The easiest way to keep your home warm this winter

Throw together some DIY draft stoppers.

Winter winds may be howling, but you can trust your walls and roof to keep them outside…right? Unfortunately, small leaks let icy drafts in and cozy heat out. To prevent this, you should thoroughly winterize your house. But that takes time and money. In a pinch, you can at least halt air from escaping through the cracks underneath windows and doors. And the easiest way to do that is with DIY draft stoppers.

A draft stopper, sometimes called a draft blocker, is a cloth cylinder that acts as a physical barrier between inside and outside. When the weather gets chilly and you slam your windows shut, you can tuck a draft stopper onto the sill to seal off any leaks. Placed against an interior door, one of these tubes can insulate a frequently-used room from a chillier area, such as a hallway, where you spend less time.

While any folded-up towel can work as a draft blocker in a pinch, creating a dedicated one makes your room look neater, and you won’t have to throw it into the laundry when you’re done. Plus, a well-decorated draft stopper makes a nice holiday gift for that friend who’s always cold.

Best of all, you can make your own draft blockers cheaply and easily. All you need is a cylindrical casing and some sort of filling. (Think of it as a cloth sausage, but one that blocks drafts instead of arteries.)

Measure up

Picture this draft stopper as a cylinder of fabric that will stretch the full width of your window, with a diameter that gives it enough height to block the crack between door and floor or window and sill. (For a window, it should ideally cover the bottom of the moving pane.) As your first step, grab a measuring tape and record the length and height your cylinder will require.

The size of this cylinder will determine the size of the material you make it from. Let’s assume you’ll be fashioning your blocker from a rectangle of cloth. Finding its length is easy—it must equal your window’s width. Calculating its height will be slightly more difficult, but a little basic geometry will get us through it.

When you roll the cloth rectangle into a cylinder, the height of the fabric will become the circumference of the tube’s circular end. We don’t know what the blocker’s circumference needs to be, but we do know that its diameter, as previously discussed, must be greater than the height of the crack you need to cover. Circumference is equal to diameter times the mathematical constant pi, which is (very) approximately three. So the height of your cloth rectangle must equal three times the cylinder’s desired diameter.

Make your case

Once you know the dimensions, you can cut out a rectangle of cloth. But first, consider the best type of cloth to use. If you plan to put your stopper on the floor, for example, it will have to slide back and forth when the door opens and closes. In this case, choose a slippy but sturdy material that can move over a surface without snagging. Also bear in mind that this type of blocker can pick up a lot of dust, so choose a dark neutral color that won’t show schmutz. Stoppers destined for windowsills, on the other hand, will have to put up with less wear-and-tear, but they’ll also be more visible. You might make this type of draft blocker from a cloth with a bright color or cheery pattern.

Next, you must turn your rectangle of material into a tube. Fold the cloth in half, hot-dog style, so that the side you want to see is on the inside. Sew up the long side and one of the short sides before turning the tube inside out, which should put the destined-to-be-visible side of the cloth on the outside. Then the tube is ready to fill with whatever stuffing you choose (more on that later).

We’ve just given you one way to make your draft blocker’s casing. However, you don’t actually need a beautiful piece of cloth to make a perfectly presentable stopper. After all, most of us don’t keep bolts of fabric around the house. Instead, take a moment to think about your old clothes and bedding. Got a worn pillowcase? One of its ends is already stitched up, and you can sew along its length to give your cylinder the correct circumference. Are any odd or holey socks sitting around gathering dust? They’re already tube-shaped; just snip off the toes and centipede them together. Does an ancient t-shirt have long sleeves? Boom, instant cylinders.

It’s easy to turn recycled clothing into draft stoppers. Just make sure that the item you choose has the correct dimensions to cover your window or door properly. If it’s too big, you can cut or sew it down to size, and if it’s too small, you might want to combine two tubes, such as the two sleeves of a t-shirt, to get the length you need. Recycled clothing can also have worn spots or holes; make sure to patch these before you start filling your tube.

Finally, a note on sewing. If you’re not handy with a thread and needle, you might be thinking about taping your cylinder shut. We…would not recommend this. Even duct tape can lose its stickiness over time, particularly when it’s connected to fabric. However, if you’re nervous about your uneven stitches leaving gaps where stuffing can leak out, you either sew the tube shut with two rows of stiches, or tape your cylinder into a tube and then sew over the tape. The only problem with this trick is that you’ll need a particularly sturdy needle, and a finger-protecting thimble, to punch through double layers of tape and fabric with each stitch.

Stuff it

Next comes the fun part: Filling the tube with stuffing. You have a few choices for filling material, as long as they fit these criteria: They need enough size to bulk out the tube evenly, enough weight to hold the stopper in place, and enough staying power to smell fresh all winter long.

Rice is a popular choice, because it’s cheap to buy in bulk, will easily fill out the tube, and keeps well. It weighs more than you might expect, so it will produce a surprisingly heavy draft stopper. Cotton balls, shredded packing peanuts, or scraps of cloth will give you a lighter blocker, but you might have to poke them to the bottom of the cylinder with a long stick to distribute them along its length. While sand may sound like a viable option, we don’t recommend it: The small grains are more likely to leak out of the tube through minute gaps between stitches, and they’re really annoying to clean up.

Once you’ve chosen your filler, calculate how much of it you’ll need. The volume of a cylinder is equal to its length multiplied by the area of one of its circular ends. We can approximate that formula as (3/4) x (length) x (diameter squared). Remember to use the same units—let’s say inches—for length and diameter. This will give you the stopper’s rough volume in cubic inches. When you know this number in cubic inches, Google can convert it to any other measure of volume: Simply type in the cylinder’s volume, followed by “cubic inches to cups” or “cubic inches to gallons.”

Depending on your stuffing, you might pour it into the tube through a funnel, or simply drop it into the cylinder’s open end. Either way, fill the stopper with enough material to bulk it up without stretching the fabric too taut. Before you close it up, hold the open end shut with your hand and place the blocker in its ideal location to make sure it has enough length and height to properly stop drafts.

Finally, you’re ready to close up the tube. The simplest method is to sew over the open end. These stitches will be visible, so take care to keep them in a straight line.

However, if you think you’ll want to wash your casing at some point, or you don’t have much room to store it, you can sew velcro strips into the tube’s interior. Each strip should cover half of the tube’s interior so that, when you stick them together, they seal it completely to prevent filling from leaking out. Although these strips often come with sticky backing, we recommend reinforcing the adhesive by adding a row or two of stitches down the length of each velcro rectangle. If you’re using heavy rice as your filler, remember to hold the open end upright or keep it pinched shut when you move the blocker from place to place. When the weather warms up, you can rip open your tube, pour out the stuffing, and wash the casing before folding it up with your winter clothes, awaiting the next cold season.