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How to Recycle Old Underwear

Let’s face it: underwear is an essential part of our daily lives. But like all clothing, it eventually wears out, stretches, or becomes less comfortable over time.

Disposing of these intimate garments can be a challenge, and it’s a topic not many of us openly discuss. So, here I am, breaking the silence and delving deep into the ultimate guide on how to recycle old underwear.

tl;dr: Recycling old underwear isn’t as simple as throwing it into the blue bin. There are creative ways to repurpose, recycle, and even compost them. If all else fails, consider upcycling or donating. Ensure they’re clean before any repurposing or recycling method.

Understanding the Materials

Before we dive into the recycling methods, it’s essential to understand the materials that make up your underwear.

  • Cotton: A natural fiber that can decompose and is compostable.
  • Synthetics (like polyester, nylon, etc.): Non-biodegradable materials that stay in landfills for years.

I recommend checking the label on your underwear to determine its composition.

Repurposing: The DIY Method

Instead of throwing them away, old underwear can find new life in numerous ways.

  • Cleaning Rags: Old cotton underwear is great for cleaning. It’s soft and absorbent, making it perfect for dusting or wiping down surfaces.
  • Craft Projects: Got a knack for crafts? Convert them into quilt patches, stuffing for pillows, or even pet toys.

Composting Cotton Underwear

If your underwear is 100% cotton, it’s compostable. To compost your old underwear:

  1. Remove any non-cotton parts: This includes elastic waistbands or synthetic tags.
  2. Cut them into smaller pieces: This ensures they break down faster.
  3. Add them to your compost heap or bin.

Note: It might take a while, but they’ll eventually break down. Remember, only 100% cotton is compostable. Synthetics won’t break down and can disrupt the composting process.

Recycling Centers and Programs

Some companies and organizations are recognizing the need to recycle textiles, including underwear.

  • Terracycle’s Fabric and Clothing Zero Waste Box: While it’s a paid service, they ensure that your old garments are properly recycled.
  • Local recycling initiatives: Some local councils or recycling programs may accept textiles. Always check beforehand.

I recommend contacting local recycling centers or researching online for specific underwear recycling programs in your area.


Before donating, ensure your underwear is still in wearable condition (no holes, stains, or excessive wear). Many organizations will accept gently-used bras but are more hesitant about other underwear due to hygiene concerns.

Note: Always wash underwear thoroughly before donating.

Upcycling: Get Creative

If you’re the creative type, consider upcycling your old underwear. Turn them into headbands, braided rugs, or even combine them with other old garments to create something entirely new.

Scientific Stats and Studies: The Impact of Textile Waste

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 16.9 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills in 2017. It’s staggering to consider that our old clothes, including underwear, contribute to such waste.

Recycling or repurposing our underwear can significantly reduce this number. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that recycling cotton can save up to 765,000 liters of water per ton of cotton.

Diving Deeper: More Insights on Recycling Old Underwear

We’ve already walked through the basics of recycling old underwear, but as with anything, there’s always more to uncover.

Material Matters: Beyond Cotton and Synthetics

In our previous discussion, we honed in on cotton and synthetic underwear. But modern underwear can be crafted from a myriad of materials:

  • Bamboo: Not only is bamboo underwear silky smooth and naturally antibacterial, but it’s also biodegradable. However, ensure that the garment doesn’t have a blend of synthetic materials if you’re planning on composting it.
  • Modal: Derived from beech tree pulp, modal is biodegradable. As with bamboo, be cautious of blends.
  • Silk: A luxurious material, silk is biodegradable. That said, its production can be resource-intensive, so it’s good to ensure these garments don’t end up in the trash.

Knowing the material can significantly affect your recycling or repurposing decision.

Ethical and Sustainable Underwear Brands

One proactive approach to the underwear waste problem is to invest in ethical and sustainable brands from the get-go. Brands like Pact, Organic Basics, and Boody use eco-friendly materials and production methods, ensuring your underwear has a smaller carbon footprint even before you think of recycling it.

Extended Use: Repair Before You Despair

Before we think of recycling, let’s consider repair. Elastic gone slack? A small tear on the seam? Instead of discarding, consider mending. Repairing extends the life of any garment and delays its trip to the landfill or recycling center.

Note: Simple sewing kits or fabric glues can be invaluable for such repairs.

The Environmental Benefits of Recycling Underwear

Understanding the ‘why’ can often motivate the ‘how’. Here are some compelling environmental reasons:

  • Reduced Landfill Waste: Textiles make up a significant portion of landfill waste. By repurposing or recycling, we reduce the load.
  • Decreased Pollution: Synthetic fabrics can leach chemicals as they slowly degrade, contributing to soil and water pollution.
  • Energy Conservation: Production of new garments consumes vast amounts of energy. By keeping existing ones in use, we negate the need for new energy-intensive manufacturing.

Community Building: Workshops and Awareness Campaigns

If you’re passionate about this cause, consider starting a community initiative:

  1. Underwear Swaps: Just like clothing swaps, but for those gently-used bras or other intimates that are still in great shape.
  2. Repurposing Workshops: Gather community members to teach (and learn) creative ways to repurpose old underwear.
  3. Awareness Campaigns: Collaborate with local schools or community centers to educate others about the importance of recycling and repurposing textiles, including underwear.

Note: Remember, community efforts not only help the environment but also build connections and foster creativity.

Looking Forward: Innovations in Underwear Recycling

Science and technology are continually evolving. Innovations in recycling methods mean that what isn’t recyclable today might well be tomorrow. Keep an eye out for emerging technologies that address textile waste – such endeavors often begin with crowdfunding campaigns or academic research projects.

In some places, researchers are looking into ways to break down synthetic fibers safely or repurpose them into entirely new products. Others are investigating methods to recycle mixed-material garments efficiently. Staying informed means you’ll always be at the forefront of sustainable practices.

The world of recycling old underwear is expansive and continually evolving. By staying curious and committed, we can ensure that our intimate garments have a life far beyond their primary use.


Recycling old underwear isn’t just about decluttering. It’s about making sustainable choices for the environment. Whether you choose to repurpose, compost, or recycle through a dedicated program, every step counts. So, next time you consider discarding that old pair of undies, remember you have a plethora of environmentally-friendly options at your fingertips.


Can I recycle underwear with stains?

Yes, but wash them first. If recycling for textile purposes, stains aren’t as important. If donating, ensure they’re in good condition.

How long does cotton underwear take to decompose in compost?

It can take three to six months for cotton underwear to fully decompose in optimal composting conditions.

Are there any environmental concerns with synthetic underwear?

Yes. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, release microplastics during washes, which can harm marine life and enter the food chain. These materials also take longer to decompose in landfills.

Note: Always remember, making small changes in the way we dispose of items, like underwear, can create a significant positive impact on our environment.


  • Chris Chamberlan

    Chris Chamberlan, passionate animal welfare activist and USC graduate, conducted undercover RSPCA missions exposing slaughterhouse malpractices. A vegan and advocate for humane treatment, Chris has spoken at international conferences, been involved in vegan outreach, and founded Solarpunk Solutions for sustainability. His blending of animal welfare with eco-living principles for a compassionate future.

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