36 Amazing Uses for the Lowly Plastic Grocery Bag

I’ve been a big defender of plastic grocery store bags for a long time. In fact, last year I challenged readers to tell me why the humble plastic shopping bag is still maligned by so many people.

Now I may be just a wee bit biased, but I think I made a very compelling case when I explained why plastic bags are good.

Yes, I mentioned that they are arguably environmentally friendlier than paper bags.

Yes, I mentioned how they minimize the number of trips I have to make when I get home and need to tote my groceries from the car to the house.

I even remembered to note that they are durable, lightweight, moisture resistant, and reusable.

However, as my readers reminded me the last time, what I failed to mention was that the poor, pilloried plastic shopping bag is also extremely versatile.

Just how versatile are plastic grocery bags? Well, let me count the ways…

1. Place plastic grocery bags in bathroom trash cans for use as a bag liner. (Just don’t forget to keep extras in the bottom for rapid replacements.)

2. When you ball them up they can be used as mattress and/or pillow stuffing.

3. If you have a broken arm or leg, you can use plastic bags to help keep the cast dry while taking a bath or shower.

4. Plastic bags are also great for holding dirty diapers.

5. Line your cat’s litter box with them.

6. Speaking of pets, plastic bags are perfect for picking up dog and cat poo.

7. Use them in your luggage to keep your wet clothes separate from your dry clothes, and your clean clothes from dirty ones.

8. When traveling with a suitcase, plastic bags can also be used to protect your shoes from scuffs — or keep stinky shoes from affecting your other clothes.

9. Most everyone knows you can use them as a simple lunch sack. Or do they?

10. Got a leaky bottle or jar? Use a section of plastic bag as a seal prior to screwing a cap onto the container.

11. If the forecast calls for frost, you can protect delicate plants by placing a plastic bag over them the night before.

12. Plastic grocery bags can be used as packing material for fragile items.

13. To prevent messy leaks when defrosting meat, place the meat in a plastic bag, along with a paper towel.

14. For cars that are parked in the open, you can place plastic bags over the side mirrors and wiper blades to keep them free from snow or freezing rain.

15. Painting a large room and need to take a break? Wrap your paint brushes and rollers in plastic bags to keep them from drying out so fast.

16. Plastic bags can be used as cheap disposable gloves for handling unpleasant things.

17. They’re also great for storing old rags.

18. Use them as a non-stick surface for rolling out dough.

19. When I’m tasked to watch a neighbor’s home for an extended period of time, I use plastic bags to hold their mail until they return.

20. And nothing is better for tossing out moldy fruit or stinky refrigerator leftovers that, um, need a shave.

21. Use plastic bags to make kitchen spills easier to clean up by placing all your wet paper towels in them.

22. In a pinch? When traveling on the road and you’re miles away from the nearest facilities, you can use them as emergency toilet paper.

23. You can also use them as a makeshift shoe horn.

24. Plastic bags can be used to coat chicken or beef with flour prior to cooking.

25. While you’re in the kitchen, keep in mind that you can wrap your homemade bread in a plastic grocery bag. Those who know say the bag will help keep the bread fresh while still allowing it to breathe.

26. By the way, if you find yourself out of bread crumbs, you can also use them to crush crackers without making a mess.

27. When you’re working the garden, try wrapping some plastic bags around your knees to not only keep them dry and clean, but also provide a little extra cushiony comfort.

28. Oh, and while your busy tending to the yard, don’t forget you can also use plastic shopping bags to collect those smaller yard clippings.

29. Plastic bags are often used as emergency rain gear.

30. You can also use them to bring home your wet clothes.

31. Hopefully, you’ve also kept a few extra plastic bags in the car and near your home’s front door for storing those muddy shoes.

32. And, hey, even if it isn’t raining you can still use them to waterproof all kinds of stuff.

33. You can use plastic bags to store Christmas wreaths and decorations.

34. When traveling, store perfumes and other toiletries in a plastic bag to prevent leaks from making a mess.

35. Got a son or nephew who owns a G.I. Joe? Plastic grocery bags make great parachutes for them!

36. And you can loop multiple plastic bags together to make a plastic rope too. (For you, not the G.I. Joe.)

So there you have it! That’s 36 uses for plastic shopping bags, and I know you folks probably have a bunch more that I failed to mention.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a little shopping to do. And when it comes time to choose between paper or plastic, I think you all know what I’ll be asking for.

Photo Credit: Dano


  1. 3


    I’m not so sure about #22. And as for #6, yes they can pick up poo, but there are also completely compostable and degradable poo-bags now. They’re called bio bags and completely break down (meaning there are no small plastic bits left over) within 30-60 days. I use this for cleaning out my cat litter box (using only biodegradable litter!) I’m not a huge proponent of plastic bags; I’d like to see them phased out slowly.

