What is a Cheesecloth?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cheesecloth is a specially designed fabric which was originally used in cheese production, hence the name. It has numerous other uses, primarily culinary. The fabric usually takes the form of a loosely woven cotton gauze, and is readily available from culinary supply stores as well as some sewing shops. In many cases, cheesecloth is also reusable, although it will break down eventually.

Half a lemon wrapped in cheesecloth.
Half a lemon wrapped in cheesecloth.

Superficially, cheesecloth looks like a mesh cloth, since the open weave leaves a number of small holes. The holes are close enough together to prevent solids from going through, but open enough to allow for plenty of drainage. For this reason, it is often used as a straining cloth. It is usually made from undyed cotton, so that it will be as neutral as possible.

Cheesecloth is used to strain liquids and capture solids.
Cheesecloth is used to strain liquids and capture solids.

In cheesemaking, cheesecloth is often used to wrap cheese, as the small holes in the cloth allow the cheese to breathe. Typically, multiple layers will be used to ensure that the cheese does not dry out. It is also used to press and drain curds, especially for farmer's cheese and similar soft cheeses. The curds are poured into the cheesecloth, allowing the whey to dry out, and the cheesemaker can squeeze the cloth to compact the curds before hanging the bundle to cure.

Spreadable cheese in cheesecloth.
Spreadable cheese in cheesecloth.

There are other culinary uses for cheesecloth. As a straining cloth, it can be used to clarify stocks and soups. A piece can be stretched over a clean pot to catch the broth, while the solids in the stock will be left behind. Cheesecloth is also used to strain and press yogurt to produce the thick, Greek style. Some cooks use it to make sachets of herbs and spices to be cooked with soups and stews. It may also be used to wrap meats while they cure.

Jug of whey.
Jug of whey.

Whatever the use, cheesecloth will not usually transfer flavor, since cotton is neutral. It will also not fall apart when wet and stretched, although over time, the edges may begin to fray. Cooks who wish to reuse cheesecloth can wash it in very hot water and soap, and hang it to dry. It may not always be reusable, especially if it has been simmered in a fatty soup in the form of a sachet, or used to make a very pungent cheese. Around the house, the fabric is also great for drying glass and covering fruits and vegetables to prevent insect infestations.

Cheesecloth is used to strain yogurt into Greek style.
Cheesecloth is used to strain yogurt into Greek style.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@anamur-- You can use a thin, white pillowcase instead of cheesecloth fabric. They are pretty similar and a pillowcase works just as well.

I don't have a cheesecloth either. I use a pillow case that I keep in the kitchen only for this use. I don't make cheese, but I use the cloth to make labne which is just really thick yogurt. I put plain yogurt in the pillow case, hang the pillow case over the sink and six or so hours later, it's labne.

I find it funny when people pay extra money to buy Greek yogurt when they can make it at home free.


@anamur-- Making paneer is so easy, I do it all the time!

You just need to boil some milk. When it has boiled, add a couple of spoonfuls of plain yogurt or a tiny amount of vinegar to separate milk into curd and water. You will see them separate from one another as the milk continues to boil. Once it has separated, pour it into the cheesecloth so that the water runs out and the curd remains.

What I do after that is I keep the curd in the cheesecloth but I roll it into a large ball with my hands. I then put the cheese ball under something heavy so that it becomes more compact and solid. After about an hour, the paneer will be ready and you can cut it into cubes for palak paneer.

So easy right!


Is there an alternative to cheesecloth that we can use if we don't have it?

Also, does anyone know how to use a cheesecloth to make the Indian cheese paneer? I need to make this cheese for palak paneer, a spinach and cheese dish.


Where can you get it because I have to have it to incubate chickens as a project!


I use cheese cloth to manually wipe off dried boat/car wax.


Has anyone ever used cheesecloth to cover vents from the furnace? Could it help to trap dust mold etc? -Dianne


There's a wrapped package of cheesecloth in my office next to the typewriter. Apparently, it used to be in the supply room and then was moved to the typewriter. No one knows why we have cheesecloth at the office.

I knew of culinary uses, but anyone have any idea why a non-culinary-related office might need cheesecloth? We also don't have anything to do with the UL nor are we associated with a costume shop.


Can cheesecloth be used to cover candy during a 24 hour cooling period? Are there possibilities of the cloth forming bacteria? The candy is in a paste form while cooling.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Don't forget it's one of the most commonly used fabrics for creating Mummy costumes! The ability for the cloth to breathe helps you from overheating and can be dyed in tea/coffee for an "aged" effect. Really cheap and fun!


We can't forget about Underwriters Laboratories (UL). We all sleep safely at night because of cheesecloth. This is really true!

When UL tests many electrical products, the product is wrapped in cheesecloth and then the power is applied. When the test is over, the cheesecloth is removed and then very carefully inspected for burnt or charred strands of cloth.

The presence of cheesecloth strand damage may indicate that sparks were emitted that could cause a fire. This would then be considered a test failure and the electrical product manufacturer goes back to the drawing board.

So Cheesecloth plays a vital role in product safety!


I use cheese cloth to drain yogurt for a thicker consistency, or I call it yogurt cheese. Nowadays, there are other contraptions that do the same thing, and they are easier to handle. One that I have used so far is basically a strainer that fits into its own cup. The solids remain in the strainer and whey is collected in the cup. I really like it since it is so easy to handle and to clean.

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