Donating old clothes to local organizations is a great way to get more use out of clothes that are worth donating… but you may wonder what to do with old clothes that cannot be donated. We have some great ideas to help with that!
Recycling unwanted clothing is a great and easy way to help those in need, but donating old clothes can be challenging. It can be hard to figure out what type of clothing donation bins and local charity shops accept – if you live in a small town, you also may not have access to a local donation bin from companies like the American Textile Recycling Service.
You’ve cleaned out your closet Marie Kondo-style, and what do you find? Many clothes are in good condition but can’t be donated because they’re too old. This is what we call “gently used” clothing – this can include clothes that came out only a year ago or longer.
What do you do when the neighborhood Goodwill, other charitable organizations, or consignment store won’t accept your old sweaters? Local thrift stores and consignment shops can be great but won’t always accept everything.
It can be hard to let go of these once so important pieces, but what’s the best way to get rid of them without wasting them by throwing them out in the dumpster? Good news: you have plenty of options!
1. Make a quilt
A quilt is a great way to make use of all those leftover pieces. It also makes for an excellent heirloom when you are done with it.
When you lose a loved one, it isn’t easy to let go of the memories they left behind. One thing that can help preserve those moments in your life and give them new meaning is unique crafts like sewing stuffed animals or making quilts from old clothes with sentimental value.
You can make quilts from tons of textiles: fabric scraps, old clothing with no sentimental value, a cushion cover, and even baby clothes. Just about any cloth can be a part of the quilt if you put your mind to it.
The whole project should take about 10 hours if you have never sewed before or at least three days for someone who has experience.
All that is required is some time on your hands and an ironing board so you don’t get wrinkles in what will be a cherished heirloom piece one day when completed!
2. Sew a pillowcase or shirt for your pet
Make a pillowcase for your pet in the spirit of what to do with old clothes that cannot be donated.
You can use an old shirt or bed sheet you don’t wear anymore and cut it down to size. Fill it with insulation material and sew it together for a cute pillow – or, if sewing isn’t your thing, try cutting up some old t-shirts into small pieces and stuffing them in a pillow cover from the dollar store or an old cover you currently own.
Voilà! A dog or cat has their very own cozy cushion without you wasting your clothes (and money!)
Another option would be to create a cute and simple shirt or sweater. If you have shorthaired animals, cut holes into your old fuzzy socks to help your fluffy friends keep warm in the winter!
This makes a perfect gift for your beloved pet without wasting your clothes and money – be sure to think of this first thing the next time the holidays come around!
Related: Recycling Tips for Families
3. Turn old clothes into an outdoor rug or picnic blanket
Another excellent yet helpful idea is turning the clothing into an outdoor rug or picnic blanket. It’s easy, and you won’t have to spend money again on a new one!
Just use what you already have: specifically, what can’t be donated like old textiles in poor condition or other unwearable items.
Cut up your chosen pieces into pieces and sew them together as if it were fabric for any other project – but make sure not to sew the pieces together too tightly. You should be able to flip it over and use both sides for an outdoor rug.
If you want something more sturdy that can withstand kids running around on it, maybe try a heavier fabric than what your old clothes are made out of like old towels. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel on this one, feel free to get Pinterest advice!
4. Cut up old shirts and make them into bandanas
Who doesn’t love bandanas? And what better way to use old clothes than by making them into bandanas?
Just cut up some of your old shirts, and you can make a whole bunch of different ones. You could either sew the pieces together or fold each piece in half, staple it down on three sides (right side out), turn it inside-out, and fill it with stuffing from an old t-shirt/pajama top.
It’s a great way to have this handy just-in-case, without wasting any more of those precious clothes you can’t donate. You can use what’s leftover from other projects or scraps – the point is not having anything wasted anything at all.
5. Use old t-shirts or old socks as cleaning rags or dish towels
Next in our list, we have using them as cleaning rags or dish towels.
You can get creative and sew some cut up strips together, but we found that if we were planning to use them for more grungy projects like cleaning the car with old undies or socks (or just any particularly grody project in general) then sewing wasn’t necessary.
So long as you’re only holding a smaller bit of cloth instead of a huge chunk then you’ll be fine. Think function over form for this one!
7. Drop them off at an animal rescue
If you are an animal lover and want to help out with old clothes that cannot be donated – try dropping them off at animal shelters.
Many rescues rely on clothing donations, so donating to animals what you can’t donate to humans would be a nice gesture! They always need more blankets and towels to keep the pets in their care comfortable while they find a new home.
Some pet stores will take your used items as well – make sure to ask before throwing away what won’t fit or has holes in it, etc.