  2. 4

    aj says

    We always keep some extra ones in each car in case any of our kids get car sick. Just make sure they don’t have any holes in them.

    And we also use them to quickly clean out any trash in our vehicles, as 3 kids & 2 adults on a road trip (even a short one) generate a good bit of trash.

    I try to remember to use my fabric bags when I can but if I do bring home plastic ones we always have a use for them!

  3. 5


    I hope you are going to follow up this blog post with 36 ways to re-use paper bags for your readers who are more eco-friendly 😉

  4. 7


    In the Los Angeles area, I believe plastic bags will be banned soon. I personally like them to carry my lunch. For the eco-friendly, I re-use the plastic bags until they tear.

  5. 8

    Barb says

    I counted 21 of these ideas that I have already done.

    PLUS: wrapped partially used bags of flour in grocery bags – I live in a very humid area so it helps keep flour and sugar dry; wrapped books in bags both for storage and for carrying from car to library on rainy days; used one bag to stuff all the others I’m saving in, keeps them organized in a small space; wrapped stuff I’m mailing in bags before wrapping in paper; wrapped x-mas deco items before putting in large storage boxes; as you mentioned for raingear = grocery bag for rainhat and leaf bag for raincoat; wrapped sweaters before storing away to help keep moth-free; balled up several bags and taped over outdoor faucets to winterize them; use one bag on each foot in a layer between two socks when hiking to prevent soggy feet on muddy trails; put tools in bag when climbing tall ladder rather than try to hold several things and ladder rungs at same time; store cast iron wrapped in paper towels in plastic bag in cabinet to help prevent rust; used balled up as filler when patching largish holes in drywall; used to organize dirty items in back of SUV – like towrope, tire chains, spare cans of oil; when packing use bags to wrap items you don’t want to rub directly against each other like pots and lids or plates and cups.

    That’s easily a dozen more for your list!!

  6. 9


    I am going to start stacking them together under a rock, and see how long it will take to turn them into a barrel of oil.

    Hey if it was good enough for the dinosaur age….

    (Sorry, my wife won’t let me, she wants to USE them, can you believe it???)

  7. 10


    @Pineview, @Brad & @LittleHouse: I’m with you, Brad. Between a plastic bag and the alternative, I’m using a plastic bag! LOL (Thanks for the tip on the bio bags, Jen!)
    @aj: Good ones! I’m glad you suggested doubling the car-sick bag though. :-)
    @Jenna: That’s a fair challenge. Give me a few weeks to get one together… :-)
    @krantcents: I don’t know about banning them, but LA is adding a surcharge to them — which was the impetus for my original post. And I’m glad to see you are environmentally conscious.
    @Barb: Wow! Well done!! (Just curious, are you willing to share if you’ve used them for #22? Maybe you can put my friendly debate with Pineview and LittleHouse to rest once and for all.)
    @Dr.Dean: I *love* that idea! Wait. You *do* have a federal permit to do that, don’t you? 😉

    • 12

      Katie says

      Hey, if you can’t be a responsible human being by supporting the use of plastic bags that NEVER decompose, that’s your issue.

      However if you can’t afford decompostable bags for your pet, you probably shouldn’t be owning one in the first place.

  8. 13


    I don’t know how to break this to you, but you might want to rethink anything involving food or your orifices for that matter (ahem, when out of TP…). A study just reported by USA Today found that those plastic bags are a “bacterial swamp” if not washed out (and who does that)?!

    • 14


      Are you sure those were *plastic* bags? I’ve seen studies that show “reusable” bags made of canvas and other materials are full of bacteria, but not plastic bags. Sure, if you carried leaky meat in a plastic bag and then didn’t rinse it out a plastic bag could have bacteria, but I don’t see how plastic bags that carry dry goods would have any more bacteria on it than your own hand — which goes everywhere. (I tried googling “USA Today plastic bags bacteria” and a few other combos but my search came up empty. Can you send me a link?)

      • 15

        Wise One says

        Len is right, as usual. Those reports involved the reusable bags. they need to be washed on a regular basis.

  9. 16


    When I was a kid, we didn’t get snow very often, so we never had snow boots so my Mom would put plastic bags over our shoes and put a rubber band around our ankles to keep them on so we could play in the snow without ruining our shoes.

  10. 17


    I love them too and have used them for a lot of your tips.

    The shoehorn idea is novel and I see how it would work.

    Although I use ziplocs for rolling out pie dough. I don’t like the idea of sticky food I’m going to eat touching something that a grocery bagger touched.

  11. 18

    Mackie says

    We have a septic system, which can’t handle greasy waste, and use a plastic grocery bag with junk mail or an old magazine placed in it as a used cooking oil disposal bag. The waste paper soaks up the oil so the bag is less likely to leak in the trash.

