On average, each American throws out approximately 37 kg of clothes per year . And sadly, among all the waste thrown away, only around 15% is ever recycled. The rest? Rotting in a landfill or burned for energy (yikes) .
At Puratium, we actively encourage a minimal/zero waste lifestyle. To do that, we’ve had to be creative with what to do with old clothes(old bras, etc) that we no longer have use for.
That said, here are some great ideas on what to do with old underwear, as well as other clothing.
Mend Your Old Clothing
Before implementing any of these tips, always ask yourself if the clothes can be fixed. In today’s fashion industry, it’s common (even encouraged) to throw out clothing at the first signs of disrepair. After all, you can get another set of cheap undies for a nominal amount.
However, we highly encourage you to mend your underwear first before shredding, composting, or recycling them.
If it’s a small rip, break out a needle and some thread and get to work! If it’s something a little more complicated such as a soiled cotton liner, you might want to replace the liner itself. Here’s a great guide on how to do that.
Of course, there are instances when saving the underwear might no longer be worth it. And that’s fine! That’s what the rest of this guide is for.
Repurposing Your Old Underwear
The elastic band on your undies is also great for making hair ties! If the rest of the underwear doesn’t have any other synthetic fabrics, you can even compost it. But more on this later.
You can do something as simple as cutting up the band into a couple of pieces then tying the ends together to form a firm hair tie. If you want to go the extra mile, you can use the main fabric to make a scrunchie.
Cut up part of the fabric into a long, thick strip that fits the band, but make sure the strip is shorter than the fabric. If the band is too thick, you could also cut it in half.
Fold the strip in half and sew together so that there is some space inside for the elastic to go through. Thread the elastic inside using a safety pin or paper clip.
Once it’s through, sew the ends together, and you now have a cute scrunchie made from basically fabric scraps. Make as many as you want in whatever design you like!
You can even use these as an alternative to a rubber band.
It might sound a little weird to use your old underwear as rags, but they’re actually pretty useful that way! Comfy undies are usually absorbent and great for cleaning up spills.
If you live with other people and don’t want to display your worn underwear just anywhere, you can also try cutting it up and sewing them together, so they resemble a conventional rag shape.
Not only will you repurpose them, but you’ll also save money (and prevent future waste) by not buying any new cleaning rags.
Braided Rug/Rag Rug
A braided rug is a perfect DIY if you’ve got tons of unusable undergarments in your underwear drawer. You’ll also find tons of online tutorials for this DIY, such as this one from Instructables that doesn’t require any sewing.
If you only have a couple of undies you want to get rid of, it’s also a great idea to make a smaller braided square you can use as a makeshift potholder. It can also work for situations like shielding surfaces from a pot’s heat or using it as a bowl coaster.
Periods can be quite a struggle. From all the waste you generate with conventional period products to all the cramps, it can be too much sometimes.
But there are plenty of ways to create an eco friendly period routine. One such method is by using your old panties to make reusable pads.
There are plenty of in-depth tutorials online on how to make reusable pads. Just use your old undies as the fabric to make them. Depending on the style you’ll do, you might also need some clasps and snap ons.
Larger undies like boxers are perfect for making small pouches or baggies. Just like reusable pads, there are plenty of good tutorials on how to make small pouches from fabric scraps, which you could substitute for your old underwear.
For instance, you could easily create an envelope-type pouch by laying two rectangular cuts of fabric together. One should be longer than the other for the flap.
Place the outer sides of the fabric together and sew with a simple straight stitch. You can easily do this by hand. Then turn it inside out and sew on a button or snaps to secure. Pretty easily!
You can store personal items like the reusable liners we mentioned above.
Another good use for your old intimates is stuffing for all sorts of projects. You can use it for pillow stuffing, a pet bed, a homemade stuffed toy, and so much more!
We talk about more DIYs over on our guide on what to do with old socks. You can use old undies as stuffing in any of those creative ideas.
It’s a pretty simple thing to do, but it’ll really put your undies to good use. You can also use it as padding when you’re storing breakables. While you can’t use it as an eco friendly packaging alternative for everything, it’s perfect for things you’re just keeping in storage.
You can also use a few old pairs and use them as a scrubbing sponge! Add a couple of pairs in a mesh bag (e.g., onion bag) and then seal it tight.
Use it to scrub away stains from your beloved kitchenware. Whenever it needs some extra cleaning, toss it in the wash.
Compost Your Old Undies!
If your underwear does not have any synthetic component (i.e., spandex) in them, then you can throw them in your compost bin.
If only the elastic strap isn’t biodegradable; just cut it out. The natural fibers (e.g., cotton, hemp) in your underwear will break down eventually, especially in a worm compost heap.
Cut the material into thin strips so they’ll break down faster. There still isn’t that much guidance on how to compost clothing, so we recommend doing this only if you have previous composting experience.