But the point isn’t finding a shelter – it’s getting rid of what we don’t need by actually donating our materials where they’ll be put to good use instead of throwing it away into landfills and wasting more resources than what we could have donated. This brings us to our next step:
8. Compost cotton clothing
If what you have is made of cotton or other natural fibers, then it can be composted by cutting it up into tiny pieces! (It MUST be natural-fiber clothing; synthetic fibers can’t be used this way and will only hurt the earth.)
It may seem crazy to think about using old clothes for compost, but natural fibers are good nitrogen sources that help with plant growth when mixed into the soil.
Many gardeners love composting cotton as well; sometimes their flowers won’t germinate if seeds have been sitting on top of plastic for too long, so the clothing offers a more natural alternative.
If you don’t have a compost pile, check with your neighbors to see if they have a compost bin for their backyard garden. Even if you aren’t able to compost unwanted clothes yourself, they may be able to use them!
It doesn’t matter what it smells like – if it’s good enough for plants, then the environmental benefits outweigh the negatives (which are very few if nonexistent). Think about how great the plants will when the clothes are fully decomposed in the soil!
9. Repurpose Old Clothes as Weed Barrier
Similar to how we’d use the clothing above, except in this case it’s as a weed barrier.
Rather than cut up into tiny pieces, you’d lay them flat before laying mulch on top. This is better for the soil since you’re using raw materials rather than synthetic like plastic weed barrier that won’t break down easily.
Over the next year or two, the clothing will break down and enrich your soil. Now you can have no weeds AND still have a healthy garden!
Here’s a video showing how I used an old sheet as a weed barrier in my garden:
10. Repair Old Clothing that Cannot be Donated
If you have several pieces in good condition, but can’t be donated because they need to be repaired, try fixing what is wrong with them.
Some ideas for what you could do:
- Remove the buttons from shirts and replace them.
- Readjust hems on skirts or pants.
- Take off stains by rubbing alcohol and lemon juice mix (or other stain removing solutions), then wash as usual.
Doing these things will help increase the value of your clothes and make it less likely that people might buy used items instead when buying new clothing. It also helps reduce waste.
Last but not least, we have “hand me downs.”
If you have old clothing that cannot be donated but is usable, consider passing it down to family members or friends. Hand-me-downs are a great way for people with limited income and resources to get what they need without breaking the bank.
Plus, it’s a fun experience that can help build stronger bonds within your family/friend circle!
You can also plan a clothing swap with your friends or even a neighborhood group. This is a convenient way for everyone to bring their clothes, shoes, and accessories that they no longer want and trade with others for items that are “new” to them.
You can also check local Facebook and Nextdoor groups and see if anyone is looking for “play condition” clothing, car seats, or toys: essentially, no new items or new clothes, but something they or their child can use that is still in good if not great condition.
Tip: Be sure to ask before giving away any items; what might seem like junk may not suit someone else’s taste or style, so don’t make assumptions about what others want (and what will work for them).
12. Look into non-local charities and take-back programs
If none of the above ideas interest you, try investigating into special programs that allow you to recycle by mail. Some examples of these include:
- Blue Jeans Go Green – a denim recycling program that keeps old denim out of landfills and sends them into a new life
- Patagonia “Worn Wear” – anything Patagonia sells, you can return using their take-back program
- Give Back Box – reuse your online shipping boxes to donate any unwanted household items or clothes to give them a second life. Give Back Box provides vendor services to retailers and charities both and is available in the US, UK, and Canada
Some of the original retailers will accept unwanted textiles so long as it’s from their brand. Any limitations – if any – towards donations can typically be found on their donation FAQ site or through a quick google search.
These brands can typically be found at retail or outlet stores in the United States (some globally!), such as:
- The North Face “Clothes the Loop” – partners with non-profit organization Soles4Souls, who’s mission is to “create sustainable jobs and provide relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing.” All donated items are “repurposed for micro-enterprise programs that aim to provide small entrepreneurs with business opportunities” – their words, not ours!
- Patagonia “Worn Wear” – anything Patagonia sells, you can return using their take-back program. (We listed this twice since you can mail OR go to a drop-off spot in person!)
- Levi Strauss “Levi’s Tailor Shops” – does require an appointment at a retail store, but they also encourage visiting a Levi’s Tailor Shop to have your denim repaired so you can extend its lifespan.
The Options are Unlimited
The options are unlimited for what you can do with old clothes that cannot be donated.
We’ve found some of the best ideas from around the web, and we hope they’ll give you a better sense of how creative people get when faced with a pile of unwanted garments!
We hope that we could provide some clarity and guidance on how to help reduce waste in our world!
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment down below. And of course, don’t forget – all of these alternatives should be considered before throwing away those unwanted items!