ways to recycle old clothes

8 Ways to Recycle Old Clothes

Steve Russell - November 13, 2022

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Whether you decide to throw away or recycle old clothes has a huge impact on the planet. Throwing organic matter like old clothes into landfills invites environmental catastrophe. In such environments, conditions aren’t right for materials to break down into new soil, creating tons of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas far more harmful than carbon at trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

However, you still have to clean out your clothing. Fortunately, you have tons of creative ways to find new life for those duds you no longer wear. Here are eight ways to recycle old clothes. 

1. Rags 

Paper towels might be biodegradable, but that doesn’t make them good for the environment. They invariably end up in the trash, where they eventually become more methane-producing landfill fodder. Furthermore, they cost countless trees their lives, requiring 17 of them to create one roll. 

However, you can make nearly every cleaning rag you need when you recycle old clothes. While you can use almost any fabric, some are more efficient than others at certain tasks. Absorbent flannel is ideal for dusting, as it also captures fine particles. Soft, scrubbed poplin is the perfect material for polishing your delicate wooden surfaces. 

2. Pillows 

What about those old silk blouses? Say absolutely not to the landfill, and hello to a beauty bargain. This fabric is perfect for pillows, as it helps reduce friction on your hair, preventing frizz and tangles while you sleep. It also absorbs far less moisture than cotton, helping keep your skin supple. 

It takes a bit of creativity and a sewing machine to create quality silk pillowcases that last and last. Don’t despair if you lack such a device — you could get lucky. How? Check with your local library. They often have far more than books to loan out at free or low-cost. 

3. Doll Clothes 

Do you have a few wee ones pitter-pattering across your floors? Don’t let their dollies catch their deaths of cold. Instead, deck them out in some new unique designer duds you create by recycling old clothes. 

Why stop with the Barbie set? Could your pupper use a thunder shirt before the next Fourth of July arrives, or do your neighbors get excited on New Year’s? Learn how to make a canine anti-anxiety wrap, also known as a “thunder shirt,” to make them feel more secure when things get noisy. 

And hey, the tiniest humans go through clothes like crazy. Did your spouse outgrow that shirt when they got a little wider at the waist? Why not pair it with a child’s size belt and make a dress for your little one with little to no stitching required? Tattered duds double as art class smocks. 

4. Consider a Clothing Swap 

What is a clothing shop? Honey, if you haven’t done this with your BFFs, you’re missing out on one of the most glorious free ways to increase your wardrobe. Nearly everyone has perfectly serviceable clothing that they don’t wear because the fit is a little off. Gather up that good stuff. 

Before you get to work, contact your besties and invite them to do the same. Once you all have a pile of duds you rarely wear, plan a meetup and have an exchange. You’re sure to find something that fits perfectly, especially if you gather a crowd. 

5. Sell or Donate 

When was the last time you had a yard sale? If it’s time for your annual spring or fall cleanout, why not make a few bucks with your gently-used duds? It works even better if you coordinate your efforts with your neighbors — you’ll draw more shoppers and have more eyes to watch out for sticky fingers. 

You probably think of Goodwill when you picture recycling old clothes. While this organization does some good, it isn’t your only choice. Homeless and domestic violence shelters and organizations like SolesforSouls also take gently used goods. Some manufacturers, like H&M, also have donation and buy-back programs. 

6. Find a Textile Recycling Depot 

What’s a textile recycling depot? It’s the perfect place to drop off that holey underwear you wouldn’t dream of another person wearing. Fabric is 100% recyclable, but you need the facility. 

Hop on Google and locate a textile recycling depot near you. Many cities have such directories on their websites. 

7. Compost Them 

Why is composting important? While landfills lack the correct condition for breaking down organic materials into soil, you can do it at home. Even small apartment container gardeners can find countertop models these days, although you’ll need something larger for clothing unless you cut it into small pieces. 

However, you can’t compost every fabric. Synthetic fabrics like rayon, nylon and polyester are no-gos. Stick to natural materials like cotton and silk to avoid contaminating your bin. 

8. Make a Quilt 

Finally, you can make old clothes into a quilt. Far from a mere piece of flatwork, you can consider this object an heirloom. After all, it represents various eras of your fashion existence. 

You’ll need to cut your fabric into roughly equal pieces. Using a sewing machine for this project is far easier, although you can certainly stitch by hand if you have oodles of time and patience. 

How to Recycle Old Clothes 

Why should you recycle your old clothes? Doing so keeps them out of the landfill and prevents excess methane emissions. 

Follow the above suggestions to discover new ways to recycle old clothes. You’ll feel good about your contribution to the planet.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.