What Is a Gunny Sack?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A gunny sack is a bag made from burlap. These sacks have a number of uses, although they were originally developed to ship agricultural commodities such as coffee, corn, wheat, and potatoes. Because of the primary construction material, they are sometimes known as burlap bags, and regionally as crocus sacks, after an agricultural product which used to be frequently shipped in them. The name originates from a Sanskrit word, goni, which means bag or sack. The word was adopted by the English in the 1700s, along with other Sanskrit words which entered the English language due to the colonization of India.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Burlap is a type of dense, woven fabric, usually made from natural fibers like jute. The dense weave has immense tensile strength, meaning that the bags are difficult to destroy or distort from heavy weights. A gunny sack is also flexible, however, because of the natural fiber, and very environmentally friendly. The fibers used tend to be non-toxic, and the bag will ultimately biodegrade. The sacks are also usually extensively recycled, as they have many potential uses.

In addition for use in the agricultural industry, gunny sacks are also used in environmental remediation. The sack can be filled with sand to form a flood barrier, or filled with soil and used as a substrate for cover grasses to check erosion from steep hills and cliffs. Its uses in erosion control are myriad, especially since the sacks can naturally biodegrade as more permanent measures are installed over them, such as grass or rock. They are also cheap, making them highly suitable for use in developing countries.

The gunny sack is also used as a decorative or recreational item. Children's races use gunnysacks for sack racing, and some interior decorators incorporate the sacks and burlap into design schemes for homes with a rustic feel. Because of the coarse weave, burlap is not suitable for wearing, as it can irritate the skin, despite the popular fiction of impoverished women wearing gunny sack dresses.

Homeowners and gardeners sometimes find it useful to have a gunny sack or two around. The sacks can be used to wrap objects for transit so that they are not damaged, or to line garden beds to deter invasion by underground pests, such as gophers. Many companies which receive deliveries in these sacks will give them away for free to people who ask for them, and some garden supply stores also carry them. If you are using a recycled gunny sack, you may want to check on what was shipped it before, especially if the sack is being used in the garden. Stray seeds and kernels could sprout, potentially disrupting your garden beds.

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.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


the first thing i thought of was what used to be called a poke, a bag.

Post your comments
Forgot password?