    I also cut the bags into good-sized strips and use them for wrapping empty ink cartridges sent off for recycling.

  12. 19

    Mary Alice says

    Your mom wasn’t the only one to use that trick. LOL
    Boy, did that just bring back a flood of memories!

    I always keep a few extra plastic bags stashed in my car. They have come in very handy more than once.

    I used them as trash bag liners in my house. To keep the contained, I made a storage container for them out of a (washed) plastic gallon milk carton. I just cut out a smallish hole at the top (removing the spout in the process) and stuff the bags inside.

  13. 20


    LOL! I already do this with many of my plastic bags. I does lead me to feel less guilty over having so many and I feel it’s insurance for the environment to keep them a little longer before heading them to the landfill.

  14. 21


    @Norman: Perfect! You know, living in California, I never saw a snowflake fall from the sky until I was 17 years old.
    @FirstGen: Love the shoe horn idea. I like the ziplock idea for the dough. I think that would work better than a plastic grocery bag.
    @Mackie: What a clever idea concerning greasy waste. I love it!
    @Mary Alice: Terrific! Love the container idea! I’m going to try that this weekend.
    @Jerry: Don’t be ashamed of your plastic bags, Jerry. Never, never, never. They provide plenty of valuable services! LOL

  15. 22

    Some girl. says

    “And when it comes time to choose between paper or plastic, I think you all know what I’ll be asking for.”

    Good to see someone is concerned about the environment. /sarcasm

    I find it very hard to believe that this was written this year. Just, wow.

    • 23


      Sorry to break this to you, but the article really *was* written on March 2, 2011.

      Do you mean to tell me you’ve never encountered *anybody* in 2011 who actually prefers plastic to paper — and that, until you read my post, you actually believed everybody thought the same way you do? Really?

      You know, there are lots of people on the planet not as enlightened as you are. /sarcasm

  16. 24

    B Madsen says

    Take a newspaper or magazine to an outdoor sporting event in a plastic bag. It is a sit-upon for a cold or wet seat, something to read while you wait for your kid to go on, a rain hat if needed and you can discard it at the event or take it home to recycle.

  17. 25

    John says

    This past Sunday, a visiting missionary from Tanzania showed us a soccer ball made from plastic bags, a common local toy in her village. Since the children there can not afford a regulation leather soccer ball, they crunch up a handful of plastic bags and sew them into a ball using a mesh of plastic string.

  18. 26

    grannan says

    While making the plastic bag sound like the greatest thing since (depends on your generation what you think is the greatest invention/discovery) you did fail to include any warnings; such as how a person or animal can be sufficated easily by plastic bags and how wildlife can and do get choked, have stomach and other problems, etc. Believe it or not, there are people (even internet users) who take to heart everything they read.

    • 27

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right. Readers, please do not ever try to suffocate yourself with a plastic bag. 😉

  19. 28


    Using plastic bags for all your shopping and grocery needs is really bad for the environment. Why don’t you try switching to canvas shopping bags or sturdy cardboard boxes for heavier grocery items that can tear the plastic bag, rendering it useless for re-usage purposes?

    And when you buy small items, they place it into tiny useless plastic bags that are too small to function as bin liners – they’re also a waste. By carring a reusable shopping bag with you at all times can really contribute a lot less to landfill. Cheers.

  20. 29

    Rusty says

    Thanks for the tips. I think my wife and I have used almost every idea on this list. Some of the uses for the lowly plastic shopping bag are simply common sense, as are the warnings to not use them if they are not clean. We like to take long road trips (probably has something to do with living in Texas), and we always carry a supply of these bags (they make great trash bags in the car) and different sizes of Ziplocks. I do not use the so-called environmentally friendly grocery bags. They are sumps for bacteria unless you launder them with each use — which uses more energy, water and whatever one uses for detergent; it’s counterproductive.

  21. 30

    Peony says

    My sister used the plastic bags to crochet a rug for her outside porch. It has been years and is still doing the job. My mom cuts them in strips and uses them to tie back her roses and plants to the fence and trelleses. Love your site Len…

    • 31

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you for the additional tips and nice words, Peony! It’s amazing; just when I think I’ve heard every possible use for plastic bags, someone shares yet another clever idea!

  22. 32

    Lynn says

    Regarding Peony – there are several craft companies that publish patterns that use plastic bags to be crocheted into useful items such as rugs and baskets. Also Walmart offers large recycling boxes so you can recycle their bags. I recycle my Walmart bags and use my local grocery store bags for a good many of the uses on the list, i.e.: trash bags, lunch bags, laundry bags, etc.

  23. 33


    All good ideas and working in the local grocery store I’ve seen and heard these uses put to work. But my most favorite is to use a plastic bag to put your fish in after you have caught it. It keeps your cooler clean and smell free.


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