17 Genius Things You Can Do With Old Clothes That You Can't Donate

Sustainable options besides just thrift, donate, repeat.

by Brittany Bennett and Dominique Norman
Originally Published: 
Here's what to do with old clothing you can't donate.
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You there, with the worn-out *NSYNC concert T-shirt from 1999! Don't throw the hole-riddled, foundation-stained shirt in the trash can. That's where it'll become another piece of material clogging the landfill and plaguing the Earth. You don't want that, Mother Earth doesn't want that, and *NSYNC wouldn't want that. Thankfully there are other things to do with clothes you can't donate because they're not in good enough condition to give away. There's always a solution to a problem, and a place for your favorite boy band T-shirt.

Old or unwanted clothing, it turns out, is also an environmental threat, just like plastic. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that in 2015 landfills received up to 10.5 million tons of textiles. If your jaw has appropriately dropped and your tree hugging heart has been crushed under the weight of this number, know there are ways to prevent this.

It doesn't matter if your jeans have so many frayed holes in them that they're actually considered unfashionable. They don't have to be rejected from your local donation point and then chucked forever. There are more eco-friendly options for your dull socks and stained sweaters: Here’s what to do with old clothing that can’t be donated.


Repurpose As A Rag

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If your T-shirt that became a canvas for coffee stains can't be donated as a pre-worn vintage tee, it can become a perfectly absorbent kitchen rag. Instead of tossing it in the bin, give it a second life as a cloth to wipe up spills and crumbs. Trust me, old socks that have no life left in them make the best dusters.


Recycle Them

You may not be able to donate all your old and odd socks, but you can recycle them. You can recycle most textiles your closet doesn't have space for anymore or your socks that no longer have a match. Going through companies like American Textile Recycling Service, you can hand over your worn-out clothing responsibly. You can even recycle your bras with Bra Recycling and shoes with Soles 4 Souls. Seriously, there's a sustainable solution for everything — including your underwear. Carter’s children clothing has KidCycle, and Levi’s and Madewell also offer options for donating denim.


Donate To An Animal Shelter

If your kitchen cabinets are stocked with old T-shirts turned clean up rags, perhaps another organization could benefit from a few new rags. Picture the early 2000s ASPCA commercials “In the Arms of an Angel” pulling at your heartstrings: Take those old clothes to an animal shelter for Buster and Mittens to have a comfy bed to lay in or to use as something to clean up Max’s accidents. Call to see if your local shelter needs old clothing for additional cleaning rags or for any other particular purpose.


Turn Into An Arts + Crafts Project

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Clothing textiles are excellent materials for an arts and crafts project. Turn an old sock into a sock monkey, or old flannels into patches for your mom's old Levis. Just use your creativity and you can make old clothes your artistic medium.



According to Recyclebank, you can compost old clothes that you can't donate. However, this is only exclusive to cotton. Your dad's polyester suit from the '70s won't be able to be processed. According to Recyclebank, "Cotton and other natural-fiber clothing can even be composted as long as they are not blended with synthetic fibers like polyester; make sure to shred it finely and remove attachments like zippers and buttons." Your plants will thank you.


Give Your Clothes To H&M

Eliminate "can't" from your vocabulary, because you can actually donate your worn-out clothing (kind of). Clothing retailer H&M has joined the zero waste mission. According to their website, you can donate textiles from any brand, in any condition and they'll take care of the rest. Depending on what condition your clothes are in, they'll become cleaning cloths or insulation in their next life. Imagine that. Your old underwear — yes, you can donate them — could become insulation!


Turn Into Wall Art

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Here’s a genius idea: Frame your mom’s old T-shirt from that time she went to see The Cure and lost a shoe. Those are memories definitely worth keeping — and hanging on the wall for posterity’s sake.


Do A Clothing Swap

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Maybe your clothes aren’t falling apart per se, but they definitely won’t be accepted at your local thrift haunts. They might be ‘out of season’, have a small stain/rip, or just aren’t high-end enough to be accepted at Beacon’s Closet. In that case, suggest a clothing swap with some friends and give those items a second life.


Make A T-Shirt Quilt

You still want to keep that T-shirt signed by all your classmates in fourth grade, and the one that you got from joining that club in your junior year of college, and that other one you that you just couldn’t resist because it had some ironic saying — but they’re no longer wearable. Time to repurpose into something useful: A blanket with all your favorite tees throughout the years will sure to become one of your most treasured items.


Make A Handkerchief

Weren’t you ever curious about that hankie your grandpa always carried around? Was it really better than Kleenex? Even if just for aesthetics, at least try out a cloth handkerchief once in your life, which is sure to feel better than that napkin from the bottom of your purse when you’ve got the seasonal sniffles.


Send Back To The Manufacturer


Several companies offer customers the opportunity to drop off worn-out items to be recycled or repurposed. Universal Standard has their Reset, Recycle, and Refresh program, Patagonia has their Worn Wear program, and Eileen Fisher has Eileen Fisher Renew. Some brands will even offer store credit for future purchases.


Give Your Kid’s Dolls A New Wardrobe

Everyone who has small children in their life knows how expensive Barbie’s wardrobe is. She won’t know the difference if her outfit is designer or DIY, so now you can finally do something with that sock that’s been missing its match for months.


Use For Insulation

Slovakian company SK-Tex has been in the textile recycling game since 1998, providing sustainable materials for cars, furniture, and building insulation. They currently deliver within Europe, but their practices have certainly served as inspiration for people wanting to go into building their own homes — perhaps with old clothing as insulation.


Donate To Retold Recycling

Retold Recycling

Retold Recycling is trying to make being sustainable more accessible. It’s not always easy or convenient to donate clothes or maybe you’re not super crafty to repurpose them into something new. Retold Recycling will provide you with a bag to fill with your items and a prepaid shipping label, so all you have to do is drop it off at a USPS or schedule a pickup. The company has recycled and diverted 20 tons of waste — and counting — from landfills to date.


Create Fabric Patches

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The ’90s are back in full effect, and patches are super effective at elevating your denim to match today’s trends. Plus, what better way to cover up that soy sauce stain from the time you went to Nobu?


Make A Denim Bag

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Channel your inner Julia Fox à la “I actually did it myself” and make a DIY bag from those denim jeans with the holes in the thighs that aren’t salvageable anymore.


Create A New Look

Those T-shirts with pit stains that you can’t bleach out? Your favorite leggings with holes where the seams have come apart? Save them from the trash and eventually the landfill by creating a new look altogether. Plus, you’ll save yourself from spending more money on a new outfit.

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