How to recycle clothes / textiles

Filed in Recycle by on February 3, 2010 33 Comments
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How to reuse or recycle your clothes

How to reuse or recycle your clothes

The lovely Nadine reminded me of a horrifying story about the fashion retailer H&M which she urged me to share on the site.

You may have read it yourself, but if you didn’t catch it, H&M in Manhattan were caught deliberately destroying clothes that the store no longer needed with box cutters or razors.

They didn’t consider donating it to the one third of the city who are poor, homeless or needy; instead they cut fingers off gloves, cut the instep of shoes suitable for school children and slashed men’s jackets across the body and arms.

To be fair, H&M aren’t the only baddies. Apparently Walmart have a similar policy and Anthropologie regularly destroy high quality goods. When a large pet store in Gloucester closed down, instead of giving lovely fish tanks and other animal supplies to schools, nursing homes, prisons or organisations, the staff were instructed to smash everything up.

According to Liliana Segura, it doesn’t stop there. New York City officials destroyed tons of new, unworn clothing and footwear last year that had been seized in raids on counterfeit label operations , abandoning a practice of giving knockoff garments to groups that help the needy.

Hopefully you’re aghast at reading about such waste and greed; couple that with the fact that households in the UK ditch almost 1 million tonnes of clothing into the landfill every year and the reality of ‘disposable’ fashion can be quite depressing.

The reality of disposable fashion really can be depressing. What with needless waste, excess packaging and the environmental and humanitarian impact of fast fashion, it’s enough to keep you awake at night. Many green bloggers deal with anxiety and stress on a daily basis. If you’re one of them, please do get professional help. Click here for details of online therapists who are trained to deal with all sorts of mental health challenges.

So now let’s switch to the positive – what can you do when you no longer love that item in your wardrobe you just had to have a few months ago?
Gabrielle, who writes for the children’s Newspaper “first news” and runs her own blog “The green Gal” wrote a great guest post for us back in October called “Don’t waste your wardrobe“. In it she covered some ideas for getting more from your clothes and you shared your suggestions too. Let’s recap and add a few more!

Donate to charity

I have heard horror stories about Charity shops dumping clothes too, but according to the Association of Charity shops, only 4% of donated clothes ends up in landfill. At least give your clothes a chance to be sold to someone who will love them whilst benefiting charity at the same time.

Make some money

Many people spend a happy hour making some spare money through eBay by selling their old clothes. If you have decent labels and the clothes are in good condition, why not have a go?

Let someone else make money

Find your local jumble sale and donate your clothing. Someone will be happy with your cast offs!


If you feel like a great night in with a difference, why not organise a swishing party with friends? You all bring along your unwanted clothes and have a swapping frenzy. If, like me, your a different size to all your friends, then sign up for Swop2shop – you can list your clothing for points instead of pounds and use those points to get new items. Unlike listing on eBay; listing on Swop2shop is free AND they have FREEPOST bags, for a limited time, so you have nothing to lose!

Textile banks

If you’ve got clothes with marks on or holes in them, pop them in a textiles bank. Here they will be sorted according to the quality of the fabric. Decent items can be unpicked and rewoven into yarn or fabric, while other materials are used as stuffings for furniture or cut into cloths.


If you’re handy with a needle and thread turn your old clothing into something new and lovable. Or follow Grandma’s footsteps and turn your old clothes into cleaning rags.

Fall in love again

Dye your white shirt purple, add some sequins or feathers, put a smiley patch on your knee – maybe you could rekindle your passion if you’ve got bored with your wardrobe.

Recycle your jeans into sandals

Yes really! If your favourite pair of jeans have holes in the knees and you can’t bear to part with them, Recycle your Jeans will turn them into a pair of funky sandals.

What about you? How do you reuse or recycle clothes you no longer wear?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (33)

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  1. Alea says:

    Great advice! There is never a reason to toss clothing. As you pointed out, it can always be cut up and used as rags. Hopefully those companies have been shamed in to changing their policies by all of the negative exposure.

  2. Jane says:

    Wear your clothes out ie until they are no longer serviceable. Mend them (or get them mended) patch them (or get them patched), change them into something else. Then if they have no further use for you (not even patching another pair of jeans or using as washable reusable cloths (t-shirts are brilliant for this) then put them clean into your kerbside recycling or textile bank. Charity shops need clothing that they can sell so your well-loved item may be shabbier than you realise. Check with the individual shops and what they want and what you should give to a jumble sale. Remember there is even a use for holey socks. CharityCharity shops need help so volunteer your services!

