s nothing wrong with hitting up housekeeping ahead of time to find out how they handle worn linens or calling ahead to find out when owners will be available to talk to with the least disturbance. Second shift is always the busiest for hotels, so try to avoid harassing them between 1-11 p.m. In the case of donation centers, sometimes the sorters are happy to let you poke through the trash or to pile stuff beside the dumpster instead of in it.
Some of the other uses for bed sheets in various condition include stocking them for clothing fabric, having plenty of extras on hand to limit rainy-day laundry, and hanging windows and doors with 3-4 overlapping layers to help with light discipline. They can also be used for animal and human towels, outdoor shower privacy curtains, and to hang for a DIY iPod or cell phone movie projector screen.
On the “daily” side, we can also turn them into tablecloths to cover our buckets and cases of stockpiled goodies or use them to make hook rugs and animal bedding. When we start accruing friends and relatives at our prepper palace, we can hang sheets as curtains to at least visually divide space (don’t knock it – high stress is a bad time to have fights break out because one person’s fidget is another person’s pet peeve; there’s a reason some of us take our glasses off in church and waiting rooms when somebody’s twitchy or acting up).
Bed sheets have lots of uses, with tons of crafty DIY out there for those interested. When it comes to preparedness, they offer so much potential for such a low cost and relatively tight storage space, they’re almost a shoe-in for a must-have list.
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