Reader Question: Food Safe Fabric for Sandwich Bags

Reader QuestionReader Question: Food Safe Fabric for Sandwich Bags

A reader recently wrote in with a great question about finding a food-safe fabric for making snack and sandwich bags. She was specifically looking for a laminated cotton fabric that was eco-friendly. In digging to answer this question, I found a ton of information and a few ideas for the safest ways to make reusable snack bags that are at least semi leak proof.

PSST! I recently ran across a pretty awesome-looking solution to the fabric proble problem! Check out the update to this post right here.

The Trouble with Laminated Cotton

There are two big problems with laminated conventional cotton:

  1. It’s laminated.
  2. It’s conventional cotton.

Laminated Fabric

“Laminated” is a fancy word for “covered in plastic,” and there areΒ  problems with pretty much any plastic touching your food. Even if the lamination is BPA free, you can’t really be sure. The chemicals used to replace BPA in plastics are no picnic either.

Some companies tout PUL or PEVA as food-safe fabrics, but I’m not convinced. If you want to read more about the trouble with PUL and PEVA, Karen wrote a great in-depth piece on them.

The Problem with Cotton

We’ve talked about the trouble with conventional cotton here before, but it definitely bears repeating. From an environmental and human rights standpoint, conventional cotton is shady at best. It requires tons of pesticides to grow, which pollute our waterways and harm workers. It’s often genetically modified, which supports Monsanto, one of the worst companies in the world. It’s just all around bad news.

So, what’s an ethical crafter to do?? Get crafty, of course!

Making Your Own Food Safe Fabric

Doing it yourself means you can choose organic fabric dyed naturally, rather than something full of mystery dyes and plastics. Yay! I came across a couple of ideas for upping the water-resistance of fabrics.

  • Beeswax. Julie showed us how to dip paper in beeswax to preserve it, and you can use a similar method to make your fabric leak resistant. Instead of dunking, just paint the wax on one side instead. The only problem with this method is that it probably wouldn’t hold up well to machine washing. You’d need to wipe your wraps clean instead.
  • Make your own oilcloth. Traditional oilcloth wasn’t covered in plastic. Like the name suggests, back in the day we made oilcloth out of…oil! Kelly has instructions on how to make your own oilcloth right here. I’m pretty sure that homemade oilcloth isn’t machine washable, either. Has anyone tried this out?

The other option you’ve got is to just fully line those sandwich or snack bags with a heavy weight organic cotton or hemp. It won’t be fully leakproof, but with two layers to absorb moisture, it should work well for most snacks and sandwiches.

I’d love to hear from the seamsters out there! Have any of you guys found food safe fabric for sandwich bags that also fits into your crafting ethics?

49 thoughts on “Reader Question: Food Safe Fabric for Sandwich Bags”

  1. I don’t have an alternative for plastic, but I do have an alternative to buying plastic to line snack/sandwich bags. I recently made a sandwich bag out of an old t-shirt and lined it with the bag from the frozen french fries we had finished off the day before. The result was functional, but I think next time I might just use the plastic bag that the bread comes in from the store. Not the best option, but still fairly environmentally friendly.

  2. This was one of my sustainable projects last year. I could not find a food safe plastic either so I love the idea you gave on using beeswax. I make sustainable products and try to use more and more organic materials whenever I can.

  3. We buy sandwich and snack bags from this etsy seller: She says that the insides of her bags are made from easy to clean food-safe nylon (BPA and PVC free). I even emailed her about it, and she got that info from the fabric store where she buys the fabric. Do we know for sure? No, I guess not, but aside from testing the fabric myself, I guess I need to trust what other have said.

    1. nylon fabric (or any fabric) from the fabric store has not been tested for food safety. The only way to know is to have a sample independently tested to be free from BPA, Lead, PVC, Formaldehyde, and Phthalates. All conventional cotton is soaked in formaldehyde to set the dye and had been grown with pesticides and herbicides contaminating the soil and ground water. Organic cotton and lab-tested materials are the only way to go. I can almost assure you that since lab testing is very spendy, most of the truly awesome, talented, and crafty folks that sell over on Etsy, have not paid to have the testing done for their products and are simply taking the word of one person (fabric store sales staff) and not verifying for themselves.

  4. My enviormentally friendly way to pack food: I save the waxed paper from the inside of
    my cereal boxes to use again to pack sandwiches, and anything that could leak and
    make a mess. I am not aware if these bags have any contamination issues. But they
    work beautifully.

    1. the Waxy looking “paper” that most name brand cereals come in isn’t really waxed paper anymore. for at least the last ten years it’s been plastic with a preservative chemical embedded in it, that keeps the fats in the grain from going rancid.