  3. Thank you , dear conscientious alter ego, Mrs Green…for taking note of the indigestible amount of waste across planet consumer.
    this is the lovely Nadine of which you spoke, to be aware is a burden, and i need friends to carry the sad realities. so? what do i do with my rejected textiles?
    mittens out of the ends of sweater sleeves. cut an upside down pattern, the cuff being the sure to sew the seam well so it will not run.
    same can be done with sweatshirts, use as a wiping mitt, an oven mitt, a dusting tool.
    i also make washcloths out of old towels: use the good parts for cutting face mitts to clean face or other …
    then make towels out of terry cloth bathrobes. use the large back panel, hem. done.
    i like to sew quilts out of sweatshirt material, easy to cut easy to sew together, the result is along
    blanket, backed by a sheet. mine are simple designs, all squares. stich a few corners together to hold top and bottom in place.
    sock puppets are an entertaining toy…adults giggle at them, they permit childhood voices to revisit. simply put old orphan sock on hand, and presto, the theater is open, sqeeze face, sew eyes, hang string as hair, or just talk funny. the inner actor will be…

    welcome to the perennial recycler’s winter world here.

  4. Jane says:

    @nadine Sellers: Hi Nadine I’m currently looking at a way to avoid using paper towels in the office kitchen. I’m thinking about ways of using towelling but have to have a way to visually show the difference between a tea-towel for drying knives and forks and one for hands. I’m thinking of applique hand shapes but that would be quite a lot of effort for me. So I’m still thinking – nobody reads instructions any more – there are too many too badly written!

  5. What about stuff that is just no good? A local group said that when recently collecting donations for Haiti, they had to be specific that the clothing had to be good enough. They said that previously, they’d been saddled with stuff that no one would want or use. So clearly, there comes a point at which clothing just isn’t worth shipping overseas to people in extreme need!

    By the way, how horrifying that stores do that.

  6. Forgot to check the followup box….

  7. Jane says:

    We wear a lot of cheaply made clothing nowadays which a lot of people would not want to wear again but there are uses for clothing that is past wearing. There are also people who are way too fussy about what they think other people would or wouldn’t wear.

  8. hello jane, i agree that attention spans have shrunk awash of a sea of info.. i have IDS: Instruction Deficit Syndrome myself..
    so why not sew the dish towels out of thin cotton like pique, and sew the hand towels out of terry cloth. would office folks recognize the difference?or applique a mitten shape of contrasting color on it.
    i do have one more textile tip.
    mechanics, how could you forget your beloved, your trusty mechanic.
    i offer plastic buckets full of well cut and folded cotton rags to my favorite laboring elves at holiday time.
    it takes a lot of rags to clean wood glue and engine grease from daily jobs.
    surprise your uncles, your sons, your cleaning lady at Valentine’s day with a “bucket-o-raggedy love”.
    no buttons or harsh seams, cut in largest and thickest squares/ rectangles, and reap buckets of appreciation.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Alea: I hope we’ll see changes in the retail trade too, Alea.

    @Jane: thanks Jane – it sounds like you don’t waste a thing πŸ™‚ And I love your idea of replacing kitchen towel. Let us know how you get on with your co-workers on that.

    @nadine Sellers: I’m loving the vision your comment creates – thank you! Winter will never be the same again at zero waste towers πŸ™‚

    @ThinkingWoman: There is a hierarchy to the materials put into textiles banks over here. The best is given to charity for resale, next best is made into cleaning cloths and the last is torn up and used as stuffing material for furniture, so there should be a way to repurpose even the worst offenders πŸ™‚

  10. Jane says:

    Charity shop clothing is searched for items for fancy dress and for customising or to paint in as well as something to wear for the office and something to wear for an occasion! I don’t think the executive from the wellknown charity who I heard complaining on Radio 4 from had ever worn anything second-hand. He needed or still needs to step out of executivedom and live in the third world or on a desert island with very little (and no cameras) for a while to discover how a lot of the rest of the world live.

    Cutting up brand new clothing just like putting bleach or dye on unused but perfectly good food is immoral in my opinion and I know I’m not alone. We have to find other solutions.

  11. Jane says:

    oh…and USE them!

  12. @Jane:
    At home I use a terry towelling towel for the hand towel and a linen tea towel. The difference is obvious.

    Getting people to use the right one is something quite different!