Composting is a great option if you can’t recycle your underwear and they’re too ratty and worn to reuse for anything else. It’s also a good way to practice a zero waste lifestyle.
Recycling Old Undies
Hanky Panky is an undergarment retailer that has over four decades of experience in the industry. Though they mainly sell underwear, they also have an awesome recycling program called Lingeriecycle®.
The good thing about this textile recycling program is that they accept any fabric and brand, as long as it’s old bras and undies. You can send in your old bras and underwear through an envelope you can order on their site.
If you were looking to recycle underwear that you can’t wear anymore and are beyond saving, this is a pretty simple way to go. Plus, it’s completely free! The brand covers the cost of recycling, and the customer will only have to pay for shipping.
You can read more about the program here. Please note that they do not accept other types of clothing.
Terracycle: Zero Waste Box
You may be familiar with Terracycle through its National Recycling Programs. These are free recycling initiatives (in partnership with brands) intended to recycle items that are hard to recycle or aren’t accepted by curbside recycling.
However, Terracycle also offers a Zero Waste Box for a price. Through these boxes, you can get rid of the clutter and items in the home you no longer need—the perfect start to a zero waste lifestyle.
They section these boxes out by type of product. Fortunately, they also have a box specifically made for clothing and textile recycling. You can include undies, sheets, blankets, bibs, tents, canvas bags, and plenty more.
Unfortunately, these boxes can get pretty pricey. If you’re on a tight budget, this probably isn’t the right option for you.
That said, if you are willing to shell out extra for this easy method, we would recommend them for the old undergarments you can no longer use at all.
Since undergarments are pretty small pieces of fabric, you probably won’t have an issue fitting all you need to in one box. But for larger items, it might get expensive really fast.
Knickey is a US-based women’s underwear brand. They sell different cuts and styles of undies and bralettes. But we’re not here to recommend new underwear to buy(however, if you are looking to buy new underwear, then take. a look at our ethical underwear guide here)
One of the best things about the brand is its excellent textile recycling program. You can recycle any of your old undies, and the items will be turned into carpet padding or furniture batting. They can even create insulation from old intimates.
At the moment, this service is only available to those in the US. If you are interested, you can read more about it here.
They have recycled over 100,000 pieces, and they’re still recycling more! You also get a free pair of undies from Knickey with your next purchase.
Donate Old Underwear
Most clothes we don’t use anymore should get donated, especially if they’re still in good condition and don’t look too worn. But undies are a different story.
It might be a bit unconventional, but you could actually donate old underwear! However, old in this context has to mean old but unused. The old undergarments that you bought a few years and maybe tried on and never really liked enough to continue using—those undies.
Before doing anything, make sure to contact your local thrift stores or homeless shelters first if they accept underwear. Most won’t take lower undergarments (understandably so) but will probably accept gently used bras.
Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army might not be able to take them, but you can check out our other suggestions below.
Just like in our guide for what to do with old socks, you could also reserve your gently used undergarments and old bras for donation drives during calamities.
Be considerate about your donations, and don’t donate purely for the sake of getting rid of your stuff.
The Bra Recyclers
The Bra Recyclers is a for-profit textile recycling program that has already given over 4 million bras in partnership with more than 100 non-profits worldwide.
The bras sent to them are donated to women in need or recycled to make a new product. Just fill out the recycling form on their website, and they’ll send you a shipping label. You can also opt to bring your used clothing to one of their drop-off points.
While The Bra Recyclers takes gently used bras, they do not take used underwear. If you have undies to donate, make sure they’re brand new. If you have undies in the wrong size, fit, or color, those can easily become a free pair to those in need.
Once bra and lingerie requests from nonprofits have been fulfilled, the rest of the donations get sold overseas to developing countries.
They also have brand partnerships where customers can get a certain discount if they’ve reached a recycling threshold.
Founded in 1997, Planet Aid is a nonprofit organization aiming to help reduce textile waste in landfills and support developing communities along the way.
You can drop off your old clothing in their yellow Planet Aid bins, and it’s then processed accordingly. Some of the clothes will go to the nonprofit’s thrift center or local donation drives.
But most of the clothing ends up getting sold to developing countries with a high demand for used clothing. The funds received through these sales are then funneled into various initiatives all over the globe.
Their sustainable development projects include teacher training, vocational training, youth education, farmer’s clubs, and more.
Now you have tons of eco friendly ideas on what to do with old underwear!
Whether your undergarments end up as carpet padding or goes back to the earth is up to you. What matters is that you’re taking the steps necessary to make your clothing last longer in creative ways.
And when you’ve done all you can for each pair, don’t forget to take it back to your consumption habits. The less you buy, the less you have to throw away, and the lesser your impact.
Even changes in small items like your underwear can be truly life-changing. And, as we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of places to buy new ethical or even vegan underwear whenever necessary.