Do you want to clean green?
In previous posts (here and here) I've mentioned how much I love my cleaning rags. I switched to rags from cellulose sponges (which are made from wood pulp, and therefore natural and biodegradable, but manufactured) when I realized how difficult it was to keep sponges sanitary - after using them to clean toilets, for example. I didn't want to risk cross-contaminating different surfaces within a client's home, or between clients' homes.
What do you use for your own cleaning? Be aware that some sponges are made from petrochemicals. Kitchen sponges especially are a breeding ground for microbes. Paper towels are more hygienic, but their one-time use makes them wasteful. (If you must use paper towels, buy the highest recycled-content ones you can find. In Canada, Loblaw's President's Choice Green paper towels are made from 100% post-consumer waste.)
Rags are a great way to recycle old clothing and household linens. The best rags for cleaning (with a few exceptions) are made from 100% cotton or linen. Old sheets (especially flannel ones) and old t-shirts make great dusting cloths, and old terry towels are my choice for general cleaning. I find used towels at yard and rummage sales, for anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar apiece. (In a pinch, you can also buy new fabric rags at hardware or home improvement stores, but they're usually very poor quality, and fall apart after a few washings. Not to mention the fact that they're brand new, and usually covered with fabric finishes that make the rags less absorbent.)
I cut towels into pieces the approximate size of a facecloth, and finish the edges with a wide zigzag stitch on my sewing machine so that the rags don't fray in the laundry. If you don't finish the edges, the rags won't last as long. (It's not as crucial to finish the edges on non-terry rags).
Old t-shirts are a great substitute for microfibre cloths, as long as they're 100% cotton. And old linen tablecloths with holes or stains make great dishtowels if cut to the appropriate size and hemmed.
The more worn the original fabric is, the better rags you'll have. If the fabric has been washed often enough, the finishes will have been washed out, and the fibres will have softened and become more absorbent. When a thick terry rag gets too thin for general cleaning, I use it for more specialized purposes - attaching it to the bottom of my Swiffer drymop, or using it for finer cleaning jobs or quick hand-drying.
I go through a lot of rags each time I clean. When I had my cleaning business, I could easily use 30 terrycloth rags at a single client's home. I keep a basket of them in my kitchen for everything from dishwashing to wiping counters to lifting pans out of the oven; once they're dirty or wet, I hang them to dry on a wooden drying rack and store them in a large pail until I have enough rags to make a full load of laundry. (That's my pail full of rags in the photo at the beginning of this post.)
I wash windows or mirrors by wetting a clean rag, wringing it out, and wiping it across the entire glass surface. I then use a dry rag to wipe off the water, replacing the rag whenever it gets too wet.
In bathrooms I start by cleaning the mirror, then take the wet rag and clean the rest of the fixtures, either ending with the toilet, or doing the toilet separately at the beginning with other rags. More clean rags are used for wiping the fixtures dry and polishing the faucets. I finish by throwing another clean, wet rag in a bucket of water to wash the floor, and if I want a clean shine I also dry the floor with more clean rags.
As I mentioned in another post, you shouldn't use fabric softener (liquid, or dryer sheets) when laundering rags. It will leave a waxy residue on the rags that will cause smears when you're dusting or cleaning glass. To wash my rags I just use hot water and a quarter-cup of washing soda with a tablespoon of TSP crystals. If you can let the rags soak in the washing water before agitating, even better. A half-cup of vinegar is added to the rinse water. If you've got the space, hang your rags to dry. One of my favorite memories is the smell of line-dried rags in the summer. Otherwise dry them under the normal setting in the dryer.