  13. Valerie says:

    Hi – to recycle fabrics you could always consider making a rag rug. It’s so simple, just cut material into long strips, plait, then coil into a circle and use a large needle to sew the coils into place. The rug can easily be made while watching TV and it’s a reminder of how families used to make their own floor coverings. The rugs are usually very pretty, being multicoloured, and very hard wearing. Families used to keep them by the hearth when newly made, then they’d gradually get dirtier and worn, and would move toward the kitchen and back door before probably ending up outside!
    Otherwise, I chop up old blouses and skirts for patchwork. It can be hand sewn or machine made for a quicker, sturdy bed covering.
    You could use fabric to make a draught excluder (a snake or daschund!) and stuff with old socks or laddered tights. Or make a simple tote bag – just two rectangles of fabric and a piece for the strap. A tatty towel can be given extra life by adding applique over a worn part or sewing a band of contrasting fabric as a border.
    Hope some of that is useful.
    Best wishes

  14. Jane says:

    Contrasting fabric as a border or bias binding around the outside of towels, doubling up towels to make bathmats, cutting up towels to make flannels (love the ones you can put your hand in that seem usual in France), making smaller kitchen towels from bathtowels, turning sheets sides-to-middle, making pillowcases out of the less worn parts of sheets – there are lots of things you can do!

  15. Jane says:

    We used to have a roller towel made out of terry towelling on the back of the kitchen door. I have to say I rather fancy one made out of more than one different coloured towel joined together. Eclectic can be much more fun than totally colour co-ordinated!

  16. Jane says:

    @Penny Peberdy: It needs to be more visually obvious at the office as we also have terry-towelling for hands and linen for crockery at home and there is still a problem so I need to make it crystal clear. I like the idea of appliqueing hand shapes cut out of contrasting coloured towelling but perhaps just using a fabric marker for drawing hands on the towel would be easier, or even a contrasting fabric strip around the outside of the towel with a message or hands drawn on it, or both!

  17. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: There is no paper dispenser in the kitchen at present so it would be an ideal time to introduce a terry towel. I don’t think there will be a problem with co-workers as long as the situation is managed… but that means going to more initial effort than just picking up the phone and ordering a paper towel dispenser and paper towels. Ideally I’d also have to arrange to get the towels laundered.

  18. tammy says:

    Great suggestions all! I use old tee shirts as rags. I cut them into squares and use them to clean spills instead of using paper towels. I also use old rags cut into strips to tie plants to stakes in the garden.
    I put old worn out towels to use for drying the dog when we give him a bath. I patch jeans and we use them forever!
    Here’s my post about how to patch a pair of pants
    Hope someone finds it helpful!

  19. sue says:

    For clothes in natural materials that are beyond wearing or recycling, try the Permaculture, no dig method of making a new bed in the garden. It works with newspaper as well, of course. Layer textiles over the soil with absolutely no gaps (it can be over grass). Over the top, strew a layer of ‘wormfood’ – compost, earth, manure, and then a layer of something inert like straw so weeds do not get a hold. Leave, wait for time and earthworms to do their thing. Plant by cutting a hole through and tucking roots of plant in. I have done this for years as an easy option to working our heavy soil. My son has not forgiven me though for ‘recyling’ a favourite sweatshirt by mistake this way.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Valerie: Love your ideas, Valerie; thank you so much! And for the history lesson on rag rug making. I’m thinking of having a go at a draught excluder myself; I can probably just about manage that!

    @Jane: Those towels on a roller are creepy to me! They remind me of institutions for some reason…. **shudder**

    @tammy: Hi Tammy, I like the idea of using old rag strips in the garden. Thanks for the link to your post! Great stuff πŸ™‚

    @sue: love your ‘out of the box’ suggestion Sue and the idea of your son having his sweatshirt fed to the worms made me laugh πŸ˜€

  21. That’s so terrible! I like to do a lot of “upcycling” with my clothing, like unraveling sweaters for yarn or cutting t-shirts to make rugs. Higher quality name brand clothes can be brought to a consignment store just as easily as being donated to a thrift shop. I’m known to cut clothes up, but always with another function in mind. What waste by these companies!

  22. Mrs Green says:

    @Kayla K at Kayla K’s Thrifty Ways: Hi Kayla, great to see you upcycling so much; I really admire that. It IS a waste, but hopefully the more awareness given to these issues, the greater the pressure to stop.

