10 Creative Ways to Recycle Old Clothes Into Something New

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Recycle old clothes into something new to decrease your impact on the environment and your wallet.
Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Friday March 11, 2022

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Maybe you’re the type who wears their favorite article of clothing until there are holes in the fabric, or perhaps you outgrew a shirt or pair of pants over the last year. Instead of throwing your threads out, you can recycle old clothes into something new.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that textiles represented 5.8% of municipal waste generation in 2018. The recycling rate of textiles was 14.7%, equivalent to 2.5 million tons the same year.

Although it’s always nice to donate lightly-worn clothing and accessories to people in need, some garments may be hard to part ways with. Here are 10 creative ways to recycle your old clothes into something new.

1. Create a T-Shirt Comforter

Are you a frequent traveler or concert-goer? Many of us tend to purchase t-shirts as memorabilia when visiting a tourist destination, performance or other entertainment events. However, you may be wondering what to do with all the clothes you no longer need or wear.

If you’ve recently cleaned out your closet and found that you have a large collection of tees sitting there, you may choose to have them made into a comforter or quilt.

T-shirt comforters are an innovative way to tell a story and create a keepsake for you and your family. Whether you pull out your sewing machine and make one yourself or have a service make it for you, it’ll be a unique way to consolidate and upcycle your many shirts.

2. Turn Old Shirts Into Pillowcases

Similar to t-shirt comforters, you could consider transforming old shirts into pillowcases. 

When we lose a loved one, we often look for ways to best preserve their memory. Shirt pillowcases, for example, are a beautiful way to cherish something special from someone who’s passed away. It’s also helpful in letting go of other personal effects that once belonged to them. 

On a happier note, recycle old clothes into something new to preserve the memory of your Little League days, enlistment in the military or college years in a fun way. Pillowcases are an easy DIY project for you to try on your own.  

3. Create a Coin Purse or Tote Bag

Turn one fashion statement into another by using old clothes to make a unique coin purse or tote bag.

Work garments, such as men’s button-down dress shirts, are usually excellent options for this type of project. Denim is another highly durable fabric and can withstand holding heavy items. 

If you have a denim skirt or pair of blue jeans that no longer fit, use your sewing machine to make a stylish bag to carry books or other personals. 

Adding a zipper or button to a coin purse can keep your coins secure in one place and ensure you don’t lose your money.

4. Repurpose Men’s Shirts

Speaking of men’s work garments, feel free to repurpose them as tank tops, tunics and dresses. 

Men’s apparel is expected to grow by 4.2% in 2023, and women often enjoy creating fashionable styles with men’s dress shirts. 

Take a belt and wrap it around the waist of an oversized top to create a pretty A-line dress, or cut off the sleeves for a breezy, pin-tucked summer outfit. You can even make a longer dress out of a button-down shirt for a little girl. 

Before packing it all up for Goodwill, take a whack at these endless creations and fashions.

5. Make Reusable Produce Bags

Single-use plastics are a serious problem for the environment. Every year, about 500 billion plastic bags are used globally, of which approximately 10 million wind up in the ocean.

When you’re trying to find ways to upcycle your old clothes, you may want to look at your habits and behaviors towards fighting pollution. One way to do this is by creating your very own produce bags.

Lay an old shirt inside-out on a flat surface. Plan to make the hem of your shirt the opening of the bag, draw the shape you want and cut it out. 

Sew the sides and bottom of the bag together using a straight or zig-zag stitch. 

Cut a slit through both sides of the bag to create your handles. You should also cut small, layered slits throughout the bag as netting. Then stretch the bag, turn it right-side-out again, and you’re all set for a trip to the grocery store.

Another perk is you can wash your produce bags and continue to use them for a long time.

6. Make a T-Shirt Scarf for Those Cold Winter Days

There aren’t enough ways to recycle old t-shirts—and in the wintertime, it’s not very practical to wear them while it’s snowing. 

Take a bunch of old shirts and sew them together to make a cozy scarf. You can create exciting themes or mix things up depending on what t-shirts you have lying around. Using various colors and patterns is bound to be a conversation starter. 

T-shirt scarves are a relatively easy project, as well—perfect for beginners who aren’t necessarily pros at working the sewing machine. 

7. Reuse Baby Clothing to Make Stuffed Animals

Babies typically grow very quickly, which means that you could end up with many baby clothes that don’t fit. After investing a lot of money in your little one’s wardrobe, you may not want to get rid of things too quickly.

Recycle old clothes into something new for your child by turning their clothes into whimsical stuffed creatures they can snuggle with. As your child gets older, they can play with them during playtime, display them in their room or keep them as precious mementos when they’re adults. 

If you don’t have a sewing machine or are unsure how to start this sort of project, some companies will take your baby’s clothes off your hands and create special teddy bears using them, as well. 

8. Turn Your Ratty Jeans Into Shorts

For as durable and long-lasting as your denim jeans are, the day will come when they no longer fit or turn a bit ratty. If your jeans are ripped at the knees and faded, you might want to cut the legs and wear them again as shorts.

You can keep the hems a bit frayed or sew a clean edge, depending on whatever style you prefer. 

Recycled jean shorts are not only a great look, but recycling old clothes into something new allows you to save money on shopping for a new summer wardrobe.

9. Create a Cozy Mug Mitten

Americans enjoy drinking coffee—a lot. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), seven in 10 Americans drink coffee weekly, while 62% drink coffee every day.

The next time you’re getting rid of an old knit sweater, think about making a cute coffee mug mitten to prevent burning your hand on your cup.

All you have to do is cut two 10-inch by 4-inch strips of knitted fabric and sew them together on three sides. Flip the piece right-side-out and close it up with a few stitches. Sew three buttons on one of the shorter sides and three loops of yarn on the other so you can close the mitten around your mug. 

It doesn’t get much easier than that. Since you’ll probably have plenty of fabric leftover, feel free to make more to give away as gifts for friends and family.

10. Use Old Clothes as Cleaning Rags

It may not be the most exciting way to recycle your old clothes, but you can always cut them into smaller sizes and use them as rags for cleaning your house. 

Cleaning supplies are a part of our daily lives whether we’re at home, school or the office. Many cleaning products, including disposable supplies, contain harmful chemicals that pollute the air and water. 

By using old clothes as dust rags and mops, you can use fewer cleaning products, protect the environment and prevent exposure to harmful toxins. 

Recycle Old Clothes Into Something New

Recycling old clothes and giving them new life has never been easier. There are a million different things you can do to give your old clothes purpose again. You might even create a new fashion trend. 

Before tossing your clothes in the trash or dropping them off at a donation center, think about how you might turn them into something new. You may be surprised by what you come up with.

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