Cheesecloth is an essential piece of equipment for making cheese and for straining other foodstuffs. While you can buy disposable cheesecloth, 100 per cent cotton cheesecloth can be reused through careful washing. The priority is to wash the cheesecloth without running the risk of harmful chemicals being absorbed by the cloth and contaminating your food.
Once you have finished making your cheese or straining your food through the cloth, place the cheesecloth in one of the large pots to rinse the curds or sediment. Agitate the cloth with your hands in a swirling motion. Do not rub.
Run the cheesecloth under cold water from the tap to get any stubbornly stuck particles off the cloth. Add some mild dish detergent to the cold water to cut the grease if you have trouble rinsing the cloth. Rinse thoroughly with more cold water until the water runs clear and the cloth is free of soap suds.
Place the thoroughly rinsed cheesecloth into the second pot containing boiling water. Add the washing soda according to the instructions on the packet for the proportion of water, stir and bring to a rolling boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, swirling every so often to be sure to remove any finer particles that might linger on the cloth.
Rinse out the cold water pot, and clean thoroughly. Fill with clean cold water.
Remove the cheesecloth from the hot water using the tongs and rinse the cloth again thoroughly in the cold water pot.
Remove the cheesecloth from the cold water pot, rinse under the tap and wring tightly to remove all excess water.
Reshape the cheesecloth into a square and drape over a clean clothes dryer rail or towel rail to air-dry.
Once the cheesecloth is dry, fold it and place it in a plastic food storage bag to prevent it from getting dusty or contaminated.
Hem your cheesecloth with plain cotton thread before use, so it will hold up better to repeated using and washing. Wash newly purchased cheesecloth before using it in order to be sure to remove any dust, industrial soil or other potential contaminants which could be harmful If ingested, or interfere with the cheesemaking process in any way. Large mesh cheesecloth will not wash as well over time as smaller mesh cheesecloth. Fine linen handkerchiefs and muslin also work well in the cheesemaking process and can be washed more easily and tend to last longer.
Never use harsh chemicals or detergents to clean your cheesecloth. The cheesecloth mesh will grow wider and more loose over repeated washings. If it starts to become very frayed, it is time to throw it away. Avoid polyester cheesecloth. It does not wash well and is mainly intended to be disposed of after one use.