      Write the company and ask. I’d say if you’re buying commercial cereals to eat, using this paper is no more dangerous than what you’re already getting except for two factors that you might want to consider.
      First is, you’re doubling your exposure to whatever preservative and whatever plastics chemicals you might already be getting. of course they’re somewhat out gassed already on your cereal but it seems like we’re hearing more and more that plastic never finishes out-gassing.
      Second consideration is that when plastic is subjected to heat and water it’s going to release more chemicals than it would if left alone so be sure to hand wash these items or wash them in the washer with cool or lukewarm water and then air dry.
      FWIW, Kitty

  5. Just wanted to say that the packages that most name brand cereals come in (cardboard and wax paper bag) have a preservative sprayed on them that is petroleum based. If you see BHT, BHA, or TBHQ listed on the ingredients then please do not re-use the bags to hold other food. Usually the organic type brands do not have these in them. If you want more info on those preservatives just google “feingold diet”. The website is great and it explains why we should avoid them. … Just wanted to let you know. .. I too am looking for a good solution to hold my food.

  6. I bought white ripstop to back children’s aprons and weaning bibs & think it would work well. I have used it to line swimming bags ,we wrap wettest stuff in towel but it contains the damp.
    It washes ok so can’t see a problem !
    maybe someone will tell now me it has something deadly in it ….

  7. For those that are worried about unsafe materials, what about using many layers of cotton, to keep breads from getting stale? I am thinking like at least 3-5 layers of some simple cotton. I haven’t tried this yet but intend to. or, if you don’t want the pul, vinyl or oilcloth to touch your food, sandwich it between fleece or whatever you don’t mind touching your food, then on the outside put your cotton print? Obviously, unless you use some type of synthetic water proof fabric, you can’t just wipe it out, or expect it to have waterproof abilities…


    1. When I was young, we used waxed paper. Mom wouldn’t buy the plastic bags when they came out because of cost issues. waxed paper and the flimsy fold over plastic bags were better than what was used previously at keeping the bread fresh, but still had gaps that allowed some air to circulate. As we’ve “progressed” over the last 50 years we’ve begun to expect that our food will stay as fresh as if we’d just taken it out of the PLASTIC bread bag. LOL I guess if we’re using plastic to keep the bread fresh at home, why not recycle it into as close to food safe sandwich bags and we can possibly get without paying for it. now, if you don’t want that nasty plastic to TOUCH your food, then you could line it with nylon, although, Nylon is probably the earliest form of synthetic fiber. (Quote from wikipedia:The plastics industry was revolutionized in the 1930s with the announcement of polyamide (PA), far better known by its trade name nylon. Nylon was the first purely synthetic fiber, introduced by DuPont Corporation at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.)
      Multiple layers of cotton are more absorbent than less of them but would also block airflow. claims on their blog at that linen is going to be a better storage bag than cotton for bread, but I think they’re saying that it preserves the crispy crust and softer interior of the bread so that could be only for artisan breads.
      Everybody’s going to have to make their own assessments on this. I still haven’t found the perfect choice and I’ve been searching for five years.

  8. Laura Conklin

    I think it’s great all the discussion and information this post generated. I hope the conversation keeps going about what is safe for people and the environment and green ways Thanks to Crafting a Green World for a great blog post.

      1. Hello, we don’t sell the fabric we use as we have done extensive testing to ensure we are delivering a quality product and the fabric is what makes the ‘magic’ happen. We love that we have a product that we can truly stand behind and be proud of it. We use Organic cotton and the lining is certified BPA, Lead, PVC, Formaldehyde, and Phthalate free.

  9. I’m thinking why not just ‘sandwich’ the rip stop or PUL between two layers of cotton, linen, whatever, and then it doesn’t touch the food and is machine washable and leak proof? I may try this way to see how I like it….

  10. I like the idea of sandwiching the water resistant fabric between two layers of cotton Michelle. Does anyone see any problems with this? Does a layer of cotton between the not-exactly-food-safe fabric and my food solve the problem?

    1. No, the contaminates from the unsafe fabric will migrate through any cloth barrier you have sewn. You need to use CERTIFIED food safe materials. Get them tested! Here is a quick guide, if you smell the cloth and it smells like chemicals or plastic, then it isn’t safe for your food.

  11. I’m not exactly sure about other types, but I do know that if you put a zippered bag inside of fabric, you’d still have to be careful of spills/seeping, since LDPE [the kind of plastic those bags are made from] will break down from repeated/longterm exposure to things like vegetable & essential oils. VOCs might be a concern [I stay away from stuff like that on principle, so I’m not too knowledgeable about it :-/ ].

    1. It says in the Procare website:

      ProCare is 25% polyester (backing), 75% vinyl Barrier. This fabric is foodsafe – it is BPA, phlalate, and lead free.

      Vinyl is not food safe! Just because it is free from BPA doesn’t mean it is okay to touch your food. What is replacing the BPA is an unknown and vinyl is not okay!

  12. I was so psyched to make reusable snack bags, until I started reading about fabric options. The following link has great info, but is a few years old. They make it sound like the best option is polyurethane coated ripstop nylon, made with the ripstop next the food. But after you’re comments, I’m wondering if nylon is the way to go or not. I’m about ready to throw up my hands and move on to something else. I do appreciate everyone’s comments. Thanks.