  23. Mr L says:

    I always take my unwanted textiles to the Mind Charity Shop near where I live. They take any sellable items and sell them, other items are then sold to the ‘rag man’. They accept all textile types of textile waste, from damaged clothing to off cuts of fabric from any sewing projects. All unsellable ‘rags’ are collected by a ‘rag man’ who pays the charity by weight.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Mr L: That’s a great service your local shop are providing. I think it’s worth asking some of the larger ‘chain’ charity shops if they can help out in this way.

  25. Maritza says:

    I have always use cloth until they got holes and I repared them over and over again and I’m really fond of vintage clothing. Having a little energetic boy at home made realize how good is to keep old wornout jeans to make knee patch. My sons jeans allways end up with a hole because he drag his knees trhough the floor wile playing. It is useful to keep old jeans for mending the new ones.

  26. Mrs Green says:

    @Maritza: Vintage clothing is great Maritza and the idea of old jeans to patch up torn ones is fabulous πŸ™‚

  27. Claire says:

    Hi there

    I use a great company called Phil the Bag to make money from my old clothes. They are mainly aimed at schools and clubs etc to help raise funds but they do private collections too! It’s really easy you just book a collection day with them, they come and get your stuff and then they send you a cheque. How cool is that? They’ve got a website

  28. Mrs Green says:

    @Claire: Hi Claire, thank you for telling us about philthebag – it sounds like a great initiative, similar to the bag2school scheme.

  29. Tracey says:

    @Valerie: I’ve been collecting over-worn/stained/holey stuff for a while now – I’d been planning to find a textile bank, but have had no luck. I was then drawn to making a rag rug (though I’d been looking at something more like a hookey-rug, but then I’ve never got round to buying a “base” fabric to do the “hooks” through. I DO like the sound of a plaited rag-rug, but I have a couple of questions…

    To make the “long strips”, do you sew smaller bits together, or is knotting them together OK?
    What kind of thread do you use to sew the coils together?
    Do you sew each coil as you go (so you’re sewing out in a spiral), or do you coil the whole lot and then sew right through the whole lot (so the thread acts like spokes on a wheel)?

    Thank you!
    ~Tracey x

  30. Valerie says:

    Hi Tracey
    One of these days I’ll get round to making another rag rug – they’re so easy to make and you get the satisfying feeling of accomplishment when it’s done – the best way to make one is:
    Cut long strips of material (old tee shirts, sheets, anything really. Width is up to you, but thin strips mean thin plaits and so the rug grows slowly. You can apparently tuck the end of one strip into another, but I didn’t trust that method. A few stitches do the trick, just normal sewing thread is fine. If you knotted them you might get a lumpy, bumpy rug. The way I did it was to plait a section, then sew the coil in place, then plait a bit more, and so on. You need a fairly tough needle but standard sewing thread works well if you use a quality brand,
    Not sure how well I’ve explained that, but you’d find info on craft websites as rag rug making is alive and well as photos on Flickr show. Good luck!!! Val πŸ™‚

  31. Rita Barrette says:

    Hi there,

    I make quilts from clothing. When someone dies, I have the family bring their clothing and I design a quilt in their memory. I usually use everything and return buttons and a small bag of leftovers. They make awesome quilts. Since clothing is one thing we all collect and reflects who we are, a quilt made from clothing tends to be very personal. The different textures make it unique and tactile.

    Now if I could only find a place that would take my off cuts and thread leftovers – I’d be all set.

    Rita in Eganville Canada

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hi Rita, what a beautiful craft you are doing. I had never thought of such a thing; you’re helping create loving memories at such a challenging time. If you have natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and wool, threads and shredded fabric will eventually compost down. Alternatively, we can put things like that in textiles banks in the UK – is that possible in Canada?

      • Rita Barrette says:

        Hi again,

        As far as I can tell there are no facilities in Canada . I had heard that there was some company making mattresses with shredded clothing. Our local recycling facility doesn’t handle textiles.

        I have used old bedding to prep my garden areas – leaving sheeting on for 6 – 8 months kills the weeds and gives me a fighting chance to plant something else.

        I have made pillows and used the shreds for stuffing – it doesn’t make great pillows but it works for things like cushions in chairs and seats. You just have to make sure it’s even and covered with flat layers.

        I guess my waste problem isn’t as big as some but we all wear fabric, it all goes somewhere. It would be awesome to have a final resting place for it that is of benefit and not landfill.

        Thanks for your reply on this – much appreciated.

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