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Because You Asked

What Should I Do with Worn-Out Clothing?

By Recyclebank |

Even if your old clothing can’t be resold at a secondhand store, you can still recycle or reuse it.


Dear Recyclebank,

I send gently used clothing to the Salvation Army, but some things are just no longer wearable. What can I do?

-Helen M., Philadelphia, PA

Dear Helen,

There are plenty of ways to give your old clothing a second life if it’s too worn for the closet. Many textiles can be recovered and have their fibers broken down into insulation material, carpet padding, paper, yarn, and more. In fact, according to the EPA, roughly 14.4 percent of textiles from clothing were recovered for export or reprocessing in 2012.

Companies such as American Textile Recycling Services collect donations at drop-off locations and sort out too-worn clothing and other textiles for recycling. Participating Goodwill locations can also make use of clothing too damaged for them to sell, whether by selling it to salvage brokers or making it into industrial wipes. The Council for Textile Recycling maintains a clothing recycling locator that you can use to find facilities in your area.

No recycling options available near you? You can make use of the clothes closer to home. Salvage what fabric you can for craft projects, or cut the clothing down into your own reusable cleaning cloths. See if local schools need rags for art or shop classes, or if animal shelters can use the fabric for cleaning or as bedding. 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.

SOURCES: EPA.gov, SMARTasn, Goodwill, Grist

How do you make use of clothing that’s too damaged to wear or donate? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Dianne L. 1 month ago
    100% cotton fabric can be composted.
  • Sparks N. 1 month ago
    It would help if your 'clothing recycling locator' didn't lead to a 404 error page. Goodwill in my area WILL NOT take worn out clothing to be recycled. All in all, this article is utterly useless.
    • Susanne T. 7 days ago
      Gentle reader, did you realize this article is four years old? In the intervening years, they have stopped taking rags because there is currently no end user.
  • joanna l. 2 months ago
    Check out the companies who put clothing donation bins at the supermarket or laundromat...I am lucky they they do recycle fabrics so its easy for me to drop off when I am doing my shopping (Put them in a bag labeled "please recycle")
  • Lynn M. 6 months ago
    certain clothes that are worn out can be ripped in strips and used as tomato plant ties. You can use old sweaters to make a dog bed out of it.... check on-line for directions. I use old towels to put on my car seats when my dog rides along with me. Also, some of my old clothes that are not worth donating, gets used as rags. Better to be practical than waste. Oh.... one more thing that I can think of is that I have used some clothes for making doll clothes for my grand daughter. It was not exactly Barbie doll quality, but she loved it and was thankful and happy with what I had given her and it made me happy too.
  • Hanora S. 6 months ago
    I use old clothing as dust cloths, also to wash the car. Cotton undershirts are great,anything that is 100 percent works well
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