  13. What do you guys think about this idea?
    Sew a panel of aluminium foil (or aluminum foil) between 2 sheets of organic cotton, down 3 sides to make a sack. I would fold over the opening to close it and peg it shut. I’d probably do several lines of stitching across the cotton sheeting to make sure it stays together. Does the aluminium leak any chemicals – I’m thinking mostly of using this to storing bread in the freezer or on the counter, rather than liquids, but I am aware there have been some links of aluminium/aluminum to alzheimers’ disease/dementia (and I never store or cook food/drink directly on aluminium).

    1. Melanie, I wouldn’t use aluminum foil. I had a project that involved handling it a lot. I walked away with my fingers full of a dirty metallic residue. Not as clean as it seems….

  14. Pingback: How to Make a Snack Bag | Glue and Glitter

  15. Hello – I replaced all plastic with glass for my kids when they started school 8 years ago. Rather than using zip lock bags, we use Pyrex containers or unbleached wax bags for snacks and lunches. We also use a thermos (safely lined) for hot soups, etc. I have reached out to a company in France where I’ve gotten coated cotton table cloths in the past and I’ll see how eco friendly their fabric is and will report back.

    Great website – you came up as the second choice in my google search for safely coated fabrics πŸ™‚

  16. Great discussion, I’m so glad to have come across this. I have been wanting to replace the snack bags I made a few years back for my kids (with old diaper material)…really wishing I hadn’t done that, but I honestly didn’t know any better at the time. These days I use glass jars for snacks, often canning jars but also old jam or artichoke or olive jars. These small jars can be surprisingly tough, although they probably couldn’t handle being tossed about too much. Maybe we could all be making little jar cozies instead. πŸ™‚

    1. I use Pyrex dishes a fair bit but they aren’t cheap The BEST glass jar is VEGEMITE BOTTLES! They come in a range of sizes, are VERY sturdy and you can pick them up very cheaply at op shops. Or ask friends to save theirs. (I don’t use Vegemite but have managed to collect several dozen large Vegemite bottles and freeze bulk-cooking in them all the time.)

  17. I just bought some organic cotton fabric squares coated with a mixture of beeswax and lanolin at the homestead supply store in my neighborhood. I love them. Yes, they have to be wiped by hand, but it’s easy enough and a worthwhile tradeoff. Anything that doesn’t fit in a jar gets wrapped in these. And they smell so good in our lunch bags (that yummy beeswax smell.) There is no label on them and I can’t remember the Portland company (local mom) that makes them. Beecos or something…

  18. The fabric that we offer at Magna Fabrics is the primary fabric that is is for medical surgical gowns and is a very highly constructed polyester that is calendered under dozens of tons of pressure to assure that it is an effective barrier to bacteria, viruses, fluids and most particles. This fabric is a medical grade barrier fabric that is lint free and will not retain pathogens after being washed in an appropriate manner, We regularly have users of our medical barrier fabrics use them as “food safe fabrics” and I have checked the FDA site and do not believe that there is such a definition. If someone does know of one, please let me know.
    By November 11 I will change the site so that you will be able to purchase this fabric in one yard increments at only $6.99 a yard with $3 a yard flat shipping anywhere in the USA, Samples are sent at for only $1.
    If you want a reusable “food safe fabric” I would not recommend using cotton, organic or otherwise, since one of the great characteristics of cotton is that is highly absorbent and will retain easily retain dirt and lint. I also see that people are using fabric that contain vinyl, short for poly vinyl chloride as “food safe.” All of my medical fabrics are PVC-free and I would definitely encourage readers to make their own determinations by googling the words “PVC” and “safe” and coming to their own conclusion.

  19. Pingback: Reusable Sandwich Bags: Choosing Food-Safe Fabric

  20. I don’t sew but people have Procare (my favorite) and ripstop nylon to line snack/sandwich bags. The ripstop nylon is prone to leaking and dried out sandwiches, that’s why I like the Procare lined bags I’ve purchased from WAHM.

  21. Hello, ProSoft PUL and ProCare are both food safe tested and certified fabrics. I believe they are the only fabrics in the market that have been tested not only for being lead, BPA and phthalate free but also for food safety per the FDA test methods.

  22. Soooo, has anyone found a water resistant fabric that’s safe to make your own snack bags??? I got a little overwhelmed with the length of the tread so I’m not sure if I missed it

  23. What if we used 100% cotton on the inside and outside, and a layer of waxed canvas in the liner. It seems to me that the bag would then be washable (waxed canvas shouldn’t be washed with other items) and somewhat waterproof and safe…I’m afraid this is simply something someone has to try out to find out. Otter wax seems good to make the waxed canvas (or cotton)…any other suggestions? I want to start making these and selling them.

  24. Are Wilton Parchment Sheets safe? The roll version is advertised as “Unbleached'”, the pre-cut do not say this. They are described as “silicone-treated”, but that’s as far as they go. They do not mention any other chemicals/toxins.

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