What to do with old clothes

what to do with old clothes

This article was born out a question at one of my most recent talks (thanks Cliona). I suspect that quite a few of you are in the process of decluttering in preparation for Christmas and so this it probably quite a timely article.

As always my answer to this question depends on a number of things. Firstly ……

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Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Are you sure you no longer need/want them?
It’s wasteful to have clothes sitting in a wardrobe unworn so if that’s going to happen then definitely consider rehoming them. But before you do ask yourself  ‘would I wear them if ,,,,,’

  • I altering them to fit better?
  • mended them?
  • restyled them to suit my aesthetic more?
  • integrated them into an outfit by buying another garment?

If the answer to all these questions is no, then rehome guilt-free

Next questions, are they wearable?
If I’ve wearable clothes that I no longer want or need this is the hierarchy that I use to rehome them as sustainably as possible.

  1. Give to friends and family that I know will wear them.
  2. Rehome through freecycle pages or groups. See my article on Where to buy Second-life Clothing for a list of.
  3. Sell or donate via a clothing reseller or on a resale platform. See my article on Where to buy Second-life Clothing for suggestions of places to dry.
  4. Bring to swap shops, and me being me I will stay till the end and take home any of my garments that didn’t get taken.
  5. If you’ve kids clothes I love Let’s Match Mums campaign, which partners a mum in direct provision with a mum with clothes or toys their kids have grown out of.
  6. You can also donate communion, confirmation & christening outfits to organisations that rent them out to families in need like Edenmore Communion Shop or The Keepsake Box, and you’ll find rehoming options for wedding or debs dresses in my article on Sustainable Ethical Weddings
  7. You might be surprised that charity shops are so far down my list that’s because out of the 11,000 tonnes of clothing donated to Oxfam every year, 3,000 tonnes (27%) is sold in its shops. Of the remaining 8,000 tonnes, 1,000 tonnes are disposed of and 5,600 tonnes (half of that donated) head abroad to Eastern Europe and East and West Africa. According to Dr Andrew Brooks, lecturer in development geography at King’s College London, and author of the book Clothing Poverty as little as 10% of what is given to UK charities actually ends up being sold over the counter (Source: BBC News).
  8. If you can’t get into a charity shop itself you can always drop your donation into one of their branded on-street clothes bin. I have heard that some of these bins, branded as being owned by charities, are actually run by clothing recycling companies who pay the charities pennies to use their brand so do aim for physical charity shops if you can.
  9. The final option is to drop a bag into one of the instore clothes bins. There’s a reason this option so far down on my list, which you may or may not agree with. I outline my reasoning in my article Are instore Clothes bins just greenwashing?

And what to do with clothes that are too old to donate? If the clothes I have are not wearable, then …..

  • I try and upcycle them into items I can use around the house. Currently I’m crocheting a rug out of my son’s old fleece babygrows and tops. Other ideas are draught excluders, reusable face wipes, fabric bags, reusable produce bags, cloths pads, blankets, totes and on and on and on. If you’re not crafty yourself you could pay someone who is to make items out of the good sections of fabric.
  • I use natural fibre fabric as rags (100% cotton knickers make the best dust cloths!) and they’re really falling apart I compost them in our garden compost bin.
  • In my experience non-natural fabric is useless for cleaning around the house so if I can’t upcycle them into something I tend to donate these for reuse or recycling. Now in an ideal world this fabric would be recycled into new clothing but this isn’t a commercial reality yet, so the best we can hope for is that it gets recycled into insulation or is used as rags to wipe spills in the manufacturing industry. The three routes to donate for reuse/recycling is
    1. drop a bag marked ‘rags’ into a charity shop that sells them onto textile recycling companies. Not all charities do this so check before you drop your bag in
    2. drop a bag marked ‘rags’ into one of the on-street clothes bin, preferably the ones with a licence to use a charity’s name so at least they get some money
    3. drop into one of the instore clothing bins in return for a voucher. This is only sustainable if you would have bought clothes in this store anyway, not if it encourages you to buy items you wouldn’t have otherwise.

There are also some options for specific items like swimwear and tights;

  • Worn-out swimsuits can be posted to Davy J Swimwear in the UK
  • Worn out tights (pantyhose) can be sent to Swedish Stockings who will reply with a voucher off their products.
  • Send your old cashmere to Chloe Haywood in London. She makes them into hot water bottle covers!
  • Or you can donate your cashmere to Fashion for Forests, who will plant a tree for every donation received.

Just a quick note on shoes! Despite what some stores claim there is no scheme to recycle worn-out shoes in this country. So if your shoes have seen better days the most sustainable thing you can do with them is to compost any natural fibre bits and to put the rest into your black bin.

I hope that little run down helps you decide what to do with your unwanted clothing.

Till next time, in the meantime find me on Facebook or Instagram


PS – You might also be interested in my articles on

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “What to do with old clothes

  1. Nice post! It’s on my agenda to go through my old clothes and figure out what to do with them. I’ll start with your four questions! I wish there were more enterprises these days that would just take your stuff (clothes, furniture, even your car) and renew them. I would love to have someone just fix all these little things for me because sometime I don’t have the skills myself (like what to do with a loose-knit cashmere sweater that has a large gaping hole that just opens again soon after I try sewing it, with my very basic sewing skills?!)


  2. We’re lucky to have quite a few people making goods from second-life fabric and we have alteration companies that are good for repairs. Do you know have alteration companies where you live?


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