Live Green and Earn Points


Reuse your undershirt

By Recyclebank |
After cleaning out your closet or drawers, the garbage bin doesn't have to be your old undershirt's or T-shirt's next home — there are multiple ways to breathe new life into a musty old T.
Once they've fulfilled their duty, reusing your undershirts allows you to replace pollution-generating, landfill-clogging disposable paper towels with lint-free, money-saving cleaning rags.

How to reuse your undershirts

Donating unwanted attire to a local thrift store or charity is a common, eco-aware way to give last season's castoffs a second life. This is not quite the case with unwanted underwear — for aesthetic, and more importantly, hygienic reasons. Instead of throwing an old, holey cotton undershirt in the trash, transform it into a household cleaning tool.

  1. After cleaning out a closet or clothing drawers, separate items appropriate for donation or trading/selling at a vintage or designer consignment store from the soiled items and undergarments that can be used as rags around the house. Wash the rag-worthy items and place in various locations — kitchen, bathroom, garage, etc. — for later use.
  2. Either leave an undershirt intact or cut or tear it into various sized pieces to tackle a wide range of domestic chores. (For more utilitarian, non-squeamish types, old underpants also make effective cleaning rags). An unaltered undershirt, for example, is ideal for drying your car after a wash, soaking up spills, or cleaning up after a paint job. Smaller pieces can be used for detail-oriented chores such as dusting household surfaces or polishing wood furniture.
  3. After an undershirt rag starts to look a little worse for the wear — caked in grime or falling apart — those who compost can further shred or tear the rag (if needed) and add it to a composting pile or bin. This depends, of course, on how the rag was used. If it was employed to soak up oil and non-organic materials in the garage, for example, it should be tossed in the trash.
If you've got more undershirts than you know what to do with, send gently used or unworn underpants and undergarments to Project Underwear. Your donations are distributed to children in Third World countries. You can also drop off old Patagonia long underwear from the company's Capilene line at any location for recycling in Japan. Old undies are broken down into new fibers, which are then used to create "fresh" undergarments. Dubbed Common Threads, Patagonia reports impressive declines in energy use and carbon dioxide pollution in comparison to creating garments from non-recycled materials.[1]

Reusing your undershirts helps you go green because…

  • They are an ecologically-sound alternative to disposable paper towels. After one use, paper towels are discarded and enter the waste stream. The production of non-recycled paper towels poses serious environmental risks, including pollution and clear-cutting of virgin timber.
  • When cotton undershirts aren't reused as rags, their next home is often a landfill. Each year, the average American throws away an estimated 68 pounds of clothing and textiles.[2]
Disposable paper towels, a key tool in household cleaning, are used in an estimated 90 percent of homes nationwide and amount to around 3,000 tons of garbage on a daily basis.[3] In total, Americans used over 85 million pounds of paper and paper products in 2006, constituting 34 percent of the total waste stream. As a result, 41.3 million tons of paper products were taken to landfills.[4]

There are substantial environmental threats associated with paper production, especially in the creation of products made from virgin timber. Along with clear-cutting, the non-recycled pulp and paper industry is a leading contributor of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Carbon dioxide emissions related to paper production are expected to double by 2020.[5] Additionally, a large number of paper towels are made with fibers from old growth forests.

Each year, nearly 9 billion pounds of textiles and clothing enter the public waste stream and are sent to landfills.[6] There are no figures on how much of this waste is underwear, but the numbers are likely substantial considering the tendency to throw old underwear away rather than donating it. Reusing old underwear as household rags, specifically undershirts, can aid in decreasing landfill waste.

External links


  1. Utne Reader - Ready to Rewear
  2. Council for Textile Recycling - Fact Sheet
  3. Teva Learning Center - Tikkun Tips: Resist the urge to use a paper towel
  4. US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006
  5. Natural Resources Defense Council - Reforming the Paper Industry
  6. The Wisconsin Be SMART Coalition
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